PQ will take its toll on Marois, too

Old party warhorses just won't leave new leaders alone

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The Gazette, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lucien Bouchard used to refer to the Parti Québécois as "that party," in the same tone of voice in which Bill Clinton once spoke of Monica Lewinsky as "that woman."

"That party is ungovernable," Bouchard often said, regretting all the weekends with his sons he lost while he was attending interminable PQ general council meetings, for which days of his precious calendar as premier would be wasted in preparation and in managing the latest internal crisis, usually about what constituted his famous "winning conditions" for the next referendum.

When Bouchard finally threw up his hands and walked away from power at mid-mandate in 2001, his frustration with "that party" had everything to do with his resignation.

And much of that was generated by the likes of the former leader, Jacques Parizeau, who lacked the simple decency to disappear. Longtime PQ activists such as Yves Michaud, with his xenophobic outbursts, were equally responsible for making Bouchard crazy.

Eight years on and guess what? Parizeau still doesn't have the decency to disappear. Michaud is still stirring up trouble, and they are joined by Bernard Landry, another former PQ leader, telling Pauline Marois how to run her show on the sovereignty issue.

These guys are like former leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, hanging around Red Square with their hero medals, nostalgic for the good old days. On the one hand, they are an incredible pain in the ass. On the other, who cares?

Everyone understands that the leader of the PQ has to go through the motions on sovereignty. It's their version of the locker-room pep talk, "win one for the Gipper." And so at a general council last weekend, she declared: "Some say that all Pauline Marois wants, when it comes right down to it, is to realize sovereignty. You know what? They are totally and completely right." Yeah, whatever.

It was two weekends ago that Marois put out her "Plan for a Sovereign Quebec," an incremental scheme for obtaining more powers from Ottawa for Quebec. Sectoral sovereignty. With a referendum, if necessary, on each issue. The Referendum of the Month Club.

But Parizeau has another idea. What a PQ government should do, he says, is "provoke a crisis" with Ottawa to stoke the fires of sovereignty, or less euphemistically, to fan the flames of separatism.

Not to be forgotten in this, or perhaps not willing to be forgotten, Landry said he thought Parizeau's intervention "advanced the march toward sovereignty." Of all the living former PQ leaders, and all except René Lévesque are still living, Bouchard, Pierre Marc Johnson and André Boisclair have had the decency to shut up. They have all successfully escaped the clutches of the PQ and got on with their lives.

For Marois, who is trying to navigate the shoals of sovereignty on her way to the next election, Parizeau's intervention was both unwelcome and inopportune. But once again, it proves Bouchard's point, about how "that party" is ungovernable.

In her first election, she managed to regain official opposition for the PQ, bringing it back from the third-party status to which it was relegated in 2007. Had Mario Dumont not squandered his own opportunity as leader of a government in waiting, Marois would not have made it this far back.

She will not make the rest of the return voyage to power without taking on a lot of water. Voters always like to know whether a leader is actually in charge of a party. As for sovereignty, either it's on the table in an election, with the promise of a referendum in a first mandate, or it's not. Parizeau is saying something entirely different: A PQ government should use the levers of power, not to serve the public interest, but to subversively provoke a crisis with the federal government.

This advice comes in the middle of a huge economic storm, in which working with Ottawa to move stimulus money out the door is a prerequisite to recovery. Parizeau is prescribing a recipe for political turmoil and economic disaster. The people must be starved in order to be liberated.

For Jean Charest, who has been struggling to find his footing of late, Parizeau's comments were a gift outright. He was quick to pounce, calling Parizeau "a pyromaniac."

It's not hard to see where this goes, and it's not to a good place, or a happy outcome, for Marois. There must be weekends when she'd rather be back at the Chateau Marois, tending her own garden, rather than trying to pull weeds out of the PQ's.

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