With the Bloc Quebecois tottering on the brink of implosion the question no longer is whether a sizeable chunk of its vote will be up for grabs in next year's federal election but rather which of the other three main parties stands to benefit from its sovereigntist rival's decline.
In 2011, the Bloc finished second in Quebec, with almost one-quarter of the votes cast. At midsummer, EKOS reported support for the Bloc had declined to 16 per cent. That poll was done before an internal malaise over the leadership victory of ultra-sovereigntist activist Mario Beaulieu turned into a full-fledged meltdown. Over the past two weeks one of the four remaining Bloc MPs has bolted from the party; another has announced he won't run again and a third is said to be planning to leave before the Commons reopens next month.
All that has Bloc insiders bracing for potentially worse numbers in the next batch of polls. With the issue of Quebec's political future on the provincial backburner there are only so many voters committed enough to sovereignty to stay on board a sinking federal ship.
But a declining Bloc may be the opposite of the game-changer the Liberals are looking for as they seek to loosen the NDP's grip on Quebec.
In 2011, the New Democrats did not just bleed the Bloc on their way to victory. They also benefited from an exodus of federalist voters from the Liberal fold.
Since Justin Trudeau became leader, much of that vote has come home. But the pattern of that movement is uneven. A year to the next election, the Liberals may be virtually unbeatable in the Montreal ridings they hold but they aren't necessarily back in the game in the rest of Quebec. It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to surmise that the voters who stuck with the Bloc in 2011 may be the least likely to switch to the Trudeau-led Liberals.
In his home province, the Liberal leader is a more polarizing figure than his NDP rival, especially in the nationalist circles that are home to the remaining Bloc supporters.
For the Liberals a transfer of Bloc support to the NDP would be more threatening than a sovereigntist resurgence. Such a transfer would make it harder to win back ridings such as Hull-Aylmer, Gatineau, Saint-Lambert, Jeanne-le Ber or Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Those ridings were all Liberal-held under Jean Chretien and the road to full recovery in Quebec starts with them.
Some of Stephen Harper's strategists believe their party - based on what they vaunt as an arm's-length approach to provincial affairs - is better placed to get a piece of the Bloc action than the Liberals.
The ruling Conservatives are running a summer road show starring Quebec lieutenant Denis Lebel these days and the prime minister is scheduled to deliver what has been billed as a major Quebec speech on Sept. 6. They are hoping to appeal to the more conservative elements of the flagging Bloc coalition.
At their current level (12 per cent) the Conservatives probably have nowhere to go but up in Quebec. But their fortunes have been falling across the country and expecting Quebec - long the least Conservative-friendly of the major provinces - to buck the trend ultimately smacks of wishful thinking.
In 2011 the Conservatives and the Liberals finished in a usually distant third or fourth place in more than two thirds of Quebec ridings.
It would take a wave of Laytonesque proportion for either party to win big in Quebec in next year's election. That will not be happening to the Conservatives under their current leader. Harper's ratings in Quebec are the most negative of any prime minister in modern Canadian history. And without Bloc help to soften up the NDP Trudeau faces a taller order than would be the case in a more competitive three or four-way battle.
It was assumed that the Bloc - because it kept the bulk of Quebec seats out of the governing equation - was a major factor in the making of repeat minority federal governments. But the sovereigntist party's ongoing demise is no guarantee of a majority result next year.
Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.