Okay, here's what I've been wondering much of the week: Why have the Conservatives been putting so much time and energy into campaigning in Quebec, when even the most optimistic CPC staffer would have a heart attack if they won three seats there? It doesn't seem like the most efficient use of resources.
Then it hit me: Ontario voters, who the Conservative Party really need to court, cling to the Liberals in good part because they view the Grits as the only party that preserves national unity. Why they believe this in the wake of Adscam, I'm not entirely sure; I'm kinda with Bernard Lord: "Les libéraux disent qu’ils sont les seuls à pouvoir préserver l’unité nationale. Ils sont comme un pyromane qui dirait, allumettes en main, qu’il est le seul à pouvoir éteindre le feu!"*
Nevertheless, it has become clear that in order for some Ontarians to consider the Conservatives, they need to think that some Quebeckers are considering or, at least, respect the Conservatives.
So, in order for the Conservatives to pick up the crucial seats they need in Ontario, they need to appear to be an actual force in Quebec. Thus, campaigning in Quebec helps with Ontario. When Veronica sees Archie with Betty, suddenly Archie seems like a much more appealing boyfriend prospect.
To word this argument more simply and with less comic-book references: Ontarians will only vote for a truly national party -- and it is in Quebec that they look for proof of a party's nationalness.
Now, are the Conservatives actually making headway in Quebec? Perhaps. Michel Vastel, one of the province's veteran journalists who writes for Le Soleil and blogs for L'Actualité, sums up the second week of the campaign like this:
Tous les observateurs admettent une chose : Stephen Harper est une surprise. Et Paul Martin une déception. Jack Layton une curiosité, et Gilles Duceppe une habitude. (All the observers admit one thing: Stephen Harper is a surprise. And Paul Martin is a deception. Jack Layton is a curiousity, and Gilles Duceppe a habit.)Well, that's a start anyway. Conservatives who are wringing their hands about the Liberals sneaking ahead in the daily SES polls might find comfort, or at least some motivation, in that and what Vastel reminds his readers of next -- that in 1984, the polls only started moving towards Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives in the third week of the campaign. Writes Vastel, "Il ne tient qu’à Stephen Harper de convaincre les «red tories», les conservateurs modérés, de rentrer au bercail. Comme l’a fait Monsieur Mulroney en 1984…" (All Stephen Harper has to do is convince the Red Tories, the moderate conservatives, to come back to the fold. Like Mr. Mulroney did in 1984.)
« La nouveauté c’est que les gens commencent à écouter le chef conservateur », me disait un collègue qui accompagne la tournée de Stephen Harper depuis quelques jours. ("What's new is that people are starting to listen to the Conservative leader," a colleague accompanying Stephen Harper's tour told me a few days ago.)
No small task, admittedly.
* Translation: "The Liberals say they are the only ones who can preserve national unity. They are like a pyromaniac who says, matches in hand, that he is the only one who can put on the fire." See, all the good zingers are in French.