More than the B.C.-Alberta pipeline fracas. More than the premiers demanding more for health care. More than transfer payments to have-not provinces, or even whether we should have a province-led national energy strategy.
The Quebec provincial election. More than any other provincial issue, that is the one — comme toujours — with the greatest implications for Canada and Canadian politicians. No other provincial concern comes remotely close to the high-stakes contest now underway in the province of Quebec. The outcome will define our national politics for years to come.
Here’s a possible scenario, in 10 problematic steps. It ends with a solution.
One: The remarkable political career of Jean Charest comes to an end, with a loss on Sept. 4 to the separatist Parti Quebecois leader, Pauline Marois. For months, polls have shown Charest is either behind or tied with his PQ rival. If Marois wins a majority in the first week of September, it is difficult to see how Charest can remain at the helm of his party. Federalism will have lost its most effective francophone advocate since Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien.
Two: Global, national and sub-national economies will continue to slide. Unemployment will go up, growth will go down. In Quebec, where Stephen Harper is the most detested prime minister in generations, the PQ will do what it has done many times in the past — it will blame far-away anglophone Ottawa for Quebec’s economic woes.
Three: Harper — with precious little caucus representation in Quebec, and even less credibility — will get more unpopular with Quebec voters. His stands on energy, the environment and social programs will continue to rankle progressive Quebecois.