Party's over for Parti Quebecois

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Sun Media, Friday, June 10, 2011

It was Lucien Bouchard who famously prescribed “winning conditions” as a prerequisite for holding another referendum on sovereignty in Quebec. And it was Bouchard who once described the Parti Quebecois as “that damn party,” one constantly at war with itself and whoever has the misfortune to be its leader.

Never have winning conditions been so absent as in the last month, with the spectacular flameout of the Bloc Quebecois in the federal election.

And seldom have the PQ’s suicidal impulses been more apparent than this week, as four members of its caucus in the Quebec legislature bolted over party leader Pauline Marois’s reluctance to commit to another referendum.

It was precisely because Gilles Duceppe invoked the possibility of another unwanted referendum, with a strong Bloc in Ottawa and “the PQ in power in Quebec,” that voters deserted him and flocked to Jack Layton on May 2.

From 47 seats before the election, to only four in the new House. From 38% of the Quebec vote in 2008, to only 23% in this election. Winning conditions where, in Duceppe’s fateful words, “everything becomes possible again?” Nope.

From third party status in the House, to no standing as a recognized party. Its four MPs sit as private members in the far corner of the House, with no time allocated in question period, and no way of getting their message on television.

The obliteration of the Bloc has provoked yet another existential crisis within the PQ, which is accustomed to eating leaders who diverge from the orthodox path to sovereignty.

Even Rene Levesque, the founding father, was hobbled in office in 1984 when he endorsed “le beau risque” of renewed federalism under Brian Mulroney. The hardliners, led by Jacques Parizeau, left his government and undermined his leadership until he quit in disgust the next year. His successor, Pierre Marc Johnson, announced a moderate policy of national affirmation and also quit in 1987 before he could be ousted by “les purs et durs.”

Bouchard, whose charismatic leadership took the Yes forces to the doorstep of victory in the 1995 referendum, was re-elected on the winning conditions platform in 1998, but quit in 2001, completely fed up with the treachery of the Parizeau wing of the party.

Now it’s Marois’s turn to suffer the slings and arrows of contested leadership. At the very mid-April convention at which Duceppe made his disastrous speech alluding to another referendum, she won a 93% vote of confidence in leadership review. But that was before the orange wave of May 2.

While the PQ leads the unpopular Liberal government of Jean Charest in the polls, Marois’ own leadership numbers are weak. Somehow emboldened by the debacle, the hardliners struck back.

And not just any hardliners, but three prominent frontbenchers who quit in a single stroke — Louise Beaudoin, Pierre Curzid, Lisette Lapointe. A fourth caucus member, Jean-Martin Aussant, followed the next day.

Beaudoin was an adviser to Levesque. Curzi is a popular former actor and hardliner on language. Lapointe is married to Jacques Parizeau, who still doesn’t have the decency to disappear.

The winner in all this pequiste turmoil, absent a strong third party, is none other than Charest.

He got another big win this week with the $2.2-billion sales tax harmonization deal with Ottawa, proving he can defend Quebec’s interests in the federation.

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