How not to be a PQ leader

Boisclair - chef du PQ

About the same time that the federal Liberals were preparing to elect their new leader, another kind of political psychodrama was also making tongues wag in Quebec -- a bizarre episode that might have ill-fated consequences for the Parti Québécois in the next election.

And, once again, it called into question the judgment of André Boisclair, the PQ leader. Mr. Boisclair agreed to make a cameo appearance in a comedy sketch that was supposed to be aired around Christmastime on MusiMax. Late last month, the tape was leaked to a private television station and all hell broke lose.

Here's the scene: With a wink to Brokeback Mountain, which tells the love story between two gay cowboys, actors playing Stephen Harper and George W. Bush (their heads are covered with cardboard caricatures of the two politicians) are portrayed naked from the waist up in a tent. As the Bush character throws cherries at the Harper character's whipped-cream-covered nipples, the real Mr. Boisclair opens the tent flap and says: "Sorry, Messieurs, Quebec won't get involved in something like that." Subtext: Quebec will not sleep with Mr. Bush, even though I am gay myself.

It's anyone's guess why Mr. Boisclair accepted a role in such an outrageous sketch, and why his advisers didn't realize that the leader of the opposition -- a man who wants to be premier -- can't act like a college frat boy and must comport himself with a minimum of dignity. What's worse is that the blunder reinforced Mr. Boisclair's reputation as an immature and irresponsible politician.

When Mr. Boisclair was running for the leadership of his party, he admitted that he had snorted cocaine when he was a cabinet minister in the Bouchard government -- behaviour that indicated, at best, an appalling lack of judgment. The Brokeback Mountain parody also highlighted the fact that the 40-year-old Mr. Boisclair is gay and a self-described "party animal."

Quebec voters are more open to non-standard behaviour than the average Canadian, but there's a limit to what they can stomach from a party leader. Mr. Boisclair is already seen as an intellectual lightweight. For many, the sketch was the last straw.

The day after a portion of the sketch appeared on television, the PQ MNAs were devastated; they sat glumly in their seats in the National Assembly, while Jean Charest's Liberals enjoyed their discomfort. Some Péquistes tore up their membership cards, and many others called for Mr. Boisclair's resignation. For a few days, there were rumours of a putsch being waged within the party. It didn't lead to open warfare, but the impact is still being felt throughout the PQ rank and file.

Some dismiss the incident as nothing more than a stupid, tasteless joke, but others, including leading figures in the party, are horrified at the thought that the man who wants to lead Quebec to sovereignty would take part in a sketch ridiculing the top politicians of Quebec's two major partners. (Not surprisingly, the U.S. consulate in Quebec City was not amused.)

Cartoonists had a field day; La Presse's Serge Chapleau depicted Mr. Boisclair huddled in a tent on the floor of the National Assembly. And the incident encouraged former PQ leader Bernard Landry to take even more space on the public scene.

Mr. Landry regrets having impulsively resigned two years ago, and would love to get his old job back. He has been readily available to anyone who wants to interview him; now he's quicker than ever to comment publicly on various issues, sometimes even before Mr. Boisclair has had time to gather his thoughts. Mr. Landry was the first sovereigntist personality to comment on Stéphane Dion's election as Liberal leader, and his aggressive spin was in contrast to Mr. Boisclair's more measured reaction.

Again, Mr. Chapleau had a field day; he painted Mr. Boisclair as the kid desperately raising his hand to be heard behind Mr. Landry's massive presence. It's a bad omen for politicians when they become a favourite target for cartoonists.

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