To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the prospect of an election concentrates the minds of the members of a political party wonderfully.
Rather suspiciously, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair and his entourage have since last spring been predicting an early election this fall.
What makes this suspicious is that Premier Jean Charest has no pretext for calling an election after less than four years in office, has been making no effort to create one and indeed keeps insisting his government still has work to do. And, oh yes, the polls suggest it would be political suicide for Charest to call an election now.
But Boisclair's insistent talk of a fall election seems to have had on the discipline of his party the wonderful effect described by Johnson.
Last week, Boisclair abruptly tore two crucial pages on sovereignty out of the supposedly sacred text that is the policy program the PQ adopted last year. And in the several days that followed, the only response from within the PQ's ranks was a deafening silence.
Boisclair and the PQ remain remain committed, for the moment at least, to holding a referendum on sovereignty "as soon as possible" in their first term in office.
What has changed is that he has scrapped the PQ's commitment to fight the next election on sovereignty, or, as the program puts it, on a "projet de pays," or a proposal for an independent country, that will be "the issue of the election."
According to Chapter 1 of the PQ program, the party is already supposed to be campaigning for sovereignty, because it's not interested in governing Quebec as a province.
Its campaign promises in the next election are supposed to be "defined in function of (the) proposal for a country" and based on, among other things, "the financial framework of a sovereign Quebec."
The two pages of Chapter 1 that Boisclair has shredded are a section on what the party is supposed to do to promote sovereignty before the election.
The PQ was supposed to publish and disseminate documents concerning the process leading to sovereignty. It was to present its proposal for a country in time for dissemination and "active promotion" before the election.
The public was to be invited to help draft the "national policies" in the proposal. And the party was to engage in the promotion of sovereignty by beginning to prepare for Quebec's becoming a country.
Among other things, it was to present a "draft initial constitution" for a sovereign Quebec and proposed "fundamental laws" on citizenship, a supreme court and national symbols, and a draft document on the transition to sovereignty.
These are more than the "details" Boisclair described them as last week. They were put in the program because PQ members didn't trust their leaders to work for sovereignty after being elected unless they were compelled to do so. But that was last year, when the next election was still a long way off.
It came as a shock to no one that Boisclair eventually wriggled out of this straitjacket, since no one believed him when he kept insisting that he was "perfectly comfortable" with the program he inherited when he became leader.
The only surprise is that it took him so long to do it. The party had already signalled, at a meeting of its national council on education last June, its willingness to let him disregard the program as he saw fit.
And none of the things the PQ is supposed to be doing is anywhere in sight, even though it has been 11 months since Boisclair was elected leader and even though he has been predicting for months that there would be an election this fall.
It wasn't until July that the PQ created a task force under MNA Daniel Turp to draft some of the texts that are supposed to be published before the election. But Turp told me that his mandate is limited to the "draft initial constitution" and proposed "fundamental" legislation, which won't be ready for publication until next year. And yesterday, a PQ spokesman declined to tell me whether anybody else is working on the other texts, such as the one on the transition to sovereignty.
Boisclair tosses sovereignty studies over the side
PQ leader ignores party requirements that it lay groundwork for referendum