Poll on the recession just out. The West, where Stephen Harper is popular, thinks he is doing a terrific job of handling the economic crisis. Quebec, where he is not, thinks he’s doing a terrible job. Ontario and the Maritimes give him a middling rating.
The PM’s anti-recession policies are national, not regional. But as the polling results indicate, regional hyper-sensitivities carry the day. They always have, they still do and they probably always will.
The prime minister actually made a good effort at trying to mend the regional divide. In his first term in office he bent over backwards trying to please Quebec, his granting of nation status to the Québécois being no small example.
That won him some respect. But last August, his government introduced nationwide cultural spending cuts.
In the great scheme of things it was hardly big news. But Quebecers, forgetting the PM’s positive gestures, took this as a terrible affront. They were also angered that during the parliamentary crisis last fall, he went on about how awful it would be if separatists were part of a coalition government. As leader of the country, you’re not supposed to condemn separatists.
As a consequence, Harper’s stock in the province has plummeted and the country has returned to its century-old divide.
The West in one corner, Quebec in another. For the Conservatives, it started way back with prime minister Robert Borden. He brought in conscription during the First World War.
It took Quebecers decades to forget. The Quebec-born Brian Mulroney brought the province back into the fold for a while but, try as might, he could never satisfy Lucien Bouchard’s constitutional demands.
Quebecers turned on him in the form of the Bloc Québécois.
The sensitivities in la belle province are matched by those on the Prairies. Mulroney catered to the West, bestowing many a favour, such as the burying of the National Energy Program.
But he was not conservative enough on some economic questions and — good heavens! — he chose Montreal over Manitoba in the awarding of an aircraft maintenance contract.
That was enough to trigger a revolt in the form of the Reform Party.
The Liberals, of course, have never been able to catch a whiff of support in the West ever since the NEP. It’s three decades later. Westerners won’t forget.
It’s the 21st century and the country’s great cleavages are as wide as ever. No matter what a prime minister does, the biases run too deep to be unrooted.
Some wonder if we’ll ever grow up. They have reason to do so.
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