Landry gambles on confidence vote


September 1, 2004 Wednesday
Pauline Marois has opened a huge Pandora's box. It might be fun to speculate whether she made a strategical error or showed courage when she challenged Bernard Landry to a leadership race, but the real problems lie elsewhere.
No one should take for granted the massive vote against a leadership race held at this weekend's Parti Quebecois national council. If Marois moved, even clumsily, it's because she knows there are mounting grievances within PQ ranks and they are very real.
One is that Landry refuses to acknowledge the results of the last election, when the PQ got its lowest score in 30 years. Another is that he waited too long to announce his decision to stay or go, thus feeding the uncertainty and infighting in the party.
The PQ's performance as the official opposition has also left many unimpressed. Finally, the "season of ideas" has been mostly about the leader's own ideas. Which brings us to the greatest complaint of all: the leader's attitude toward sovereignty.
And no, this complaint that his position remains murky isn't from a bunch of radical lunatics. To put it bluntly: A growing number of Pequistes are supporting Jacques Parizeau's latest suggestion for a clearer, more pro-active approach because they no longer trust their party establishment to have enough determination to deliver the goods the next time they form a government.
With Lucien Bouchard's winning conditions and Landry's past refusal to invest public funds in the promotion of sovereignty, many members are turning to a Parizeau-style approach. They hope this would force their leader to go into the next election asking for a clear mandate to trigger the process to independence and a quick referendum.
Without this, many fear Landry, Marois or Francois Legault would pull back and, like they did in the past, revel in the joys of governance and power. The party rank and file has come to distrust the establishment to the point of even demanding that the PQ's program exclude any reference to "provincial governance" even though any party must govern the moment it's elected, whether or not it advocates separation.
This mistrust is bound to continue. On Monday's Le Point, Landry refused to say whether he would commit to holding a referendum or if it would be held early in the mandate. "We have a number of years in front of us to define this," he said.
A number of years?
This means he still plans to go into an election without a clear commitment - which, indeed, has always been his position - while pumping up the rhetoric to answer pressure from members and Parizeau. Members who hope to change this by imposing a more Parizeau-style approach on him at next June's PQ convention should think again.
All these grievances add up and explain why a recent CROP poll showed a whopping 40 per cent of Pequistes want Landry to retire.
So why didn't Landry retire? Why did he announce he would stay and even forego running in a leadership race?
His line was that he chose the harder path by going to a confidence vote next June. It would have been a lot easier, he said, to win a leadership race. It sounded logical enough. A confidence vote does run the danger of uniting the clans who want him out with the non-aligned members who mostly want a harder line on sovereignty.
So why is Landry risking to unite his adversaries with a vote in which it could prove impossible for him to get more than 80 per cent of the ballots. Why not divide his opponents in a leadership race? Some whisper that he has a deal with contenders Francois Legault and Gilles Duceppe that they will support Landry in exchange for him continuing to lock out Marois.
Landry knows the PQ is in debt, the membership is low and the party is disorganized, making it easier for him to control the nomination of delegates who will vote. Still, a secret ballot is impossible to predict with certainty.
So the more probable answer is that Landry, being a smart cookie, did, in fact, choose the easier road. While he could lose a leadership race - who knows? - a low confidence vote does not automatically oust him.
According to party statutes, any score of more than 50 per cent keeps him in the job. Only two things can trigger a leadership race: the death or resignation of the leader. What if he has decided to stay regardless of the score he gets? On Monday, Landry did hint repeatedly that he had insisted Bouchard stay in 1996 even after members gave him a 76-per-cent vote at the convention.
But why would Landry stay on with a low confidence vote? Mainly because this whole crisis at the PQ is a manifestation of something bigger than personal power struggles. It reflects a clash of two diametrically opposed visions: the non-committed Landry approach and Parizeau's triggering process.
If he stays past next June, Landry feels he can better defeat Parizeau's way. But that's a mighty big gamble - one that's much too early to call.

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