Thursday, June 30, 2005

Happy Canada Day! From Tommy Hunter to Kalan Porter

Tomorrow is Canada Day (Dominion Day to those of you who haven't got with the program since 1982). This day has taken on new significance to me in the past three years, as it is the subject of my current research. I'm doing a study of July 1st celebrations (mainly focussing on those in Ottawa) since the Second World War as a case study in how Canada's national identity has changed in that period (at least in the minds of the government and CBC organizers). It's been very interesting research so far.

As my Canada Day present to you, I give you a snapshot of the line-up from 1977, the year after the PQ was elected, when Ottawa organized a coast-to-coast 4-hour televised special which aired on all but 2 radio and TV stations in the country. After that is the listing for 2005 (which apparently will not be televised this year). Trace the changes, if you so desire... (it's more striking if you look at the early 60s, but other than Alex Trebek and the Travellers, it's mostly amateur talent).

- Ann Mortifee (Vancouver, BC)
- Tommy Hunter, Roy Warhurst, Donna & Leroy (Drumheller AB)
- Ted Wesley, Charlie Panigoniak, Joe Lutchan, Angus Beaulieu, Delta Dancers (Yellowknife NWT)
- Glory-Anne Carriere, Jim Roberts, The Dumptrucks (Regina SK)
- Buffy Ste-Marie, Tom Jackson, Reg Bourese, Gerry Saddleback (Broken Head Reserve, MB)
- Bobby Gimby, Keath Barrie, Hagood Hardy, Salome Bey, Mary Ann McDonald (Toronto ON)
- Ginette Reno (Montreal QC)
- Anne Murray (Springhill NS)
- John Allan Cameron, Young Acadian Singers, Robbie MacNeil, Alvin Gillis, Evangeline Dancers, Cape Breton Symphony (Summerside PE)
- Rufus Pritchard, Breakwater Boys (St. John’s NF)
- Jean Gascon, Bruno Gerussi, Al Waxman, Juliette, Jean Carignan, Les sortileges, Winston Wuttunee, Redbird, Renée Claude, Patsy Gallant, Shumka Dancers, Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn, René Simard (Ottawa ON)

- Sam Roberts (QC)
- Kalan Porter (AB)
- Corneille (QC)
- Kathleen Edwards (ON)
- Measha Brueggergosman (NB)
- Jeremy Fisher (BC)
- Asani (AB)
- Lulu Hughes (QC)
- Old Trout Puppet Workshop (AB)
- Frères Diouf (QC)
- Campbell Brothers (ON)

Bonne fête du Canada!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reflections on the morning after

158 to 133. Enough to pass Bill C-38, and I'll happily take it. If I land a tenure-track job at the University of Alberta in the future, my marriage will be recognized there (barring some nutbar move by Ralph Klein).

There was something bittersweet about the vote though. It's hard to ignore the 133 people who voted against the legislation. They do speak for a large constituency of Canadians who do not think that my marriage should be recognized, and that is something that still hurts. There were hateful things said yesterday in the House of Commons, and indeed half of the times I flipped past CPAC, someone, whether Liberal or Conservative, was saying something about the destruction of the Canadian family, or something similar. I expected it from the Conservative Party, and in reply to Monte Solberg, I will happily take this new Canada. Moreover, I will heartily thank Jim Prentice, James Moore and Gerald Keddy, who stuck by their guns and voted for the legislation.

What stung the most was the fact that Bev Desjarlais, NDP member for Churchill, did not abstain as she had done on earlier votes, but showed up and voted against Bill C-38. She is supposed to be representing the progressive voice in Parliament. How she can work day in and day out with gay and lesbian colleagues and still feel that their relationships are somehow less legitimate than heterosexual ones is mind-boggling. I think that the party made the right decision in stripping her of her critic's portfolio (recognizing that kicking her out of caucus was unlikely to happen).

