The Premier and her advisors had carefully planned a year long campaign designed to drive a wedge between the voters in preparation for the election, by holding public meetings to discuss their Charter of Values. And it seemed to be working well, crystallizing support among Francophones and leaving opponents waffling with Me, Too faint emulations.
So Marois and her Brains Trust decided that if it worked with the Charter of Values, why not adopt the same lobster in a pot strategy with respect to a referendum on independence? Gain a majority and then plunge into a year long White Paper exercise, doing the same as they did with the Charter of Values – gradually turn up the heat until the Lobster (Quebec voters) was well and truly cooked, steam coming out of their ears, without their being aware of it.
The trick was to promise a referendum to their diehard supporters while not promising a referendum to all others, so that the PQ could gain its majority and then crank up the heat under the Lobsters.
But the scheming has backfired.
The provincial Liberal Party found its way and has so far won the battle of defining the ballot question: Do you want to plunge into constitutional wrangling with a referendum, or not?
And the first debate showed that Premier Marois could not escape the question of whether one can have one’s cake and eat it at the same time:
Marois failed to shake speculation about her party's sovereignty agenda, after she refused to give a simple yes or no answer last night when asked if she would hold a referendum on Quebec's independence if the PQ forms the next government.
During the Friday morning news conference, reporters grilled the PQ leader on the referendum question, but she repeated her standard response: "There won't be a referendum if Quebecers aren't ready."
When pressed further, Marois said that her stance on a referendum is clear.
'We won't hold a referendum if Quebecers don't want one and we won't push them towards one," she said.
That commitment not to push Quebecers towards a referendum is a flat rejection of the whole Lobster Strategy the PQ has adopted (and which senior PQ leaders have jubilantly announced during the campaign) for the election. Expect pushback in a hurry from those leaders once journalists contrast their former statements with Ms Marois’ walk away from the White Paper/Lobster Immersion strategy previously adopted.
It could prove to be Premier Marois’ walk – not into the snow – but into the darkness of political oblivion.
And the future looks gloomy:
Robert Libman, a former MNA with the Equality Party and the former mayor of Côte-St Luc, said Marois's attempts to distance herself from the referendum question have been unsuccessful.
"You can’t erase the image of Pierre Karl Péladeau during the campaign raising his fist. That’s probably the one image that defined this campaign so far. He raises his fist and he says ‘I want a country for my children.’
How can you escape that powerful image?" Libman told CBC's Daybreak.
"No matter what she says, that’s going to haunt her during the campaign."
Voters now have two images seared into their minds: The clenched fist of Péladeau when he made his Vive le Québec libre statement, and Marois’ stiff arming him away from the microphones in damage control desperation.
And what is the lesson learned? Simply this: Go to the mouse, thou politician: consider her ways and be wise ...