Last week in this space, we lamented the fact a stale old notion from the 1970s has paralyzed political development. Quebec is trapped, we said, in the "endless trench warfare" of one referendum after another.
But now the marketing wizards in Andre Boisclair's Parti Quebecois have decided to eschew the R-word. If the PQ is elected we'll have "une consultation populaire," rather than a referendum. They might as well have put a big sign on Boisclair's bus: "We think you're all morons."
Instead of joining the high-volume, multilingual chorus of mockery for this flummery, let's look instead at the PQ's route map to independence. This can be found in three-and-a-half pages - not much detail for the midwives of a new country - of the 30-page PQ platform released last week (www.pq.org and click on "feuille de route"). It's drawn from the wordier party program of 2005. (We'll examine other parts of the platform later.)
The sovereignty plank is at once vague and alarming. Well before the new consultation, it says, the government will propose to the regions of Quebec a deal to decentralize power in a sovereign Quebec. This measure would, we suspect, have the effect of forcing local-government officials to choose, in public: Are you with us or against us?
Next, the National Assembly would pass an "initial constitution" for the new state, and approve basic laws to assure seamless continuity come the Glorious Day. It takes a certain nerve to use the word "continuity" about such a profound and unpredictable rupture, but let's not quibble.
Along comes the "Forum du Pays," a series of talking shops in all 17 regions, "where citizens can express themselves." These sound precisely like the "sovereignty commissions" of 1995, a blatant government subsidy ($7.5 million) for Yes-side propaganda, and a notorious flop.
Then, the National Assembly will approve a question to consult the people about. This section artfully avoids any commitment to anything like, excuse the expression, clarity in the wording of the question.
Then, they'll make sure, somehow, of international observers for the ref ... consultation. And they'll do something - they don't say just what - to make sure the rest of Canada remains mute in the campaign.
Finally, comes consultation day. If there's a Yes vote - evidently 50 per cent plus one would do, and the Supreme Court can just shut up - there would be no subsequent nonsense about sovereignty-association or the like. Canada would get one year to agree to terms, and if Canada balked, it would be time for a unilateral declaration of independence.
It is staggering that anyone could promise voters such a recipe for tumult. The PQ is asking us to sleepwalk over a cliff into economic and political chaos, division and who can say what else? Who could vote for this?