Those discordant notes aside, this is a good day for Canada. It is also a time for celebration, and a good amount of levity. With that in mind, check out Robert's great post over at My Blahg. It'll make you smile!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Voting Day

If all goes to plan, Bill C-38 will be passed by the House of Commons today, finally ending a process which has gone on for far too long. I'll be thrilled to finally have some closure on this (and even more once the Senate has passed it).

I'd comment on the whole "federalist voters oppose this" line of argumentation, but others have already handled that particular gaffe - needless to say, I don't think Harper will be winning any seats in Quebec next year.

I do, however, question whether it was really necessary to invoke closure on debate last night. It's one thing to extend the House sitting so that the bill can be dealt with, but it's quite another to limit debate. Much as I think that the Conservative opposition to Bill C-38 is a delay tactic at this point, I also think that the Liberals should have let them babble on within the time constraints that were already established for debate. Then there would have been no rallying cry about "limiting debate" on the bill, which Peter McKay has been setting up for the past few days. Yes, it would be nice to be finished by Canada Day, but it wasn't necessary, and the optics on the bill would have been better if closure had not been invoked at this penultimate stage.

If the Liberals have a particularly weak spot with voters, it's the appearance of arrogance. It did in St. Laurent in 1957, so you'd think they wouldn't open themselves up to it on a socially charged issue, especially when it's a matter of a few days.

That being said, I've got some wine chilling in the fridge for a celebratory drink when C-38 passes. Let's just hope that the waffling Liberals don't get a collective case of cold feet today.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Gay Marriage Legal in New Brunswick

They must have known that I was coming. Yesterday, New Brunswick Judge Judy Clendenning ruled that New Brunswick would have to change its definition of marriage to a lawful union of two persons.

This is very convenient for me, as I have to file a bunch of health insurance forms with Mount Allison University today, and it means that I can indicate that my partner of 6 years (who I legally married a year ago today), is indeed my husband.

In other news, Michel Gauthier has secured a written promise from the Liberals that the House will sit until a vote is held on Bill C-38.

Everything's coming up roses.

Happy St-Jean-Baptiste!

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Paul's Rant" doesn't have quite the same alliterative cachet

With the name dropping about his friendship with Rick Mercer and now entitling his latest highly enjoyable post "Stephen Harper: a rant", one wonders whether Paul Wells is somewhat enamoured of everyone's favorite star of (formerly) Monday Report. That being said, the post is really worth a read.

As I'm writing this, the House is still playing "will-they-or-won't-they" about summer sittings. Watching a bit of CTV Newsnet last night, I was very impressed at how intelligent and direct Libby Davies was sounding, compared with the infantile "he-said/we-said" game being played by Mauril Belanger and John Reynolds. I hope that her approach of "finishing this important job" actually carries the day. I imagine that many Canadians would be thrilled to know that Parliament was actually doing something, rather than playing silly partisan games. But I've basically lost any confidence in sanity prevailing within the Ottawa Greenbelt.

I'm going to go hide in New Brunswick for a few days, a province which seems poised to become the ninth jurisdiction in Canada to legalize gay marriage.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Rebranding bilingualism

As much fun as it is to play web-pundit, it is still very exciting to be quoted in the hard-copy press.

To wit, there is a Canadian Press piece in the online edition of today's Globe and Mail as well as the print edition of the Montreal Gazette and a few other dailies in which yours truly ponders the future of bilingualism in Canada.

It appears that the Commissioner of Official Languages is starting a rebranding effort to try to encourage more Ontarians to study French. Such an initiative is long overdue, since high school enrolments are stagnating. Even in the peak years of the separatist scare in the late 1970s, high school students were reluctant to take French. The fact is that national unity is not the strongest motivator for your average high school student to study French, although it works for some (myself included). In a period where all the humanities are seen as of secondary importance to the sciences and maths, second language learning takes a back seat.

If more students are going to take language courses, they need to see that this has a practical value. Part of that can be demonstrated through the job requirements for government (and private sector) jobs. But I think that students also need to look at French as their first second language, and that the skills acquired from learning French will carry over to learning other languages. In a global economy, this can be a selling point.

