It is tiring that Canada's future is decided in Quebec, but once again such will be the case March 26 when Quebecers hold a provincial election. And because the country has a stake in what happens that day, it's appropriate that Canadians root for a Parti Quebecois defeat.
The calculus is simple, as always. If elected, the Parti Quebecois will either hold a referendum on Quebec secession or threaten to do so, creating economic and political instability inside and outside the province. As premier, the unpredictable and immature PQ leader Andre Boisclair would spell disaster.
So what should Quebecers do? We don't envy them, that's for sure. If Mr. Boisclair is not an option, Action Democratique leader Mario Dumont is only marginally better. Yes, Mr. Dumont has some conservative tendencies -- call them pragmatic, if you like -- and that's great. But on the central issue of Quebec independence, he's been ambiguous.
His equivocation on the place of Quebec in Canada is unfortunate, because as a fiscal conservative he has much to offer his province. Indeed, he can still play a useful role in pushing Premier Jean Charest and Quebec Liberals to the right, a place where the former federal Conservative leader should reside.
In the end, the re-election of Mr. Charest would be the best outcome for Quebec and Canada -- this despite Mr. Charest's record as an indifferent leader. Taxes remain too high, despite Mr. Charest's promises to address the problem. Only belatedly have tax rates become less obscene. If Mr. Charest's most recent budget is passed, Quebec will at least move closer to the middle of the pack in income taxation in Canada.
To be fair, Quebecers, who often look longingly at Europe, have a destructive attachment to their entitlements. Even as respected a figure as Lucien Bouchard was pilloried by the chattering classes for suggesting that Quebecers need to work harder if the province is to compete in a globalized economy.
There are, however, encouraging signs that Mr. Charest, if pushed properly, will challenge conventional wisdom. After the Supreme Court ruled that wait times for health care in Quebec are intolerable, Mr. Charest responded with legislation recognizing that competition and market forces have a place even in Canada's supposedly socialized medical system. The ideological leftists who reside in the PQ would no doubt abort any such reforms.
Canadians across the land understand the need to rethink the federal system, but such discussion would be impossible with a PQ government in Quebec, because the spectre of imminent secession would strangle every creative idea. As Canada faces not only security challenges but also major economic ones, federal cohesion is essential.
Mr. Charest, a former (Progressive) Conservative, is well-positioned to find common ground with a Conservative prime minister. It was during Mr. Charest's watch that the prime minister indulged Quebecers by granting them the symbolic status of "nation," albeit one residing within Canada. The two men seem to respect, if not trust, one another. Let's hope Quebecers vote to keep the peace.