MONTREAL - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois has spent the final days of the election campaign urging voters to give her a majority and the chance to form a country.

If Marois gets her desired mandate, though, what are the odds of another sovereignty referendum, and how would relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada change?

The PQ leader, who is leading in the polls, says she would hold an independence vote "tomorrow morning" — if the conditions were right.

That is a giant "if."

For years, the sovereigntist dream to hold a third referendum has remained elusive, butting up against a cold, hard reality that the support may not be there to win it.

Recent PQ leaders have developed all sorts of formulas to keep the base mobilized when D-Day appears so far on the horizon.

Lucien Bouchard, premier from 1996 until 2001, famously promised to call a referendum once he assembled the "winning conditions." He never called one. Bernard Landry excited party faithful by talking about achieving sovereignty within 1,000 days — meaning, by 2005.

Polls suggest the sovereigntist side could suffer a drubbing if Marois put the question to voters. The most recent CROP survey put support for sovereignty at 28 per cent — a spectacular drop from the historic levels of the early 1990s.

So, what to do in the face of a mountain of a challenge? Start chipping away.

A PQ government would start making Quebec more independent, one swing of its political hatchet at a time. The PQ doesn't simply plan to whine about Canada. It wants to start separating, slowly.

"It's not going to be a referendum or nothing," said Antonia Maioni, a political scientist at McGill University.

"The idea is to have smaller wins and move towards an eventual, perhaps, referendum. At least she can then go back to her party and say I'm moving to a third referendum."

The Parti Quebecois plans to pursue two basic tracks to eventually make it happen:

First, Marois says she would ask Ottawa for greater control of numerous areas ranging from foreign policy to copyright law to economic development.

If Ottawa refuses, it would fight.

These scraps will take place in legislative arenas and, in some cases, probably in the justice system all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Each PQ loss would be added by to the list of reasons why Quebec would be better off alone, fanning the flames of the separatist movement.

Second, the PQ would set the mechanics in motion to hold another referendum.

The party has already transferred the responsibility for calling one onto the general public.

Once 850,000 people sign a petition, or 15 per cent of Quebec's population, the PQ says the public could demand a referendum. Marois plans to establish a new cabinet post that would manage such requests.

To provide herself a little wiggle room, in case the polls aren't favourable, Marois now says the legislature would have the right to refuse.

"Ultimately, it's up to the national assembly to decide when there will be a referendum," Marois told reporters recently.

It's unclear whether this softer, wait-and-see approach will go down well with the party's hardline, but there's also extreme reluctance to call a referendum if it can't win.

To the party brass, including Marois, it's taken as an article of faith: the party cannot lose again.

Much of the argument for independence, from the likes of Landry onward, has rested on the idea that the movement carries historical momentum and is therefore inevitable.

The numbers have historically bolstered their narrative.

Support for independence was marginal in the 1960s, grew to 40 per cent in the 1980 referendum, to nearly 50 per cent in 1995 — and therefore, according to the sovereigntist mythology, victory was inevitable the next time.

The fear from more cautious PQ supporters is that a slide backward will destroy their "story." Unless polls climb dramatically from their current position, then, another isn't likely.

Even so, a PQ government would mean a shake up in Ottawa and countrywide.

Marois plans to retain Quebec's seat on the Council of the Federation, the Charest-created body that brings provinces together to tackle common problems.

The PQ would be there, though, "to explain why we are different and why we want all of the power over Quebec," she said.

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Parti Quebecois government would present a major challenge and a 180-degree shift from the federalist Charest Liberals, according to Maioni.

"This will be the first time in his mandate that he will be faced not just with a sovereigntist government in Quebec, but a left-leaning government," she said.

Maioni pointed to an added complication for the Harper Conservatives: they have virtually no presence in Quebec.

"In earlier incarnations of the Parti Quebecois there was something to bounce back off of, whereas now it's not clear who speaks for Quebec federalists in Ottawa," she said.

A PQ government could cause even more problems for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose party rose to Official Opposition status largely because of its success in Quebec in the last federal election.

But Mulcair has so far avoided wading into key issues in the province, such as the debate over tuition increases. The party's policy to recognize a 50-per-cent-plus-one referendum decision would also come under renewed scrutiny, if the PQ moves toward holding one.

"He's going to have make things a lot clearer than they have been," Maioni said, adding that a PQ win could, perhaps, lead to a resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois at the federal level.

"If the PQ does do well in Tuesday's election, that means something is going on within the body politic, and that means all the seats they won are going to be less and less safe."

