Marois flexes her muscles
As a condition of becoming leader, she lays down the law to her party's hard-liners
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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The Parti Quebecois is used to imposing conditions on its leader. Now Pauline Marois, as a condition of becoming leader, will impose conditions on the party.
First, no referendum. Second, no more go-go gauche. Take it or leave it. And as she said, political parties that fall out of touch with voters tend to be marginalized, "and even disappear."
At the same time, at her second debut on Sunday, she affirmed the PQ is the party of sovereignty, as in Solidarity Forever. She equally echoed the PQ's roots as the party of social democracy, but noted the Quebec model needed to be updated and adapted for the 21st century.
As she said in an interview with Bernard Derome on Radio-Canada's Le Telejournal, before wealth can be distributed, it must first be created. What a concept.
It remains to be seen whether she has the leverage to silence the dissenters or force them out. This party is famously incorrigible, and renowned for destroying all its leaders. But after their near-death experience of the March election, which left the PQ broke and relegated to third place, they might be prepared to give her a listen.
As she told Derome, the PQ aren't autonomists, that's Mario Dumont's turf, while Jean Charest and the Liberals position themselves as defenders of Quebec's interests in Ottawa. The PQ is the party of sovereignty, but that doesn't mean a referendum would follow an election. "To paraphrase Mackenzie King," Derome suggested, "a referendum if necessary but not necessarily a referendum."
She would not be pinned down, but you can take that as a no, as in no referendum anytime soon. Essentially, she is proposing a return to the PQ's winning platforms of 1976 and 1998. In their first successful election, under Rene Levesque, the PQ proposed good government then, and a referendum later. In their winning 1998 campaign, Lucien Bouchard proposed no referendum without winning conditions, though he never said what they were. But the first winning condition would be an absolute majority of voters supporting the PQ in a provincial election, which has never happened, and which is highly unlikely in any competitive three-party race with the Liberals and ADQ.
So for the moment, she says, it's comforting that 40 per cent of Quebecers consider themselves sovereignists. The problem in the near term is that on March 26, only 28 per cent of the voters supported the party of sovereignty.
Since the 1998 election, support for the sovereignty party has fallen 15 points. In the fast- food business, when you lose 15 points of market share, you change the menu, or you change the management, or more probably both.
And just what was the problem?
It began with the PQ's leadership in November 2005, when it skipped a generation and chose the untested Andre Boisclair, then only 39, who had a major resume problem - his consumption of cocaine while a member of the Bouchard and Landry cabinets. The fact that he was openly gay might have been cool in the Plateau, but didn't play very well with a silent majority in le Quebec profond.
The person the PQ passed then, by close to a 2-1 margin, was none other than Marois, who subsequently took her leave of active politics to tend her garden.
One of the reasons that Pequistes have been flocking to her banner in the last week has been a collective guilt trip and a realization that they made the wrong choice in 2005. The Landry clan was so busy settling scores with her for undermining his leadership that it lost sight of the prize - winning the next election. Or perhaps they were then so far ahead in the polls, running around 50 per cent to about 25 per cent for the Liberals, that they thought they could pay themselves the treat of a Boisclair candidacy.
Had they chosen Marois, Pequistes surely know by now, they would have been much more competitive in the election. (In fact, it might not even have been held yet. So anxious were Charest and the Liberals to profit from Boisclair's freefall after the holidays that they advanced the election call by two months.)
Marois would have done no worse than save the PQ official opposition status. As a mother of four, she would have had no lessons to take from Mario Dumont on family values. And she has by far the best resume of any PQ leadership candidate. She's held the top four portfolios in the provincial government - education, health, finance and treasury board, and proved extremely able in them all. (There's just the little matter of a $3-billion deficit in her 2003 budget, rather than the balanced books she predicted going into the previous election.)
And why did Gilles Duceppe assume he was better-placed than she to lead this party, or that she wasn't even interested in running? In effect, he said Monday: "I don't know what I was thinking."
And in a direct quote: "With Pauline, it won't be a duel, it will be a duo."