When Andre Boisclair says there's no leadership crisis in the Parti Quebecois, he's either lying to voters or lying to himself. But beyond his denial of the obvious, what's more important is his intent to take on his party members to change the PQ program.
Boisclair might be lying to himself when he denies his leadership failings, but it's PQ members who will be lying to themselves if they ignore what he has in mind when he talks about a "new, transformed PQ."
In his speech at the swearing-in of his 36-member caucus, he gave some clear hints of his intentions. Lumping the PQ and the Action democratique together, he repeated "two-thirds of MNAs are opposed to the constitutional status quo," adding "what matters is to get more more powers" for Quebec.
After the election, the PQ leader already sounded intent on taking his party back to the days of Pierre Marc Johnson's national affirmation. His latest speech confirms it. There's no doubt Boisclair will try to sell this as the "pragmatic" way to see things, keeping sovereignty as a dream for much, much later.
But should the PQ leader succeed in this virage - which requires him to hold a party convention and win a confidence vote - this would turn the PQ into a clone of the ADQ. That would spell the end of that party by making it redundant.
Even those Pequistes who would be tempted to follow Boisclair in siding with Mario Dumont's autonomist approach in the hope of setting up the Rest of Canada for another Meech Lake-style psychodrama that would lead to a sovereignist victory, are dreaming.
First, it costs Dumont nothing to say he wants to reopen the constitution. He's in opposition. But watch Dumont soften his tune if he becomes premier. Second, no one in Ottawa would be stupid enough to create another failure by opening up the constitutional Pandora's box in any serious way.
The reality is that there is very little, if any, chance of having a repeat of the post-Meech trauma. So that leaves PQ members with a clear, existential choice that could either buy them some time, or throw them into oblivion.
If they retain their raison d'etre, maybe, just maybe, sovereignists could start supporting the PQ again, unless it's already too late. But if PQ members follow Boisclair, the already autonomist ADQ could take even more of what PQ support is left. When you have real beef, who wants bologna?
After the PQ got its disastrous 28 per cent of the vote in the last election, most analysts and Boisclair blamed the result on the promise of a referendum "as soon as possible," as outlined in the party's 2005 program. Quebecers, they say, just didn't want to hear about that stuff. If that were true, then why did the PQ stand at 50 per cent in the polls after it adopted that same program?
If anything, it's not the referendum promise that did in the PQ on March 26. Since 1996, the PQ suffered a setback every time sovereignty and the means to achieve it became a side issue for PQ leaders.
In 2005, it's true Bernard Landry put the R-word in the program mainly to try to save his own skin in his party. But the real reason that Pequistes demanded the referendum reference was because they had grown tired of the "winning-conditions" refrain and had stopped trusting their own leaders to take care of the party's option once in power.
Putting sovereignty on the back burner has been a failing strategy for the PQ. Fewer sovereignists have voted PQ in each election since 1996. In the last election there was a 17- to 20-point gap between those who support sovereignty and those who voted PQ.
On March 26, the problem wasn't the referendum promise. It was that when the promise was finally made 12 years after the last vote, the PQ had elected a leader who just couldn't carry out.
Back to the basics
Boisclair is wrong to abandon the push for sovereignty - there are more sovereignists in Quebec than those who vote PQ