If you think about it -- and you can bet on it that the Canadian gun lobby will refuse to do so -- the murderous man with the assault rifle handed the Parti Quebecois government the perfect opportunity last night to get its relationship with the Harper Conservatives off to a rocky start if it so wishes.
Whether or not Richard Henry Bain intended to murder PQ Leader Pauline Marois with his assault rifle, and whether or not it was an AK-47 (and since it jammed, it seems unlikely it was a Kalashnikov), it was unquestionably a "long gun" of some description.
And you'd need to have been asleep not to know that the determination of the Harper Government to raise funds and practice wedge politics by destroying the national rifle and shotgun registry has been a profoundly unpopular issue in Quebec.
So a man in a bathrobe and a balaclava killing while shouting lunacies about waking up the English at a PQ victory rally is a forceful reminder to Quebec voters about what's wrong with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's approach to governing, his Alberta-dominated government's policies and, by extension, Quebec's suddenly fraught relationship with the rest of Canada.
Indeed, the departing Liberal Quebec government of rejected Premier Jean Charest, which was in tune with Harper on economic issues, was already in court to try to prevent the Harperistas' legislative act of vandalism against the long gun registry.
The response of Mr. Harper and his spear carriers in cabinet to that suit has been to push as hard as possible to destroy the registry's data as quickly as possible -- notwithstanding the protests of a majority of Quebec taxpayers who, it must be conceded, paid their share of the registry's creation and upkeep.
From the distant vantage of Alberta, Quebec voters as a group seem highly ambivalent about the PQ's separatist project, so it's hard to believe that anger about the destruction of the long gun registry and the resulting anger at Ottawa didn't sway at least a few crucial votes to the PQ.
Arguably, again without knowing much about Quebec politics, it seems possible from this Western perspective that more voters might have swung to the social democratic PQ had it not also been a separatist party.
Regardless, the use of a military-style rifle by someone who until last night may have been a "law abiding gun owner" has handed the PQ an ideal weapon to sway voters to its independence project. If the gun was fully automatic, as some reports suggest, then it wasn't legal, but this seems unlikely. Regardless, it hardly matters if it was legal or not, long or short, because the use of any kind of firearm in these circumstances will naturally be highly symbolic.
So in its dealings with the PQ government, the first test of the Harper government's true priority -- is it the country or the Conservative government's short-term political advantage? -- is likely now to be how it responds to the crisis created by Bain's itchy trigger finger.
Not surprisingly, Marois indicated today at her first media conference that right at the top of her agenda will be an attempt to get a unanimous resolution of the National Assembly opposing the Harper Conservatives' destruction of the registry.
Memories are long in Quebec -- just check out the plates, "Je me souviens" -- and it will not go unobserved in that province that this is not the first time someone with a military weapon has apparently set out to assassinate a PQ leader for muddled and vaguely federalist motives.
Not much good will is required from the Harper Government to respond effectively. They need only to go slow on their rush to destroy the registry, to let the issue cool a little while it boils over, naturally enough, in Quebec where there seems to be a general consensus on the issue.
We shall see, but it is said here that even this simple gesture for the good of Canada is beyond the capacity of this cynical and divisive government.
Cool heads and moderation are what Canada needs from its leaders in Ottawa -- on the long gun registry and the other issues likely to arise in the weeks ahead. "Insouciance," the word chosen by the Globe and Mail, divisiveness and haughty contempt are what we are likely to get as the Harper Conservatives turn to the Karl Rove Republican electoral handbook for guidance.
From the U.S. funded and inspired gun lobby, of course, expect a renewal of black-helicopter hysteria and defiance.
The gun nuts will dismiss Bain as a lone nut with a gun -- and in this they are likely right.
Indeed, perhaps the unknown shooter (or shooters) who shot two people in Edmonton last night or the still-unknown assailant who shot to death a restaurant patron in front of the windows of my downtown office three weeks ago were just isolated nuts as well.
But if you doubt the ability of a lunatic acting alone with a firearm at a delicate political moment to change history in very bad ways, I give you … Gavrilo Princip!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.