Out of place

Hard-line sovereignists were upset Lucien Bouchard was given a prominent spot at Pierre Bourgault's funeral


There's no pleasant way of saying this, but something that happened at the funeral of Pierre Bourgault was profoundly disturbing. For those who shared Bourgault's convictions, the presence of former premier Lucien Bouchard was very upsetting.
It was even more so to see Bouchard sitting at the front of Notre Dame basilica, right behind Premier Jean Charest and Parti Québécois leader Bernard Landry. Many who attended also noted another former premier, Jacques Parizeau, was sitting farther down, somewhere in another section.
Bouchard's visible presence was shocking for a number of reasons. The main one is that throughout his tenure as premier, Bouchard squandered much of the political capital the sovereignist movement had coming out of a referendum it had only lost by a hair.
Bouchard was much more detrimental to the Yes option than your average reluctant sovereignist. As PQ leader, he opposed nearly everything that was defended by his party. He fought any strengthening of Bill 101. He imposed a zero-deficit policy that turned many of the PQ's traditional allies against it. He even undermined the credibility of the PQ by repeating ad nauseam his "winning conditions" spiel - his coded language meaning there wouldn't be another referendum as long as he was leader.
Bouchard also fought tooth and nail against hard-liners like Bourgault, but he rarely had the courage to do it to their faces. In a Vox channel interview in the spring of 2001, Bourgault recalled a telling episode. In September 1995, Bourgault met with Parizeau months after he had been needlessly fired by the premier's office as special adviser.
Parizeau wanted him to participate actively in the referendum campaign. But Bourgault posed three conditions. One was to be on the same stages as Parizeau and Bouchard. He was never granted that condition. This is how Bourgault explained it: "My impression is that, and I say this with all reserve, it was Lucien Bouchard who said no."
During the same interview, he commented on the motion to blame that Bouchard had spearheaded against Yves Michaud: "I was never more ashamed in my entire life. C'est dégueulasse," he added. In other words, Bourgault and Bouchard were on different planets. Bourgault wanted independence for Quebec. Bouchard wanted power for himself.
That might help explain why Bouchard, as he entered the Notre Dame Basilica, refused to elaborate on the ideals of the man whose funeral he was attending. On RDI, he said: "I didn't really know Pierre Bourgault. I knew him from a distance, like many people did ... so I'm not the best person to talk about him in an intimate way." And that "distance" was very much to the liking of Bouchard.
So it was also shocking to see Bouchard applauded as he entered the church, while Jean Charest was booed. Why applaud the terminator of the PQ's option and boo a federalist who doesn't hide his convictions - one who had enough class to be present as the premier of Quebec, to have the flag lowered at half-mast and to listen respectfully to an hour of speeches that defended an option he disagrees with? Charest, at least, never pretended to be something he's not.
All this begs a few questions. Why did the PQ invite Bouchard and sit him at the front of the church? Why did Landry agree to this? Why did the same party that marginalized Bourgault for decades organize his funeral?
Wasn't it the PQ establishment that kept Bourgault at bay and out of work for years, which included refusing to help him when he ran against Robert Bourassa in Mercier in 1970 - only three years after he had scuttled his own party, the RIN, so that René Lévesque's party could be created? Remembering this, one of the pioneers of the sovereignty movement wondered if this wasn't some kind of belated "récupération politique" by the PQ establishment.
Which brings back memories of the funeral of another passionate sovereignist, the great poet Gaston Miron, for whom the Bouchard government organized a state funeral in December 1996. During most of his later years, Miron was seen by the same PQ elites as too hard-line, too this or too that, which also rendered making a living difficult. Like someone said coming out of his funeral, he surely would have appreciated the support more when he was alive.
Miron, like Bourgault, never had the support of most of the PQ elites when he was alive. But they enjoyed plenty of respect and admiration from the people and their colleagues, including those who disagreed with their vision.
But none of it ever took the pain away from being sidelined by their so-called political allies.

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