Of course, the problem that rebranding will not solve is the pedagogic problems with the teaching of FSL (also known as Core French) in this country. While some provinces (with New Brunswick in the lead) have finally moved towards a FSL curriculum that provides for an adequate number of hours spent on language learning, there are still many jurisdictions using 20-minute-per-day programs. These programs were criticized by Keith Spicer (the first Commissioner of Official Languages) and a plethora of educational specialists for producing more frustration in students than actual language learning, because they were unable to make substantive progress. Those reports were in the 1970s! Unless educational jurisdictions change their pedagogical approaches to make real language learning possible, no rebranding effort in the world will help.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

A little bit of currency speculation anyone?

Has anyone noticed that the Canadian dollar seems to plunge every time we have a non-confidence motion scheduled in the House of Commons, then rises the following day, once Parliament lives to see another day? Seeing the dollar up by 0.8 cents on Wednesday drove this home for me.

It makes you wonder how many MPs and pundits have investments in the currency markets, and all the activity on their blackberries is really them selling off their Canadian dollar holdings the day before a non-confidence motion, then buying the dollar up again after the motion passes.

If I had money to burn, that's what I'd be doing!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Horse-trading for dummies

I'm curious to know exactly what the Conservative party seeks to gain by delaying the final vote on Bill C-38 until the fall. The votes of MPs are not going to change over the summer.

Frankly, I think that if the deal currently floating about (a delay on C-38 in exchange for passage of C-48 "the NDP budget") will bite the Conservatives on their collective asses more than if they allowed the two votes to happen now, opposing both.

I can just picture the Conservative campaign in Ontario now... "Well, we're not fiscally conservative enough to really want to take a firm stand on the NDP budget bill, but look how we dug in our heels against same-sex marriage!" Yup, I think that will win over the voters who are thinking of following Belinda Stronach to the Liberals.

For goodness sakes, let's have the votes on same-sex marriage and the budget now, so we can all get on with enjoying our summer!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pat O'Brien, M.P., Pinhead

I thought that I was being funny this morning when I said the only way that Bill C-38 wouldn't pass was if a few Liberals upset over it acted like complete idiots and decided it was better to force an election than allow the legislation to pass. It seems I spoke too soon as O'Brien and "an unnamed M.P." are thinking of doing just this. O'Brien is demanding a promise, in writing, that Bill C-38 will not pass before the fall, or he will not vote against the government in one of tonight's non-confidence motions.

If Paul Martin signs the deal, he deserves to have a few Liberals who support the legislation topple him instead - it would be an act of ultimate cowardice. Hopefully he'll have a tiny spine on this one.

My prediction? No deal with O'Brien, but a few planes won't arrive in Ottawa bearing their Conservative M.P.'s. Or the Queensway will be flooded, blocking traffic at 10:00 PM. Or a sudden case of flu will sweep the building. Somehow, just enough Conservatives will not make it for the vote, no matter what O'Brien does.

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Picking your battles

I was dismayed to see this link from Adam Radwanski's blog to a story in the Ottawa Citizen that Kevin Bourassa is arguing that churches that argue against same-sex marriage should lose their charitable status, but not entirely surprised by the story. If it were possible to completely manage the struggle for gay & lesbian rights, it would be preferable to deal with each issue one at a time, and keep more radical proposals aside for the time being. Indeed, that etapiste strategy (with a nod to Rene Levesque) has been the basic strategy of EGALE and the equal-rights lobby of the gay community.

We don't however live in a society in which dissenting or radical voices can be kept quiet. That's part of the fun of a democratic society. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, EGALE and other equal-rights groups have had to co-exist with the gay liberation movement advocating for reduced age-of-consent laws, the elimination of bawdy house laws, elimination of some restrictions on pornography, when it likely would have preferred not to have these issues as a distraction/cudgel for opponents of gay rights.

The same applies to any other social movement with its radical and more conservative elements. The two rarely agree to let only one voice be presented to the public. Moderate elements are constantly challenged to make their voice be positively received by their societies. In the late '60s and 1970s, when Canada was moving towards the implementation of official bilingualism, there were some people who did think that every civil servant (or every Canadian) should be fluently bilingual. Opponents of the legislation raised the spectre of a "French takeover" of Canada. The groups working for a more moderate official languages policy had to make it clear that this was not their intent, and that French would not be "forced down the throats" of every Canadian.

