Éric Grenier, who founded the poll aggregation site threehndredeight.com, and who is now a senior writer and polling analyst for the CBC, takes a look at Conservative fortunes in Québec since confederation. His analysis is, mostly, sound but he forgets one important historical point: the North-West Rebellion (1885).
I believe that the French Canadian elites in Québec, led by the church, saw North-West Canada as the great hope of the French-speaking people in North America. There was a plan, actually, it was more of a dream than a real plan, that, somehow (divine intervention?) tens of thousands of young Franch Canadian families would abandon their comfortable lives in Québec and would stream into Western Canada, staving off the Scots (who began settling there in the earliest years of the 19th century) and other English speaking settlers and making the North-West both French and Catholic and then ‘isolating’ (English and Protestant) Upper Canada between two French-Canadian bastions.
Although many (even most?) French Canadians had not opposed the Macdonald government’s military expedition to crush the North-West Rebellion, the decision to hang Louis Riel sparked massive opposition in Québec and led to the rise of Sir Wilfred Laurier and to the long-term demise of Conservative support in Québec. Laurier was something of an Anglophile ~ grateful for the British influence on Canadian politics ~ but he was also a brilliant political strategist and an opportunist, too, who, I think, sincerely believed that Riel was insane and should have been imprisoned, in an asylum, not hanged.
But, by and large, Éric Grenier is correct. Beginning with the hanging of Louis Riel, the Liberals have lost in Québec only when they have grown too old and tired, but, as Ken Whyte has explained, earlier, in the Globe and Mail, Québec votes, almost exclusively, for a “favourite son,” a Quebecer. As he says, “Quebec isn’t attracted to bilingual leaders from outside Quebec. In every election since the retirement of Mr. Pearson, Quebec has given the vast majority of its seats to a Quebecker. What Quebec wants is what the Americans call a favourite son (presumably a favourite daughter would do, as well): one of their own, a Brian Mulroney, a Gilles Duceppe, a Jack Layton,” and a Justin Trudeau, too. When the Liberals do not offer a “favourite son” (e.g. Paul Martin – scion of a notable Franco-Ontario family, and Michael Ignatieff) the voters of Québec favour home-grown Québecois nationalists.
Brian Mulroney is, of course, the exception, but, as is so often the case, he is the exception that proves the rule. First, he was a real Quebecer; second, as M Grenier points out, he persuaded ” Premier René Lévesque … to take the “beau risque” offered by Mulroney when he pledged to get Quebec’ssignature on the constitution,” and he secured the support of his university friend and noted French-Canadian nationalist Lucien Bouchard. But it all fell apart during the aborted attempts (the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords) to make good on his promises to Lévesque, Bouchard and to Canada. The simple fact is that Québecois nationalism, separatist or not, cannot be reconciled with the ambitions of “New Canada” which is where the Conservative base is located and which wants a united country. There is one key point about New Canada: it has 228 (out of 338) seats in the House of Commons (Old Canada has only 110, 78 in Québec and 32 in Atlantic Canada) …
… and the Liberals won 79 of them in 2019 while the CPC managed to win in only 26.
Winning almost all the seats (47 or 48) in AB and SK doesn’t matter if the Conservatives cannot win more than half the seats in Ontario (70+ of 121) and BC (25± of 42). That doesn’t mean winning in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, but it does require winning big in the suburbs around those cities while preserving solid CPC majorities in all the prairies provinces, winning 5 to 15 seats in Québec and almost half the seats in Atlantic Canada. That’s doable; it’s difficult but doable.
The key is the seats in suburban Southern Ontario. The Conservative Pary needs to appeal, more the LPC does, to the voters in 50 additional ridings, most of them around the Greater Toronto Area. It means having candidates who are, qualitatively “better” than the ones Justin Trudeau can recruit, and it means having policies that make more sense to suburban voters than the ones that Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland and Ahmed Hussen …
… have on offer. Neither should be too difficult. It means offering good, honest, moderate, liberal people, much like the voters in Southern Ontario …
… who support a sound, honest, moderate, liberal platform that makes good social, economic, and environmental sense to more and more Canadians.