After almost 20 years on the job in Ottawa, Gilles Duceppe isn't sure what will fuel the sovereigntist movement over its current hump.
But the 62-year-old trusts the political instincts that have assured his longevity in federal politics and tell him that a sovereign Quebec remains achievable in his lifetime.
As he prepares a cross-Canada tour in which he plans to gauge the mood around an independent Quebec, his gut is telling him to keep up the fight that brought him to the House of Commons in the summer of 1990, riding on a wave of nationalist sentiments that followed the death of the Meech Lake accord.
"I have to rely on my feelings. I don't feel at all as if I'm on my way out - I feel like someone who has to keep on going," he said in an interview.
"There is a Canada that is building itself up, and it's time for Quebec to make some choices, because it can't develop itself as long as it stays there," he said. "Not because Canadians are bad people, but because their interests are different."
He believes the ongoing debates surrounding the future of the French language, the environment and economic policy will eventually boost the fortunes of the Bloc in Ottawa and the Parti Québécois in Quebec City.
Mr. Duceppe will bring that message during a trip to eastern Canada next week, and western Canada the following week. As he travels from St. John's to Vancouver, he said he will investigate his theory that Canada has become a take-it-or-leave-it deal for Quebeckers.
"Is it impossible to reform Canada? Does Quebec have to take Canada as it is? These are questions facing Quebeckers, and Canadians," he said in an interview. "Is there anything else that can be done? My view is that there is nothing else out there for us."
Mr. Duceppe is the first to admit that the sovereignty movement is on hold in Quebec, with the Liberals of Jean Charest in power in Quebec City and the PQ in opposition. But he is trying to convince Quebeckers that federalist forces are defending nothing but the status quo.
Mr. Duceppe has planned meetings over the next two weeks with francophone groups, as well as professors, students and think tanks, including a one-on-one at the University of Calgary with Tom Flanagan, the former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If asked, Mr. Flanagan said he'll provide his sense of the probability of constitutional change in Canada.
"The appetite is zero," Mr. Flanagan said in a separate interview.
Mr. Flanagan added that at least in Alberta, nobody will bend backwards to stop the sovereigntist movement. "In the West, it's a yawner, whether Quebec is in or out," Mr. Flanagan said.
But he said he agrees with the Bloc that economic relations will continue, whatever happens politically.
Mr. Duceppe knows he will be confronted during his pan-Canadian tour with the words of the first leader of the Bloc, Lucien Bouchard, who said the party's success would be proportional to the brevity of its existence. His answer is ready: the main federalist parties in Canada are 143 years old, like the country itself.
"We're much younger," he said. "They haven't managed to get Quebec in the constitution since 1867, so we're a lot closer to our initial objective than they are."