I returned from a trip across Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with the following impressions:
1. In Quebec, Jean Charest and his Liberals are in deep trouble. Nonetheless, the results on September 4th will be close. If Pauline Marois wins the election, it will be by a narrow margin. She will, perhaps, lead a minority government. For Quebercers, it's a case of which leader they dislike the least. But one thing is certain: the leader they dislike the most is Stephen Harper.
2. No matter how many times you've been there, the view of the St. Lawrence from atop the ramparts of Quebec City is always magnificent.
3. In New Brunswick, the pulp and paper industry is no longer a powerhouse. In Florenceville, however, the potato is still king. Regardless, both the Irvings and the McCains appear to be doing quite well.
4. Those who believe that Quebec's separation would be of little consequence completely ignore the huge number of French Canadians who live in New Brunswick -- still Canada's only officially bilingual province.
5. In Lunenburg, work on the Bluenose II is almost complete.
6. A significant number of Nova Scotians -- whether they serve tourists or fill lobster traps off the Eastern Shore -- work seasonally. They are simply acknowledging the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Denying them employment insurance benefits will not alter that fact.
Whenever I travel across Canada, I am struck by the nation's vastness, beauty and generosity. This trip again confirmed that impression. What was different this time around was the uneasy feeling I had that the gulf between the country and its pinched, grasping and mean-spirited prime minister is profound.