Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at a news conference in Sherbrooke, Quebec, April 20, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI
OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper may have celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day with Quebeckers on Sunday, but that didn't convince Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair the prime minister is any less out of touch with La Belle Province.
Harper held a secret meeting with former PM Brian Mulroney earlier this month in which he asked for advice on national unity. Mulcair dismissed the meeting, saying it only showed how little Harper understands about Quebec.
With the popularity of the Parti Quebecois on the rise and the possibility of a provincial election there as soon as this fall, observers say it is not just in Harper's own interests to improve relations with Quebec, but also important for federalism in Canada.
"A government that doesn't appear to care or even pander to Quebec, that's bad for federalism," McGill University history Prof. Desmond Morton said.
Morton admitted that most Quebecois are "bored" with the sovereignty debate, but explained that the more the issue comes up the more alienated the province feels.
And between pulling out of the Kyoto Accord, nominating English-only individuals to key posts in government and weakening Quebec's representation in the House of Commons, Morton says Quebeckers are feeling more alienated than ever.
Quebec has long received concessions from government and under Harper the situation hasn't changed much.
Quebec receives $8 billion annually in transfer payments, more than any other province. And yet history shows concessions to Quebec don't add up to more votes.
The big challenge for Harper in Quebec is to rebuild his relationship with the province without concessions, Morton said.
"My advice to Harper would be to include in his government a powerful figure who can speak for Quebec to cabinet and I think he would have to look outside the Tory caucus," Morton said. "But I don't think Harper takes advice."