Yesterday, Pequistes witnessed the surprising return of former leader Pierre Marc Johnson's "national affirmation."
It was one thing for Andre Boisclair to decide he would stay on as leader, even though he led the Parti Quebecois to third-party status. But it was quite another to take it upon himself, without a party congress, to make the stunning statement that sovereignty is desirable but not do-able, for now, and that the PQ's program must be adapted accordingly.
Translation: Boisclair is getting ready to dump Article 1 of the PQ program to get in tune with Mario Dumont's autonomist stance.
"The rise of the ADQ," Boisclair mused, "means the people want a real change when it comes to the way politics are done, but also on the national question." Then, in a major throwback to Johnson's "affirmationist" era, he lumped the PQ in with the ADQ, saying "two-thirds of the National Assembly is represented by people who think that the constitutional status quo is not acceptable."
"The Parti Quebecois must take notice of this fact and accept its consequences," he declared. Boisclair also vowed he would do all in his power "to keep Pequistes from falling into denial." A few minutes later, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe agreed with him.
For many PQ members, Boisclair's statement must have added insult to injury, barely hours after they suffered their worst defeat ever. Those who thought Boisclair soft on sovereignty will find their impression confirmed.
If there's any life left in the PQ, Boisclair's unilateral decision to try to water down the PQ's policy to align it with that of the ADQ could be the perfect recipe for internal strife - the last thing this beleaguered and impoverished party needs at this time.
And just as in Johnson's time, this means either the PQ's option will be left standing, with Boisclair ousted, or Boisclair will be allowed to stay on, and Pequistes better kiss their option goodbye.
If the PQ is to abandon its sovereignty option every time it suffers a setback, electoral or otherwise - something the Liberal Party never did - the danger is that even more sovereignists will conclude the party is no longer a feasible or credible vehicle for independence.
An exchange with a reporter showed the extent of Boisclair's willingness to leave the door wide open to national affirmation. He was asked what changes the PQ would demand if sovereignty is "impossible" in the short term, and if he's not going to fight for sovereignty, would he fight to reform the federation. Boisclair replied: "We will do everything that is needed to respect the will of the population."
Then asked clearly: "Will you demand changes to the federation, yes or no?", Boisclair responded: "We will make sure that the people are heard, not only in Quebec, but in Ottawa also."
"Will you fight for greater autonomy alongside the ADQ?," he was asked. "I will do whatever is in the best interest of Quebec." It doesn't need much decoding to see through Boisclair's statement. In his eyes, sovereignty hasn't been put on the back burner. It has fallen off the stove altogether.
Some will say Boisclair wants to trap federalists by trying to re-create the conditions for another failed attempt to renew the constitution, leading to a new rise in sovereignist sentiment.
But Boisclair knows Ottawa has played in this movie before and will never again get its hand caught in the constitutional cookie jar for fear of another failure. Stephen Harper is much too smart to go down that path again.
That leaves only one explanation: For reasons known only to him, Boisclair is intent on watering down the PQ's option, taking a page from Johnson's affirmationist song book.
Harper and Dumont must be pinching themselves and wondering what they did to deserve such good luck.
Soft on sovereignty
Boisclair's willingness to work with ADQ on constitutional change means PQ knives will be out for him