Although there has so far been more smoke than fire to the rumour of the impending birth of a centre-right Quebec party it could still be a catalyst for game-changing moves, starting with the departure of Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe for the provincial scene.
For all the talk of an imminent initiative led by former Parti Québécois ministers François Legault and Joseph Facal, a new party remains very much a hypothetical creature.
It is not even clear that the two have a full-fledged party in mind. It is also far from certain that they have managed to reach out to enough like-minded federalists to form a far-reaching small-c conservative rainbow coalition.
Notwithstanding all this uncertainty, two recent polls have shown that a plurality of Quebecers would support a Legault-led party rather than continue with Jean Charest’s Liberals or hand power over to the PQ and Pauline Marois.
The elusive quest for a middle way between sovereignty and federalism has more to do with those results than a sudden surge of conservative faith in Quebec.
For now the poll numbers are based on political science-fiction. But the threat of the accelerating fragmentation of the sovereignty movement is already a reality. The existence of a breakaway group of fiscally-conservative PQ veterans is just the latest token of that ongoing fragmentation.
In the absence of a specific timeline to achieve sovereignty, maintaining the coalition that almost brought about a referendum victory in 1995 is becoming impossible.
The latest developments have triggered new questions about Marois’ leadership. Some of those questions border on open challenges.
For much of the past two years, the PQ has led the Liberals in virtually every voting intention poll. Yet Marois herself is almost as unpopular as Charest. By comparison Duceppe, who briefly considered running against her three years ago, is the most popular federal politician in Quebec.
Many PQ members cannot fathom the notion of coming to power without actively pursuing sovereignty. For the aging first generation of sovereigntists in particular time is increasingly running out.
That includes elders such as former premiers Bernard Landry and Jacques Parizeau. With a review of Marois’ leadership looming next April, they have become vocal in their criticism of her go-slow approach to sovereignty.
If Marois has her way, a future PQ government would not be bound to holding a referendum over the course of its mandate.
Landry and Parizeau call that a self-defeating strategy. Like many members of the PQ they also seem to share in the sense that Marois is not the person to ever lead Quebec to independence. And they now both apparently concur with the notion that Duceppe is up to that task.
In a Radio-Canada interview this week, Parizeau bluntly opined that Duceppe was advancing sovereignty more effectively than Marois. In particular the former premier had effusive praise for Duceppe’s recent trip to Washington.
Given her limited English, promoting sovereignty in the United States and in the rest of Canada is not Marois’ forte.
In theory, Duceppe is committed to leading the Bloc in the next federal election. He strenuously denies still having an eye on the PQ job.
Again this week he maintained that he and Marois were working hand in glove. But no one seriously believes Duceppe would turn the PQ leadership down if it were offered.
Duceppe’s departure from Parliament Hill — whenever it happens — could change the dynamics of the federal scene. At the very least the Bloc would initially be more vulnerable under a rookie leader than under a seasoned one. Should Marois fail to appease a perfect storm in the making within her ranks, the Bloc leader could be gone before the next federal campaign.
A perfect storm in Quebec could bring Duceppe home
Should Marois fail to appease a perfect storm in the making within her ranks, the Bloc leader could be gone before the next federal campaign.