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  • <strong><a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/quebecvotes2012/story/2012/08/16/parti-quebecois-pauline-marois-english-interview.html" target="_hplink">SOURCE: CBC</a></strong> <strong>What is the central issue in this election for Quebecers?</strong> First of all, that it is integrity, I think. We have major problems with the actual government, with Charest's government, that he didn't decide to resolve the problem or act on this issue. They decided to have an inquiry commission only after two years and a half of demand on the part of the population. So, I think it is a major issue. The other one is to have real answer to the problems of the population of Quebec. Old people have many great problems - they don't have access to services at home. The family doesn't have access to daycare centres. There are major problems at the emergency [rooms] in hospitals. It is important to present real solutions to the population of Quebec. <em>PQ leader Pauline Marois responds to a question during a news conference Thursday, August 16, 2012 in Montreal. </em>

  • <strong>Would you see it as part of your role as premier to protect the minority Anglophone community?</strong> The anglophones are Quebecers, as are the French, as are the new Quebecers. For me it's a major issue. In the past, the English community knows, I respected the English community. I gave the complete leadership on the school boards when I was minister of education. [As] minister of health and services, we protect[ed] the accessibility of the English community to health [and] social services. For me, it's absolutely fundamental. We will continue in the same perspective we have in the past. We will defend minority rights. You know, I would like to ask to the other parts of Canada to respect the minority of the French Canadians. So, for me, it's absolutely necessary to do that. <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters during an election campaign stop in Saint-Jerome, Que., Wednesday, August 15, 2012. </em>

  • <strong>The proportion of Anglophones in Quebec has been decreasing in the last 15 years. The number of Allophones speaking French both at home and in public is going up. Why is the PQ proposing to limit access to English CEGEPs and apply the Bill 101 eligibility rules?</strong> You know, now there is always half of the new Quebecers who are going to the English CEGEP. After that, often they are going to work in English. So for us, that is so important. We are a real minority in North America. Two per cent of the population are French speaking. We have to protect this reality. That is why we decided to implement the [Bill] 101 in the CEGEPs. We will help the anglophone [CEGEPs] to continue to have the possibility to receive some Francophones to learn English if they want, but only for English [courses]. We will work with the anglophone CEGEPs and I think we will be able to have a solution to apply to make this change. We will not do this change on one year. We will do this change on a mid-term period. <em>PQ leader Pauline Marois responds to questions during a news conference in an old sawmill in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Tuesday, August 14, 2012. </em>

  • <strong>If you win on Sept. 4, will you see yourself as having a mandate to call a referendum in your first term in office?</strong> No. But if I want to do a referendum, I will have the possibility to hold one.... So if it is possible for us to convince the majority of the population to vote yes for a referendum, it will be possible for a referendum.... We could do it, but also it could be possible to not hold one. <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters during an election campaign stop in Saint-Jerome, Que., Wednesday, August 15, 2012. </em>

  • <strong>Your proposal for a secular charter has a lot of people talking. How can a modern, diverse, free and open society like ours say to the citizenry you cannot wear outwardly religious symbols if you are working in the public system?</strong> I think it is important for the government to be neutral. There are many people from different religions. That is respect for all these religions to say to these people when you will work for the government, you will be neutral. It's for the respect of many different religions, so the state [does] not to have one religion.... The [crucifix in the National Assembly] is a part of our history and we don't have to renounce our history. It is why I accept the crucifix in our National Assembly. <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters at a news conference during a campaign stop in Montreal, Sunday, August 12, 2012. </em>


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  • "Rather than being a distinct province, we would prefer that Quebec become a normal country." <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/facts-about-parti-quebecois-leader-pauline-marois-164599816.html" target="_hplink">Source: Canadian Press</a> <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois makes a speech for the announcement of new candidates, during a press conference held at Montreal on July 31, 2012. </em>

  • EDUCATION

    Bachelor's degree in social services from Universite Laval; master's in business administration from l'Ecole des hautes etudes commerciales in Montreal. <em>Pauline Marois, chief of the Parti Quebecois speaks to the supporters after the elections results announced at Olympia theater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on December 8, 2008. Liberal Premier Jean Charest won a majority in Quebec elections Monday, spoiling a separatist comeback with a mandate to bolster the Canadian province's slowing economy, said television predictions. </em>

  • PROFESSIONAL CAREER

    Social services administrator from 1971 to 1979; political attache for PQ in 1978 and 1979; university professor, 1988. <em>Pauline Marois, chief of the Parti Quebecois speaks to her supporters after the elections results announced at Olympia theater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on December 8, 2008. Liberal Premier Jean Charest won a majority in Quebec elections Monday, spoiling a separatist comeback with a mandate to bolster the Canadian province's slowing economy, said television predictions. </em>

  • POLITICAL CAREER

    First elected to legislature 1981; named to cabinet in 1982 as minister for status of women; ran for PQ leadership in 1985, losing to Pierre Marc Johnson; served in various senior cabinet positions in PQ governments from 1994 to 2003, including finance (1995-1996, 2001-2002), health (1998-2001); deputy premier (2001-2003); ran for PQ leadership in 2005, losing to Andre Boisclair; acclaimed as PQ leader in 2007; became leader of Official Opposition following 2008 provincial election. <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois makes a speech for the announcement of new candidates, during a press conference held at Montreal on July 31, 2012. </em>

  • PERSONAL LIFE

    Married to Claude Blanchet, former head of Quebec government's investment arm. They have four children. <em>Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois stands outside her bus as she launches her campaign in Quebec City on Wednesday, August 1, 2012. Marois held a news conference before Premier Charest officially called an election. </em>