"Hardliners don't like to hear it, but sovereignty is in a state of hibernation. They deny reality and still dream about the ideal Quebec people, but it doesn't exist. And the people of Quebec don't want sovereignty."
Do you remember who said that? Was it Stéphane Dion, Stephen Harper or Jean Charest? Or perhaps it was Justin Trudeau? Nope. None of the above. It was actually former Parti Québécois minister Jacques Brassard, as reported in La Presse on Nov. 16, 2002.
Brassard also made quite a splash this Wednesday, again in La Presse, which ran extracts from his column written for another Gesca paper, Chicoutimi's Le Quotidien, and made the piece its main front-page headline. In his column, Brassard chastized the Bloc Québécois for having turned sovereignty into an "accessory" and the party into a left-wing basket case.
Gille Duceppe campaigns in a Montreal-area riding. A former PQ minister says the Bloc is too left-wing for the regions.View Larger Image View
Attacking the Bloc for ignoring sovereignty is a bit ironic coming from Brassard, given that he also supported René Lévesque's "beau risque" and later Lucien Bouchard's "mise en veilleuse" of the R-word. In his first column for the Le Quotidien back in 2002, Brassard branded so-called PQ hardliners "des pisse-vinaigre," or wet blankets - something he likes to do on a regular basis.
Brassard's statement that the Bloc is too leftist is less of a surprise. Since he was dropped from the PQ cabinet in early 2002 by Bernard Landry, he has said many times that even the PQ was leaning too much to the left.
Another irony is that Brassard's sensational sortie came on the same day Landry published his first column in a Montreal daily. Quick to respond, Landry contradicted Brassard, just like in the good old days when they sat in government.
But another argument from Brassard, the one about the Bloc not reflecting the more conservative views in the regions, seems to have had some impact. The Bloc's discourse now sounds like it is shifting accordingly. Duceppe and Bloc MP Pierre Paquette are making fewer attacks on what they call Stephen Harper's Bush-style, right-wing agenda. They now say the Bloc has "no ideology," was neither to the left nor the right, and that it simply reflects the "non-partisan consensus" within Quebec society.
Still, Brassard's point that the Bloc's message is too Montreal-centred, ideologically speaking, is not new. After the Tories' breakthrough in Quebec City in 2006, Duceppe was baffled by what came to be known as "le mystère de Québec." Why had the Bloc been left with only one MP there?
Duceppe ordered a confidential report from party vice-president Hélène Alarie. With surgical precision, she pinpointed many failings, recognizing the Bloc was too "Montreal-centred" and thus paid too little attention to the "profound conservatism" of some regions. The Bloc's answer was to open an office in Quebec City.
Months later, the ADQ swept the capital in the provincial election. This year, after the massive presence of the Tory government and generous federal subsidies for Quebec City's 400th anniversary, Conservatives now lead the Bloc with 50 per cent support, although the parties are a dead-heat battle in most other regions outside Montreal.
Facing an aggressive Conservative message that after 18 years of existence, the "Bloc has delivered nothing," and hoping to turn the tide in the regions, Bloc strategists have now chosen a more strategic, centrist, less-ideological message that also calls on federalists to vote Bloc in the same way Tories call on nationalists to vote for them.
Ditching the harshest attacks on Harper might also have been prompted by Duceppe's fear that he might not get to fulfill his promise to get enough seats to keep the "right-wing" Tories from getting a majority.
So will all this toning-down of the Bloc's rhetoric keep it, as Brassard predicts, from being hammered by the Tories on Oct. 14? At the end of 2002, Brassard predicted the PQ was heading for the slaughterhouse. It was in 2003.
But in the Bloc's case, the fight with the Tories is still way too close to call.
Even for Brassard.
Brassard's attacks on Bloc are nothing new
The former PQ minister has been taking shots at the sovereignty movement for years