Finally, Marois uses the R-word during the campaign

PQ leader appears to be trying to get out the sovereignist vote

Élection Québec - le 8 décembre 2008 - les souverainistes en campagne

Surprise, surprise. Coming out of the leaders' debate, the R-word is making a special cameo appearance in the last stretch of the election campaign.
Now that Pauline Marois is suggesting a referendum if a Parti Québécois government failed to repatriate all the budgets and powers on culture and communications, Jean Charest is warning voters of the instability that a "divisive constitutional crisis" would create just when an "economic storm" is looming. For a premier with a message that a majority Liberal government would bring stability, he must see this as electoral candy.
OK, so much for the predictable rhetoric on the subject. The reality, however, is that with the PQ at 34 per cent in this week's Léger Marketing poll, and with an expected low voter turnout that could benefit the Liberals, Marois's new talk of a referendum appears to be strategically motivated. This, after all, is an election campaign.

I suggest the PQ leader has three goals. One is to mobilize her own troops, including those who were angry when she shelved the referendum platform last year. The second is to get nationalists and sovereignists actually to get out and vote. The third is to eat away at Charest's success in imposing the economy as the dominant campaign theme.
All of this is crucial for Marois. While the PQ is sure of reclaiming its official-opposition status at least, for her the second- best thing to becoming premier would be for the Liberals to end up with another minority. It might seem like a long shot, but she's giving it her all.
But what is Marois's idea of a referendum, if necessary, but not necessarily a referendum? This thing came up on Nov. 20 when she promised that if elected premier, she'd move fast to claim from Ottawa all powers and the accompanying on culture and communications.
In the PQ press release, there was no mention of the R-word. There was a only a promise to "start negotiating the day after" a PQ victory and to "compensate" for Ottawa's cuts in culture in the meantime. But at her press conference, a reporter asked if she would go as far as holding a referendum if Ottawa refused. She replied that she wouldn't exclude any means to success. And that's how the R- word crept back into this campaign.
But after that, there was some confusion. Although many Péquistes understood this to mean there would be a referendum on sovereignty if talks with Ottawa went astray, it became clear that Marois was talking only about a referendum on culture as a tool to negotiate with Ottawa. Period. This, she said, is what would distinguish her from Charest, whom she accused this week of going on bended knees to Stephen Harper.
In Tuesday's leaders' debate, Marois even said that it would be "quite possible to amend the Canadian constitution without any drama." On Wednesday, in an interview with Anne-Marie Dussault on RDI, Marois was even clearer when she talked of taking the classic nationalist approach of establishing a "rapport de forces" with Ottawa, of course within the Canadian context. When asked about what would in effect be a "sectorial" referendum, not a reprise of 1980 or 1995, Marois softened her line: "We can have an agreement with Ottawa without a referendum. My objective is not to have a referendum," she added, "but I don't want to deprive myself of any means to see Quebec go forward."
Where Marois was previously talking about going back to Robert Bourassa's concept of "cultural sovereignty," she's now adding a possible referendum on this specific issue. Call it "national affirmation" with a twist. Her objective being that this would prove not too scary for soft nationalists, but be just enough for sovereignists to settle for.
Marois and Mario Dumont have only 10 days to at least keep Charest from a majority. Marois's hope is that after her good performance at the debate, even her very restricted use of the R-word will help do just that.

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