Do Bourassa's comments (and those of others who agree with him) pose a challenge to advocates of same-sex marriage? Yes, but hardly an insurmountable one. There are a number of different lines of argumentation that need to be put forth to calm a wary electorate:

1) Remind people of Section 1 of the Charter - the reasonable limits clause. Any Supreme Court is going to be extremely wary of stripping all churches in Canada of their charitable status for speaking out on issues that might be perceived as political, particularly since morality and politics are so intertwined. Stripping charitable status from any church that took a public stance on an issue of morality, either for or against, would quickly lead to the elimination of charitable status for all churches. And that will not happen. Even if it did, this is an area where any government would invoke section 33 of the Charter.

However, to focus on Radwanski's concerns more directly, about how this might impact the passage of Bill C-38:

2) Bourassa's comments, or the spectre of a court challenge to the charitable status of churches, would not be affected by the demise of Bill C-38. Whether the bill passes or not, an activist would be free to bring forth their court challenge against a church which engaged in any form of political lobbying. That remains true even if Bill C-38 is not passed.

Frankly, at this point minds have been made up. Any last-minute speeches are not going to sway the minds of the current Parliament. The only way that this latest entry could hurt the chances of Bill C-38 passing is if twits like Pat O'Brien and Tom Wappel decide to use a budget vote as a pretext for bringing down the government before C-38 is voted upon.

There is a larger issue to be discussed here about the nature of Canada's definition of charities, but that is the subject for another post.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Separatist-ish - The Tale of André Boisclair

The leadership race for the Parti Quebecois is getting curiouser and curiouser. First, Landry shocks the party by stepping down. Then Francois Legault, considered one of the likely internal candidates, announces that he is not interested in the job. Scuttlebutt on the CBC and Globe & Mail would have us believe that Gilles Duceppe is not, in fact, going to run for the leadership - which if it is true may have been a factor allowing the PQ to choose November 15 for the convention.

Faced with an absence of challengers to Pauline Maurois, the only declared candidate, there appears to be a move to draft André Boisclair, the former Environment Minister and MNA for Gouin. The 39-year old Boisclair is thinking seriously about this, according to La Presse.

Reading this brief bio of Boisclair (and I will admit that I don't know much more about him than this), I am struck once more by the mass of contradictions that seems to typify the sovereigntist movement. A recent masters' graduate of Harvard University, Boisclair's current job options seem to be: a) candidate for leader of the PQ, or b) working for Mckenzie consultants in Toronto. How someone who is considering the leadership of a party dedicated to prying Quebec out of Canada can justify working in Ontario is beyond me. It falls into the same category as the hypocrites who call themselves sovereigntists, and yet work for the federal government or other federal institutions.

Of course, maybe I should take comfort from the fact that if he did win the leadership, he'd likely take the same approach as so many Pequiste leaders before him, which is to talk a good game about sovereignty, but not actually hold a referendum. Sure, the federal government would be hamstrung by provincial whining and threats under his leadership (assuming Charest loses in 2007/08), but at least outright separatism would be off the table for a while longer.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

A few pointers for the NDP

The gang at Progressive Bloggers is delighting in the latest Decima poll numbers showing the CPC in freefall. Scott Tribe, The Amazing Wonderdog, The Jurist and others have begun offering their advice to the NDP on how to build on their support. Herewith, my four cents.

1. On Quebec. Run candidates here by all means, but don't waste time having Jack Layton campaign here in any serious way. One token appearance is more than sufficient. Seats are not going to be won here, and the NDP needs to focus on winnable seats, particularly the ones that were lost in three-way squeakers last time around.

