MONTREAL - Until an acquaintance became one of its targets, I had never heard of Opération Bélier, and, at first, its name — Operation Ram — had me thinking of yet another anti-corruption initiative of the type that Quebec has become so familiar with over the past few years.
In fact, Opération Bélier is a grassroots initiative sponsored by Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste to lead stray Quebecers back to the sovereigntist flock. The ram is meant to be a symbol of obstinacy.
Borrowing a page from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the project involves volunteers going door to door to preach the virtues of sovereignty.
It should come as no surprise that some sovereigntist organizations are turning to evangelical-style strategies to try to reconnect Quebecers with their cause.
With every passing week, the Parti Québécois is acting less like a political organization and more like a non-ecumenical church.
Some champions of sovereignty have always had harsh words for the leading francophone federalists who stood against their cause.
On multiple occasions, former prime minister Jean Chrétien was referred to as a sellout by some of his sovereigntist critics.
But these days, some of the harshest sovereigntist rhetoric is expended on lapsed fellow travellers.
François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec who left the PQ to launch a rival party, and Québec Solidaire’s Françoise David, even as she supports sovereignty, are both considered fair game for attacks by a vocal section of the PQ.
So is Lucien Bouchard. The former premier is reviled in some PQ quarters for saying that sovereignty will not be in the offing in his lifetime.
Even Jacques Parizeau, the movement’s elder statesman, is not immune from getting the cold shoulder from the party he once led.
He found that out when his objections to the project of a securalism charter were casually shrugged off last year.
Internal dissidents also need not apply or at least not if they seek to shake the pillars of the PQ temple.
Ask former PQ minister Jean-Francois Lisée. Since he raised the issue of whether Quebecor owner Pierre Karl Péladeau should combine the roles of PQ party leader and media tycoon, other sovereigntists have vilified him in social media.
Lisée has a reputation for overthinking out of the box but this was not one of those instances.
Outside of the PQ’s ranks, there is near-unanimity that Péladeau should choose between his wide-ranging business interests and his leadership ambitions.
But, at least in public, the party is also almost unanimous in arguing that the risk of a conflict of interest between Péladeau’s political role and his ownership of the province’s biggest media empire is only in the eye of federalist beholders.
Péladeau has yet to confirm that he will run for Pauline Marois’succession but it is widely treated as a given not only that he will but that he will win.
If anything the controversy over his media holdings has brightened his aura in the eye of many sovereigntist believers. They are convinced that the issue is driven by federalist fears that Péladeau will lead the PQ to the promised land of sovereignty.
For now pure faith of the blind variety rather than evidence supports the notion that Péladeau is the saviour the party craves.
A few weeks ago, the party earned less than 10 per cent in a byelection in Lévis, a francophone riding just across from Quebec City. This is the kind of dismal result the party has come to expect only in anglophone territory.
Polls suggest the Bloc Québécois, under a new leader committed to the exclusive promotion of sovereignty, is headed for oblivion in next year’s federal election.
The PQ itself has been mired in third place in provincial voting intentions, well behind the Coalition Avenir Québec, for months.
The party may be leaderless but Péladeau has been front-and-centre in the PQ leadership window since last spring’s election defeat.
At a similar juncture in their own crossing of the political desert two years ago, the federal Liberals got a shot in the arm from the sheer prospect that Justin Trudeau was going to become their leader.
It may be that it is Péladeau’s political appeal that is in the eye of PQ beholders.