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Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois speaks at a news conference Wednesday, August 8, 2012 in Baie St-Paul, Que.

Jacques Boissinot/CP

On Wednesday, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois made a pitch to federalists put off by the ethics woes of Jean Charest's governing Liberals. "The PQ is a wide coalition with people from all walks of life," she said, and despite her party's sovereigntist ambitions the Sept. 4 election is only a "referendum on a bad government."

This would be a difficult pitch at the best of times. Under the circumstances, it's almost laughable.

It's not only that Ms. Marois is promising a different sort of referendum in the first mandate of a PQ government, though that is a large part of it. Nor is it just that, by its own account, the PQ would seek to create a crisis in relations with Ottawa to help bolster its case for sovereignty, though that is another big part. It's also that, both before the current campaign and during its early stages, the PQ has displayed a near-obsession with identity issues that should be anathema to those who don't share its nationalist agenda.

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In some instances, such as Ms. Marois' repeated swipes at the monarchy during her recent speeches, this focus is just peculiar. In others, it is noxious.

While running a jingoistic campaign advertisement that includes imagery of a cross, Ms. Marois is promising a new "secular charter" clearly intended to curbing the freedoms of religious minorities. Among the PQ's related pledges is to ban public employees from wearing religious symbols; its platform also vows that, as part of a new "citizenship" bill, those originally from outside the province who wish to seek elected office would have to pass Quebec citizenship and language tests. And naturally, Ms. Marois is also promising to make language laws more draconian, such as by extending restrictions on using English to small businesses.

Not only should these policies fail to attract federalists; they should give pause to moderate nationalists who have supported the PQ in the past. To those worried about Quebec's economic interests – about their own or their children's ability to find well-paying work – the prospect of a government spending the next several years fixated on cultural preservation, at the potential expense of attracting investment and tackling the province's real challenges, should be an alarming one.

Far from broadening its appeal, the PQ looks more like a small tent than ever.

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