The French facts

In Quebec, Tories bank on the PM’s appeal

THERESA TEDESCO November 21 1988

The French facts

In Quebec, Tories bank on the PM’s appeal

THERESA TEDESCO November 21 1988

The French facts


In Quebec, Tories bank on the PM’s appeal

The empty recreation centre in the quiet town on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River had a welcoming atmosphere that was missing in many of the others that he had visited. Five Tory campaign workers frantically set up the podium from which Prime Minister Brian Mulroney would address party loyalists. It would be the 12th speech in she days for Mulroney, whose campaign strategy called for a rousing rally to end each day of electioneering. When he finally appeared, the Prime Minister did not need a prepared text: he was speaking to a familiar crowd in the Charlevoix riding, which embraces his home town of Baie-Comeau. And the native son did not disappoint the 300 Quebecers who packed the centre's games room. Said Mulroney: “I am in Baie-Comeau today to tell you I kept my word,” referring to his promises of economic prosperity and national unity. The Prime Minister’s acceptance by the home crowd—and his popularity among small-town Quebecers generally—is one of the Conservatives’ most significant assets: few majority governments have ever been formed

without substantial strength in Quebec.

Although Mulroney’s popularity may give the Tories an edge in Quebec, the province presents challenges of culture and language for all three parties that they do not find anywhere else in Canada. Over the years, national parties with leaders from Quebec have tended to have the most success in the province. The Conservatives went into the 1984 campaign emphasizing that it was the first election in Canadian history that pitted a Quebecborn Conservative chief against a Liberal leader—

John Turner—from outside of the province. And as the

parties again fight for the -

allegiance of Quebec, that strategy remains largely the same for the Conservatives. The Liberals and the New Democrats are countering by highlighting the strength of their Quebec teams and minimizing the

importance of their anglophone leaders.

Many observers attributed the overwhelming Tory victory nationally in 1984 to a mixture of Mulroney’s personal appeal, political shrewdness, some fortunate timing—and the surprising weakness of the Liberals in their traditional stronghold of Quebec. There, the Tories focused their advertising on Mulroney, while in other provinces the emphasis was on the Tory team. That tactic grew more from necessity than from any desire to foster a Tory leadership cult. At the time, Mulroney was almost the only Conservative in Quebec who was familiar to most members of the electorate. Said Lome Bozinoff, vice-president of Gallup Canada Inc. pollsters: “Quebec has never voted against a native son— ^ ever.”

1 In the 1984 landslide, the

0 Tories won 58 of Quebec’s 75

2 seats. But it is still unclear £ whether Mulroney can plant

1 permanent Conservative z roots in a province that had ° not strongly supported the

party since 1958, when John Diefenbaker’s Tories won 50 seats there. But Mulroney’s decision to make a political ally of Quebec Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa is largely a reflection of his decision to try to do just that. And two of the Mulroney government’s major undertak-

ings now appear to be strengthening the Tories’ hold on the province. By signing the Meech Lake constitutional accord—which recognizes Quebec as a “distinct society”—the Prime Minister accommodated the aspirations of many nationalists in Quebec within the Canadian federal system. And most recently, by

negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, Mulroney appeared to win support from many members of Quebec’s growing—and increasingly influential—francophone business class.

But despite their attempts to appeal to a broader spectrum of Quebec society, Conser-

vative strategists continue to emphasize the native-son theme in that province. The Tory slogan used in English Canada, “Managing change,” is intended to emphasize a team of strong Tory candidates who will continue to promote the economic growth and prosperity of the past four years. In Quebec, that slogan is altered slightly: “Continuer dans le bon sens, ” which loosely means “Keep following your good instincts.”

Senator Michel Cogger, co-chairman of the Conservative campaign, says that the Frenchlanguage slogan appeals more to individual emotions. Added Marcel Côté, Conservative campaign communications director in Quebec: “There were debates within the party between the English team and the French team over approaches. We did our own [opinion testing] in Quebec to help come up with the line, but we relied on our intuition as well.” Declared Côté: “In Quebec, we are conviction-driven, partly because it is a smaller society where intuition counts.”

