Gilles Duceppe has pulled a Godfather in reverse, making the Harper government an offer the Bloc Québécois leader knows it can't possibly accept.
On the weekend, Duceppe announced five "non-negotiable" conditions that the Conservative minority government must meet in the speech from the throne Oct. 16 to obtain the Bloc's support.
One of these is the outright abolition of the federal spending power, which allows Ottawa to intervene in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
The Harper government has promised only to limit federal spending power, and some smaller, poorer provinces are opposed even to that.
In the speech in which he announced the Bloc's conditions, Duceppe described abolition as a traditional demand of Quebec governments, including federalist ones, which is false. In fact, federalist Quebec governments, including the present one, have called for the limitation of the spending power, not its outright abolition.
But Duceppe is looking for an excuse for the Bloc to vote against the government on a confidence motion.
Some Bloc supporters have criticized their left-of-centre party for helping to prop up the right-of-centre Conservative minority government since it was elected in January, 2006.
And Duceppe might have calculated that with his party's support apparently in steady decline, the sooner the next general election is held the more Bloc seats will be saved.
The Liberals weren't the only losers in last week's federal by-elections in Quebec. While the Liberals lost Outremont, the Bloc also lost a stronghold of its own: Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, which it had held since 1993.
What's more, the Bloc actually lost more support in the by-elections than the Liberals did (though in Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyacinthe- Bagot, the Liberals had little support to lose, having received less than 10 per cent of the vote in 2006).
Not only did the Bloc lose a seat to the Conservatives, there was also a net transfer of votes from the Bloc to the Conservatives in the two overwhelmingly francophone ridings outside Montreal. Although turnout was lower in the by-elections, the Conservatives gained votes in absolute numbers from the general election in the Roberval and Saint-Hyacinthe ridings.
The by-election results are consistent with those from public-opinion surveys suggesting a decline in support for the Bloc since the 2006 election, in which it received 42 per cent of the valid votes in this province.
For example, a Léger Marketing poll conducted Sept. 5-8 for The Gazette, TVA and Le Journal de Montréal had the Bloc still first in popularity among the federal parties in Quebec, but down five percentage points from the 2006 election.
But the Bloc's current slide didn't start with the last general election. From the 2004 to the 2006 elections, the Bloc's share of the overall vote in this province slipped six points.
In fact, the federal sovereignist party has never fully equalled the success it enjoyed in its first general election in 1993, when support for sovereignty was high following the failure of the Meech Lake constitutional accord recognizing Quebec as a distinct society.
In that election, the Bloc received 1.8 million votes, or 49.3 per cent of the valid votes cast in Quebec, heights it has not reached since, and captured 54 of the province's 75 seats.
Its support suffered an overall decline in each of the two ensuing general elections as anger over the Meech failure gradually cooled. It rebounded in 2004 following the sponsorship scandal, when the Bloc again won 54 seats, with 48.9 per cent of the over-all vote. But it has since been slipping again.
Even Duceppe seemed to have given up on the Bloc last May, preferring the leadership of what had become a provincial third party seriously in need of reconstruction. He briefly abandoned the Bloc to seek the leadership of the Parti Québécois, vacated after Duceppe had helped oust André Boisclair.
Pauline Marois scared him back to Ottawa after 24 hours. But that was long enough to make it clear that for its own leader, as for a growing number of Quebecers, the Bloc was no longer the first choice.
Chips off the old Bloc
Duceppe seems to want an election before his party loses even more support