The Bloc Québécois, in a strictly partisan sense, emerged as the clear and only winner from the political gamesmanship in Ottawa, a temporary halt to which came yesterday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's purchase of time through prorogation.
Canada, however, lost, as did the three federalist parties, each in different ways and for different reasons.
The existence of the Bloc, winner of the largest number of seats in Quebec for six consecutive elections, always meant a foreign element in Canadian politics - foreign in the sense that the Bloc's principal loyalty was to Quebec, its interests, aspirations, hurts and reflexes, as opposed to those of Canada. In a national parliament, therefore, there was one party dedicated to withdrawing Quebec from that parliament.
As long as the Bloc is Quebec's preferred party, it makes majority governments harder to achieve. As long as minority governments become the rule rather than the exception, the temptation wafts around Ottawa to play footsie, or get into political bed, with the Bloc in order to secure a majority.
It was a temptation to which Mr. Harper succumbed as leader of the Canadian Alliance. Jack Layton fell under its spell. Now, with this "coalition," a marriage of convenience has been consummated, however temporarily and uneasily, between the Bloc and its suitors, and Liberals and the NDP.
Once consummated, the marriage deal left the Bloc in a win-win-win position, regardless of what happened or happens. If the Bloc finds itself in such a position, by definition, Canada must be the loser.
In Quebec, as La Presse's André Pratte observed, a major argument used by federalists against the Bloc has evaporated. The Bloc stood accused by federalists of being unable to achieve anything. It would never be part of government and, therefore, was a useless political enterprise. But the consummation of the "coalition" has legitimized the Bloc as a governing entity. How can Liberals or New Democrats now use that argument, having invited the Bloc into their marriage of convenience?
If this coalition falls apart, as it likely will, the Bloc can argue that the Liberals and NDP did not understand Quebec, proving again how incompatible are Quebec and Canada. If the coalition holds together for a while, the Bloc will claim that it alone secured whatever benefits Quebec will receive. No wonder that Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe looked like a cat surrounded by canaries, his hardest decisions being which one to choose as prey, and when.
The Bloc has always been a hybrid party: in Parliament but wishing Parliament did not exist; part of a system of "responsible" government but unwilling to be responsible for any government.
Now the Bloc will be half in the coalition but always ready to threaten withdrawal, a bit like Quebec itself - and a party that took the measure of the NDP's eagerness for power and the Liberals' clueless leadership to secure for itself an excellent win-win-win arrangement. Quite predictably, although for other reasons, too, support for the Liberals and NDP dropped after this coalition was born, according to the Strategic Counsel poll in today's Globe and Mail.
Better still for the Bloc, once Mr. Harper found his power threatened, he berated the "separatists" and whipped up anti-Quebec sentiments outside the province, thereby producing an entirely predictable, highly defensive, nationalistic response in Quebec - a response that makes the ground more fertile for secessionist views.
Secessionists dream about something happening elsewhere that can be construed as an "insult" to Quebec. That sending MPs to Ottawa who want to break up Canada might be insulting to Canadians elsewhere would never occur to Quebeckers, whereas a hostile reaction to the Bloc's semi-inclusion in a government would occur to Quebeckers immediately.
It has always been the supreme test of national leadership in Canada to keep English- and French-speaking Canadians willing to co-exist, and so keep the Canadian experiment alive against those who wish to weaken and ultimately destroy it.
To save his skin, Mr. Harper failed that test. That failure will cost his party dearly in Quebec, where people think he turned the country against the province for political gain.
Coupling that failure with the hinging of the coalition's power grab on Bloc support meant a banner week for the secessionists in Parliament and in Quebec.