Canadian Election 2011: How Quebec was won?

Actually, about a month earlier, but this is the date all Liberals- and New Democrats for that matter- should see as the starting point to truly understand this election. There was a lot of secondary spillover consequence this campaign, but at the source all roads lead to Quebec. Rather than talking about predictions, maybe the more apt description is sensing danger. I’ve written about the dangers since before that date, and while nobody could have foreseen events, it is also true that a logical sequence of events existed which have lead to this conclusion.

The NDP ate our lunch in Quebec, they out hustled us, they planned with URGENCY, let nobody delude themselves. The date in the title, that’s Mulcair’s bi-election victory in Outremont, where he stole a riding that had been in Liberal hands 1935. I remember early in that bi-election reports of NDP signs everywhere, the Liberal presence non existent. Astounding, this plucky little party, in the middle of a Liberal bastion, immediately playing offence, game face on. What followed was a slow, prodding Liberal reaction, our arrogance, complacence, whatever you call it simply failed to grasp the reality. With that incredibly important beach head in Quebec, the NDP suddenly moved from a theory to a credible alternative.

There has always been a natural philosophical affinity between the NDP and Quebec, what has held them back are traditional historical ties and the notion they are a realistic option. With Mulcair’s victory, the threat became real, we comforted ourselves with "one off" talk, but the dangers existed and have flowered since. I would argue the NDP have shown a hunger in Quebec, not dissuaded by organizational problems, almost an idealist zeal which has clearly paid dividends. Although the explosion was impossible to understand, people can point to a the slow evolution in polls, wherein the NDP clearly emerged as the alternative to the Bloc dominance. With the Bloc fatigue evident early on in this particular campaign, all that background, secondary evidence, fell into place in astounding fashion.

Since Outremont, I have stressed our Quebec strategy. Whenever I’ve had opportunity to query publicly and privately, some will know I mention Quebec immediately, looking at the electoral map I never could quite crunch the numbers without it playing a key role. And yet, sorry to say, I’ve never quite felt any urgency from our camp on Quebec. I defy anyone to articulate the Liberal narrative for Quebec, to be blunt I see no evidence it exists, beyond a few platitudes. 

During the Liberals Thinkers Conference, I once again had the opportunity to query about Quebec. I cornered one key member of our inner circle at this gathering, who also happened to be a Quebecer. What followed was a conversation, wherein I kept asking about our Quebec strategy. The responses I received concerned me greatly, because there really was no coherent narrative, more alarming that SAME lack of urgency readily apparent. I continued to comfort myself with the NDP still only showing marginal uptick in Quebec, Ignatieff might catch fire, looks of comfort blankets for we Liberals. 

There is a funny thing about Liberals, if you express great concerns, people tend to tell you not to panic, misplaced confidence soothes, when really it masks reality. Meanwhile a hungry upstart works late into the night, with a clear goal in mind, no matter how unrealistic it may seem. After the Coderre fiasco, Liberals never really rebounded with an alternate plan, it was all bandaids. We heard stuff about our organizational challenges in Quebec, which now seems even more farcical given what the NDP just did with nothing.

One last example, Liberals will remember Ignatieff’ appearance on Quebec television late in this campaign. People should also remember that Layton did the same show much earlier. I mention this fact just to cement the "ate our lunch" narrative, which dates back to September 17, 2007.

Before "experts" muddy reality with their digestions, Liberals need to understand the chain of events accurately, so as to not emphasis where it isn’t required, fail to be attentive where it does. The Harper majority, the NDP ascendency elsewhere, the Liberal collapse, all of these events lead back to Quebec. Prior to the NDP "surge" in Quebec, if anything, the NDP were incredibly weak in Ontario, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia. As well, the Liberals were polling around 40% in Ontario, and we had public polls, plus internal results, that suggested traction in British Columbia. Much of these gains were at the EXPENSE of the NDP, and it all evaporated when Quebec blew open, momentum and positive coverage dominated, things spilled elsewhere, not to the same degree, but profound nonetheless. The Liberals were stung again, when some in Ontario ran from them to the Conservatives to stop the NDP. 

To understand this election, forget the secondary manifestations and instead look to the source to understand our collapse elsewhere. I can draw a straight line for what happened in Toronto to what happened in Montreal. I guess the saddest part, while shocked about the gradient, the dangers were apparent for quite some time and that’s the primary lesson for me moving forward.

Click HERE to read more from Steve Val.

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