A duel of visions within the PQ


August 27, 2004 Friday
For Bernard Landry, this will be the year of living dangerously. Between now and next June's Parti Quebecois convention, he'll be putting his leadership and his vision on the line. This will be the battle of his life.
This battle will oppose two vastly different visions of sovereignty: his own and Jacques Parizeau's. For Parizeau, winning a referendum within the first year of a PQ mandate on a new constitution would lead to immediate independence.
For Landry, a winning referendum on sovereignty-partnership held within the first two years of a mandate would be followed by a period of transition where Quebec would negotiate with Canada while still a province.
A gulf lies between these positions, but two main differences stand out. The first is the time frame. Taking a lesson from the last referendum and the sponsorship scandal that ensued, Parizeau knows the longer the PQ waits to hold a referendum, the more Quebecers will be exposed to uncontrolled spending on federalist propaganda.
Landry's answer is to bring in UN observers for the referendum. But that would be useless against Ottawa's propaganda that would precede it for two years. Parizeau also knows that such a wait is long enough for the usual nervous nellies in the PQ to try to push back against the referendum or pull out. That's exactly what Landry did throughout 1994 and 1995.
The second difference is about the nature of the referendum. Landry still sees a majority vote as leading to negotiations with Canada. Problem is that given Ottawa's hardened position since 1995, Quebec would have little bargaining power were it to remain a province, as Landry suggests, in the months following a Yes vote.
So this is not a battle between two powerful egos. It's an existential battle to define if and how the PQ should go for full independence the next time around. Parizeau's position is outlined in just those terms, whereas Landry's approach would leave the pre- and post-referendum periods open to all kinds of ambiguity and vulnerability for independence.
Because there's a growing number of sovereignists who support Parizeau's approach, his sortie last week unleashed a number of challenges to Landry's own position and, therefore, his leadership.
What is most striking about those who have called for a leadership race, either publicly or in private with Landry, is that they all happen to support Parizeau's approach.
Though the impression out there is that Landry still remains in control of his party and his caucus, mounting evidence says otherwise. This is a leader whose control, because of his more hesitant position on sovereignty, is starting to fail him. Hence his efforts to try to regain it.
Exhibit 1: In view of this week-end's national council, the PQ's N.D.G. riding association tabled a resolution calling for a leadership race. Fearing such a vote, the party's direction committee unilaterally refused to consider it.
Exhibit 2: Prominent sovereignist Yves Michaud - a close friend of Landry who supports Parizeau's approach - also called for a leadership convention. Over the past few months, a number of PQ MNAs met privately with Landry to voice the same demand.
This week, pro-Marois MNA Nicole Leger demanded a leadership race in public. This is no coincidence because Marois's position on sovereignty has been moving a lot closer to Parizeau's than that of the other contender, Francois Legault.
Exhibit 3: Even Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe had to be dragged out to voice his support for Landry publicly.
Exhibit 4: The caucus is divided. Any leader knows that the support of his caucus is essential to his survival. As Robert Bourassa used to say: You lose your caucus, you lose your party, you lose your leadership. Knowing that Parizeau's approach is gaining ground among his MNAs, Landry is bringing in Jean-Francois Lisee to today's caucus meeting.
A former adviser to Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, Lisee penned a book in 2000 asking the PQ to switch to renewed federalism and, coincidently to be sure, published a long article in yesterday's La Presse supporting Landry's position. His mission today will be to try to convince MNAs that Parizeau's approach must be rejected.
Exhibit 5: This Wednesday, La Presse published leaked extracts of the PQ's report on sovereignty that was meant for members at this weekend's national council. It clearly decried Parizeau's position. If someone high up in the PQ leaked this, it was to send the message to members that there's no point in supporting Parizeau's approach, since it won't pass under Landry. Call it a line in the sand.
But sand has a habit of shifting, especially when the wind blows. Because Parizeau's position will continue to gain support, the next few months could blow quite a bit of wind Landry's way.
So one question remains: Will Landry eventually bow to the mounting pressure for a leadership race and run to defend his own position, or will he hang on until next June's convention, hoping to survive the confidence vote?
The only certainty is that the Parizeau-Landry debate is not going away.

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