Boisclair's legacy

The rise of Mario Dumont's Action démocratique threatens PQ's ability to cast itself as the sole champion of nationalism

PQ - succession de Boisclair

André Boisclair's resignation as PQ leader came as a shock, but it did not come as a total surprise.
As events unfold, it is fitting to ask three questions: Why was this departure inevitable? Can the PQ come back? Is Gilles Duceppe the obvious choice to replace him?
First, the easy question: Boisclair's departure was inevitable because the extent of his defeat in the March 26 election left him with no capacity to regain momentum.
It would have made sense for him to step aside on the night of his big defeat, but Boisclair somehow managed to convince himself that he ran a good campaign and thus deserved to stay on.
This is not entirely incorrect, but the problem with Boisclair wasn't his campaigning – he actually did as well as he could under the circumstances. The problem was that, from his nomination to the first day of the campaign, his lack of political judgment and his inability to communicate a clear sense of purpose contributed to his party's slide in the polls.
Boisclair's campaign to gain the nomination showed some encouraging signs.
But, after his election, instead of capitalizing on Jean Charest's woes and seizing the first opportunity to face him in the National Assembly, he disappeared from public view.
He waited on the sidelines, talking up a "dream team" and a "game plan" that, when they materialized, could not possibly match the expectations he had raised.
Of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Action démocratique Leader Mario Dumont were only too happy to fill the void and, when Boisclair emerged from the shadows, it wasn't always for the better.
The Parti Québécois is a party of ideas, and Boisclair's failure to command the respect of his own troops showed that he did not have the stature to survive the March 26 defeat.
Can the PQ come back? In theory, the party should benefit from the
absence of serious competition in the space it occupies in Quebec's
political spectrum.
The Quebec electorate is divided into four roughly equal parts: the unconditional sovereigntists; those who prefer sovereignty but are willing to give a chance to federalism; those who prefer federalism but are willing to support sovereignty if they see no way for Quebec to make gains in federalism; and the unconditional federalists.
The PQ used to have almost a lock on the first two groups. But the emergence of the ADQ as a major player threatens to confine both the PQ and the Liberals to their respective core groups.
This axis correlates imperfectly with the left-right axis, and the PQ should benefit from being the only centre-left party in a province where public opinion is relatively favourable to its policies.
To get back in contention, the PQ will need to present a distinct policy alternative while remaining sufficiently pragmatic on both policy and the national issue to appeal to sovereignty leaning policy moderates and to left-leaning "soft nationalists."
Sounds easy in theory but, as Yogi Berra once said: "In theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they're not.
Will Duceppe be able to square that circle? Is he the obvious choice?
Boisclair's attack on Duceppe last Friday clearly was intended to place obstacles in the way of his most obvious successor.
This might succeed but, for the moment, Duceppe still seems the most obvious choice, for three reasons:

- Duceppe is the most popular sovereignist politician at present in Quebec.

- He should not have trouble convincing the party faithful of his social-democratic and sovereignist convictions.
- He has proven in 10 years at the helm of the Bloc that he can make compromises and present a softer side to the broader electorate when it is politically necessary to do so.

Of course, Duceppe also has liabilities.
The most important is that he might expect no less than a coronation, which the PQ may not be inclined to give him – even if it would find it financially convenient to be spared a leadership race.
Unlike the last time, however, there are no obvious candidates in the wings, so Duceppe might run unopposed, which wouldn't necessarily mean he could count on the party's undivided loyalty.
The Bloc and the PQ are two different organizations, and Duceppe's leadership style doesn't sit well with everyone in a party where members like to think they are in charge.
Also, when Boisclair ran for the nomination he attracted a new cohort of members who may not be inclined to welcome Duceppe with open arms.
Finally, for a party that still needs to prove its capacity to renew itself, the choice of an aging baby boomer may be perceived by many as a step backwards.
Be that as it may, when you're standing at the edge of a cliff, taking a step backward might not be such a bad idea.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.

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Pierre Martin est professeur titulaire au Département de science politique de l’Université de Montréal et directeur de la Chaire d’études politiques et économiques américaines (CÉPÉA). Il est également membre du Groupe d’étude et de recherche sur la sécurité internationale (GERSI)

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