Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois stands with her family after winning a minority government in the Quebec provincial election in Montreal, Quebec, September 4, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI
First, the winning Parti Quebecois has no real mandate. Despite nearly winning a majority of the seats in the Quebec National Assembly, the PQ only managed 32% of the popular vote.
Quebec voters have not sent the PQ into office with anything resembling a clear, consensus message.
The PQ should have demolished the ruling Liberals of Jean Charest. The Libs were corrupt, intellectually bankrupt, managerially incompetent, ineffectual in the face of last spring's student riots and long in the tooth. The Liberals should have been relegated to Kim Campbell territory, by which I mean something like the two seats Campbell's federal Tories were reduced to in the 1993 election.
The very fact that the moribund and mistrusted Liberals still managed to win 30% of the vote and retain official opposition status is a sign that while Quebec voters wanted wholesale change, they were not eager for the sovereigntist change the PQ were peddling. If anything, many voters chose the PQ despite having reservations about the party's threat to revive talk of separation and referenda.
Ottawa may also resist Quebec City's demands because just 28% of Quebecers claim to want independence from Canada. The province's inhabitants are, at worst, indifferent to Canada. They want to be left alone to do their jobs, raise their families, pay their mortgages and enjoy their leisure time.
Support for independence among Quebecers is the lowest it has been in at least a generation. It was at nearly 50% in the 1995 referendum and 40% in the 1980 vote. It's a third less than that now. Quebecers may not adore Confederation, but they're not eager to leave it, either.
There is also no taste in the rest of Canada for appeasement of Quebec.
A month ago, Abacus Data released a poll for Sun News showing just 52% of Canadians outside Quebec wanted Ottawa to make a concerted effort to keep Quebec part of the country. Twenty-six per cent were in favour of booting it out and another 22% were unsure. But no matter whether they were in favour or not, 88% of nearly 1,800 respondents said there should be no special treatment of Quebec.
In the past, Quebec has always won recognition of its demands in large part because people in the rest of the country feared losing that province. Now that fear seems to have evaporated. No fear, no leverage.
Quebec is also less important in national politics than it has been in a century, perhaps ever.
The Harper government is the first majority in half a century to be headed by a non-Quebecer and it has fewer Quebec MPs (five) than any majority since the war - the First World War!
In the 2011 federal election, the Tories won 48% of the votes outside Quebec, meaning they can continue to govern without much, if any support from Quebec. And they are the least popular federal party in Quebec, meaning it would be fruitless for them to go to extraordinary lengths to try to garner support there.
All of this gives the federal Conservatives the luxury of mostly ignoring new Quebec Premier Pauline Marios when she comes knocking demanding control of employment insurance in the province, control over telecommunications, international aid and language rights.
"Hi, Pauline. Congrats on your win. Now please don't trip over the garden gnome as you back off the lawn."