Marois hits the glass ceiling

Pauline Marois quitte le PQ

The Gazette (Montreal) March 21, 2006 Tuesday
She is one of the most experienced MNAs, but that still wasn't enough to get her elected leader of the Parti Quebecois
In a CROP poll for La Presse last June, 88 per cent of Quebecers, and 87 per cent of declared Parti Quebecois voters, said they were in favour of having a woman as premier.
It's just that Pauline Marois wasn't that woman, and never would be.
That much became clear last November, after she was rejected for the leadership of her party for a second time, in favour of a male candidate who was clearly less qualified.
Of the nine candidates for the leadership of the Parti Quebecois, she was the most experienced, the most proven.
She had run for the PQ in six general elections since 1981 and won five times, serving continuously in the National Assembly since 1989.
Marois first became a minister in 1983 (when Andre Boisclair, to whom she lost the PQ leadership last November, was still a year short of voting age), and served in the cabinets of five premiers.
She was not yet ready to be party leader and premier when she first ran for those jobs in 1985. Still, she finished a surprising second to Pierre Marc Johnson.
Subsequently, at different times she was Treasury Board chairperson, minister of finance, of education and of health, and deputy premier. The only major portfolio she didn't hold was justice, for which she was not qualified because she is not a lawyer (a career politician, she holds degrees in the unusual combination of social work and business administration).
"One day, you never know, a man might do the same thing," Premier Jean Charest quipped drily in paying tribute to her in the Assembly yesterday. "But I doubt it."
But some in the PQ considered her too bourgeois. They called her "la millionaire" because of her marriage to Claude Blanchet, former head of the government's investment corporation, the SGF, although, as she recalled in the Assembly yesterday, she is one of five children of a mechanic.
Some might also have found her too untraditional a woman, too cool and self-controlled, too openly ambitious and not sufficiently maternal in style, although she has four children and became the first Quebec cabinet minister to give birth while in office.
And the very experience in its length and variety that should have been her greatest political asset proved to be her greatest liability. To acquire it, she had become too familiar for too long to be able to offer change for its own sake.
In her farewell to the Assembly yesterday, she expressed the hope that "soon a woman might occupy the function of head of state in Quebec. It seems to me it would be about time."
But the clear message to her in the results of last November's PQ leadership election was that it would never be her time. She will be 57 next week, and she had had her last chance to get the job to which she had aspired and for which she had believed herself qualified for more than 20 years.
Even if the job came open again in the next few years, there would always be another, not necessarily more qualified male candidate cutting ahead of her in line, a Gilles Duceppe or a Francois Legault. She was another woman who had come up against the glass ceiling.
But, she said, yesterday she felt "no bitterness," and she expressed her loyalty to Boisclair. Her self-control wavered only when she thanked her family sitting in the opposition gallery. Then, amid a standing ovation from all members, she exchanged embraces, kisses, handshakes and waves with members from both sides of the aisle as she made her way to the Assembly's exit.
Her announcement did not come as a surprise. After her defeat last November, she stayed away from the Assembly for the rest of the fall sitting. Then, when Boisclair formed his shadow cabinet and she asked for light duty as critic for the minor portfolio of international relations, it looked as though she was easing toward retirement. And two weeks ago, Marois's most loyal supporter for the leadership, Nicole Leger, announced her own resignation, effective in June.
"My heart is no longer in it," Marois said yesterday. But by the time she admitted it, the signs had been there for some time.

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