French debate preview: pressure on Harper

By Harold Jansen on Oct 1, 2008

In an hour and a half, the French language debate will be starting and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. This really is the contest between Dion, Duceppe and Harper. Although the NDP is making some gains in Quebec, I don't see Mr. Layton as particularly relevant and Ms. May's struggles in French mean she'll be marginal for much of it.

I'd argue the pressure is really on Harper in this one (unlike the English debate, which I'll write about tomorrow). Harper needs a breakthrough in Quebec to get that elusive majority and he's close. Things were looking good in Quebec, but last week was not a good done for the Conservatives there. Playing the blue collar anti-culture card plays well in western Canada, but not so well in Quebec where culture is infused with nationalism. Westerners love it when the government beats up on young offenders; in Quebec it doesn't play so well. It shows how difficult it is to create and to maintain the Mulroney coalition of Western Canada and Quebec nationalists. It's easier to maintain when you don't open up the constitution, but it's still difficult even if you do not. Harper needs to perform well tonight to shore up the gains the party has made there and to add more seats. Duceppe and especially Dion benefit from diminished expectations. If they exceed those expectations, they will have done well.

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