Just a year and a half after she was ruthlessly discarded by the political movement to which she had devoted decades, Pauline Marois is this week reborn as its leader.
Despite the partisan tumult that made it possible, her sudden ascension to the Parti Quebecois leadership must be a joyous moment for her. You don't have to support the PQ to understand the satisfaction to be found in a sudden move from rocking chair to leader's office.
But political life is not innately sentimental, and by the time the champagne bottle lands in the recycling bin, Marois will find herself dealing with some demanding circumstances. The PQ she leads now is in third place in the National Assembly, she has no seat there, her party has grievous financial problems, and, since 1994, as she noted on our Opinion page last week, the party has been declining in popular support. The PQ needs to rethink itself.
Tony Blair transformed Britain's Labour Party by scrapping, in 1995, the historic Clause IV, dating from 1918, which committed the party to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange." History had passed socialism by, and Blair knew it.
Nobody expects Marois to scrap the PQ's formally stated first principle, that "Quebec is a nation and will be a country." But when a stunned and reeling PQ turned to her after Andre Boisclair's resignation, she stated her price clearly: Sovereignty goes on the back burner. No more talk about a referendum as soon as possible. In fact let's just give the r-word a rest, she insisted, and concentrate on the accumulated government debt and the real problems of ordinary people.
Over the years, from Rene Levesque's "beau risque" through Pierre Marc Johnson's time and up to Lucien Bouchard's term as premier, many in the PQ have wondered just how seriously sovereignist their leaders have been. And yet the PQ has never been much good at having leadership contests that serve as idea-filled revivals of idealism. Instead, five of the seven leaders in PQ history have taken the job without a contest. The phrase "season of ideas" has become a bitter joke within the PQ.
The hard-liners who have always been able to roil the PQ will not be happy with Marois's firm grasp on the party. But survey results published in another newspaper yesterday confirm further the wisdom of her approach: Support for sovereignty is down to 38 per cent.
The notion of Quebec separation from Canada is probably in our political bloodstream to stay, like a virus. But if it remains dormant, at least for a while, the PQ's new approach can bring all Quebecers the promise of a more normal political spectrum, with parties arrayed not from federalist to sovereignist but from left to right. This is good news. Questions about the role of government in the economy and society are more fruitful than questions about the structure of government.
Quebec urgently needs to make progress on issues from highway maintenance to health care. For the first time in a long time, Quebecers can now expect all three parties to get serious about finding, explaining, and defending ideas for real answers to our real problems.