Parizeau has no reason to lie; Landry does


Friday, April 09, 2004
What really happened on the morning after the 1995 referendum, and who's telling the truth about it: Bernard Landry or Jacques Parizeau?
What really happened on the morning after the 1995 referendum, and who's telling the truth about it: Bernard Landry or Jacques Parizeau?
On Tuesday, Parizeau confirmed in La Presse what Pierre Duchesne reveals in the unauthorized biography Le Régent: Landry called him on the morning after the referendum to ask for his resignation and to threaten he would demand it publicly if Parizeau refused to step down.
Landry says it ain't so. He called, he says, only to ask that the priorities committee meet later that morning. It was there that six ministers, including himself and Guy Chevrette, were told that Parizeau would resign.
This, Landry contends, is confirmed by two "neutral witnesses"- Chevrette and former chief of staff Jean Royer. But this is worthless since neither man was present when Landry called Parizeau at 8 a.m. at the Ritz Carlton where he was staying with his wife.
Anyway, Landry says, the truth comes out in biographies only after its subjects are gone, such as happened with Charles de Gaulle. But while de Gaulle is dead, Parizeau is still alive to answer about his own life. So it's back to Square One: Who's telling the truth?
A brilliant professor once told me that when a situation in politics gets too murky, ask yourself one question: What are the interests of the actors involved? When you ask that, the truth will rise to the surface.
So what would Parizeau's interest be in making up a story that could hurt Landry's credibility? The answer is none. He has no ambition to lead the PQ again and he doesn't support any of the contenders. Plus, he never has criticized Landry publicly since he became leader in 2001. So why would he lie about the phone call?
Landry, though, has every interest in denying it. First, given Parizeau's influence over Parti Québécois members, such disloyalty, if proven, could cost him his leadership. Second, by painting Parizeau as a liar on such a crucial issue, Landry tries to marginalize the former leader for good - something even Lucien Bouchard never succeeded in doing.
So what we're seeing here is a power struggle, but a one-sided one with Landry negating everything to minimize the negative impact this story could have on him - the man who wants to be premier again.
As for the deafening silence of the PQ caucus, interest also explains it. They chose their careers over the truth. Given Jean Charest's problems, most caucus members think the PQ will be back in power in three years. If Landry is still their leader, he'll be the one holding the key to the ministerial limousines. Siding with Parizeau would cost them that key.
What about the contenders for the PQ leadership, you ask? Pauline Marois remains silent, but then again, she always does. But for François Legault, this is a triple blessing.
One, he comes out an innocent in this since he wasn't there in 1995. Two, this story will damage Landry's leadership among PQ members which, in turn, will help Legault. Three, Legault's entourage has been spinning that Marois did the same to Landry by asking for his resignation after he lost the election. Of course, it isn't true, but Legault's disciples are known to use anything they can to discredit Marois.
It's no secret in the PQ that this saga is hurting Landry. Yesterday, Sylvie Brousseau, a former assistant to Parizeau, lashed out at Landry in La Presse and asked him to resign.
In an interview, Maxime Barakat, PQ president for Crémazie, expressed outrage at this disloyalty to Parizeau and raised a fundamental question: "Why didn't those who asked for his resignation, like Landry and Chevrette, consult party members beforehand? The answer is that they would have found that members didn't want their leader to leave."
All week, influential PQ members have also been on the phone saying one thing: They believe Parizeau but they're afraid to call Landry on it for fear that it would hand the crown to Legault. If any palatable alternative were out there, they say, this story would have brought Landry down.
One final footnote to this saga: In Duchesne's book, readers see how Lucien Bouchard and former adviser Jean-François Lisée often worked hand-in-hand to water down Parizeau's positions before the referendum. In an ironic twist of events, we saw Lisée and Bouchard announce this week that they will work together in a new research centre.
As if fate were conspiring to confirm that their politics were and remain radically different from Parizeau's, they also announced that this centre will be presided over by former Canadian ambassador Raymond Chrétien - yes, the other guy's nephew - the same one who worked so hard to undermine the sovereignist option abroad.
Chrétien, Bouchard and Lisée: what a touching family portrait and what a telling ending to the political fallout from Pierre Duchesne's book.

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