Thursday, December 05, 2002
Who needs Paul Bégin? He's the sovereignist hard-liner who is gone from Premier Bernard Landry's cabinet but won't let himself be forgotten, constantly complaining that Landry's not doing enough to promote sovereignty.
Landry certainly doesn't need him, now that he's brought back Jacques Léonard to be a member of the Conseil de la Souveraineté, the new sovereignist "charity."
A hard-liner like Bégin, Léonard once quit René Lévesque's cabinet because he thought Lévesque had gone soft on sovereignty. And he had quit active politics last year rather than serve under Landry. But now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
And who needs Josée Legault? Obviously not Landry since the one-time Gazette weekly columnist has been dropped from his staff. Landry hired Legault, which he announced the day after the Parti Québécois lost the sovereignist hotbed of Mercier in a by-election, as a gesture toward her fellow hard-liners.
Legault said yesterday her firing was politically motivated by her impatience with Landry's waffling on sovereignty. But another version is that Legault was disappointed when Landry didn't name her to his cabinet last January as an unelected minister. She became disenchanted with her work as an adviser on sovereignty, and her working relationships in the premier's office grew strained. Still, in September, she turned down an offer of a job as chairman of the government's place-names commission.
Legault became expendable as a link between Landry and the hard-liners when Landry won over the head hard-liner himself, Jacques Parizeau, by agreeing to the former premier's suggestion of the subsidized Conseil.
So on Monday evening, while a beaming Parizeau posed with Landry at the Montreal publication of a collection of Landry's speeches, Legault was given her walking papers.
If it's any consolation to Josée, at least she got a head start on all the other political staff in the PQ government who should be flooding the job market by the first Journée Nationale des Patriotes (the new name for the May holiday formerly known among French-speaking Quebecers as the Fête de Dollard, which in English Canada is still named after a dead foreign queen).
In fact, for several months already, there has been a line of ministerial and party staffers manning the lifeboats to pursue "other opportunities" rather than go down with the ship.
When Landry announced after the PQ national council meeting on the weekend that "grave things are being prepared" if Ottawa does not come around to Quebec's position on health funding, it was immediately assumed he was threatening a spring election.
Landry encouraged this belief by saying in an interview broadcast later that evening that "the most powerful weapon of all is democracy."
In this case, "spring" means as early as mid-April, the earliest practical date for elections in this wintry province. Landry announced a schedule of events for the PQ that looks like a buildup to an election.
The national council, which usually meets three times a year, will hold its next meeting in early February, only two months after its last one. Then, a month after that, the PQ will hold a special policy mini-convention to adopt the framework for an election platform. The election would be called shortly after the convention.
The election talk might help Landry maintain discipline in a party that seems to be suffering from the end-of-régime blues in the form of declining morale and increasing dissension.
Constitutionally, Landry doesn't have to call the election until next fall, which would give the PQ more time to pull out of its current slump in the polls. But it's hard to see from here what might turn the situation around for the PQ if the buildup through the March convention fails to do the trick.
The economy has already been strong for some time, and so far the PQ hasn't been getting much credit for it from the voters. Landry's new polling analyst, Richard Nadeau, says the economy appears to matter less to voters than their simple fatigue with a two-term government.
They're not going to get any less fatigued, and if Landry doesn't call the election soon after the March convention, the PQ's situation could deteriorate further. Landry might call an April election even if he expects the PQ to lose it, just to limit the damage to his party.
départ de Josée Legault
Landry tosses Josée Legault over side
For months, PQ ministers and staff have been manning the lifeboats.
Thursday, December 05, 2002