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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

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Politics

Cozying up to Quebec spells trouble for B.C. NDP InTheHouse Keith Baldrey

T

he recent visit to B.C. of federal NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp served as a reminder that the sudden success of the party at the national level presents a potential downside for the provincial wing. Topp, like many other federal New Democrats, expressed his support for giving Quebec more seats in the House of Commons at the expense of provinces such as B.C. He argues Quebec has a unique and historical place in Confederation, and so must be treated differently. The federal NDP doesn’t like plans to expand the House of Commons to give 30 new seats to Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. The three provinces are severely underrepresented in Parliament, based on growing populations in each of them. But Quebec, which is already guaranteed 75 seats, would not receive more

seats under the proposal and therefore its actual influence in Parliament would be diminished. This doesn’t sit well with Quebec nationalists, of course, who wield considerable influence over the electorate in their province. And now that the NDP is the dominant federal party in Quebec, it finds itself pandering to that province’s self-interest at the expense of the interests of other provinces. The federal NDP has been courting Quebec’s support for some time now. Its late leader, Jack Layton, pledged to block the redistribution plans last year and even wrote a letter to then-Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe pledging that his party would block any legislation “that would lead to the reduction of Quebec’s political weight in the House of Commons.” The NDP also supported a law making it mandatory that Supreme Court of Canada justices had to be bilingual, which may bar a large number of qualified jurists in Western Canada from ever being appointed to the top bench.

Layton made it clear that winning seats in Quebec was a top priority for him. The fact his party exceeded even his loftiest dreams made for a deliriously happy election night for the NDP. But now the party may start paying the price that comes with cozying up to a province that demands special status above all others. The NDP has its historic roots in western Canada, and B.C. has long been a particular stronghold. But will those ties now become strained, even broken, as the party shifts its focus to Quebec? The federal caucus is now dominated by MPs from Quebec. Many of those 59 MPs are Quebecfirsters, and whoever wins the party leadership must walk a fine line between accommodating Quebec’s interests while not penalizing traditional areas of strength such as B.C. and

Ontario. But blocking attempts to give B.C. a more deserving presence in Parliament is a no-go in this province. Topp appeared on CKNW radio last week and said he thought British Columbians would gladly give Quebec more than its fair share of seats, which suggests he is severely out of step with public opinion in this province. And this brings us to the impact that pandering to Quebec may have on the B.C. wing of the party. NDP leader Adrian Dix has only said he supports giving B.C. more seats in the House of Commons, but he has not – at least at the time of this writing – explained whether he also favours retaining Quebec’s current strength in the House. If the federal NDP becomes painted as a Quebec-first party, this will undoubtedly give the

B.C. Liberals (and the B.C. Conservatives) a lot of ammunition with which to fire away at Dix and his colleagues. The impact of this situation would be felt most significantly outside of Metro Vancouver. Dix has made winning seats in the Interior – places like Vernon, Penticton, the Cariboo and the south Okanagan – a priority for him in the next election. But those areas are also former strongholds of the old Reform Party, which had at its philosophical core a deep animosity toward Quebec. I suspect many

people who voted for that party – which put up some impressive landslide wins in elections – felt the same way. A number of political observers – including myself – said on the recent federal election night a few months back that the NDP should be careful what it wished for when it came to winning electoral success in Quebec. And now the B.C. NDP may be about to find out how true that prediction was. Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent with Global B.C. You can reach him at Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca

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Surrey Now September 20 2011  

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Surrey Now September 20 2011  

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