Less than a year and a half ago, Pauline Marois found herself battling for the Parti Quebecois leadership as just one more hopeful in a crowded field of nine. A tough, experienced former cabinet minister, Marois should have been able to power her way past the rest of the field.
Instead, she came in a humiliating 20 points behind the PQ's top choice, Andre Boisclair, a younger, less experienced candidate who a few months before the leadership vote was talked of as a dark horse, a long shot.
For Marois to come back this week facing near-certain coronation by the party that repudiated her as old and out of touch is vindication for her. It is not, arguably, the best thing for democratic renewal within a party that seems in great need of rejuvenation, but the PQ is not a party that does things by halves.
Having plunged to unheard-of depths and third-party status in the National Assembly under Boisclair, it jettisoned him with its usual unseemly haste. Never mind that he acted as a faithful conduit of ideological purity. He promised, even before the March 26 election was called, to hold a referendum within a first term and further promised to declare independence within a year of an electoral victory whatever the state of negotiations with Canada at that time.
The PQ hardliners were oblivious to the fact that the majority of Quebecers did not want a third referendum on sovereignty. Not for them, the base effort of winning power by kowtowing to voter interests or desires. That was fine for the Liberals or Action democratique du Quebec. The PQ had a higher calling, independence.
Marois is back because, thanks to the hammering the PQ took on March 26, even the most pur of the durs has realized that if they don't win power, they won't ever get to hold a third referendum.
If Marois is elected PQ leader, she has promised to put sovereignty on hold and concentrate instead on providing good governance. She warned her fellow party members, "A political party that doesn't respond to obvious needs is one condemning itself to marginality, or even to disappearance." (It shows how ideological the PQ is that Marois had to promote the idea of good governance as an honourable political goal.)
Yet the PQ's more or less constant invocation of independence has had a deep and deleterious impact on our economy and population base. A poll conducted before the 1995 referendum estimated that had the referendum passed, more than 500,000 non-francophones and 600,000 francophones would have left Quebec. Other studies conducted in connection with the 1995 referendum found that a year later, in October 1996, private investment levels in the province had dropped below 18 per cent of total investment in Canada.
The idealists at the heart of the PQ refuse to take into account that the majority of voters in Quebec are not obsessed by the single idea of independence. We have other concerns - like health and education. The fires of nationalism can always be stoked - not the same thing as fomenting turmoil to achieve a goal few people want.