It seemed a bit odd when, during the first debate of this interminable election, Justin Trudeau went on at length about the NDP’s position on the Clarity Act, and on Québec’s secession. It felt like a discussion about 15 years out of date, but Trudeau was successful in getting Mulcair to waste time on it while Harper just looked on in glee.
It seems odd because the issue is a somewhat complex one based on a currently dormant issue. Intellectually interesting though the discussion may be, Québec separatism is at a historic low.
But it might make for good politics in English Canada, so long as Trudeau can whip up some of the anxiety that has historically surrounded that issue. Last week he went around with Jean Chrétien arguing that people need to vote for national unity and not the NDP.
Although if people were going to vote on unity, I hardly see how voting for a party that could bring Québec back into the parliamentary fold counts as anti-nationalist. The Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc sure as hell aren’t going to be the ones forming power with a major Québec contingent.
The danger for the NDP is that this might work in Ontario. If enough older progressive voters can be swayed by fears over separation, that leaches support from the NDP.
The Liberals, for a long time, traded on being the party of national unity. Trudeau the father was largely responsible for that reputation. I don’t blame the party for trying to make political hay of that issue in this election.
But it could also be a wasted effort. Not that it would backfire, but getting people worried about Québec means convincing them that separation is a significant issue, and at the moment, with the Bloc eating dirt and the PQ brought low, that couldn’t be further from the truth.