Demographics are playing against Québec. Birth rates and net immigration aren't high enough for the province to keep its relative weight in the Canadian bosom.
As if it weren't enough, the province's contribution to the government's mix has been depleting since the Conservatives' arrival at the helm in 2006. At first, Stephen Harper courted Québec, hoping the province would give him the edge he needed to achieve majority. But unfortunately, settlement of the fiscal imbalance, recognition of the Québécois nation and UNESCO representation haven't touched voters as expected and didn't translate into enough votes for a majority Conservative government in the 2008 election. Many irritated Conservatives see the Québécois as ungrateful.
In recent months, Stephen Harper has been pushing another alternative to boost his representation in the House of Commons, an alternative that thrives on the higher growth rate of western Canadian cities. A first attempt last year, at riding redistribution, died amid howls of complaint from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty; his province received far fewer new seats under the proposed bill than its fast-growing population warranted. But the fruit is now ripe for many and a recent proposition may well suit Ontario's concerns and leave Québec with the highest population per electoral district, a proposition that would leave each Québec voter with the weakest say at the House of Commons.
Canadians seem to agree with Stephen Harper's plans. A recent EKOS survey done for the CBC has the Conservatives at 39.7 per cent and the Liberals at 25.7 per cent. A Strategic Counsel/Globe and Mail/CTV poll released earlier this week had similar results. Ontarians are now turning their back to the Liberals, even in Toronto, and Québec may very well pay the price. A Conservative majority government with minimal Québec representation is kind of like a blank check; it doesn't call for a disproportionate number of Québécois ministers to go forward.
Such a scenario might very well be the beginning of a vicious circle. Who would want to play the part of the token Franco in a government who doesn't need Québec? A federal government with low Québécois representation would become even less appealing for politicians of the province and would drift away from the rich heritage the province has contributed to the country. Through time, Québec has often been instrumental in governmental decision making for prioritizing political, social and economical issues such as free trade, not following the USA in Iraq and gay marriage.
For many Conservatives, and even many Canadians, Québec remains the unbearable spoiled child of the Canadian federation. What a treat it would be not to have to cater to it! As much as a fantasy this may be for some, many sovereigntists are rubbing their hands at the thought. They believe that a Harper majority will serve their cause better than 20 years of patient education to the Québécois.
Inspired by a column by Vincent Marissal, "Le Québec ratatiné?" [Google translation] published in La Presse, October 9th, 2009.