Before Premier Jean Charest calls the next Quebec election, he must decide whether to run as a federalist or a sovereigntist. He poses as a soft sovereigntist in an interview published in a French newsmagazine in July.
He told Express Quebec is a nation and its political status is not the same as other provinces. He says Quebec's position in the asymmetrical federation called Canada is similar to France's place within Europe.
It's a neat trick: Charest talks as if he's achieved sovereignty-association as he articulated his nuanced position.
He should ask a citizen in Dryden, Lethbridge or Moncton whether Quebec's status is different from those of other provinces.
Charest says all provinces are sovereign in their spheres of jurisdiction, such as health, and theoretically that's true.
But he also says the fact that Quebec has representation at UNESCO shows that it is no longer subordinate to the federal government in foreign affairs, either.
He says it shows the maturity of what he calls "l'Etat quebecois" that it can do what it likes without inhibition on the international stage.
Perhaps Quebec might like to send its army to keep the peace in Lebanon, as France is doing.
Charest's rhetorical hair-splitting isn't likely to fool anyone but it is a dangerous game. Separatists know Quebec is still a province. Federalists hope it will remain a province, and will find his talk distasteful.
Equally disturbing is the refusal of the Prime Minister's Office to comment on these remarks. Does this mean Harper has accepted this "reality?''
The real question for Quebec voters will be whether they can trust a premier who's trying to be all things to all people.