It's going to be a great few months for political watchers as the U.S. presidential campaign kicks into high gear, with the warmup act being the Sept. 4 election in Quebec called yesterday by Premier Jean Charest.
The Quebec election isn't just for political nerds, however. The outcome could have massive national implications that will be felt even here in northern B.C.
Let's start with the students.
The raucus student protests dominated the headlines during the spring and garnered unwanted international attention on Quebec. Even though Quebec students pays significantly less for post-secondary education than their counterparts in other provinces, that didn't stop them hitting in the streets in the thousands for increasingly disruptive protests.
In case you blinked and missed it, Prince George is now a student town, with about 4,200 UNBC students and about 5,000 CNC students, mostly based in Prince George but also scattered in the regional campuses. While the area's post-secondary student population has never flexed its political muscles, that doesn't mean it couldn't ever happen.
The estimated involvement of Quebec's student population during the height of the spring protests were about half. If half of the local students took to Prince George streets, their numbers alone would give them the resources to shut down businesses and streets, while overwhelming the resources of the Prince George RCMP to do much about it.
And that's if the protests were peaceful and law-abiding.
Even if Quebec's student activism wouldn't migrate across the country, it still has the potential to disrupt the upcoming provincial election and overshadow major issues facing Quebec voters, such as government and industry corruption, the never-ending sovereignty question and northern development.
Like B.C., Quebec's sparsely populated north is loaded with valuable natural resources. Like B.C., Quebec is governed by a Liberal government that governs from the right-of-centre and has more in common with the Harper Conservatives than with the federal Liberals. Like B.C., Quebec has powerful First Nations that won't be bullied into resource development deals and aren't afraid of using both legal (court injuctions) and illegal (blockades) means to stop these projects. Like B.C., Quebec's power elite in the south has big plans to generate significant new revenues for provincial coffers through resource development in the north.
In Quebec, Charest is pitching Plan Nord, which would plough $80 billion in public and private investments into mining, energy, infrastructure and conservation projects during the next 25 years. Just like in B.C., the opposition is complaining that the governing Liberals are giving away the province's resources for too little to foreign-owned multinationals, while setting the table for environmental disaster.
Unlike Christy Clark and the roadblocks she threw in front of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline last week, Charest is gung-ho on his plan, just like Robert Bourassa was 40 years ago, when he went charging into the wilderness with major hydro-electric dam projects that ended up loading the water and fish of area First Nations with mercury.
Legal respect across Canada for the indigenous rights of First Nations to have input on development planned for their traditional territory was born as the result of legal opposition to a further expansion of Bourassa's plans.
Like then, decisions, actions and elections in Quebec have consequences felt across the country, and specifically in northern B.C.
Whether it's Charest's Liberals, the separatist Parti Quebecois or the new Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition for Quebec's Future) that seizes power in September, the choice Quebec voters make will matter here, too.
-- Managing editor, Neil Godbout