MONTREAL - With fresh opinion polls giving Jean Charest's Liberals the lead for the first time since 2004, prominent Quebec separatists yesterday began sharpening the knives for Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair.
Bernard Landry, whose resignation as PQ leader in 2005 opened the way for Mr. Boisclair, said his successor is to blame for the party's "collapse."
From 50% in the polls and 20 percentage points ahead of the governing Liberals when Mr. Boisclair became leader in late 2005, the PQ has fallen to 32% and two points behind the Liberals, Leger Marketing reported in a poll for Le Devoir.
"What he has done has provoked this collapse of our party," Mr. Landry told the Quebec City radio station CHOI-FM. He singled out Mr. Boisclair's recently reported anti-union comments and his musing that the crucifix has no place in Quebec's National Assembly as examples of Mr. Boisclair's costly "misadventures."
Doing nothing to dispel rumours that he is itching to get his old job back, Mr. Landry was granting interviews left and right, offering unsolicited advice to his successor. He told Radio- Canada he is "a statesman" who will serve his party where needed. Asked whether he would consider returning as leader, Mr. Landry called the question hypothetical. "There is someone at the head of our party who was democratically elected," he said.
Short of Mr. Boisclair resigning, nothing in PQ rules would allow the party to replace its leader before an election expected this spring. Jean-Marc Leger, president of Leger Marketing, said that even if a slight advance is not enough to assure the Liberals' victory, because their support is disproportionately concentrated in anglophone Montreal ridings, the PQ should be worried.
"It's not good news for the PQ. The trend is really bad for them," he said. The sovereigntist party's current level of support is one point ahead of where it finished in the 2003 election, which it lost to the Liberals.
Mr. Boisclair, 40, was supposed to inject new life into the party after he won the leadership in November, 2005. His open homosexuality and admitted cocaine use as a Cabinet minister were not seen as obstacles, but recently Liberals have called into question his maturity.
His current troubles began in December when he took part in a parody of the gay cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain. The sketch showed Mr. Boisclair interrupting a mock love scene between George W. Bush and Stephen Harper characters.
Rumblings in his caucus intensified last week after Mr. Boisclair mused about the crucifix and gave an interview declaring an end to the days when the PQ and the province's trade unions were "buddy-buddy, spending their evenings together at dinners washed down with plenty of wine." Union officials said it was an unfair description.
Mr. Boisclair, who last year promised a "dream team" of candidates to rival the one fielded by party founder Rene Levesque, has been stymied in his search for stars. Two up-and-coming PQ MNAs, Jonathan Valois and Stephan Tremblay, have announced they will not seek re-election. Louise Beaudoin, a long-time PQ Cabinet minister who last fall all but confirmed her return to politics, announced on Friday that she will not run.
One of Mr. Landry's hardline disciples, Yves Michaud, said yesterday Mr. Boisclair should read the writing on the wall and step down. He said he would like to see Mr. Landry take back the party reins. In an op-ed article published yesterday in La Presse, sovereigntist writer Victor-Levy Beaulieu said he fears the Liberals could sweep the next election.
The Leger findings were echoed in a CROP poll published yesterday in La Presse, with one notable exception. The Leger survey showed Mario Dumont's Action Democratique du Quebec closing ground on the other two parties, pulling to 24%, whereas CROP put the ADQ at 14%.
Mr. Leger said the difference could be explained by the timing of the surveys. His was taken from Jan 25-28, and reflected the popularity of Mr. Dumont's recent stance against accommodating immigrants' religious values. The CROP survey was stretched over Jan. 18-28. Both polls are considered accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Boisclair in hot water as PQ 'collapses'
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