2. On Clarity. Furthermore, when speaking of Quebec and national unity issues, for the love of God don't say that you're going to repeal the Clarity Act. It's a complete vote-killer in English-speaking Canada, and will be doubly so in an election where the Bloc has the potential to pick up even more seats in Quebec. It's popular legislation, and whatever soft nationalist votes you might win in Quebec will be completely overshadowed by the federalist votes you lose in English-speaking Canada (including English-speaking Quebec).

3. On Gravitas. Jack Layton seems to be getting somewhat better at projecting an image of a sober leader, capable of leading the country. But there is always room for improvement on this front. In the English-language debates last year, however, Jack was grinning so much that I started referring to him as the Happy Elf. That's not good. (Of course, I referred to PM as Elmer Fudd and SH as Lego-Man, so Jack got off pretty lightly).

4. On Target Groups. This one is a little harder to call, and much of the debate right now seems to be about whether the NDP should play to its core or try to be Liberal-lite. My first thought is that adopting a strategy aimed at bringing back disaffected voters (especially youth), while a noble idea, will not be a particularly effective strategy. This is going to be the Gomery election, and I think it's unlikely that an appeal to people who don't normally vote will work in an atmosphere of political disgust. Frankly, the challenge will be to ensure that those who normally vote continue to do so.

Count me among those who think that the growth zone is among left-leaning Liberals, frustrated with the Martin government - and I'm biased, being one of them. These are individuals who normally vote, like socially progressive policies, but want them tempered with some fiscal responsibility. They will be attracted to a party with a vision (see the Trudeau years), as long as it seems attainable and well-thought out. For the most part, they are probably middle class (or aspiring to be so), and need to be wooed on this basis. To court this cohort, the NDP needs to throw off the shackles of the 1961 marriage of the CCF to the CLC, and ditch its rhetoric aimed at industrial unions. The unions have lost their ability to deliver the votes of their workers, and its time to move on and court those middle class voters with a social democratic bent.

I'll probably have more to say on this as the actual election approaches, but this seems to be a good start.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

But will they use the notwithstanding clause to protect the amendments?

Section 15 and the commenters on this post make some interesting observations on the amendments being considered for Bill C-38, in an effort to keep the Liberal backbench happy.

As a number of people are observing, many of these amendments will likely crumble before a court challenge, particularly the one about justices of the peace being allowed to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages. This seems to echo some of the reasons underlying the fall of Canada's abortion legislation. As far as I know, Canadian law has to provide for procedural equity in terms of access to the law. If there is only one JP in a remote district of Canada and he/she refuses to marry a gay couple, then the law is not being implemented equitably. The courts will probably strike this section down, and I'm surprised that MPs don't recognize this - perhaps they will try to protect this section with the notwithstanding clause!

Likewise, issues of renting out church halls are probably going to fail to pass legal muster as well. I feel somewhat conflicted about this particular issue. In principle, I do believe that any service or good being sold to the public should be done so without distinction as to the purchaser's race, sexual orientation, gender, etc., I do question the motives of a couple who would try to get married in a property owned by a group that disapproves of your marriage. It smacks of political grandstanding, and I would hope that this particular section, if adopted as an amendment, is not challenged, at least for a few years. To a certain extent, a bit of live and let live is needed if a society is to function. Religious institutions and groups are unlikely to change their views on gay marriage if a confrontational/legalistic approach is taken. A bit of breathing room on this issue might allow for some "sober second thought", rather than knee-jerk defensive behaviour. And while the argument might be made that in a small community, the church/legion hall is the only game in town, I think it is more likely that the first legal challenge would come from a big city, as it recently was in Vancouver, over a Knights of Columbus Hall.

Like Section 15, I can live with these amendments in the interests of getting C-38 passed. They can always be struck down by the courts later. Perhaps I'm biased though, as my currently legal same-sex marriage is still not recognized in New Brunswick, where I will likely be living next year.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Book meme

This is quite exciting for me - I just found out that Idealistic Pragmatist tagged me in the book meme, just as I was feeling left out of the game!

Number of Books I Own: Uncountable. I now account for the total number of books owned by my husband and I in terms of number of bookcases. Right now, we have the equivalent of six massive IKEA "Billy" bookcases full, some shelves two-deep.

