If Legault is a hard-liner, I'm a federalist

"Legault is trying to woo the more hard-working, hard-line PQ faction."


Friday, May 09, 2003
This week, François Legault went through a stunning metamorphosis. Posing as the ultimate hard-line sovereignist, he published his manifesto as a leadership contender for the Parti Québécois calling for an "effective" left-wing agenda and for straight independence with no partnership or confederal union. How can I put this gently? If Legault is a hard-liner, then I'm a federalist.
This badly acted Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde routine is as transparent as a piece of Saran Wrap. Legault is obviously trying to woo the more hard-working, hard-line faction of the PQ, or what's left of it. In this, he hopes to distinguish himself from Pauline Marois, who isn't known for her strong stance on sovereignty.
Quite the eager beaver, Legault is jumping the gun while Marois remains conspicuously absent from the scene. Although Legault has Bernard Landry's blessing as his hand-picked successor, Legault is aware that most PQ members see him for what he is: a hesitant, soft-line sovereignist who remains close to the business milieu from which he comes. And he knows, as confirmed by a Léger Marketing poll published this week, that Marois is the definite front-runner, both within the PQ and among Quebecers in general.
The same poll also shows that Legault garners more support among Liberal and Action démocratique voters than in the PQ itself. Just goes to show that you can't fool all of the people all of the time and that it's no state secret that François Legault is anything but a hard-liner. In fact, it was precisely for that reason - coupled with his business background and ideas - that Lucien Bouchard brought him into the PQ government in 1998. He saw him as the potential leader of the PQ's next generation, one he hoped would follow in his hesitant approach to sovereignty. And that's why many hard-liners saw Legault as Bouchard's Trojan horse.
When he was education minister, he started building part of his network among ambitious, career-oriented wolves from various youth lobby groups, some of whom have shown no more devotion to sovereignty than Legault. He brought a number of them into the PQ to work for him directly in his ministry or indirectly in the party. Among them is François Rebello, the PQ riding president for Mercier and former leader of Forces Jeunesse. Rebello, who quickly became known in the PQ for his intense lobbying for a referendum on fiscal imbalance instead of sovereignty, is one of Legault's point men and not one to shy away from anything that will further his ambitions and those of Legault.
With precious little support within traditional PQ ranks and while bringing in outside support, Legault also became Bouchard's and Landry's favourite guy who could do no wrong. Although he publicly broke the rule of cabinet solidarity on a number of occasions, he was never disciplined for it.
In government, Legault never pushed for any pro-active promotion of sovereignty or for public funds to be used for it, not even for the amazingly invisible and inaudible Conseil de la souveraineté. He never pushed for the PQ to commit to a referendum in the event of a third mandate. Either inside or outside cabinet, he never questioned Bouchard's "partnership" or Landry's "confederal union." Instead, he devoted himself to the federal-provincial battle against fiscal imbalance. And on the language issue, he's been as shaky as Jell-O.
You won't find much of a hard-line position on social democracy either. What he now calls his "effective" left-wing agenda is peppered with typical ADQ and Liberal buzz-words such as "performance," "responsibility" and "big bureaucracy." In his manifesto, he writes in classic Mario Dumont style that "it isn't Wall Street that's the real enemy of our public services, it's the big bureaucracy, it's rigidity and it's difficulty in adapting to change." Excuse me? Weren't our services more effective before the budget cuts imposed by the zero-deficit policy called for by Wall Street?
Still, all this is just one tiny part of what for all will be a very long play-by-play description of the still unofficial PQ leadership race. This week's story: "Legault poses as a hard-liner while Marois hides and plots her first real outing as a bona fide contender." Next week's story, perhaps: "What's become of André Boisclair? Will he or won't he join in the race?"
All the while, the real story is that the PQ leadership race is gearing up as a contest of will, influence and power between two millionaires who will compete on who looks and sounds most sovereignist and social democratic. Words, after all, are cheap. And Legault's sortie as a born-again hard-liner shows that he can afford them as well as Marois can.
The times, they are a-changing for sovereignists. But not necessarily for the better.

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