"Michael Ignatieff strode back into Canada bearing gilt-edged promises that he would be appropriately sensitive to our sociopolitical nuances.
"He then, by stating a position on Quebec as a nation, proceeded to break our single most important political taboo. It is as if a papal candidate had suddenly barged into a Catholic church and set the altar ablaze."
So ran the lead editorial of one of Canada's two national newspapers on the day after the blaze spread to the roof.
When Michael Ignatieff declared last June that he saw the province of Quebec as "a nation" within Canada and was open to new negotiations to enshrine that concept in the Constitution, he reopened the wound that never really heals.
Last month, taking their lead from Ignatieff, the Quebec branch of the Liberal party adopted a resolution calling for the party to recognize "the Quebec nation within Canada" and to "officialize this historical and social reality."
Then the Bloc Québécois seized on that to introduce a bill demanding "that this House recognize that Quebecers form a nation."
The Bloc hoped the other parties would vote against the bill, thereby demonstrating their alleged hostility to French-speaking Quebecers and their aspirations, but Stephen Harper was too clever for them.
On November 22, he introduced a resolution declaring that Parliament "recognizes that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada ," and all the parties flocked to support it - even the Bloc.
In one swift move the PM won support for his party in Quebec in the next election and boosted the chances that Ignatieff, the easiest candidate to beat, will win. However, he also raised the spectre of Quebec separatism from its shallow grave.
Harper's Conservatives, of course, insist that they have done no such thing. His Quebec lieutenant, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, in a performance that would have left Don Rumsfeld envious, denied that the motion had any legal consequences: "We are not at the point of a constitutional demand. Has anyone seen a constitutional demand in the works? No, we haven't seen one."
But André Boisclair, leader of the Parti Québécois, took a very different view. The motion to recognize that Quebecers form a nation "will give us a powerful tool for the international recognition of a future sovereign Quebec."
Since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the separatist Parti Québécois has been in power much of the time, and is favoured in the opinion polls to return to power in the next provincial election. Twice it has held referenda on independence, and twice failed to get a "yes" vote, but it has promised another when the circumstances are right.
In practice, "when the circumstances are right" has meant when francophone Quebecers are feeling alienated from English-speaking Canada. The country has now almost certainly embarked, willy-nilly, on a third attempt at constitutional reform, regardless of how much the present government denies it. The sleeping dog has woken, and will have its day.
But a third attempt at finding a constitutional formula that will satisfy both nationalist Québécois and the English-speaking majority in the other nine provinces is almost certainly doomed to failure for the same reasons as the first two: there is no such formula.
So at the end of this road, very probably, lies a third referendum in a Quebec that is feeling rejected and alienated.
Harper, with his too-clever resolution, bears a good deal of blame for this train wreck, but the true responsibility lies with Ignatieff, a Canadian-born academic and journalist who lived abroad for 27 consecutive years before he arrived in Canada from Harvard.
The lesson that most Canadians (including most French Canadians) have gleaned from the long and gruelling ordeal of referenda and constitutional crises is that the country works perfectly well in practice but cannot be made to work in theory - so stop obsessing about constitutional principles.
But Ignatieff was absent for all that time, and he simply hasn't grasped the lesson.
In the words of Ken Dryden, another leadership candidate, Ignatieff "bumped into a chair and woke the dog up." But he'll probably be long gone, back to Harvard or some other ivory tower, before the storm really hits Canada.