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Should Tories, Liberals and New Democrats give up on Quebec?

Ignore the polls, ignore the census and ignore Quebec. Nothing will change the Harper government's minority status until legislation passes creating more seats in the House of Commons, Ipsos pollster John Wright says.

The key impediment to a majority is the Bloc's strength in Quebec. Gilles Duceppe just celebrated 20 years as an MP and, were an election held today, would likely lead his party to a majority of seats in the province for the seventh straight time.

"What that does is basically annihilate any chance for any of the other parties to get a majority. You can't do it," Mr. Wright tells The Mark in a video interview. "I think when the change is going to take place is actually not to do with the opinion structure ... but with the structure of the House of Commons.'

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Mr. Wright is awaiting a bill introduced in the Commons in April that would create 30 new ridings, giving 18 seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia and five to Alberta. What makes the legislation controversial is that no new seats will go to Quebec, which already has 75 in the House.

The pollster asks: Why bother with Quebec? Mr. Wright suggests the Harper government has already given up trying to woo the province after making so many concessions with so few results.

He notes that Quebec Premier Jean Charest was the first visitor to 24 Sussex Drive after Stephen Harper took office in 2006 and that the Prime Minister's legislation to recognize the Quebecois as a nation "within a united Canada" has done nothing to improve his fortunes politically.

The NDP and Liberals would also likely support the legislation to increase the size of the House because it would give them opportunities, too. The Bloc would no doubt oppose it.

"I think there has been a politically conscious move to almost ignore Quebec as a political entity to deliver seats," Mr. Wright says, suggesting Mr. Harper likely asks himself: "Why am I wasting my time?"

A recent poll by Mr. Wright's firm shows the Tories with a small lead - within the margin of error - over the Liberals. The Ipsos survey was released after EKOS numbers showing a similar result.

EKOS president Frank Graves attributed the virtual tie between the two main parties, in part, to the unpopularity with the government's decision to scrap the compulsory long-form census. He characterized it as a "critical mass of frustration" among voters.

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An Angus Reid online poll released on the topic Monday shows that Canadians are still upset with the government's census stand: 54 per cent want the federal government to change its mind and keep the compulsory long-form census. At the same time, 58 per cent of those polled believed the census provides important information.

The results show, too, that 50 per cent opposed the government's decision to do away with it while 35 per cent supported the government's decision. Opposition is highest in British Columbia and in Quebec.

The online survey of 1,017 Canadians was conducted Aug. 12 and 13, after Industry Minister Tony Clement tried to mitigate the controversy by adding language questions to the short form census, which remains mandatory.

Mr. Wright, meanwhile, dismisses any suggestion that the census controversy, or the coverage given to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's summer tour, or any other policy or political initiative is important. None of it will trigger an election, he argues, until after the structure of the House of Commons is redrawn.

"I tell you it's nothing about the polls right now. And it really isn't anything about the politics," Mr. Wright says. "It's about making sure that a simple bill gets through the House of Commons that opens the door for the three other parties, except the Bloc, to get more seats. So that power, the more important 'P' in this whole things gets exercised."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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