With some people it's shoes. Gilles Duceppe just can't resist hats. Ten years after he was thought to have sworn off headgear for good following an incident involving a shower bonnet, yesterday the ex-ex-leader of the Bloc Quebecois slunk back to Ottawa after his lost weekend in provincial politics wearing a dunce cap.
Duceppe has learned too late why, in political poker, you should never go all-in with your credibility on a bluff. By the time Duceppe announced his candidacy for the Parti Quebecois leadership last Friday, hoping to intimidate Pauline Marois into folding, the polls had already told everybody he was holding a weak hand.
And now, after his one-day wonder of a PQ leadership campaign, he has lost nothing less than the right to be taken seriously.
If he still had any credibility left to lose after his mother of all flip-flops, his who-me denials in response to the accusations of Andre-What's-His-Name that Duceppe was after his job have been exposed as false.
And on top of everything else, Duceppe showed his disregard for the Bloc members of Parliament by not having the courtesy to inform them before announcing he was leaving, then again before announcing he was returning. When he returned yesterday, they didn't just put out the welcome mat for him, they were the welcome mat.
But apparently, they felt they had no choice but to try to salvage a disgraced leader who tried and failed to quit his job and is still stuck with it because he couldn't get the one he does want.
So now one sovereignist party is led by a PQ reject, and soon the other will be, too. Marois won't be the first to win the leadership of a major Quebec party after having been defeated for it. But she will surely be the first to become leader less than two years after receiving only 31 per cent of the vote in her second defeat for the leadership.
That's hardly enough time for Marois to have corrected the flaws that caused the PQ to reject her in favour of Boisclair the Brief in November 2005. But it was long enough, capped by an election, for the party to come around to agreeing with what some of us wrote at the time, which is that it had made a mistake.
Such is the fickleness of the PQ, and Marois would be wise to keep that in mind. Right now the party feels that it owes her the leadership, and recognizes that it is lucky she was still available after the way it treated her. (That the polls suggest she was also the most popular of the possible candidates to succeed Boisclair doesn't hurt, either.)
The party will probably not complain much when she has it drop its commitment to hold a sovereignty referendum as soon as possible in its first term back in power. Anyway, the PQ is a lot farther from forming the government now that it is the third party in the National Assembly than it was two years ago when it adopted the commitment and its return to power seemed imminent.
So it might be that her real test will come not against the hard-liners on sovereignty, but against the party's left instead.
The left assumes she is one of their own, since she positioned herself at the head of a left-wing alliance against Boisclair late in the 2005 leadership campaign. But she is above all a pragmatist - some would say an opportunist - who throughout her 30-year career in the PQ has quickly and easily adapted to changes in leaders and policy and not only survived but thrived.
In officially announcing her candidacy, she declared her intention of taking the party toward the centre - meaning to the right - and making its program less interventionist and friendlier toward private business.
But on such ideological questions, it would be charitable to describe the PQ as resistant to change, partly because of the influence of labour, social and community groups who benefit from government interventionism.
There was a familiar look to the reception Marois received from a happy, united and above all relieved party when she announced her candidacy. That's how the PQ always feels when it greets its latest saviour. But it will soon get over it.
Enjoy it while you can, Pauline
The Parti Quebecois is welcoming Marois as it does all its saviours - but the good feelings don't last