Last Book I Bought: I have actually been working my way through the mountain of books that I have received for Christmas and birthdays of late. But in Seattle, I couldn't resist making a purchase at the Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle - a very funky bookstore whose downstairs cafe was the inspiration for "Frasier"'s Cafe Nervosa. While there, I picked up Ursula le Guin's Changing Planes and Dan Savage's Skipping Towards Gomorrah.

Last Book I Read: Right now, I'm in the middle of two books, and finished two others last week, one fiction, one non-fiction. Right now, I'm reading China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, a sci-fi/fantasy/horror book which is quite compelling and dark. I'm also about halfway through Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, a book I picked up second-hand about seven years ago, but had astonishingly never read, given my interest in Canada's lingustic duality. The last two books I completed were Paul Jackson's One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military during World War II for a book review, and David Adam Richards' Mercy Among the Children for me.

5 Books That Mean A Lot To Me (in no particular order):

I'll start with a pair of non-fiction works, which are intimately tied to the current direction of my academic career. In the third year of my undergraduate degree, I read Pierre Trudeau's Federalism and the French Canadians collection of essays, which is likely what got me going on my current research projects about French-Canadians and language policy.

The other book which probably had the greatest impact on my thesis (soon to be a book with McGill-Queens') is Kenneth McRoberts' Misconceiving Canada: The Struggle for National Unity, a book which takes a very dim view of Trudeau's approach to Canada's national identity. My own work takes issue with his interpretations, but I am indebted to him for his scholarship on the topic.

Moving into fiction, we have a troika of sci-fi/fantasy works which are decidedly dissimilar from each other. I can never re-read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game too many times. It's a delightfully written work about a young, isolated genius, charged with defending planet Earth.

More literary and dystopic is George Orwell's 1984. Eerily prescient, it is a classic for all ages, particularly in our modern era of a muzzled media and government double-speak.

And finally, for more personal reasons, Mercedes Lackey's Magic's Pawn and the other volumes of her Last Herald Mage Trilogy. These were the first books I ever read in the fantasy genre with a gay main character, and indeed, a really touching love story. They are among the few books that have ever made me cry.

Pretty much everyone seems to have been tagged in this game. I'm not sure if they read my blog or not, but I'll tag J. Kelly Nestruck from On the Fence and Paul Wells from Inkless Wells, just for the heck of it!

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So long, don't let the door hit your homophobic ass on the way out!

So, Pat O'Brien, the champion of the Liberal back-bench revolt against same-sex marriage, has decided to sit as an independent, citing his discontent with how the hearings are being handled by Parliament.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say. If Tom Wappel, Dan McTeague et. al want to join him, the more the merrier. The hearings are nothing more than a stalling mechanism at this point. The debate over same-sex marriage has been well and truly aired, Parliamentarians have made up their minds, and it's time to have the final vote and be done with it. Even Vic Toews seems to have realized that.

Now if the Liberals could just rid themselves of some more of their social conservative deadweight before the winter election, they might be able to take a defensible, principled stand on social issues again.

See-ya Pat!

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Will Gilles go for it?

So Bernard Landry has decided to step down as leader of the Parti Quebecois, after a disappointing result in his leadership review.

It will be interesting to see what date is set for the leadership convention. Will the PQ wait until after the federal election, to allow Gilles Duceppe to lead the Bloc in that campaign, then switch to provincial politics? We're unlikely to see a provincial election any time before 2007, given the unpopularity of the Charest government, so there is no real need to rush to find a successor. But will other pretenders to the throne be willing to concede the race so easily? As popular as the Bloc might be right now, the absence of a strong leader could cost them some gains in the federal election. Would Duceppe leave the federal party if a convention were called for the fall/early winter?

I'm not nearly as alert to internal party quarrels in the PQ/BQ family as I should be, but I rather suspect that not everyone is going to be ready to offer the leadership to Duceppe on a silver platter. The question is, how far might they go to block his ambitions (assuming that he has them)?

More thoughts later, as this story unfolds...

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