Let PQ be who it wants to be

2006 textes seuls

Politics can be such a catty business sometimes. No wonder we like it so much. The medium-sized kerfuffle over Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair's manners and strategy is a delightful case in point. Plus, for once an internal PQ squabble may include something good for the rest of us.

After long-term MNA and terminally unpopular leadership hopeless Pauline Marois announced she was quitting politics about 10 days ago, because her "heart is no longer in it," Mr. Boisclair praised his former rival as any politician would. But then he added, "There will be departures." "I never showed the door to anyone," he told journalists. But yes, his party is about to change: "I want to be frank and honest with you. Some new people will be coming in and I want to make it clear renewal is not just young people."

Oh boy. Did he get in trouble. He was called callous, rude, impolite, ageist and arrogant for implying that, as fresh faces came in, the stale ones going out might well on the whole be older -- primarily by commentators who are themselves not as young as they once were. (Sorry, but it's true -- and it makes charges of ageism look a mite self-serving.)

It's entertaining to see people meowing and hissing at each other like that. But is there any other reason why Boisclair's desire to reinvigorate his party is worth such a fuss? While I agree it's not nice to get rid summarily of faithful followers just because they're getting a little long in the tooth, it's not smart to hang on to your most senior people when it's clear their better years are well behind them. Especially when all they have to show for those better years is a few failed referenda. Besides, politics is a tough business; by golly, it's high time some of the old guard went, one way or the other.

There's no question the PQ needs new blood and fresh faces. It's not enough for Jean Charest to throw his government away, even though he's doing such a splendid job of it; PQ politicians need to inspire Quebecers to win their way back into power. Pauline Marois and the rest of the old 1980s bunch don't inspire much that's of any use to the PQ anymore.

Perhaps you are puzzled. "What's going on," you wonder, shaking your head in dismay, "since when is she in favour of a PQ victory?" Rest assured that there's a good reason for my interest. And it is this: For three decades the PQ has been ruled officially by the "moderates," the guys who brought you sovereignty-association-partnership, while they have been constantly pushed around by the hard-core "purs et durs," those who never cared for any hyphen and simply want Quebec to be an independent country no matter what. And we know how successful the moderates are at winning referenda; they can't even get close unless they ask a question that is so confusing huge numbers of Yes voters believe Quebec would remain in Canada. And even though moderates can't win referenda and can barely govern, they insist on maintaining their control over the PQ.

The purs et durs hate this nonsense as much as I do. They have always been in favour of campaigning on independence, followed quickly (assuming electoral victory) by a referendum on, of all things, independence pure and simple. To them, it's the only way to go.

But they've never been allowed to try. They can make the moderates hold referenda, but not on clear questions. Which means the rest of us have been stuck in Jacques Parizeau's dentist chair for a quarter of a century.

I say let them have the drill. Let there be a renewal of the Parti Quebecois. Let it be filled with true separatists who have no desire to win elections if it's not to win a referendum with a clear question. Let the PQ be who it truly wants to be, instead of hiding behind old, moderate faces. I don't think the purs et durs have the slightest chance of winning a referendum if the question looks like: "Do you want Quebec to be an independent country, separate from Canada, yes or no?" But these guys won't give up until they've tried it. Why not give them a chance so they, too, can quit? My renewal plan has two stages, you see.

I'm not sure it's what Andre Boisclair has in mind. But there's a chance it's what he might get. So for once I'm not just enjoying the fight. I think the Rest of Canada might even benefit from the outcome.

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