Bouchard crafts new role as elder statesman

Par Irwin Block

Nomination de Wilfrid-Guy Licari à la Délégation générale du Québec à Paris


Ex-premier is speaking out, but return to active politics appears unlikely
He has vowed to stay out of politics, but he can't.
For a second time in three months, Lucien Bouchard, the former Parti Quebecois premier, has spoken out on hot policy issues.
What's he up to?
There is no evidence to indicate that Bouchard, a lawyer for Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, is paving the way for a formal return to electioneering.
But seasoned observers say he is carving out a role as elder statesman as he challenges some of the orthodoxies of the so-called Quebec model.
In October, Bouchard's name headed a list of 12 who endorsed the "clear-eyed vision for Quebec" manifesto, calling for a radical shift in policy to attack Quebec's staggering public debt and end the university tuition-fee freeze.
This week, Bouchard came to the defence of Premier Jean Charest in his appointment of career diplomat Wilfrid-Guy Licari as Quebec's delegate-general in Paris.
Bouchard threw his enthusiastic support behind Charest's choice of Licari, whom Bouchard knew while he was Canadian ambassador to France and Licari was ambassador to Morocco.
The Paris posting is seen as Quebec's most important, the equivalent to Canada of the ambassador to Washington, and nationalists have denounced the choice of Licari.
Former PQ minister Louise Beaudoin claimed in a strident op-ed piece in Le Devoir that Licari's appointment means turning Quebec's diplomatic service into "a branch plant of the federal apparatus."
Bouchard hit back in an interview published yesterday, in which he praised Licari as "a francophone Quebecer who did us proud throughout the world for 30 odd years ... one of the best diplomats in the federal machine."
"Why are some getting so upset?" he asked, slamming "the new doctrine invented for the Licari case" that would exclude experienced federal public servants from accepting work for Quebec City.
Louis Massicotte, a Universite de Montreal political scientist, said Bouchard's statements will not endear him to PQ hard-liners, who always suspected his motives.
"Mr. Bouchard, who did work in Ottawa, feels quite ill at ease toward the sectarianism that has taken hold of some people," Massicotte observed.
But as to whether Bouchard is eyeing a return to active politics or moving in another political direction, Massicotte said, "there are probably only half a dozen people who know what is really happening and ... these people do not talk openly."
John Parisella, a prominent Liberal and president of BCP advertising agency, said he does not believe Bouchard is planning a return to active politics, but wants to "move away as much as possible from the polemic of the national question."
Bouchard has the potential to fill an elder statesman role, similar to that played by the late Claude Ryan, the newspaper publisher and Liberal leader.
"Mr. Bouchard is carving a role that seems to go above the partisan divide," Parisella said, adding such a move is desirable.
In spite of several "flip-flops" in Bouchard's career, Parisella praised him as "a very dedicated person."
"Nobody can deny his passion, his love of Quebec. He's going to fill a vacuum that Quebecers are looking for," Parisella said.


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