For a while last week, it seemed Andre Boisclair might actually be ready to lead Quebec into the 21st century.
While Premier Jean Charest was making Quebec look like a banana republic by demanding an apology from a Toronto newspaper for an article insulting the province, the Parti Quebecois leader maintained a dignified silence.
When he finally broke it, the 40-year-old Boisclair sounded like the only mature politician in Quebec last week.
The furor over Jan Wong's Globe and Mail article on the Dawson shootings was an "immense distraction," he said. Since the article had discredited only its own author, "the most effective weapon (in response) is indifference."
Some Quebecers were still too sensitive to what others thought of them, needing "the other's regard in order to exist." Instead, Quebecers should "invest in our own confidence."
Boisclair might have been left with no choice but to show restraint because Charest had been more opportunistic in rushing to the defence of Quebec's honour first. And it certainly appears to have paid off for Charest's Liberals; poll results published yesterday suggested they gained in popularity during the uproar.
But Boisclair's response to the affair was more thoughtful than that of any other politician, and perhaps for the first time since he became PQ leader last November, made him sound statesmanlike, a worthy successor to Rene Levesque and Lucien Bouchard.
And then he had to go and acknowledge the weakness of his leadership and counter his efforts to modernize and rejuvenate his party, by accepting Lisette Lapointe as a PQ candidate for the next election.
Lapointe, 63, is the wife of Jacques Parizeau, former PQ premier and still a cult figure to sovereignist hardliners. And Boisclair's acceptance of her candidacy looks less like a reward for her support of him for the leadership than a concession to other Parizistes to protect his rear.
At least he didn't give her a safe seat. Lapointe had to settle for the swing riding of Cremazie in north Montreal, where about one-quarter of the population might come under the category of "ethnic votes." If Lapointe loses, her husband will have a ready-made explanation.
Even within the PQ, Lapointe is not popular. After her marriage to Parizeau in 1992, she was credited with softening his image, improving his personal appearance and moderating his consumption of alcohol.
But she was also said to be ambitious and meddlesome in both party and government affairs, taking advantage of her position as wife of the premier and a member of his staff (paid out of his salary), feared more than respected.
In particular, she was said to have dissuaded her husband from naming Serge Menard as justice minister because Menard had defended a man convicted of seriously injuring her son from a first marriage in a road accident.
Her judgment was also questioned when she commissioned a theme song for the 1995 referendum campaign from singer-songwriter Dan Bigras. The song, which promised "war, rage and madness" would give way to "peace, freedom and love" when Quebec became sovereign, was never used.
And she failed to persuade Parizeau to remain premier after he had disgraced himself and Quebec with his "money and ethnic votes" speech on referendum night.
Her nationalism can be even more primary than that expressed by her husband on referendum night. A 1995 profile in L'Actualite magazine said she had once been heard telling her son, then a toddler, that the Canadian flag was ugly and that the fleur-de-lis, in contrast, was beautiful.
Though not even official yet, her candidacy already seems to be making Boisclair nervous. He described as "uncalled for and insulting" a column in Quebec City's Le Soleil predicting Lapointe would be a "mother-in-law" looking over his shoulder on Parizeau's behalf.
Gone was Boisclair's self-assurance of last week. Now who's over-reacting to a newspaper article?
PQ leader was looking pretty good during Jan Wong affair, but then he allowed Lisette Lapointe to seek nomination