Canada’s political leaders appealed to Quebec voters during a televised debate yesterday, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying only his Conservatives can deliver stable government and his rivals countering that he is out of touch with the French-speaking province.
Harper kept to his campaign message that the three opposition parties may form an alliance if he doesn’t win a majority in the May 2 election, undermining the country’s economic recovery. To help secure a majority, the Conservatives are trying to maintain the seats they hold in Quebec, Canada’s second-largest province.
“I am asking for another mandate to finish our economic recovery plan,” Harper, 51, said. “Canada is on the right economic track and we need a stable majority government to stay on this track.”
At stake in the vote is leadership of the world’s 10th- largest economy, which grew at the fastest pace among Group of Seven nations in the fourth quarter. Canada’s currency has been the strongest in the G-7 over the past two years. Government bonds have returned 4.4 percent over the past year as of April 12, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data, compared with a 2.6 percent average for the G-7.
Quebec in ‘Bloc Hands’
“Harper wasn’t a big winner, he didn’t expand his possibility for seats in Quebec,” said Harold Chorney, who teaches political science at Concordia University in Montreal. “Quebec will remain largely in Bloc hands.”
The televised French-language debate, held in Ottawa, followed one in English the previous night. Along with Harper, it included Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, 60, and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.
Harper, who has been prime minister since 2006, won 38 percent of the vote in 2008 elections, which gave the Conservatives 143 seats in the 308-member House of Commons. He has never held a majority of seats in the Parliament.
Recent polls indicate Harper may win the most seats in the next election without gaining a majority. The Conservatives were supported by 38.9 percent of decided voters, followed by 31.1 percent who supported the Liberals, according to a CTV/Globe/Nanos election survey published today. The telephone survey of 1,200 people was conducted April 11-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent.
A poll by Leger Marketing taken between March 30 and April 2 found the Bloc Quebecois, which runs candidates only in Quebec, had the support of 39 percent of voters in the province. The Conservatives and Liberals were tied at 20 percent with the New Democrats at 15 percent. The poll of 1,118 Quebeckers had a margin of error of 3 percent.
The French-language debate, which was originally planned for tonight, had been rescheduled to take place a day earlier so it wouldn’t conflict with a National Hockey League playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.
Duceppe, 63, said voters should support his party because it defends the interests of people in Canada’s French-speaking province, and is the only one that can prevent Harper from winning a majority government. The Bloc won 49 of the province’s 75 seats in the last election in October 2008.
“The federalist parties are a coalition, you all support things that Quebec doesn’t want,” Duceppe said.
He also attacked the other leaders for supporting billions of dollars in bankruptcy aid to automakers such as General Motors Co. in Ontario while failing to give assistance to Quebec forestry workers after mills closed.
Ignatieff, 63, kept to his key message last night, arguing his Liberals are the only alternative to the Conservatives and attacking Harper for agreeing to buy 65 of Bethesda, Maryland- based Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 fighter jets, building large prisons and moving ahead with corporate tax cuts.
“You can choose a Liberal government or you can choose to continue with Mr. Harper,” Ignatieff said.
The Liberals currently hold 14 seats in Quebec, mostly in and around Montreal, the province’s largest city.
The format of the debate had the four party leaders in a semi-circle, standing in front of podiums. Questions were submitted by Canadians and videotaped earlier.
The debate included a question on Quebec’s status in Canada, while the opposition parties also sought to attack Harper on policies that are widely opposed in the province, such as his opposition to Canada’s registry of long-guns such as rifles. Gun control is popular in Quebec, where fourteen women were shot and killed at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989. The province’s national assembly last year unanimously passed a resolution asking the Harper government to maintain the registry.
Harper said he always respects provincial jurisdiction. Duceppe challenged that position, saying that Harper should drop his government’s plan to establish a national securities regulator to replace the current system of 13 provincial and territorial regulators.
“If he truly recognizes Quebec as a nation, he will stop trying to create a national securities regulator based in Toronto,” Duceppe said.
Harper said if Canada’s Supreme Court rules the regulator proposal unconstitutional, he will drop it.