Five short years ago, it was unthinkable.
The year was 2007. The Parti Québécois had been steadily hemorrhaging popular support.
In under a decade, it went from holding a comfortable majority in the national assembly to being kicked down to third party status.
Adding insult to injury: it was a position that, in its 39-year history, the party had never occupied.
Making matters worse, its members had chewed up and spit out three leaders in as many general elections. Pauline Marois was set to be the fourth.
But hitting rock-bottom meant the only way left to go was up.
The PQ's embarrassing showing in the national assembly didn't last long and, before Quebecers knew it, the party was running stronger than ever before without actually forming a government — 51 seats in the legislature, just 12 seats shy of forming its own majority government.
And now, with under a week to go in the 2012 campaign, a majority PQ government is a very real possibility.
Running with the ball
For most of the election, the Parti Québécois has been running very high in the polls.
It's fairly consistently ranked number one and, entering the home stretch, the gap between first and second has only increased. A recent article in the Globe and Mail projects the PQ to win 66 seats, given the current standings. That's a majority, folks.
But talk is cheap and polls are cheaper. If you really want to get right down to it, compare a day in the life of Pauline Marois, with a day in the life of Jean Charest.
August 29th: A Tale of Two Campaigns
Jean Charest spent time in four different ridings:
Richmond: an old riding with a new face, incorporating elements of the Orford and Johnson ridings — mostly Liberal territory.
Saint-François: has voted Liberal for the past 27 years.
Mégantic: has voted Liberal for the past 31 years.
Sherbrooke: the Liberal leader's own riding.
Now, let's be clear on one thing: you don't visit your own ridings during an election campaign, especially near the end, unless you're worried about losing them.
Now, compare that schedule to Pauline Marois', on the same day:
Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue: voted for the PQ in 2007, but voted for the Liberals in 2008. Margin: 1,754 votes.
Abitibi-Est: voted for the PQ in 2007, but voted for the Liberals in 2008. Margin: 515 votes.
If you're a leader chasing a majority, these are exactly the kinds of ridings you set your sights on. The fact Marois is chasing them now, shows she's not content simply to keep what's hers. She wants more. The timing couldn't be better. And she's ready to seize the opportunity.
Going for the jugular
Marois and her candidates have made it very clear it is a majority they're after.
At an evening campaign rally on Aug. 28, the PQ candidate for Abitibi-Est, Elizabeth Larouche, proclaimed, "People here have ideas [to create jobs]
, but they need help. We will be there, but to do it, we need a majority mandate."
And, 20 seconds later, "We're just a few days from the end of the campaign, a few centimetres from a majority, and a few days from the end of the Liberal regime!"
Then 90 seconds later, the PQ candidate for Ungava, Luc Ferland, declared, "We're going to form a majority government on September 4th!"
Sixty seconds after that, he said, "Pauline Marois will bring us to a majority government!"
It goes on. For a party that hasn't won an election in 14 years, that's a lot of "majority" talk in the span of three minutes.
A majority… out of necessity
In its entire governing history, the PQ has known no other kind of rule.
Marois says a minority government simply won't do — she's got work to do and she doesn't want her hands tied by any other party.
She repeatedly mentions how only a majority PQ government would be able to undo what Jean Charest has done.
Repeal Law 12/Bill 78? Check.
Roll back the tuition hikes? Check.
Scrap the annual health care tax? Check.
Rub out Quebec's asbestos industry? Check.
Separate from the rest of Canada? Maybe.
Attacking on two fronts
In her quest for a majority government, it bears mentioning: Charest is only half of the problem.
It would be a surprise if François Legault's CAQ forms the next government but, like the PQ in the last election, there's nowhere for his party to go but up.
So, in this final stretch, he too has been in Marois' sights.
She's cut right to the core, accusing him of betraying his own convictions — referring to how he was, once upon a time, one of the PQ's most ardent proponents of sovereignty.
She laments how Legault even went so far as to draft a budget for "Year One" of a sovereign Quebec, only to let it all fall to the wayside.
It's rare for a leader to grieve an opponent's "fall from grace," because acknowledging that person ever had grace to begin with is usually a bad idea.
But so close to the finish line, it's a cold, calculated attack.
Marois sees a majority government within reach, she needs to dispatch two opponents to get the job done, and she needs to do it fast.
Follow Andrew Chang on Twitter @AndrewChangCBC