Claiming once again to be the party of ideas, Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc Quebecois have launched a new charm offensive to win back the hearts and minds of the people of Quebec City. The provincial capital abandoned the Bloc with a vengeance in last January's federal election, sending four Conservatives and just one Bloquiste to Ottawa; more Conservatives won in seats around the city.
So what splendid new ideas does Duceppe have to woo the good people of Quebec City? What insightful new policies? What clever new proposals?
He wants to bribe them. After the Glorious Day, Quebec City will be "a cultural crossroads and the centre of diplomatic power of a sovereign country," Duceppe claimed last weekend to an audience of party faithful. He sets the advent of liberty in 2015 - say, whatever happened to Bernard Landry's 1,000 days until sovereignty, anyway? - and at the weekend meeting, a range of treats was laid out for the city: a high-speed rail link to New York City, a vast expansion of the city's port, and more. "It's our strength," said Duceppe, "to propose ideas."
There was more: "When Quebec becomes sovereign, we will deploy our own diplomatic campaigns from Quebec City," Duceppe said. The notion conjures up visions of hundreds of great jobs, a whole foreign service, foreign embassies, glittering diplomatic high society ...
And while the people of the old capital wait for independence, Duceppe said, Ottawa simply must support the city's bid to be the headquarters of a planned new secretariat for UNESCO's Convention on Cultural Diversity. A locale for the new centre will be picked about a year from now.
This demand is particularly amusing, in a grim way, given that few people try to claim that cultural diversity would exactly thrive in an independent Quebec. In fact, the Parti Quebecois is currently embroiled in a little revolt among its few ethnic and visible-minority members, who claim the party is not nearly inclusive enough.
In any case, there's something too artful about the Bloc's endless petulant advocacy for "the interests of Quebec:" Everything the federal government does for the region is a victory for the Bloc, but whatever Ottawa does is never enough.
Will the voters of Quebec City be impressed by Duceppe's latest summons to join him on the broad, sunlit uplands of prosperity and independence? The region has been soft in its support for sovereignty for some time now, actually.
We like to think that this is because there's such a high proportion of civil servants in the population there. Such people might be expected to have a firmly realistic understanding of just how unstable and disorganized and confusing a "winning" referendum would be.