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Harper gains sente in Quebec

In go, a game I'm not very good at, having sente means you have the advantage of momentum. Your opponent must answer your last move or risk danger to his position. It robs your opponent of the ability to build and forces him to defend what he has.

In a short series of moves, Stephen Harper has moved into this interesting strategic position in Quebec, a province most observers had written off for him. First, he released a policy platform that was generally well received in Quebec. Then he noted that the Liberals have been clearly been antagonizing the separatist sentiment in order to present themselves as the saviors of Canada. And finally he capitalized neatly on a truly bone-headed strategic error by Paul Martin.

Martin had said in the debates that he would debate Gilles Duceppe on every street corner in every Quebec town. But when he was challenged to a 1-on-1 debate with the Bloc leader on TV, he refused. Harper slipped in neatly and said he will debate Duceppe, since Martin obviously hasn't got the stones to do it.

Martin looks as if he has been taking his support in Quebec for granted, and so must respond to the Tory's incursion into the province. But responding to it also gives it life, and it's hard to tell what that might develop into. Duceppe must also respond. And while at first it looks like debating Harper and giving him room to expand might split the anti-separatist vote and give the Bloc more territory, it will also split the anti-Liberal vote, which is really where the Bloc's strength is concentrated. It's going to be fun to see how this will play out.

It's highly unlikely that the Conservatives will make a huge incursion into Quebec, but this might be enough to give them a couple of pockets of life. And that would be a huge victory.

UPDATE: Duceppe has backed down, admitting he's terrified of facing Harper's talking points.

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