With Jean Charest mentioning partition, Mario Dumont doing well and Andre Boisclair running a decent campaign, some Pequistes are starting to hope they could win the election after all.
When Premier Charest dug up partition, Boisclair called it an advantage for the Parti Quebecois. It did seem like the premier's alleged slip of the tongue on partition was in fact an attempt to consolidate his own federalist vote while trying to send disappointed Pequistes back home and yank them from the Action democratique.
If you look at the latest election projections by DemocraticSpace.Com - a credible website that nailed the results of the last federal election - you will understand why Charest is polarizing the campaign along the sovereignist vs. federalist line.
Based on all polls so far, including last week's huge Leger Marketing survey, DemocraticSpace assessed if an election were held today, there would be 65 Liberals, 45 PQ and 15 ADQ. That's a Liberal majority by a hair.
That's thanks to the Liberals' relative unpopularity, the PQ's weak support and the surprising rise of the ADQ. But given that it's been a three-way race with a very volatile electorate, DemocraticSpace also cautions half of the ridings are actually too close to call. Anything can happen on March 26.
For Charest, that means a majority is possible, but not in the bag. For Boisclair, if the ADQ gets 25 per cent or more of the vote on election night, he could be lucky enough to force a minority government. Hence, this new hope of Pequistes after a year of free fall in the polls.
But should that hope materialize, it could end up a poisoned gift. With a minority, the PQ would keep its inexperienced leader. It might seem harsh but many in PQ circles feel if Boisclair has picked up, it's only partly because he has been working hard. But the other part is that because he made so many mistakes in the last year, everyone's expectations of him were so very low.
In other words, Boisclair's leadership isn't solid enough yet for many Pequistes to rejoice at the thought of seeing him as premier. Another problem for a PQ minority would be that Liberals would then get the chance to find a more popular leader than Charest.
But there's something more worrisome for the PQ in that scenario: It would have to kiss its referendum goodbye - a sure recipe for internal dissension and demobilization. To hold a referendum, it needs a majority.
Whether the Liberals or the ADQ formed the official opposition, both would be opposed to a referendum. Yesterday, on Radio-Canada's C'est bien meilleur le matin, Dumont was crystal clear on where he would stand if a PQ government would go for a referendum.
"There's no way that we would take part in one form or another in the organization of another referendum," he said. "We are autonomist and the autonomy of Quebec is within the Canadian ensemble."
So much for the "crypto-separatist," as Charest recently called Dumont. That could mean trouble for Charest, also, who is trying to position the Liberal Party as the only choice for voters to avoid a third referendum - a theme he's been hammering for days.
With the ADQ's more nationalist, but non-sovereignist stance, Charest has competition in the federalist corner. But you wouldn't catch Dumont doing what Charest did: Hailing the Quebec nation while refusing to say if he'd defend its territorial integrity against those who deny it.
So expect Dumont at the leaders' debate to tell those who don't want a referendum that there's another solution than voting Liberal: Send more ADQ MNAs to the National Assembly.
Which brings up a new unknown. This time, for Dumont. Now sitting clearly on the federalist side of the fence, is he risking doing Charest's job for him and end up sending at least some disappointed Pequistes home?
PQ hopes of victory
But some sovereignists would rather Boisclair lose the election than form a minority government