For the Parti Québécois, this election campaign will mirror René Lévesque's in 1981 when he asked voters for a mandate to deliver "good government."
For one thing, PQ leader Pauline Marois already shelved the referendum platform last year. But with the looming economic crisis, used by Jean Charest as the official pretext to go the polls, Marois must feel relieved that a new R-word - recession - has dethroned the referendum as an election theme.
So expect Marois to use this campaign to try to portray the PQ as the best and most experienced manager of the economy in difficult times. Yesterday, she rushed to present her own plan of action to protect Quebec's economy on the same day premier Jean Charest did.
But expect her to also deliver a larger platform on education, health care, the environment and what she calls measures tailor-made for peoples' daily lives. Although Marois says she'll talk about sovereignty once in a while, she made it clear on Wednesday that for her, it won't be the "object" of the campaign.
With empty coffers at PQ headquarters and an urgent need to mobilize her troops with no referendum in sight, she launched her campaign saying that getting back into official opposition wouldn't be enough: "I'm going in there to win, and to win a majority."
For this, and given that it's her first campaign as head of the PQ, Marois will have to project the image of a credible leader. With the economy as the central theme of this election, who appears as the strongest and the most responsible leader will be paramount. That's where Marois is throwing a little something different into the game.
When she launched her campaign, she stated clearly that she wants to "become the first female premier of Quebec." Now, you would think that saying, "I want to be the premier of Quebec" would have been clear enough. Marois's gender is as clear to everyone as Charest's or Dumont's.
But this showed that Marois might also be trying to appeal to a specific, trans-partisan constituency: Voters who'd like to see an historic event happen.
That approach is also all over the kinder, gentler look of the PQ's campaign material. While Liberals are going for their traditional, in your face, bold red colour, Marois's campaign bus is of a very, very light blue. It features her first name «Pauline» with a reassuring picture of her, gently smiling, looking upward and to the horizon as if ponderiing the future.
On the PQ's website, pictures of PQ candidates were also taken in front of a soft, light blue background with men wearing light-blue shirts, with no jacket or tie, and a number of women wearing light-coloured blouses or suits.
In reality, though, playing the gender card during this campaign will not be all that necessary. Except for the diehard misogynists, what most voters will be looking for is a leader they perceive as capable of heading Quebec's government through a tougher economic period. Period. With no comparison intended, Barack Obama's skin colour was much less a determining factor in his victory than his ability to convince enough voters that he'd make a stellar president in difficult times.
Even for Charest or Dumont, the fact that Marois is a woman never seemed to make a bit of difference in the way they debate her as a political adversary. A good thing, too, in 2008.
In that light, it escapes me why some analysts keep saying that Marois's gender would force the other leaders to behave differently. Marois is an experienced politician who can give as good as she gets.
Elections are battles for power. As would have been the case for Hillary Clinton had she won the Democratic nomination, the fact that a woman now has an actual shot at it is good news on its own and a sign of political maturity.
But chances are that it's not what will decide who will be the next premier of Quebec.
She has dropped sovereignty for now, campaigns on providing 'good government' and hopes to become the first female premier of Quebec