By winning a clear majority of seats in Quebec’s Assembly, can Pauline Marois inspire Quebec’s arthritic independence movement and return to Canada’s political stage the fear and winged rhetoric of the Trudeau-Mulroney-Chrétien years?
Can an ordinary chauvinist in Quebec succeed where an ordinary socialist in France has failed — make punditry and politicians exciting again? Can a lifelong calculator turn Stephen Harper into a ditherer? Can the same bland politician turn Justin Trudeau into an avenging warrior? Who will be “Captain Canada”?
The scripts are being sketched out already; once Marois wins her majority next month, Canada’s politics will be transformed. Jeffrey Simpson and Michael Den Tandt offer two tentative themes: In next year’s national election, the Rest of Canada will be thinking about Quebec when they elect either Harper, Trudeau, or Mulcair. Who the ROC favors will depend not only on the aspirant’s personal merits but also on what voters feel about Quebec.
As a blogger determined to stay as young as Jeffrey Simpson, I’m offering a few premature guesses of my own. (They are based on the assumption that Marois wins a majority and that by this time next year she will have given Canadians sufficient reason to expect that the next prime minister will face another Quebec referendum.)
One: The next federal election will not be decided over who can best appeal to Quebecers as the prime minister of Canada.
Trudeau’s empathetic personality and Mulcair’s emphatically Quebec style are two-edged. Most of the rest of Canada will want Quebecers to stay in the federation but few will pick a PM to seduce them. In addition, they won’t be entirely positive about the prospect of a new prime minister whose survival in Parliament will depend on winning and — retaining — a majority of federal seats in Quebec.
Two: The Liberals and the New Democrats will be forced to expend far more time in Quebec and take more risks in Quebec than Harper.
This will further marginalize Harper where he can’t win but will do nothing to build their credibility on economic issues that will continue to dominate suburban English-speaking Canada.
Three: Even assuming — as I do — that swing voters outside Quebec will be concerned that Quebec stay in Canada, Harper has a decisive edge.
He already has the job of "standing up" for Canada and has a successful record of negotiating as a respectful federalist with Quebec and other hostile provincial governments.
This may sound reckless. However, I don’t think Quebec will leave because they’re embarrassed by Stephen Harper’s style or Alberta’s oil revenue transfers. They refused to be impressed when our politicians were passionate about Quebec and national unity. And they’re not outraged today by Harper’s reticent personality.
Keeping Quebec in a workable Canada is a management challenge today, not a test of Canada’s soul.