OTTAWA â€” Blamed by some in his own party for adopting policies that helped reawaken the Quebec independence movement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper now finds himself walking a political tightrope as he prepares to face the demands of a fresh Parti Quebecois government.
â€œHeâ€™s in charge and heâ€™s got to figure it out. So weâ€™re in for great fun and games,â€� said veteran Quebec Conservative organizer Peter White. â€œBut it isnâ€™t the end of Canada.â€�
For months, White has argued that Harper and his small team of Quebec MPs were angering a large majority in the province by adopting unpopular policies and decisions in areas such as language, law and order, and the environment.
But despite the fact there are only five Quebec Tory MPs in Ottawa, White has also said Harper could tackle the problem by raising his public profile in Quebec and explaining his policies more.
â€œQuebecers came very close to saying â€˜Yesâ€™ last time (in the 1995 referendum on sovereignty) and things were not nearly as bad then as they are today in terms of the emotion of the thing,â€� White said Tuesday.
â€œThere is nobody in Quebec, literally nobody, standing up for federalists.â€�
A former federal Liberal policy chairman, Akaash Maharaj, said the Quebec election campaign demonstrated that all federal party leaders need to take responsibility for promoting national unity in the province.
â€œYes, Stephen Harper does carry some of the blame for the rise of separatism in Quebec, but the Liberal party and NDPâ€™s weakness is also to blame.â€�
Maharaj said some Canadians may not feel comfortable with Harper facing off against a PQ government led by Pauline Marois, given that the prime minister has low approval ratings among both federalists and sovereigntists in Quebec.
But the former Liberal insider added that it depends on whether Canadians believe the PQ is making reasonable demands in its dealings with the federal government.
He said that Harper would get sympathy from Canadians outside of Quebec if they believed the PQ were deliberately trying to start fights or conflicts in negotiations with Ottawa.
He added that the NDP, which was largely absent from the Quebec campaign despite holding a majority of the provinceâ€™s federal seats, must also step up and decide whether it wants to champion Canadian National unity or attempt to appease the Quebec independence movement.
NDP MPs, who are meeting in Newfoundland and Labrador to discuss strategy for the fall session of Parliament, suggested that Harper must show more leadership to unite Canadians.
â€œThe fundamental blueprint is Canadians want to see a government and prime minister that brings people together, who brings out the best qualities in us and really represents those fundamental Canadian values,â€� said NDP caucus chairman Peter Julian.
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae, meeting with his own federal caucus in Montebello, Que., recalled living through the 1980 and 1995 referendums, as well as past constitutional battles between the federal government and Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois.
â€œI do not want a return to that,â€� he said in French.
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