Infatuation with Duceppe won't last

As Boisclair exits, the Parti Quebecois faithful prepare to welcome their next victim - er, leader

PQ - succession de Boisclair

"Well, thank heaven that's over." No, nobody in the Parti Quebecois actually said that yesterday, at least not out loud into a microphone.
But most people in the PQ were probably as relieved as Andre Boisclair appeared to be when he announced yesterday that his erratic and mostly disastrous leadership of the party had ended after a little less than 18 months and one election.
Like the denouement of a familiar play, yesterday's announcement was both dramatic and unsurprising.
Boisclair's mad, uphill charge on the weekend against the entrenched position of Gilles Duceppe, in which not a single member of his party followed him, had been seen as an act of political suicide, like the referendum-night rant that preceded Jacques Parizeau's abrupt resignation.
Even Boisclair's mental state had been publicly questioned. Serge Menard, a former PQ cabinet colleague of Boisclair and now one of Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois members of Parliament, speculated that Boisclair must be suffering from depression.
And while nobody was willing to put it in writing, the private betting had been that Boisclair would probably not last the week as leader.
Boisclair's few remaining loyalists in the PQ caucus - so few that it didn't take very long for him to thank them individually by name in his resignation speech - might have had tears in their eyes yesterday. But even they had none running down their cheeks.
Everybody in the PQ said the customary things about how yesterday was "Andre Boisclair's day." It was a day to praise the latest leader they had brought down while they buried him, and not to talk about the party's unhappy recent past under his leadership or its uncertain future that is his legacy.
But Boisclair's record of achievement even as he presented it is a short one, and a single day of mourning is probably all he'll get. By the time you read this, the PQ is probably already over Andre Boisclair and moving on to Gilles Duceppe.
Duceppe would not immediately say yesterday whether he will seek the leadership - you know, Andre Boisclair's day, bla, bla. But it would be indecent of him to decline for a second time in less than two years an opening he himself had helped to create by teasing PQ members with his availability as a replacement for their leader.
Oh, sure, they're infatuated with Duceppe right now. In its relationships with its leaders, the PQ is like the kind of pretty girl who always thinks she could be doing better.
But it won't last. The PQ is not as docile as the Bloc, and distrust of its leaders has been part of its culture since its founding.
Like Lucien Bouchard, who preceded him in coming from the leadership of the Bloc to that of the PQ, Duceppe will arrive as an outsider in a party that is suspicious of outsiders, bringing with him a reputation for authoritarian leadership.
But unlike Bouchard, he will not be taking over a PQ subject to the discipline of being in power. And he will not be bringing with him Bouchard's mystical appeal to the voters that almost brought the sovereignists victory in the 1995 referendum.
At this point, however, almost anybody would be a better PQ leader than Boisclair. Brief as it was, his leadership was doubly historic: He was the first openly gay leader of a major party in North America, and his unpopularity with voters outside Montreal resulted in at least a temporary realignment of Quebec politics dropping the PQ to third-party status. The two might not be unrelated.
His resignation solves the PQ's most immediate problem, and now the discussion of the necessary modernization of the party's program will not be confused with the question of his leadership, as it was under his predecessor, Bernard Landry.
But while the PQ's problem of leadership has been solved, at least temporarily, its problem of membership remains.
For it was the members, through their convention delegates, who adopted the current sovereignty-obsessed program. And it was the members who chose as leader a callow, openly gay, admitted former cokehead. On both counts, the March 26 election showed them to be out of touch with "the people" they constantly invoke.
Unlike his three immediate predecessors, Boisclair, as he recalled yesterday, was chosen leader over several other candidates in a contested leadership election. If his leadership was a mistake, it's one that must be blamed not on a party establishment that imposed him, but on the party members themselves.
So they need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The continued relevance of their party will depend upon what changes they see need to be made. And with Boisclair out of the way, their view now is unobstructed.

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