Canadians beware: we could be headed into another era of constitutional strife.
With a Quebec provincial election expected to be called this week, there is a very real possibility that Quebecers will elect the separatist Parti Québécois as their new government.
The most recent polls have premier Jean Charest's Liberals and the PQ in a virtual dead-heat. And if the PQ wins, they're poised to stage a series of constitutional and financial battles with Ottawa.
According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the PQ refuses to lay out a timetable for a third referendum on sovereignty in the event of a victory but promises that it would immediately try and whip up popular support — possibly through a referendum on its constitutional demands — in a bid to obtain more powers and money from the federal government.
"I don't see how we can lose," Bernard Drainville, a PQ MNA and lead party spokesman on constitutional issues, said in an interview.
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"If Quebec wins [its battles against Ottawa], it becomes stronger. If Quebec is rebuffed, the demonstration is made that there is a limit to our ability to progress in this country."
The Globe article notes that the party wants the federal government to turn over its powers and all related funding on matters such as employment insurance, communications and culture, and economic regional development.
In addition, the PQ wants the language policies in Bill 101 to apply everywhere in Quebec, including federally regulated sectors such as banks and transportation.
"We want to move from a position of weakness to a position of strength with Ottawa," Drainville said.
"We will work to make gains for Quebec, to obtain a maximum amount of money and powers. We will work to obtain the largest possible number of victories for Quebec and Quebecers, on all fronts.
"If [the federal government] persists on building a Canada that denies the Quebec difference, we'll ask them to get out of the way."
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Whether the Harper Conservatives will cow-tow to Quebec like governments of the past, however, remains to be seen.
While Stephen Harper's secret meeting with former prime minister Brian Mulroney last month indicates he's concerned about the national unity issue, it seems the public in the rest of Canada aren't too worried about Quebec's potential exit from confederation.
In a recent Leger Marketing poll, 61 per cent of Canadians outside of Quebec believed Canada would do as well or be better off without Quebec.
With a demanding separatist government in Quebec and an apathetic rest of Canada, we could be in for some interesting times.
(Photo courtesy The Canadian Press)