This is poetic justice at its most ironic.
During the last federal election, Quebec Premier Jean Charest's jabs at Prime Minister Stephen Harper robbed Mr. Harper of the seats he had counted on to win a majority. On Monday, thanks to Mr. Harper's jabs at the Bloc Québécois, Mr. Charest was robbed of the large majority he had been hoping for.
The provincial returns came as a shock to those - including major polling firms - who had predicted Mr. Charest would sail into comfortable majority territory. Instead, what the Liberal Party got was a slim majority of 66 seats, only three over the threshold of 63. No wonder the Parti Québécois militants were euphoric on election night: Not only did the PQ, under the leadership of Pauline Marois, regain its former status as Official Opposition, it did much better than party veterans expected.
Of course, there might have been other reasons for the Quebec Liberal Party's tight victory. Some people have yet to forgive Mr. Charest for having called what they thought was an unnecessary election. Also, Monday was the coldest day of the season and the voter turnout - at 57 per cent - was the lowest in the province's history. Interestingly, this low turnout would normally have helped the Liberals since the most dutiful voters are older citizens, who traditionally vote Liberal. This time, however, PQ sympathizers went to the polls in droves, in all likelihood because of what they saw as "Quebec bashing" on the part of Mr. Harper and "English Canada."
During the weeklong psychodrama that followed the creation of the Liberal-NDP coalition, the Prime Minister's defence was to attack the coalition for having secured the support of the Bloc's "separatists." Actually, Mr. Harper was correct in saying a party determined to separate Quebec from Canada should not be part of a Canadian government. (And while the Bloc was not technically part of the coalition, this coalition couldn't have been born without the Bloc's collaboration in wanting to overthrow the government and wouldn't have been able to survive without its continuous support.)
But many Quebeckers have a totally different view of the Bloc. The Bloc presents itself as the defender of "Quebec's interests" rather than as the champion of sovereignty, and so Quebeckers see it as a regular party that makes them feel secure, a comfort zone in the alien environment of federal politics. It's their "home team," in other words.
Meanwhile, Mr. Harper was careful to note that while the Bloc MPs have been duly elected and have "every legitimate right" to be in Parliament, their agenda is such that no Canadian government should be in "a position to be beholden to the Bloc."
These distinctions, of course, were completely lost in the turmoil of the bizarre scenario that was unfolding. Mr. Harper's comments - as well as those coming from English Canada's bloggers and talk-radio shows - were amplified and distorted and, needless to say, gleefully exploited by the sovereigntist forces. As usual, the Conservatives' tiny and rather inarticulate group of Quebec MPs was unable to counter the wave of anger. Mr. Harper was accused of showing contempt for the Bloc and for those who had voted for it. The fact the Prime Minister used, in English, the word "separatist," was seen as a provocation, since the sovereigntists have succeeded over the years in imposing the softer "sovereigntist" synonym.
By the end of the week, the prevailing impression was that not only the Bloc, but Quebec as a whole, had been attacked. And three separate polls showed Quebec was the only province where a majority favoured the coalition.
Yet again, the typical reflex of an embattled minority that feels humiliated (whether objectively true or not) emerged, with the predictable outcome of helping the Parti Québécois.