Landry puts chill on season of ideas


Friday, December 05, 2003
While unions are taking on the Charest government, Parti Québécois leader Bernard Landry is holding what he calls the "season of ideas." That's where party members are asked to debate the program, including first and foremost sovereignty.
To do this, Landry has created committees left and right, the PQ's Web site posts articles by members and nonmembers. Even the previously invisible Conseil de la souveraineté now holds monthly debates at a bar.
That might sound dandy, but there's a hitch. This season of ideas has been neither a season, nor has it been about ideas. First, it's scheduled to go on for at least six seasons until the PQ's convention in 2005 where the party's program might be changed.
Second, when it comes to ideas, it's been something of a farce. PQ members are noticing something has gone astray. While he keeps repeating PQ members and sovereignists at large are invited to debate openly, Landry has taken to discarding any bold idea that differs from his own.
His trigger finger is especially quick when he's faced with proposals that stray from the beaten track of traditional PQ dogma. Last month, he came out swinging against the suggestion made by young PQ and Bloc Québécois members to hold a referendum election. This means the PQ would seek a a mandate to declare sovereignty if elected, doing away with the "étapiste" approach that's been the party's strategy for over 30 years and which was brought in by Claude Morin, confessed RCMP informant.
While Jacques Parizeau has shown ample interest in that debate, going as far as saying the strategy devised by his generation "cannot be binding on the next ones," Landry declared he would "battle this idea." Now that the referendum election is gaining support both within and outside PQ ranks, Landry went further. At a press conference Tuesday, he stated people can defend this idea all they want, but he can already "predict the outcome of the debate" that will be a resounding No. Debate, anyone?
On that same morning, in Le Devoir, Jean-Claude St. André was the first PQ MNA to publish an open letter supporting a referendum election. Landry's answer was no. Landry's rejection is sure to send a message to other MNAs who might be tempted to differ from their leader.
Last Saturday, the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance du Québec held a special meeting attended by St. André, Bloc MP Réal Ménard and two other PQ caucus members, including former minister Jean-Pierre Charbonneau. Jacques Parizeau was there as an "attentive observer."
People discussed another new approach by Robert Laplante, director of the Action Nationale magazine, that suggests the PQ's election would trigger an 18-month process where a Quebec citizenship and a constitutional court would be created and a new constitution drafted. This would culminate in a referendum to ratify this constitution. If a majority voted Yes, Quebec would become sovereign immediately. (This 32-page document can be found on
Again, Landry's answer was no. Writing a constitution is one thing, he said, but he repeated "Quebec will become independent through a referendum on sovereignty." Earlier this fall, he even refused to consider Pauline Marois's much tamer proposal of holding what she calls "sectorial referendums." He also made sure one adviser, notoriously soft-sovereignist Richard Nadeau, would keep a strong handle on the three main committees created to prepare for the 2005 convention.
As he rejects anything that questions the PQ's 30-year-old strategies, even though they're doomed to be challenged by the Clarity Act, Landry displays an authoritarian side that resembles that of his predecessor, Lucien Bouchard. That comes as no surprise knowing, as he himself admits, he consults regularly with the former premier, and even with the now openly federalist Pierre-Marc Johnson.
But if this attitude prevails, new ideas will continue to spring from outside PQ ranks while party members and MNAs will fear to publicly question their leader's more conservative vision. This will leave them with the poisoned choice of staying quiet, applauding Landry's vision or going to other sovereignist groups to debate more freely.
And That Would Say More Than Enough About This So-Called Season of Ideas, Which Sounds More and More Like the Season of Landry's Ideas.

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