This election might be exciting because of its unpredictable final results, but it's also one of the strangest, most surreal campaigns we've seen in a long time.
While moral issues like the right to abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage are debated in English Canada between sparring Liberals and Conservatives, Quebec is having its own, separate, quieter campaign debating, well, not much.
As Liberals are increasingly silent, trying to survive even in some of their safest ridings, the Bloc Quebecois campaign is like a day at the beach. It surfs the sponsorship scandal and bounces around inside its own bubble - that's what reporters named the Bloc bus.
Sovereignty hardly comes into play. Candidates repeat their mantra of defending Quebec's interests and difference in Ottawa. If the Bloc happens to hold the balance of power facing a right-wing Conservative minority government, the same mantra applies.
For all his statements on the virtues of opposition in a democracy, Duceppe can hardly hide his eagerness to hold that balance of power and go play with the big boys in the big house. He even says if the Bloc helps improve the governance of Canada, Quebec will be the better for it, and if Quebec is better, people will feel more secure, and if they feel more secure, they'll want to leave Canada.
Yesterday, on Radio-Canada, Duceppe compared it with a guy who "won't go for any big change in his life if he's unemployed and miserable, but if all goes well and the family's happy, he'll go for it." What? The family's happy, so I'll divorce you, honey! His advisers better rewrite that line.
Illogic aside, Duceppe is trying not to scare disgruntled federalist votes away. So he says the results of June 28 wouldn't trigger any move toward another referendum and we won't see the Bloc turning into the "spearhead" of the sovereignty movement, as Jacques Parizeau used to call it, pushing the PQ to promote its own option. But Bernard Landry seems to differ.
In a letter to PQ members asking for donations to the Bloc - a reverse-Robin-Hood move given the PQ's shabby finances and the Bloc's overflowing coffers - Landry predicts a strong showing by the Bloc would help the PQ position itself on the way to another referendum.
Still, the bubble continues to float. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Bloc's campaign is while its central theme is Quebec's difference, Duceppe refuses to partake in the larger debates on moral and social issues in a way that would illustrate his own theme even more.
If abortion or gay rights are not being debated in Quebec - much to the dismay of Liberals who try to paint Stephen Harper as the next Jean-Marie Le Pen - it's mainly because these issues have been solved throughout Quebec society, not only within the Bloc. That's a powerful demonstration of how "different" Quebec is from Canada.
As for the parallel campaign going on in the ROC, one wonders how much longer Paul Martin can go on whistling past the graveyard. The leaders' debates to be held Monday and Tuesday will be his last chance.
They'll be of paramount importance for Martin. If he doesn't turn this campaign around right then and there, the last two weeks of the campaign might prove excruciatingly painful. In last year's Quebec election, Landry's poor performance at the leaders' debate reminded Quebecers why they wanted to change their government so badly before the war on Iraq had taken all their attention away.
Martin has only one card left, and it's a tiny one. He has to stop demonizing Stephen Harper on social issues. That's fuddle-duddle and voters know it. He has to attack him on his socio-economic and environmental positions.
That's where the real danger of a right-wing Conservative government lies and that's where Harper's Canadian Alliance slip shows a bit too much from under his new Conservative skirt. That's also where Martin has to make the positive case for the Liberal platform in contrast.
But it's starting to be pretty late in the game for anything to stop the spiral Liberals are in, to use the cruel words of David Herle, co-chairperson of the Liberal campaign.
As Robert Bourassa used to say - and it can never be repeated enough - once voters decide they've had enough of an outgoing government, anything it says or does, however brilliant, just becomes noise no one listens to anymore.
Still, Martin has no choice but to make as much noise as he can before June 28 while in the parallel campaign here in Quebec, Duceppe will try to make as little as he can. Different indeed.
Bloc floats around in a bubble
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