CANADA

THE PRIVILEGES OF OPPOSITION

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition enjoys many perks and privileges. Among them:

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 8 1993
CANADA

THE PRIVILEGES OF OPPOSITION

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition enjoys many perks and privileges. Among them:

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 8 1993

THE PRIVILEGES OF OPPOSITION

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition enjoys many perks and privileges. Among them:

Many of the Bloc’s MPs speak no English, and few are well-acquainted with the rest of the country. Moreover, as a group they have little in common other than their commitment to sovereignty. They range from leftleaning union activists to middle-of-the-road lawyers to business owners with decidedly conservative economic views.

Even on subjects that Quebec nationalists tend to hold near and dear, their views differ. Bouchard, for example, has said that official bilingualism should be maintained as long as Quebec remains in Canada. By contrast,

Jean-Paul Marchand, a FrancoOntarian who was one of the party’s star candidates, maintains that the program offers little to francophones outside Quebec and appeals only to Englishspeaking Quebecers.

In general, the Bloc’s platform is conservative on economic matters, liberal on social issues, and invariably pro-Quebec. That means, among other things, that the Bloc advocates massive cuts in defence spending—but wants all of Quebec’s military bases kept open. The party also wants Ottawa to maintain the current level of funding for social programs as long as Quebec remains in Canada.

Despite doubts about the ability of Bloc MPs, observers in Quebec

say the Bloc’s talent level easily matches that of the 58 rookie Progressive Conservative MPs elected in the province in 1984. Along with Bouchard, the party’s leading figures include:

• Gilles Duceppe, a bright, articulate hardline sovereigntist first elected in 1990, who will serve as the party’s whip;

• Marchand, a fluently bilingual former

federal civil servant with a degree in philosophy from Fordham University in New York City;

• Yvan Loubier, a 34-year-old economist and international trade expert who is a close confidant of Bouchard;

• Benoit Tremblay, a former Tory MP with degrees in business administration and so-

cial science from several Canadian and European universities;

• Osvaldo Núñez, a Chilean-born former industrial relations analyst, and the party’s only non-francophone elected member.

Despite their sharp ideological differences with the Bloc, many Reform MPs will face similar challenges in Parliament. Reform, which concentrated its electoral efforts west of Quebec, has yet to develop policies for some issues that specifically affect other regions. Asked about the crisis in the East Coast fishery, policy director Dimitri Pantazopoulos acknowledged, “Way out in Calgary, we don’t get asked many questions about foreign overfishing.” Manning, for his part, says that the party still needs to make “comprehensive evaluations of where we stand” on such issues as culture and communications policy, the environment and foreign relations.

Nevertheless, Manning bristles at suggestions that Reform—which elected only two members east of Saskatchewan—consists of little more than, as he puts it, “kooks from the West.” The party generally supports the Liberals’ plan to cancel Ottawa’s $4.8-billion purchase of 43 new helicopters. Beyond that, however, Reform can be counted on to oppose many Liberal initiatives. Its less-publicized policies include a call for a debate on whether Canada should stay in NATO, opposition to federal funding for megaprojects

such as the Hibernia offshore oil project and cuts in unemployment insurance benefits for seasonally employed fishery workers. The party has also demanded an end to what it claims is the “special status” enjoyed by natives under the federal Indian Act.

With only 52 seats, Reform will be hardpressed to achieve any of those aims. To

some extent, however, the party may succeed in changing the way debates in the Commons are conducted. Manning says that Reform will try to respond to government initiatives with “constructive suggestions rather than the empty partisan rhetoric of the past.” And unlike most of their colleagues in the House, Reformers will be actively discouraged from moving to Ottawa; instead, the party wants them to spend half their time in their ridings. Manning will also push for more free votes in the Commons,

which would allow individual Liberal MPs to vote against government legislation without necessarily triggering a new election.

Like the Bloc, Reform’s caucus will include several promising new MPs with impressive qualifications:

• Art Hanger, a 22-year veteran of the Calgary police force, and Jack Ramsay, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, will both concentrate on justice issues;

• Ray Speaker, a veteran provincial Tory cabinet minister in Alberta, will be the house leader;

• Deborah Grey, the party’s only MP in the last Parliament, will be whip;

• Robert Ringma, a retired naval commander, and John Frazer, a retired RCAP' colonel, will assume responsibility for defence issues.

If each party concentrates on its strengths, they could produce some surprising results—for some surprising reasons. Among the likely victors, says former Bloc MP Jean Lapierre, will be “the ordinary people of Quebec” because they will get “a majority government in Ottawa led by a Quebecer, the Bloc to look after Quebec’s interests and the Reform party to look after their wallets.” And while Lapierre—now a Montreal radio host—is sanguine about Reform, he also says that Canadians elsewhere “shouldn’t get too excited about the Bloc.” Adds Lapierre: “The whole thing is a tribute to Canadian democracy. There aren’t many other places in the world where this sort of thing can happen.” For that, many Canadians will not be sure whether they should feel blessed or benighted.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

LUKE FISHER

JOHN HOWSE

NANCY WOOD

BARRY CAME