Federal politicians steering clear of upcoming Quebec election

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair probably won't be sleeping very well this long-weekend.

That's because their worst nightmare about the Quebec election is about to come true. Unless the pollsters have it wrong — a la the Alberta election — the Parti Québécois will form Quebec's next government on Tuesday.

Throughout the course of the election campaign, both the Conservatives and NDP have gone by the "don't get involved and hope things sort themselves out" philosophy.

In an interview with CBC News last month, NDP MP François Pilon confirmed there is a directive from her party's leadership to steer clear of the Quebec election. It appears that Tory MPs were given the same instructions.

[ Related: Francois Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec remains an unknown political entity ]

But after Tuesday, the federal parties will have no choice but to engage with Quebec sovereignists.

And make no mistake, sovereignty is once again on the national agenda.

Should the PQ win, it plans to present Ottawa with a long list of financial and constitutional demands and use any rejection to help build momentum for another referendum on separation.

In a speech Thursday night, PQ leader Pauline Marois reiterated her party's ultimate goal.

"I need a majority mandate to make Quebec a country," she said, according to the Montreal Gazette.

A sovereignist PQ government poses distinct challenges for both Harper and Mulcair.

For Harper, it may force a shift in his government's focus from economy to unity.

"A PQ victory is the worst-case scenario for the Conservatives, both politically and economically," CBC News' Chris Hall wrote in a column published Friday.

"Sovereignty has been dormant as a federal/provincial issue during his three terms in office. A win by the Parti Québécois on Tuesday means having to put every policy through the prism of how it will play in Quebec, of having to deal with the long list of demands in the PQ platform: from control over employment insurance to the right to negotiate international treaties."

As for Thomas Mulcair, the Globe and Mail's Jeffery Simpson suggests that Harper's lack of popularity in Quebec, leaves Mulcair as "federalism's de facto spear" carrier in Quebec."

Unfortunately, for Mulcair, it's not an enviable position.

"Some of [the PQ's] demands, designed to stir up antagonism toward Ottawa and make Quebeckers feel badly treated within Canada, will resonate positively with some NDP MPs from Quebec who, if not closet secessionists, are strongly nationalistic," Simpson wrote.

"Mulcair might then have to choose between bowing to his nationalists, thereby aligning himself with the PQ's demands, or resisting those demands, as will be the preference outside Quebec, and causing friction in his caucus."

Both parties will struggle to  balance the sovereignist demands of Quebec with an increasing number of Canadians outside Quebec who are opposed to any moves to placate Quebec.

In the words of that ancient Chinese proverb and curse: 'we live in interesting times.'

[ Related: Quebec journalist decries 'anglo' media coverage of QC election ]