I wrote this some days ago, but before I could post, Jeff Simpson’s column appeared on a similar theme. But since no one’s responded to his piece, I’ll pick up where he left off:
Here’s a subject I don’t imagine any of the party leaders will want to bring up — but someone really should. That is, who among them is best placed to deal with the coming crisis in Quebec?
Sometime in the next couple of years a provincial election will be called (the last was in Dec. 2008, so in theory they could push it off into 2013). On present levels of support, the Liberals haven’t a prayer. Which means that, barring a miracle, we are about to enter the third cycle of Parti Québécois government. In each of the first two, 1976-1984 and 1994-2003, the PQ launched a referendum on separation-with-association, and while the Clarity Act may be thought to have placed some boundaries around the debate — the province can hold a referendum on any subject it likes, but the feds are constrained in what they can negotiate — it must be expected the Péquistes will try every trick in the book, up to an including a quickie referendum. This is, after all, very likely their last shot.
So, on the perhaps shaky assumption that whomever we elect on May 2 is still Prime Minister then, it really would seem timely to ask: Which of the parties and their leaders is the best choice to deal with this situation? Who best combines finesse and toughness, understanding of Quebec and fire in the belly for Canada? Will it be the Anglophone from Toronto who wanted to build a firewall around Alberta? Or the Anglophone from Toronto who was out of the country for 30-odd years? What about the Anglophone from Toronto whose party is rumoured to be conspiring with the Bloc to defeat federalist candidates in the Montreal area?
Certainly no clear federalist choice has emerged in the province. While all three national parties have been pandering as fast as they can — Look here! An arena! No, an airport! What about these snowmobile trails, huh? — each is mired around 20% in the polls. Meaning the Bloc will likely take about 50 seats, as usual. Suppose Duceppe then retires from federal politics, to replace — as many Péquistes hope — the unpopular Pauline Marois as PQ leader. If recent polls are any guide, he’d sweep the province. And facing him? A shattered, leaderless provincial Liberal party in Quebec City, and a hung Parliament in Ottawa — possibly with the Bloc holding the balance of power.
As I say, I doubt any of the leaders will be anxious to raise this question. They don’t want to be seen to write off Charest, they don’t want to stir the pot, whatever. But the rest of us should certainly be thinking about it.