It's a truly Pavlovian phenomenon. Every time Jacques Parizeau speaks up, the media and prominent péquistes rally to admonish him with almost equal fervour.
So it went after Monsieur penned a two-page newspaper article suggesting the Parti Québécois take a different road to sovereignty. His plan was called undemocratic, vengeful, desperate, bitter, deceitful, illegitimate, despicable and monstrous. Bernard Landry and Stéphane Dion even united in denouncing Monsieur's plan as illegitimate. To quote Aislin's famed cartoon: "OK, everybody. Take a Valium!"
So why all the mayhem?
On Monday, La Presse's frontpage story about Parizeau's plan had this title: "No need for another referendum. Parizeau supports the idea of a referendum-election." So Monsieur wanted Quebec to become independent without a referendum.
The problem is that Parizeau wrote nothing of the sort. In fact, he suggested the PQ go into an election asking for a clear mandate to trigger a process that would lead to a referendum on a new constitution for a sovereign Quebec. Only a majority vote in that referendum would allow Quebec to become independent.
This idea is based on a short essay by Robert Laplante, director of L'Action Nationale. All Parizeau did was express his support for a position that is increasingly popular inside and outside PQ ranks, but to which most of the media had paid no attention. Parizeau's sortie took care of that.
So much so that the Council on Sovereignty will hold a two-day forum on the subject Oct. 1 and 2, where Parizeau will speak. There will also be a resolution tabled at the PQ's coming national council asking for a special symposium on the Laplante plan and other avenues. It's even winning over some PQ MNAs as more and more younger members start to support it.
So if the Parizeau-Laplante approach is so popular and it does call for a referendum, why did Landry call it illegitimate and undemocratic?
The answer to this question is of paramount importance. It exposes the real stakes that lie behind what some see as just another "chicane" inside the PQ.
The answer is that Laplante's approach goes against everything PQ leaders - other than Parizeau - have defended for years.
First, it says the PQ must be elected on a clear mandate to trigger the preparation of sovereignty with public funds. This is what Parizeau did in 1994, while his successors refused such a commitment, waiting instead for "winning conditions" and the "moral certainty to win."
Second, the Laplante plan entails "gestures of sovereignty" that would, among other things, allow a PQ government to enact a Quebec citizenship while Quebec still remains in Canada. Landry and Bouchard refused to do that when other soverefgnists suggested the same thing in the past.
Third, it advocates the adoption of a voter ID card to reduce voter fraud at the next referendum. Again, Bouchard refused to do just that while Landry, though he had promised to, never did.
More importantly - and this is the biggest stake of all - the Laplante plan means the end of "étapisme," a step-by-step, referendum-based strategy brought into the PQ - in 1974 by Claude Morin, a former RCMP paid informant.
The Laplante plan does that not because it rejects the holding of a referendum. It doesn't. But because a referendum on a constitution would mark the "end" of the process, the founding act of an independent Quebec.
This is radically different from Bouchard and Landry's position: a referendum as the first stage of negotiations with Canada. Many "soft soverefgnists" even view a referendum victory as a way to establish a "rapport de force" to negotiate a new deal with Canada, a sort of confederal union, as is Landry's real preference.
The Laplante plan proposes a clearer path that would ask Quebecers to vote for a constitution marking the creation of an independent Quebec, free thereafter to sign various treaties with various countries, including Canada.
In the months leadin PQ convention of June 2 is what the real debate about. And this is where the leadership issue comes in.
Since Landry seems to remain leader, he must first survive the confidence vote he'll be submitted to next June. This means he must find ways to do that even though he voives strong opposition to the Laplante plan, which is increasingly popular among PQ members.
It will be fascinating to see how Landry will manoeuvre to protect his own vision and his leadership through it all. But one thing is certain: Landry must now explain how his traditional approach would ensure a more ambiguous referendum on sovereignty-partnership would be fought without Ottawa drowning Quebec in expensive propaganda and without its results, should it be won, being contested by Ottawa on the world stage using the Clarity Act.
Parizeau's approach other hand, ensures the process a double legitimacy, both here and abroad. First, the PQ gets elected on a clear mandate to trigger the process. Second, it holds a referendum on a constitution that would surely state Quebec will be an independant country.
If that isn't clarity, I don't know what is.
Nothing undemocratic about Parizeau's proposal