Landry is vulnerable on sovereignty


August 13, 2004 Friday
Charles de Gaulle isn't quite the type of leader to whom most people would spontaneously compare Bernard Landry. Except perhaps for Landry himself.
On Wednesday, he made the comparison at a press conference. Asked whether he would lead the Parti Quebecois in the next election, the 67-year-old Landry quipped: "How old was General de Gaulle when he became president of the French Republic?"
He continued: "How old was Winston Churchill when he became prime minister of Great Britain? How old was Konrad Adenauer? How old was Ronald Reagan?" Well, you get the picture.
In fact, Landry's age is neither here nor there. But it does make for a convenient diversion that reduces any criticism of his leadership to an attack about his age.
And reduce the criticism he must. At least, a bit. Contrary to Landry's own spin, his support within the PQ, especially in the Montreal area, is lukewarm. Although everyone closes ranks in public, strong criticism was voiced by some riding presidents over the past months at private meetings.
Recently, some members were still out fishing for potential leadership candidates. Still, Landry's instincts tell him - and they're right - that his position is fairly safe for the moment.
The equally uninspiring Pauline Marois and Francois Legault have failed to rally enough support to challenge Landry. Another possible contender, Andre Boisclair, is leaving the PQ caucus to study at Harvard. Marois's and Legault's ineptitude has thwarted any chance of a leadership race Boisclair could have joined.
But just like fellow contender Joseph Facal, a former minister who quit before the last election, Boisclair is simply taking a break as he waits for the right moment to try to fulfill his leadership ambitions.
And what about Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe? The only thing Landry has to do to keep him at bay is announce his intention to stay. As for FTQ president Henri Masse, who's increasingly popular in sovereignist circles, he's busy with negotiations with the Charest government.
That's why, for now, not much is standing in the way of Landry's intention to stay on as PQ leader and try again for the premiership. That's the one prize that's kept him going since losing the election last year, a defeat he seems to think was a freak accident of history to be remedied the next time around.
Ironically, Landry counts on Jean Charest's unpopularity to get back into the premier's limo, just about as much as Charest counts on Landry's pedantry to hand him a second mandate. Aren't we voters spoiled silly?
Although circumstances look favourable for Landry now, he has two major obstacles to overcome to get his rematch with Charest. One is the vote of confidence at the PQ's convention next June. While Marois and Legault won't attack Landry directly before then, how their supporters and other delegates will vote remains unknown.
Part of the answer to that mystery depends on how well Landry overcomes his second and most important obstacle of all: his position on sovereignty.
Mark this down. The debate that will take the PQ by storm in the next few months will be about one thing only: how to achieve sovereignty. Landry's confidence vote will partly depend on how he positions himself on that crucial issue.
A number of PQ members want to ditch Landry's approach, the mirror image of Lucien Bouchard's mantras: No promotion of the option with public funds and a referendum on sovereignty-partnership only if the PQ is sure to win it.
Within PQ ranks, the talk is more about a Parizeau-style approach: winning an election on a clear mandate to prepare, promote and achieve sovereignty with public funds. A proposal made by Action Nationale director Robert Laplante is fast garnering support inside and outside the PQ: A referendum not on sovereignty per se, but on a constitution that would be the founding act of a sovereign Quebec.
Laplante also suggests what he calls "gestures of sovereignty" be made beforehand by a PQ government, which means replacing the more provincialist governance of the past with that of a truly national government.
If he wants to get a hefty confidence vote next June, Landry must ponder just how much inspiration he's willing to take from Laplante's increasingly popular position. If he does, we'll get the first hint of it in the PQ's reports on its "season of ideas" to be handed out at their national council meeting this month.
But given his fear of any active approach to sovereignty and the lack of any direct challenge to his leadership, he could be tempted to pump up the rhetoric while trying to protect himself from any clear obligation to produce results should the PQ be elected.
If he does that, de Gaulle would definitely not be impressed.

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