Probably not, because the sepratists are much weaker than Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes them appear, and Quebec is in the process of adopting a more proportional system.
Via CNN, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, which together with the Conservative Party, forms the official Opposition to Paul Martin’s minority Liberal cabinet, reacted to the Gomery report on Tuesday:
I’m pretty sure we’ll win the next federal election, the Parti Quebecois will win … the election in Quebec, and then we’ll go for a referendum.
A new election in Canada is almost certain early next year, and a provincial election in Quebec could come in 2007.
The entire scandal is tied to a previous Quebec separatist referendum (in 1995, which failed narrowly), after which the federal government sponsored a campaign to improve the image of federalism in the province. Given the way funds were mis-spent, it is fair to say that the effort was less than a great success, and thus Duceppe’s words cannot be dismissed lightly.
However, there could be more bark than bite in Duceppe’s words. The separatists are not as strong as the electoral system often makes them look, and the 1995 referendum defeat may have been their high-water mark.
Aside from the Liberals themselves, the Quebec separatists are among the biggest beneficiaries at the federal level of the distortions of Canada’s current first-past-the-post (plurality) electoral system. The BQ currently has 54 of the 72 federal parliamentary seats from Quebec, with the Liberals holding the other 21. This grossly lopsided result distorts the real strength of the separatists in Quebec: The BQ won 48.8% of the votes in the province at the 2004 election (yet 75% of the seats!), to 33.9% for the Liberals, and none for the other parties that split the remaining 17.3%.
In the provincial assembly of Quebec, the separatist Parti Quebecois is currently in the minority, with only 45 of the 125 seats, facing the provincial wing of the Liberal party, which has over 60% of the seats (76) on 45.9% of the vote. The PQ is playing from well behind and cannot force a provincial election early to take advantage of any possible bump in support for separatism resulting from the scandal. However, given the discredit to Liberals from the scandal, a swing in their direction at the next election can’t be ruled out, and as the current result shows, FPTP can lead to a party winning a majority of seats with less than a majority of votes.
But there is another problem for the separatists. The next election in Quebec for the provincial legislative assembly may be held with a modest form of MMP that the current government has been proposing. It is worth noting that the PQ has never won a majority of the vote in a provincial election, although it did win 49.3% in 1981 (when it was reelected to its second-ever term, a year after losing the first separatist referendum) and it was “reelected” to a large majority of seats in 1998 despite trailing the Liberals in the popular vote. The 1998 anomaly, of course, largely explains why the Quebec Liberals have embraced electoral reform. And if the proposed proportional system were enacted before the next provincial election, it would be much harder for the separatists to win a majority. No PQ majority, no referendum, no separation.
Martin promised Canadians months ago that he would call an election after the Gomery report was released. One could come before the end of the year if the opposition parties press for a no-confidence vote, which could happen November 14. (But they probably will not want to force Canadians to endure a campaign during the holiday season.) The outcome of a no-confidence motion would be in the hands of the NDP, whose leader Jack Layton said the party will decide soon what its position would be, according to CNN.
There is a real risk that the next federal election could produce an even more dysfunctional parliament than the current one. If the Bloc Quebecois retains its current edge in Quebec, which is almost certain, it will continue to have at least its current 54 seats. If the Conservatives do not win a majority outright–which they probably will not–then Canada could face a minority Conservative cabinet, dependent on the separtists to remain in office. That is a very bleak scenario, and it is one that would not happen under a different electoral system. Proportional representation would give the BQ many fewer seats, and the NDP (and Greens and other parties that are currently unrepresented) many more, and thus create other governing possibilities aside from Conservative/BQ.
Hat tip: The High Places, which also raises the spectre of Albertan separatism.