October 15, 2004 Friday
Francois Legault wants to be leader of the Parti Quebecois. And he wants it badly. No other contender has worked harder to win the leadership race that's sure to follow Bernard Landry's departure the moment it happens.
This week, the incorrigible attention seeker penned a 27-page document outlining his "vision" while criticizing much of Lucien Bouchard's and Bernard Landry's work.
Full of cliches and buzz words like "change," "modernize" and "good government," the document had one purpose: to get Legault into the news before this weekend's PQ national council meeting. It worked.
Legault is quite a phenomenon. To get the support of PQ members, the 47-year-old multi-millionaire, recruited by Bouchard in 1998 for his pro-business leanings and his wobbly stance on sovereignty, transformed his image into that of a devout hard-liner and social democrat.
How he does it is fascinating. First, he acts like a sponge. He absorbs what pequistes tell him and repeats it to them until they believe he's sincere. Members now want a much harder line and left-leaning type of leadership? No problem. Legault delivers.
The fact Legault hardly ever mentioned sovereignty when he was a minister, or that he tried to convince Landry to hold a referendum instead on the patriation of tax points from Ottawa, seems to be remembered by few.
Second, he's built an impressive organization mostly made of young, ambitious disciples who get themselves elected to PQ riding and regional executive boards. Even the young PQ MNA recently elected in Laurier-Dorion is a Legault follower.
Third, Legault will soon undertake a "tour of Quebec's regions" at the same time riding associations will be selecting the delegates who will vote on Landry's leadership at the PQ's June convention. No doubt he'll recruit even more followers.
Fourth, he criticizes Landry's style of leadership, but never refers to him directly. Unlike Pauline Marois, he refrains from demanding a leadership race so as not to appear too treacherous.
So, the question becomes: How is it that Landry punished MNA Nicole Leger for having supported Marois's demand for a leadership race, but continues to let Legault manoeuvre so openly?
Here's my theory: Landry knows what he's doing. If he accepts Legault's manoeuvrings and keeps his anger for Marois, it's because he prefers Legault. By far. Although it might seem like Legault's ambitions have turned him into a open rival of Landry, he's not.
In fact, Legault was, is and remains Landry's heir apparent. To put it more bluntly: He's the only one Landry has that can keep Marois at bay, and she is the last person Landry wants to see lead the PQ. Even Bouchard brought in Legault hoping he'd lead the PQ once Landry got his kick at the can.
That's why Landry tolerates and encourages Legault's organizing and promoting himself, whereas he punishes Marois's supporters for smaller sins. That's also why he lets Legault even get away with criticizing him and the saintly Bouchard.
Landry knows politics and rhetoric. He knows that Legault's actions are part of his extreme makeover aimed at creating a novel image. Although Legault, as a minister, approved and applied the same policies he now condemns, he must try to distinguish himself from two leaders seen as too inactive on sovereignty.
Landry and Legault are not rivals. They only act like it. If this theory is founded, Legault will not take Landry's job away from him. Landry will hand him the PQ crown when he's ready to go and thinks his heir is capable of defeating Marois in a leadership race.
But if polls continue to look up for Jean Charest, Legault could be in less of a hurry to succeed Landry and risk losing the next election. Some say he might then prefer to order his supporters to vote for the current leader at the next convention. That would give him even more time to organize and tire out the older Marois.
Whatever happens, chances are Legault and Landry will remain united in their desire to keep Marois out. But there is one wild card in this equation: Gilles Duceppe. Will he try to succeed Landry when it is time? Could Landry even have two heirs apparent: Legault to keep Marois out for now, and Duceppe to get the final crown?
Sadly for sovereignists inside and outside the PQ, the real debate of ideas - the one spurred recently by Jacques Parizeau on independence and how to achieve it - is being buried by the noises all these leadership games make.
This weekend, only a short session will be devoted to the issue of sovereignty while members will debate an emergency resolution calling for the PQ to support Mario Dumont's proposal that Quebec collect all income taxes.
So chances are most of the talk in the corridors will be about the leadership issue, not about the PQ's raison d'etre. Pity.
Legault seems to be Landry's chosen heir
October 15, 2004 Friday