Paul Martin’s Quebec strategy is to put as much distance between himself and Jean Chrétien as possible. It explains why so many Quebec ministers were moved to the back benches when he took power, especially ostensibly capable ones like Martin Cauchon and Stéphane Dion. (Apart from the purge, score-settling and distancing from the ancien régime in general that occurred in the cabinet.)
Insofar as Chrétien himself was unpopular in Quebec — and as the implementation of his policies by his minions was of, shall we say, dubious legality — this is a politically shrewd move. But Martin must be aware of the tightrope he’s walking by demoting the popular-outside-Quebec Dion and by welcoming former Bloquiste Jean Lapierre, and by adopting a more Mulroneyesque approach to the national unity file.
As Gary Doer, the NDP premier of Manitoba, points out, the Clarity Act, which Lapierre doesn’t like and Martin isn’t apparently fond of, is very popular in Western Canada, the CP’s Joan Bryden reports:
“The Clarity bill is probably, in terms of federal-provincial relations, one of the most sure-footed moves in my view in terms of Western Canada. I think from just a pure democratic perspective of having a clear question on something as important as the future of the country … it makes such good sense to people.”
If Martin wants to address western alienation head-on, as he says he does, he needs to be very careful: his Quebec strategy may blow up his Western strategy. (Which is what happened to Mulroney, of course.) Surely he must know that Chrétien’s policies, and Dion’s work, were very politically popular in some parts of Canada.