Gilles Duceppe is sabre-rattling, threatening to bring down the government over the fiscal imbalance, Kyoto and, now, Afghanistan.
On the vertical fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, Duceppe has put up an arbitrary and absurd number, $3.9 billion, he says Quebec is owed in terms of the gap between Ottawa’s fiscal surplus and the provinces’ deficit in delivering such services as health care and education. If this outrageous number doesn’t find its way into the February budget, Duceppe is threatening a spring election.
That might be in the middle of a spring election in Quebec. Yeah, right. The sovereignty movement doesn’t have enough of a ground game to run two campaigns at once. This is just bluster.
Then Duceppe insists it’s Kyoto or nothing on climate change, and the Liberals under Stephane Dion are with him on this. Never mind that instead of dropping to six per cent below 1990 levels, greenhouse-gas emissions level increased by 27 per cent under the Liberals and Dion, which is only a 33 per cent miss. That’s just, you should excuse the expression, an inconvenient truth. In Quebec, everyone loves Kyoto, so who could be against it, even though hardly anyone knows what’s in it ? Kyoto, Kyoto, Kyoto.
Except that one opposition party, the NDP, is establishing a coalition of convenience with the Conservative government on climate change. While Jack Layton reserves harsh words for Stephen Harper on other hot files, he has recently been on his best behaviour on this one. The word Kyoto has barely passed his lips in the weeks since the government took up his request to refer the Clean Air bill to a special committee of the House.
The Conservatives need to get the environment off the table, or at least off the ballot, before the election. Co-operating with the NDP on climate change also moves the Tories closer to the centre on an issue that resonates with voters in the middle, where elections are won. Co-operating with the Tories on climate change helps the NDP out of a squeeze play between the Green Party and its leader, Elizabeth May, and the green scarves of the Dionistas. Nobody missed that May finished second, and the NDP fourth, in last month’s by-election in London, Ont. Nobody missed the NDP’s cratering from 17 per cent to 10 per cent in an EKOS poll taken after the infomercial that was the Liberal convention.
On Afghanistan, it’s difficult to say how the opposition parties might align on a confidence motion. Layton wants to bring our troops home at once. Dion wants to bring them home, "with honour," as he puts it. It’s hard to ascertain what honour there would be in informing the Afghans, NATO and the UN that Canada as a country does not keep its word to the world community. As a member of the Martin cabinet in 2005, Dion voted in favour of redeploying our troops from the relative safety of Kabul to the dangerous mission in Kandahar, only to vote against extending the mission in 2006. And Paul Martin, who put our soldiers in harm’s way, couldn’t even be bothered to show up for the vote. Don’t get me started.
On Monday in Quebec City, Duceppe issued an ultimatum on Afghanistan : change the mission from a military to a humanitarian one, or else.
Duceppe made clear that he wanted action on this before next summer, when a Quebec-based regiment, the Van Doos, or the Royal 22nd, rotates into Kandahar as the relief.
"Mr. Harper will need to rapidly and profoundly change the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, which in a few months will be made up of men and women from Val- Cartier," he said. "We will not be accomplices of an obtuse government who stubbornly maintain the current course."
Duceppe didn’t bother to explain how Canadian aid and development workers can help build civil society and infrastructure without also providing security.
In fact, Canada is doing quite a lot in humanitarian terms that doesn’t get reported because of the media’s one-dimensional focus on the military aspects of the mission. The Canadian media in Kandahar are embedded with the troops there, and are seldom out reporting on the drilling of water wells, the disarming of land mines, the building of roads and schools, the training of police and army, or the aid to Afghans with governance issues.
As on Kyoto, Duceppe is tapping a hot-button issue in Quebec - opposition to the mission because it isn’t peacekeeping, a business we’re not in anymore.
While Duceppe was in Quebec City, Afghan ambassador Omar Samad was in Montreal, making an eloquent case for the mission. At the end of his presentation, he reeled off several reasons why Canada and NATO were needed by his country.
"Do you care about poverty ?" he asked. "Do you care about children going to school ? Do you care about women having rights ? If you do, is Afghanistan the place to be or not ?"
Duceppe, Layton and Dion will have to answer these questions at some point. Or they will be left staring at their shoes.