It has been an interesting study in human dynamics and politics in the past few weeks watching development of the new relationship between Jean Charest, of Quebec and Ontario's, Dalton McGuinty.
The issue has left many pundits wondering if the big loser in this cosy relationship is the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The Federal Conservatives need Quebec "on-side" at the next election, otherwise pretty much everyone knows that they can't cop a majority.
The interesting sidebar to the pundits' debate is whether there is any behind the scenes role being played in the affair by he, who some have called Quebec's "Grey Eminence", the former Prime-Minister, Brian Mulroney. Let's first recall that Mr. Mulroney was eminently successful in his bid for Prime-Minister in the late 1980's early 1990's by forging an alliance with a number of Quebec's malcontent and disgruntled politicians, including Lucien Bouchard. Mr. Charest was a member of the Mulroney cabinet and succeeded Kim Campbell as Progressive-Conservative leader in the party's turbulent mid-nineties.
Over a period of several years Stephen Harper, the Reformer, and Mr. Mulroney developed a relationship of kindred souls over issues of Quebec policies and particularities about which Mr. Harper, the westerner, knew very little. It isn't clear what role Mr. Mulroney and his supporters played in the Tory ascendancy to governing party in January 2006 but it didn't hurt. Somewhat more obvious was the advisory role Mr. Mulroney may have played in Mr.Charest's re-election as Quebec Premier in the spring of 2007. It was not by accident that Mr. Harper gave Mr. Charest a pre-election gift in the form of a new Federal transfer of $700-million, which the Quebec Liberals used to cut taxes for Quebec voters, and get re-elected.
The Harper and Mulroney relationship unravelled after the German ex-pat Karl Heinz Schreiber in his own battle with Murloney, revealed that he'd given a letter to the former Prime-Minister pleading for Mr. Mulroney to raise Schreiber's deportation problems with Harper. That issue was to be discussed at a private family gathering of Mulroneys' and Harpers' at the Prime-Minister's summer residence in 2006. Both Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Harper have since denied the discussion took place. Nonetheless, Mr. Harper was outraged by the revelations of the sordid Mulroney-Schreiber Affair and broke-off his relationship with the former Prime-Minister.
Lest I digress: How sour is the relationship between the old friends you may ask? "La Presse", Montreal's Demarais family owned influential daily, reported last weekend that Luc Lavoie, Mr. Mulroney's former Press Aide and Spokesperson, now a Quebecor Vice-President, was present in the studio when the now famous interview with Julie Couillard was taped on Sunday, May 25. Broadcast of Couillard's confessions the next day led to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's firing. It's been revealed since that Ms Couillard carried with her into the studio interview the now infamous NATO secret documents and, that it was TVA Network lawyers who arranged to return the secret briefing books to the Feds, "toute suite!"
Last weekend's "La Presse" revelations prompted at least one Quebec pundit to wonder out loud if : "Mulroney was out to get Harper?"....Je ne sais pas!
There's now a chill between Mr. Harper and Mr. Charest as well. There's ample proof that Mr. Charest and Ontario's Dalton McGuinty are now soul mates. Polls show Mr. McGuinty has pretty much rebuffed Ottawa's relentless attacks on Ontario led by the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. Now teamed-up with sidekick Jean Charest after an historic meeting of their Cabinets in Quebec City last week, the two leaders signed a high-profile accord on climate change that appears fundamentally divergent from the Federal plan. At their mandatory follow-up News conference, Mr. Charest and Mr. McGuinty pointed-out that they..."won't pass up the opportunity to talk about our differences with Ottawa." The Quebec Premier subsequently pointing-out that together Quebec and Ontario have two-thirds of Canada's population - and its voters. I might add 60% of the country's economic activity as well.
Fair weather friendships are the stock and trade of politics it seems.