English-French tension threatens Canada's PM

The rise of the ultra-conservative Reform Party is threatening the majority of the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, although his Liberal Party will probably hang on to power in today's voting, following a divisive election campaign which has heightened English-French tensions.

The Reform Party, led by former petroleum consultant Preston Manning, is based in western Canada, and has made an assault on special status for Quebec the centrepiece of its election campaign.

The party is running only a handful of candidates in Quebec and Atlantic Canada and thus could not win enough seats to form a government. But it has solidified its support in Alberta and British Columbia by playing to the resentment in some English-speaking parts of the country that the French-speaking minority, based mostly in Quebec, has been getting special privileges in the Canadian confederation.

The Reform Party has also been pushing a law-and-order agenda which calls for a referendum to consider re-establishing capital punishment for murder and has accused the Liberals of being too soft on violent criminals while ignoring the rights of victims.

The party has exploited a change in the electoral law which allows criminals in prison to vote for the first time to push its theme.

Even though the Reform Party has no presence in Quebec, it has seized on the debate about the future of Quebec and what concessions, if any, should be made to counter the threat of separatism as a vehicle to raise support in the rest of the country for its hard-nosed approach.

The status of Quebec within the Canadian confederation has bedevilled national politics since the first separatist party won power in the Quebec provincial election in 1976, and this is the second time that a federal wing of that party - the Bloc Quebecois - has run candidates in a national election.

In the current parliament, the Bloc which runs candidates only in Quebec won enough seats in what has become a five-party group to form the official opposition. But in the intervening period since the last national election, there has been a provincial election where the separatists have regained power. Now some of the Quebec nationalists are questioning whether having a Quebec-only party in the national parliament is still relevant.

A combination of those doubts and the poor performance of the Bloc Quebecois leader, Gilles Duceppe, has created some new opportunities in Quebec for the Conservative Party led by a charismatic and fluently bilingual lawyer, Jean Charest. His promise of reaching out to nationalist Quebecers by offering to renegotiate a partnership with the rest of the country has proved more attractive to many French-speaking Quebecers than the status quo option being offered by Prime Minister Chretien and the Liberals.

In an attempt to shore up the separatist vote, both the Quebec premier, Lucien Bouchard, and his predecessor, Jacques Parizeau, have been called into the campaign by the Bloc Quebecois. It has been the Reform Party's anti-Quebec rhetoric, however, that has been more effective in stopping the haemorrhage of the separatist vote.

Even though Prime Minister Chretien is also a Quebecer, he has been less popular in his home province than he is in the rest of the country.

But he has stumbled through an election campaign without ever providing a convincing reason for calling an election after only three and a half years, when he did not need to call one before 1998.

Without a major issue other than to boast about the government's record in improving Canada's fiscal performance, the Liberals have been a target for all of the other parties and have been damaged on different issues by different parties.

Jumping into the leadership vacuum, Mr Manning has questioned the ability of prime ministers from Quebec properly to represent the country in the national unity debate and has generally been seen to exacerbate English- French relations.

But the Liberals have retained their support in the largest and most prosperous province, Ontario, and that will allow them to hold on to power in a divided parliament.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders