Canada

LILLEY: Conservatives need to learn how to win without Quebec

They would be standing on principle against bigoted and discriminatory legislation that has no place in Canada.

Brad Wall, former premier of Saskatchewan speaks at the United Conservative Party's 2018 annual general meeting and founding convention in Red Deer, May 5, 2018.

Should the Conservatives think about devising a winning strategy that doesn’t include pandering to Quebec? It’s an idea that former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall raises in a column for the National Post and one that’s worth considering.

Wall isn’t dismissive of Quebec and admits that winning without a significant presence in the province with the second highest number of seats would be difficult, but says it should be considered.

“Consider how voters might view the only national party to actually stand against things like Bill 21 and offer an alternative to asymmetrical federalism,” Wall wrote.

It’s an idea that I have argued in favour of in the past, including in the 2019 election and in the current one. Standing against Bill 21, a law that regulates what people can wear, that sees the state discriminate against religious minorities in favour of a fake secularism, would be a wholly conservative move.

Each time this idea has been raised it has also been dismissed by the people running the election campaigns for the Conservatives. They are either convinced that they will win due to a big breakthrough in Quebec or that they need Quebec to win any form of government.

I’m here to tell you that this is misguided thinking. Any seats lost due to this stand in Quebec could be made up for elsewhere by voters who appreciate the principled stand, including the many immigrant and visible minority voters who populate the ridings in and around Toronto.

The last time that the Conservatives won big in Quebec was Brian Mulroney’s 63 of 75 seats in 1988. When Stephen Harper won his first minority, he won it with 10 Quebec seats. That’s the same number the Conservatives have won in every election since but one.

In 2011 when the Conservatives won their majority, the party was reduced to just five seats in Quebec. If they had not won a single seat in Quebec in that election, the Harper Conservatives would still have won a majority.

In the future, that should be the plan. Appeal elsewhere, take the seats in Quebec if you get them but don’t plan on winning due to the appeal to nationalist voters. For people who think this is an awful idea for national unity, the Liberals win while ignoring most of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Liberals hold four seats in Manitoba, all in Winnipeg, and two seats in Alberta – one in Calgary and one in Edmonton. They are shut out across the rest of the Prairies and you would have to head into British Columbia’s lower mainland before seeing another Liberal MP.

The Liberals are winning with minimal representation between the Ontario-Manitoba border and the Vancouver area. It works for them and they are never criticized for not having national representation — why shouldn’t the Conservatives adopt a similar policy with Quebec.

It doesn’t stop the Conservatives from putting forward many of the policies of O’Toole’s in his so-called contract with Quebec but when it comes to Bill 21 and Bill 96, which targets Quebec’s English minority, the Conservatives should take a principled stand and be strongly opposed.

Sure, they could lose some seats. Yes, they could be accused of being against “the Quebec nation.” So be it, they would be standing on principle against bigoted and discriminatory legislation that has no place in Canada.

Taking this stand would give the Conservatives a shot at winning seats in the 53-seat fortress Toronto that just sent 48 Liberals to Ottawa. It could help win back support in B.C.’s Lower Mainland that would more than compensate for any losses. Voters from multicultural communities in Ontario and B.C. would see a federal leader actually standing up for their fellow citizens in Quebec.

It would also be the right thing to do.

Maybe make that the guiding principle for the next election and let voters follow the leader.

blilley@postmedia.com

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