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Political Turmoil In Quebec: Leadership Challenges, Corruption Inquiry And New Parties Dominate Headlines

National unity may not be a hot topic at the moment, but that does not mean Quebec has fallen off the political radar.

Leaders are being challenged, new parties are being formed and a corruption inquiry promises to dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future.

And with an election anywhere from one to two years away, Quebec's unpredictable political scene is unlikely to quiet down anytime soon.

Since Jean Charest was first elected premier in 2003, he has faced his fair share of challenges. But even his normally obedient party is beginning to get restless, and the premier was forced to relent to public pressure and call an inquiry into corruption in the construction industry last week.

After the relatively toothless probe was derided throughout Quebec, Charest pledged to broaden the commission's investigative powers if need be.

Though the inquiry isn't likely to release its final report until after the next provincial election, the damage may already be done by then. The Gomery Inquiry buried the federal Liberals in Quebec long before its final report was released in February 2006.

Luckily, the Conservative government handed Charest a useful distraction in the form of the long-gun registry. Scrapping the registry has always been unpopular in Quebec and the provincial government had already announced it intended to set up its own registry once the federal version had been ended. But news the federal government will be destroying its registry data has sent the Quebec Liberals to the barricades, pledging not to destroy what data they have in their possession and requesting the Conservatives hand over their registry data.

The Prime Minister has no ally in Jean Charest, who has rarely passed on an opportunity to go after the federal government when his own support has dropped. But none of the major national parties have allies in Quebec, further muddying the waters of Quebec-Canada relations.

No federalist party has a provincial counterpart in the province. The Quebec Liberals have long been separated from their federal counterparts, no provincial NDP exists and the ADQ has, at best, only friendly unofficial ties with the Conservatives. As Gerard Deltell's party has only four sitting members in the National Assembly, those ties are of little practical use.

Of course, the Parti Quebecois has always had an ally in Ottawa in the form of the Bloc Quebecois. But the PQ is going through its own troubles, with Pauline Marois promising to stay on as leader after quelling an internal revolt during a contentious three-hour caucus meeting on Wednesday. The provincial party is unlikely to get much help from the Bloc. Reduced to only four MPs, the three aspirants to take over from Gilles Duceppe do not have the profile needed to give either of the parties a much-needed boost. One has even promised to loosen the ties between the PQ and the Bloc.

The collapse of the Bloc in Quebec demonstrated that Quebecers were more than willing to make wholesale changes in their political allegiances. This has encouraged those who are planning to launch new parties in the province.

The most viable is that of former PQ minister Francois Legault, who's Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) is slated to sweep the province if a snap election is called. The CAQ, which should formally announce its creation as a political party on November 14, could attract a few of the independents currently sitting in the National Assembly, and may even lure a few MNAs from the established parties.

There are two sovereigntist movements which could become new parties of their own and there is even talk of a provincial NDP-like formation springing up before the next election. The left-wing, sovereigntist and draped in orange Quebec Solidaire is also hoping to cash-in on the NDP's newfound popularity.

With four parties currently represented in the National Assembly, the inclusion of four more parties to the ballot, in addition to the provincial Greens and the smattering of fringe parties in the province, would make for a very confused state of affairs when Quebecers are next asked to head to the polls.

Quebec's politics are in turmoil and there is no end in sight. Strap yourselves in.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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