You can't fire me...because I quit

Boisclair's attack on Duceppe cemented his reputation for bad judgment

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National Post, Wednesday, May 9, 2007

In the last few days, Andre Boisclair gave new meaning to the expression crise du jour.

With the train wreck of the Parti Quebecois' devastating third-place finish in the March 26 election still laying on the track, with the party desperate to present a semblance of unity in a minority legislature that convened yesterday, Boisclair chose this moment to declare open warfare on Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, presumed pretender to the sovereignist throne.

It proved to be the tipping point. Yesterday, his caucus support collapsing, Boisclair resigned before the National Assembly even opened for business. You can't fire me, I quit.

In an extraordinary interview last weekend with Radio-Canada's Coulisses du Pouvoir, Boisclair accused Duceppe of openly scheming to replace him, asked him to place the interests of the movement above his own ambition and urged him to stay in Ottawa where he belonged. Recorded before the weekend for broadcast on Sunday, the interview was pre-released to the weekend papers. Le Devoir's treatment was typical: "Boisclair declares war on Duceppe."

For good measure, Boisclair depicted himself as the true defender of the sovereignty cause (something he never mentioned in the campaign), while suggesting that Duceppe was a soft-line "national-affirmationist" in the tradition of Pierre- Marc Johnson -- i.e., advocating something less than sovereignty for Quebec. Now you're talking serious provocation.

While he was at it, Boisclair also took on "those in the PQ, who have double agendas, in spite of declarations they've made."

Boisclair chose a bad moment to take on all comers. His own support in the 36-member PQ caucus was weak to begin with. When a leader fires such a warning shot, saying fight me, fight my gang, he'd better know how many members are in his gang, as well as how many are in the other gang. Boisclair's gang, never very strong since the election, has been shrinking since the weekend, as one PQ luminary after another distanced himself from his frontal attack on Duceppe.

In the interests of equal time, as well as a good story, the media weren't long in carrying Duceppe's indignant reply that he wasn't part of any backroom plot, while allowing that "Andre Boisclair is under a lot of pressure at this time."

Before the Boisclair interview even ran on Sunday, Duceppe's reply was already 24 hours old. Two days of sidebars, from party activists who were all shocked and appalled at Boisclair's comments, had already filled the weekend papers.

Thus, by yesterday Boisclair had been under fire for three consecutive days from all factions within the sovereignty movement, with his unprovoked broadside against Duceppe as but the latest example of his lack of character and judgment. And remember that the forces of darkness within the PQ are always scheming against the leader of the day for failing the sovereignist cause, anyway. This is a party that threw out Rene Levesque, the founding father.

The party's old guard are like Brezhnev- era functionaries in the former Soviet Union, hanging around Red Square with their medals, yearning for the good old days. They can always be counted on for a good quote. Typically, old-time Pequiste Yves Michaud, a close friend of Levesque, accused Boisclair of flagrant lack of judgment in attacking "a brother-in-arms" in the sovereignty movement. What brought it on? Boisclair must have felt he was dying a death of a thousand cuts. Even before the election, it was known that highlevel PQ dissidents were on the phone to Duceppe's Ottawa entourage, encouraging him to consider taking over in the event of a defeat.

What no one foresaw was the PQ finishing third, and losing the standing and perks of official opposition. Why would Duceppe leave Ottawa to become leader of a third party?

And what would become of the Bloc, in another minority House that could be dissolved any time, if Duceppe were to leave it in the lurch for the PQ leadership? When the same question arose in 2005, Duceppe replied: "My duty is here." He hasn't been saying that since the Quebec election.

Thus, the phone calls continued, to the point where Duceppe made it clear last week that he wasn't calling the PQ, though he didn't say they weren't calling him. "I've never had a career plan," he said.

In other words, he did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.

As for Boisclair, his only hope for survival was to lead a united party in the National Assembly and consolidate his leadership over the summer recess. By his own untimely outburst, he assured that wouldn't happen. And the PQ, as all opposition parties do, is fighting over the spoils of defeat.

After the train wreck, the demolition derby.

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