I heard an excellent interview on CBC with a senior person in the Parti Québécois (the PQ) while I was driving this morning about whether they are still planning a sovereigntist agenda (for my non-Canadian friends, that means forming a country out of the province of Québec and destroying Canada). The answer is a resounding yes, whether a referendum is likely to be held or not, that remains their goal. In the interview, he confirmed many of the things I was thinking. Specifically that the PQ feels it came back from the grave specifically because the federal government (the "Harper government" in specific was mentioned several times) has run roughshod over the legitimate concerns and aspirations of Québecers. Most recently, Harper stated publically that the PQ, with their minority government, had no mandate from the people of Québec to pursue a seperatist agenda, that they should just shut up about it, and would not be "permitted" to rock the boat (the interview on the CBC with the PQ MLA [elected representative to the assembly in Québec] was partly a response to Harper's statements). But the PQ representative was very clear that not only was Harper incorrect, but that his statements continued the pattern of outright disrespect and disregard for the people of Québec that Harper's government has pursued. Harper's specific words
: "that’s how the government in Quebec will be forced to interpret it one way or the other". Not the words of a statesman, more the words of a bully looking to pick a fight with someone finally standing up for themselves... and maybe not such a good plan because Québec has considerable economic and political resources (globally as well as in Canada), and a public that is much more activist than the rest of Canada.
The problem is that Québec has repeatedly come to the table asking for very reasonable things, but they have been deliberately ignored, often in the most humiliating of ways, every time (again, I'm convinced it's a big reason why the PQ got elected). For instance, Harper's government is scrapping the billion dollar Canadian Gun Registry; Québec asked to assume financial and administrative ownership of the portion of the gun registry in Québec (all parties in Québec agree on this, fyi, separatist or not, because it aligns with the values of the people of Québec). Harper has refused and has stated that all the data will be destroyed one way or the other. Québec expressed extreme distress at Harper pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Accord, and his effectively eviscerating environmental regulations in Canada
(including giving his office the ability to approve any project without an environmental review at all), but were ignored. The environment is a critical area of concern for the people of Québec and their government was representing them. The federal government informed them that their opinion didn't count. And the other major issue raised was the Harper Conservatives' "Young Offender Act" (along with building a billion dollars worth of new penitentiaries) that moved Canada toward an incarceration style justice system (which even Texas lawmakers have publically indicated to Harper was a horrific failure
there). Québec vehemently disagrees with that binary approach to the administration of justice. Again, they were utterly ignored. With Harper's latest comments, there is no reason to expect anything but further beligerence towards the government and people of Québec, and while the PQ don't really have a chance of introducing a referendum to separate during their term as a minority government, you can bet they are going to make sure the people of Québec know how badly their values and society fit within Harper's vision of Canada, and going back to the polls in a few years looking for a majority mandate to pursue separatism through a vote is looking pretty realistic at the moment.
If you're particularly interested in listening to one of the architects-in-waiting of the breakup of Canada (he makes a very convincing case, btw, rationally but with conviction and plausible evidence), the article begins at the 14:24 mark. The interviewee starts talking at 18:20 or so. And one last thing, on the subject of a referendum, a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998
that so long as Québec's government asked its population a clear question of secession, and the people voted with a "strong majority" in a referendum (it was unclear on what this means), that Québec could act unilaterality to remove itself from confederation. Specifically, should a referendum decide in favour of independence, the rest of Canada "would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession".http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/thehouse_20120908_47079.mp3
I should mention that there was another major thing that toppled the previous government in Québec and allowed the PQ to be elected: the student uprising during the spring. Basically, the students there were furious that their tuition was going to be hugely increased. They weren't specifically concerned about the increase itself, but rather the reasons behind the increase: that the previous generations had plundered the considerable financial wealth of the province and pocketed the money for themselves, leaving nothing to the next generation in Québec who were then being forced (by the previous generation that controlled the government and much of the wealth) to pick up the tab for them. On top of it, the same sort of belt-tightening wasn't being imposed on those that had done the plundering (and were therefore continuing to plunder). It resulted in months of riots and protests. When the previous government implemented "Bill 78" to essentially prohibit organized protests, and effectively impose a curfew (not officially, but effectively), huge swaths of the the non-student population in Québec began a civil protest movement where they would go out and night, against the law, and bang pots and pans (there were even protests in other parts on Canada in support of the movement in Québec). So it was between the terrible relationship that Québec has had with the current neo-con federal government and the previous Québec government's attempt to clamp down on civil liberties, that revitalized the separatist movement and placed the current government tentatively (with a minority) in power.
The first act of the PQ (literally announced the day after the elections) will be to repeal both the tuition hikes and the law based on "Bill 78". They know what side of the bread their butter is on...