Some new party leaders want to show who is boss. They clean house, bring in the new and throw out the old. It's about establishing the leader's authority over caucus and party members.
Be it done with the Midas touch or an iron fist, the process hurts, leaving egos bruised and some looking for new jobs. Pauline Marois's axing of Diane Lemieux as Parti Québécois House leader, leading to her resignation in October, is part of that.
But with a party deep in debt, stuck in third-party status, with no "Pauline effect" so far in the polls, and a party base quietly disgruntled at the thought of shelving the referendum, Marois might be wiser to walk softly, and leave the big stick at home.
While trust between the party boss and the House leader is essential - and there's little love lost between Marois and Lemieux - to have kept her there for the fall session might have given some stability to a caucus that keeps losing party leaders faster than Jean Charest lost his smile on election night.
Lemieux is not an easy character, made few friends, is aggressive with both allies and adversaries, and was a diehard supporter of Bernard Landry and André Boisclair. But aggression is usually a plus in a House leader - especially with men.
With a crucial National Assembly session this fall where Marois, if she gets elected in Charlevoix, will have to perform well enough to get the PQ above the 30-per-cent mark - a Herculean task, it seems - having a pitbull facing the Liberals and Mario Dumont wouldn't have hurt.
In yesterday's La Presse, a political-science professor said Marois should give the message she wants to work with everybody, "not to purge and put in her own pawns, instead."
But this is the PQ. And "purge" is the PQ's middle name. Purging has been a hobby of every PQ leader since the party's inception. It started with the most famous purged leader of them all: Pierre Bourgault, whom René Lévesque liked as much as the thought of quitting smoking.
By the time Lucien Bouchard quit, very few hard-liners were left either in the caucus, party headquarters or at the head of more rebellious riding executives.
Sometimes, Péquistes choose to leave before the purge gets them. A number of MNAs, including Marois, got up and quit when Boisclair took over.
Marois's problem is that if the PQ doesn't do better in the polls, it might be difficult for her to replace the purged or the self-purged with strong candidates.
With Lemieux quitting and the Montreal riding of Bourget up for grabs in a by-election, Marois has to wonder whom she'll get to jump aboard the PQ's shaky boat.
She must be hoping if Lemieux quits, Boisclair will decide to stay. If his Pointe-aux-Trembles riding also were up for a by-election, Marois would have to find two star candidates. And that's a lot under present circumstances. Possible, but difficult.
Charest said something very interesting on Monday. He decreed there would no election in 2008. For the leader of a minority government, that might seem a bit presumptuous.
The reason he said, with a straight face, is that 2008 marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the holding of the Sommet de la francophonie and a meeting of the Council of the Federation. So people will be too busy to go to the polls.
Still, Charest might be on to something, but for more serious reasons. It's possible Dumont might be ready for an election next spring and if he becomes premier, be the official host for the 400th. But Marois and the PQ must join in to defeat the government in a budget vote.
And who knows? If her party continues to be so unprepared for a general election, she could be tempted to prop up the Charest government again and win more time for herself.
Marois should learn to walk softly
PQ leader might be wise to avoid purges, and work with Lemieux and others