But Mulroney is banking on more than intuition. In his free trade deal with the United States, he is—in a symbolic gesture—proposing more economic independence for Quebec. And the Meech Lake accord not only brought Quebec into the constitutional fold; it offered the province political association with the rest of Canada. For English-speaking Canadians, the campaign against free trade plays to Canadian nationalism in the same way that Quebec’s “Yes” (for a separate state) campaign of 1980

played to Quebec nationalism. Mulroney is striking the same emotional chords of pride and accomplishment in Quebec that then-Quebec Premier René Lévesque played so often in his pre-referendum speeches. Mulroney’s speeches in defence of the free trade agreement are built on some of the same themes as the “Yes” campaign, where Lévesque and the Parti Québécois sought a mandate for political independence from the rest of Canada while maintaining economic ties. The referendum was defeated eight years ago by 60 per cent of Quebecers.

Addressing enthusiastic supporters in a

Montreal church basement during the third week of the campaign, Mulroney appealed to Quebecers’ pride, while accusing his anglophone opponents of insulting and attempting to intimidate them. “Quebecers are fed up with the old tactics of those who are contemptuous of our intelligence and insult our dignity,” he said. “They say no to these prophets of doom, these professional pessimists, and yes to the builders of a new Quebec prosperity.”

By aligning himself with the powerful forces of business and nationalism, Mulroney has built bridges to several Quebec political groups, leaving the federal Liberals little room to ma-

noeuvre. The Liberals are also hampered by Turner’s own lack of an extensive personal network of Quebec supporters and by the fact that the Liberal leader cannot match Mulroney’s personal popularity in Quebec. Said Gallup’s Bozinoff: “Mulroney makes the point that he’s from Quebec, and how could they vote against him?”

To that end, the Liberals have developed a strategy based almost entirely on undermining Mulroney’s favorite-son advantage. According to a high-ranking Quebec Liberal strategist, the party’s advertising has been deliberately more negative in Quebec because members of representative groups reacted favorably during testing. “Whenever you reminded people of the government’s record of scandals, the Prime Minister’s credibility rating went through the floor,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity. And by relying heavily on the party’s historic roots in Quebec, the Liberals are trying to lure voters with a lengthy list of high-profile Quebecers to show that the party has a wealth of native sons and longtime residents of its own. He added: “We are focusing more on big-name candidates, such as Paul Martin Jr. [son of former external affairs minister Paul Martin] and Raymond Gameau [Liberal finance critic], rather than running on the leader.”

The NDP, which is fighting hard to gain support in Quebec, has campaigned on the popularity of leader Edward Broadbent. Capitalizing on his personal high standing in the opinion polls, the NDP leader has focused on social programs and community services in the province. Deliberately avoiding the free trade deal, which is popular in Quebec, the NDP has targeted the environment, tax reform and child care in its advertisements. Said Terry O’Grady, NDP communications director: “Our polling in the province shows that Quebecers have different attitudes toward defence policies, where we are looked at more sympathetically.” He added, “As well, Quebec is more receptive to the notion that government should intervene in matters of social conscience.”

Still, Broadbent was faced with the formidable task of showing Quebecers that he can build a strong team around his leadership in the province. Unlike the English advertisements, which focus almost entirely on Broadbent, the party was attempting to show, through its commercials, growing support for the NDP in Quebec. Said O’Grady: “It is important for us to make the point that there is a group of candidates in that province that supports Ed.” But with Quebec’s tradition of voting for winners and native sons, the NDP’s immediate electoral prospects in that province appeared remote. For the other two parties, the campaign had become a test of strength between the alliances of history on the one hand and a prime minister’s personal popularity on the other. And in the meeting halls along the St. Lawrence North Shore, at least, Brian Mulroney seemed to have the edge.