Liberals can do nothing right in Quebec

Even the reviled Stephane Dion would make a better spokesperson than Pierre Pettigrew and Jean Lapierre


Friday, May 28, 2004
Here's an ad you might soon read in your morning paper: ''Outgoing, distraught prime minister desperately looking for a credible, likeable and media-friendly spokesperson to defend the Liberal brand name on French-language radio and television.''
But what happened to Jean Lapierre, you ask? Where's the communicator extraordinaire and former radio host famous for his endless network of contacts with the rich and the powerful?
As always, he has been a busy bee, but not an effective one.
This Monday, he acknowledged on CKAC the Liberals could form a minority government. It might be fine and dandy for any pundit to say that, but Lapierre is no longer a talking head. From Paul Martin's Quebec lieutenant, those words sent a demobilizing message to his own troops - something the increasingly discouraged Quebec Liberals need as much as they need a ringing endorsement from former civil servant Chuck Guite.
Seeing he couldn't spin the media into belittling the effect of his comments, Lapierre accused the media of spinning nasty things about him. The Liberal message gets through, he said, when there's no media ''filter'' between it and the voters.
Pretty ironic coming from someone who for years used his many gigs on radio and TV to spin just about anything to make it come out the way he wanted it to. If anything, Lapierre was Quebec's ultimate spin meister.
But no more.
For Liberals in Quebec and Ontario, Lapierre has another strike against him. He has the dubious honour of having managed to alienate a number of Liberals from both the Chretien and Martin clans.
His credentials as a founder of the Bloc Quebecois and his loose lips have made him suspect to many Martinites, while on the other side of the great Liberal divide, Lapierre is seen as one of Martin's most determined anti-Chretien terminators.
Be it Sheila Copps, Stephane Dion or that poor little Steven Hogue, who was quickly shoved aside in Chretien's own former riding, Chretienites have suffered Lapierre's disparaging remarks and his desire to throw them out like a bunch of rotten fish - to quote his famed description of the legacy left by Martin's predecessor.
Given that many of Chretien's most effective organizers are sitting this election out in reaction to the vengeful ways of the Martinites, the prime mInister might have been wiser to calm his lieutenant down instead of going as far as saying Lapierre ''incarnates the Quebec view.''
Excuse me?
So what about Pierre Pettigrew? Martin did send him out in the media trenches and it's not working, either. As pompous as he is vacuous, Pettigrew is also managing to do the Liberals here more harm than good.
His Richler-like attempts to paint the Bloc Quebecois as ethnically restricted to anything that's ''east of Saint-Laurent and south of Jean-Talon'' have been nothing short of embarrassing. This week, on Radio-Canada's Le Point, he was taken out like an amateur by the best debaters the Bloc, the NDP and the Conservative Party have: Michel Gauthier, Pierre Ducasse and Jean Fortier.
The cruel irony is even Stephane Dion, the most reviled Chretienite of all, would have done a better job than Pettigrew. But then again, maybe the Liberals' problem is not one of communication. Maybe it's about being unable to defend the indefensible - the way they've governed this country since 1993.
Campaign note: The Bloc has been no slouch, either, in the irony department.
Gilles Duceppe says a vote for the Bloc isn't a vote for sovereignty but for sovereignist MPs. Subtle yet elegant, right? That twist might explain why his party's platform trades the promotion of sovereignty for the more transpartisan ''defence of the National Assembly's consensus'' on such issues as fiscal imbalance.
This new position could also help the Bloc cozy up to Conservative leader Stephen Harper just in case he ends up forming a minority government. Should the Bloc hold the balance of power, the ultimate irony is that a sovereignist party would help a federal government solve the problem of fiscal imbalance.
Campaign goodbyes: The Bloc has entered this campaign minus three of its most passionate, selfless sovereignists. Longtime MPs Suzanne Tremblay and Yves Rocheleau retired, while maverick Ghislain Lebel, already an independent after many fallouts with Duceppe, also chose to go home. Their loss is mostly the Bloc's.
Campaign suggestion: Given the staggering lack of civilized relations in many of today's parties - which lead in part to these departures as well as the manner in which many Chretienites were treated by the Martinites - here's a suggestion: In honour of the Dale Carnegie of Quebec politics - the premier who was known for his more civilized approach to interpersonal relations - there should be a Robert Bourassa School of Respectful Human Relations in Politics.
Paul Martin, Jean Lapierre, Gilles Duceppe, Jean Charest and Bernard Landry should be first to sign up.

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