«Non quia timemus non audemus, sed quia non audemus, timemus»
-(Sénèque)
«Ce n'est pas parce que nous avons peur que nous n'osons pas; c'est parce que nous n'osons pas que nous avons peur».

Michaud affair still haunts MNAs

vendredi 14 janvier 2011

Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of Lucien Bouchard’s resignation as premier and leader of the Parti Quebecois.

Although Bouchard insisted it had nothing to do with his decision to resign, he devoted nearly a third of his televised speech to what became known as l’Affaire Michaud.

Or, if you prefer, the fallout from the unanimous vote by National Assembly members Dec. 14, 2000, on a motion denouncing Yves Michaud for "unacceptable statements toward ethnic communities and, in particular, the Jewish community." The motion said Michaud made the comments on Dec. 13 at the estates general on the French language.

In his speech, Bouchard branded Michaud the "initiator of the controversy" without saying his name. He accused him of hurting Quebec’s reputation abroad, adding dramatically that without the motion, "the damage would have been even greater."

Bouchard called the public debate surrounding the motion "dangerous" and said that he couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly disagree with its adoption.

He said that he had no doubt that the PQ members of Mercier riding, where Michaud intended to run as a candidate, would "close the door" to him.

This offered Bouchard a convenient excuse for leaving politics while presenting himself as the great defender of tolerance.

Ten years later, the Michaud affair still haunts the PQ and the National Assembly for three reasons :

1) Michaud’s continued battle against what he calls that "infamous" motion and his great public support.

2) 109 MNAs voted without any knowledge of these alleged "unacceptable" statements.

3) Michaud said nothing intolerant or xenophobic at that Dec. 13 meeting of the estates general.

Want proof ? The book L’Affaire Michaud -Chronique d’une execution parlementaire by Gaston Deschenes, historian and former head of research for the National Assembly, is a must-read that includes the transcript of Michaud’s interview of Dec. 5, 2000, with Paul Arcand, where he talked of meeting Senator Leo Kolber.

The book also contains the transcript of Michaud’s presentation at these estates general. It tells the real story of how he quoted Lionel Groulx, who had said that anti-Semitism was an "anti-Christian attitude" and that Quebecers should follow the example of the "invincible spirit of solidarity and imperishable moral fortitude" of the Jewish people.

But the heart of the matter is that Bouchard couldn’t stomach the thought of having Michaud in his caucus if he ran in Mercier and won. He needed something big, however, to confront a man who was respected in the PQ and Quebec. So with the help of a very eager Liberal opposition he used that motion, which made Michaud look like a bigot.

On March 1, 2001, Equality Party leader Robert Libman, in an interview with VOIR, observed that Michaud’s words "had been distorted in an unbelievable way."

"He’s accused of being anti-Semitic," he added. "I don’t think that he is."

Last December, Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir tabled a motion asking for a debate on the "mistake" of the Michaud motion. The government responded that it would love to debate what it called the "ethnic nationalism" in PQ circles. Pauline Marois refused to fall into that trap and nothing happened.

Yesterday, former PQ Justice Minister Paul Begin came to a press conference with a list of 51 MNAs who voted for that motion and who now say they regret it. Not one Liberal did, although Begin had reached out to them with a non-partisan approach.

Begin also proposed that the National Assembly change its rules so that it could no longer condemn the words of a citizen without proper debate, a full transcript received by MNAs at least 24 hours ahead of time and the chance for that person to be heard in a parliamentary commission.

This would mean no more blind votes censuring any citizen’s freedom of thought and speech. This is a question of principle, he said. It is to "protect citizens from the arbitrary powers of parliament."

In 2001, when I became a special adviser in the premier’s office, I was handed the Michaud affair file. Since returning to journalism for good in 2003, I have observed a "devoir de reserve" on the dossiers I handled there and will continue to do so.

I will say this, though : Everything was attempted, including more or less what Begin is proposing. But there were many roadblocks to remedying this politically charged and emotional matter, both within the government and in the Liberal opposition.

But I hope that one day all MNAs will realize that their role is not to censure citizens with blind votes on statements they haven’t even seen.


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Affaire Michaud 2000-2011

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