Looks like we're heading for both a federal and Quebec election in 2007. The only unknown is who will go first, and how fast.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe has served notice that he won't wait for Stephen Harper's budget to try to bring down his minority government. With the NDP worried that new Liberal leader Stephane Dion could take seats from it, Duceppe thinks there's too much of a risk that Jack Layton could be tempted to prop up the Tories at budget time.
By promising a motion of non-confidence on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, Duceppe is betting that Dion and Layton, both critical of Harper's position, will have no choice but to support the Bloc's motion.
One reason for Duceppe's new-found taste for an election is that it looks good for the Bloc. Polls in Quebec show that the Bloc's first place is solid, the Liberals are a strong second, with the Tories left dangling in third. If Liberals go up a bit more, they could split the federalist vote and make the Bloc even happier.
Another reason for Duceppe to jump the gun before the federal budget is to try to help the Parti Quebecois. Quebec Premier Jean Charest needs that budget to get some remedy to the fiscal imbalance.
Duceppe hopes to take this crucial electoral goodie away from Charest. Duceppe knows, as every observer does, that even though the PQ leads in the polls, the next election will be a tight race.
Charest's satisfaction rating has been increasing, while the PQ's leader and program might be vulnerable in the heat of an election campaign.
For Duceppe, short-circuiting the budget is no guarantee of a PQ victory, but it could make it that much harder for Charest to present evidence of how profitable federalism is for Quebec. Given both Andre Boisclair's disappointing leadership and how much of a target he has become for the Liberals, the PQ is going to need all the help it can get.
Duceppe's threatened confidence vote caught Harper off guard when he was busy trying to counter Dion's repeated attacks against what the Liberal leader calls Harper's ideological, right-wing, neo-conservative agenda.
A quick election is not something the Tories want. And if Dion starts cleaning up the Liberals' image, Harper will have to do more to stay in power than play with the Senate or shuffle his cabinet to get rid of his environment minister to compete with Dion's green agenda.
Still, Dion faces quite a challenge in Quebec. His party actually started doing better months before he became leader, mainly because many federalists were put off by Harper's right-wing policies.
But even as the man who left very bad memories in Quebec with his Clarity Act, Dion has the capacity to pull off a change in perception and substance if he becomes more nuanced and province-friendly than he was as Jean Chretien's national-unity champion.
That's why Dion would be making a mistake if he lets Justin Trudeau run in the next election - something the young man says he's pondering. How will Quebecers get the message that Dion's vision of federalism is more flexible than Pierre Trudeau's if Dion recruits the son whose main contribution to political life is to repeat his father's mantras on Quebec?
To put it politely, Justin's intellectual stature and stance on Quebec are unimpressive at best. At worst, given his penchant for cameras and microphones, Justin is a potential liability for Dion here.
With Liberal Jean Lapierre set to vacate Outremont before the next election, Dion would be foolish to waste such a prize riding on another Trudeau.
Duceppe wants election before Harper can bring in budget
Quebec goodies in Tory budget might put wind in Charest's sails