Tim Harper warns in today's Toronto Star that -- if the betting is right, and Jean Charest calls an election today -- Ottawa could be radically transformed. If the Parti Quebecois wins that election, Stephen Harper's government could be shaken to its foundations.
The Conservative majority was quite consciously built on the assumption that Harper didn't need Quebec to govern. And it was based on the further assumption that Quebec was prepared to exist quietly in a parallel universe.
If the PQ wins, Quebec will be anything but quiet. They have vowed to attack the federal government everyday as a pretext for a referendum. And, if there ever was a federal government that is easy to paint as toxic to Quebec's aspirations, it's the Harper government. On gun control, on prisons, on health care, on the appointment of unilinqual officers of parliament -- the majority of Quebecers have no love for Stephen Harper and his minions.
And, as Tim Harper points out, the official opposition has much deeper Quebec roots than the other three parties. Thomas Mulcair could make hay of the situation:
The federal NDP shares goals with the PQ, such as the extension of language laws requiring the primacy of French in federally-regulated workplaces, and the two parties are natural allies when it comes to social and environmental issues.
Mulcair will also be carrying with him an official party policy, the Sherbrooke Declaration, which would allow Quebec to separate on the barest 50 per cent plus one mandate, regardless of the wording of a referendum question.
The Sherbrooke Declaration has always been highly controversial. Whether or not -- if push came to shove -- it would be good for the country, is an open question. And, if the PQ does win the election, you can expect that the Liberals will convince Justin Trudeau that the stars are aligned in his favour.
As for the Conservatives, there is no love lost between them and Charest. But he's the best hope they have. If Charest calls an election, the Harperites should join those black veiled women who climb Mount Royal on their knees, on the way to St. Joseph's Oratory. At this point, only a novena will save them.