Friday, August 29, 2003
Jacques Parizeau is the Tina Turner of Quebec politics. No one has had more comebacks than he has. Four months after he was sidelined during the election campaign, the former premier has risen from the dead yet again.
And what an incorrigible show stealer. Parizeau spoke at the Bloc Québécois caucus meeting on Wednesday, the same day Pauline Marois came out in Le Devoir against Landry's concept of a confederal union with Canada and a mere few days after a group of 14 Bloc MPs, led by Richard Marceau, had done the same thing.
While Parti Québécois and Bloc members were holding their caucus meetings and pondering the Shakespearian quandary of to confederate or not to confederate with Canada after sovereignty, Parizeau kindly reminded reporters there was another even more crucial debate looming on the horizon.
That debate is one a group of young PQ and Bloc members tried to launch last June on what we call a referendum election. They suggested the PQ should forgo referendums as the means to achieve independence. Quebec, they wrote, should get out of Canada the same way it entered it: By a vote in the legislative assembly. The PQ, they concluded, should go into the next election with a clear commitment to achieve sovereignty by voting on it by parliamentary majority.
In June, I wrote this is perhaps the one idea that has the potential to truly renew the old way of thinking that has prevailed in the PQ since the 1970s when Claude Morin - then a paid RCMP informant - had convinced René Lévesque the one way to attain sovereignty was through referendums.
Though Parizeau hasn't yet supported the idea of a referendum election and Landry closed the door on it at the last PQ national council, Parizeau decreed ''we're now in a situation where the door is open.''
In fact, all through this summer, though no French-language daily newspaper agreed to publish their short manifesto, this group of young sovereignists has been piling up signatures and support. So much so Landry might have no choice but to see this idea debated throughout the PQ and the Bloc.
Just as he had no choice yesterday but to backpedal on his concept of a European-type confederal union just a few months after he'd slipped it into the PQ's electoral platform unbeknown to his own party members. The reason for this sudden change of heart, Landry said, is he has now discovered the European model cannot be applied to the Quebec-Canada relation.
No kidding. In reality, the PQ leader has been feeling tremendous heat from PQ and Bloc members to drop this confederation idea. Now that the election is over, many no longer feel the need to close ranks and remain silent about it.
More importantly, as Marois's very public sortie confirms, Landry has become a lame-duck leader. Though there is no leadership convention in sight, the race is definitely on. That's why he lacked the authority to stop a complete rejection of the same confederation idea he's been defending for years and years.
The PQ leader is no longer in a position to dictate what pertains to the PQ's central option or to stop Marois or any other leadership contenders from further distancing themselves from him. Although he might put a nice spin on this by welcoming ''the opening of the season of ideas,'' Marois knows this is in fact the opening of the hunting season. And the hunt is for his job.
In the same way, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe was in no position to stop his 14 MPs from rejecting Lucien Bouchard's concept of a partnership without running the risk of provoking a revolt within his own ranks.
In 1997, Parizeau wrote: ''When you came so close to your goal, you have no right to leave any sacred cows lying around. You must reassess everything and be guided by two fundamental ideas: The objective is to achieve sovereignty for Quebec, and the means to attain it must respect our democratic principles and parliamentary traditions.''
Whether by advocating a referendum election or finally putting the confederal gizmo out if its misery, some sovereignists are doing just that. They realize this kind of reassessment might be easier to try at a moment when the current PQ and Bloc leaders can no longer pull enough weight to curtail certain debates they might not want to have.
After having died so many deaths, Parizeau remains strong enough and influential enough at least to try to facilitate this process by encouraging the younger, more pro-active elements of both parties.
The future will now tell whether it will be enough to breathe new determination and life into parties that have paid precious little attention to their very raison d'être.
It's time for the PQ to rethink the need for referendums
A group of young PQ and Bloc members is pushing the idea of a 'referendum election.'
Friday, August 29, 2003