PQ members put party in a trap


Friday, June 20, 2003
Be careful what you wish for, they say; you just might get it. At their last national council meeting, Parti Québécois members got just that. They got what they voted for and trapped themselves in the worst possible scenario: no party convention before 2005 and no leadership race in the foreseeable future.
When Bernard Landry, who gave the PQ its worst election results in 30 years, told members he was staying "at least" until 2005 and would maybe even run in the next election, they stood up and applauded. When the convention that should produce a new party program was pushed back to 2005, they stood up and applauded.
This combination has two consequences. First, Landry is now in a position to control in good part what will be in the new program. Here's a hint: After he called for a vast debate of ideas, he imposed on members six different topics - "chantiers" - they must now debate, whether they like it or not.
Second, that party democracy will continue to be mocked. The bottom line is that the PQ will have had only three conventions in the last nine years when the party rules call for one every two years. A full five years will separate the last convention under Lucien Bouchard and the first one Landry has yet to hold as leader.
Then came the icing on the cake. Members voted for the notably invisible Conseil de la souveraineté to set up a "large inter-sovereignist forum" to outline a strategy to bring the PQ back to power by 2007 and achieve independence - no less. Given that there's probably been more sightings of Elvis lately than of the Conseil, that strategy should be ready by, oh let's say, never.
Then came a second layer of icing. At his press conference, Landry moved to crush the idea of a "referendum-election" that had been put forth by a group of young PQ members and continued to defend his concept of a confederal union with Canada. So much for any debate of ideas and so much for the possible running of other more inspiring contenders than Pauline Marois and François Legault. Landry just made sure that neither would be possible for quite a while.
On Monday, when I learned that Pierre Bourgault had died, I remembered the long and fascinating conversations we had had over the past seven or eight years. Politics, health and love life, in that order, were always the topics. I even had the honour of being the friendly target of his last public polemic - surely the only time we ever disagreed on anything.
Days before the election, he had written an "open letter to sovereignists." If the PQ were to lose, he said, its option would die out because the younger generations couldn't be expected to continue the struggle. On Radio-Canada, I asked Bourgault to not decide for them quite yet. A few days later, he devoted two columns in the Journal de Montréal to answer me, standing by his opinion, of course.
I remembered the first call I got from him after I'd been hired by the premier's office in 2001. "Veux-tu dire à Bernard de lâcher cette patente-là," he yelled out at me. He just wanted the premier to stop talking about a confederal union. Then he told me he knew two things. The first was that he and I agreed. The second was that the premier wouldn't budge. As usual, he was right.
Those episodes, among so many others, illustrate what many of us loved so much in him. We loved his honesty and his immense intelligence. But first and foremost, we admired his clarity of thought and purpose in a movement where confusion is too often the rule. Above all else, Bourgault was a selfless free thinker in an era of conformity and self-interest - a man of ideas and ideals.
"Independence is not a reward. It is an effort," he once said. And Bourgault often put in more effort than was humanly possible. And he did it for no financial reward. In fact, he spent years marginalized by René Lévesque and the PQ establishment to the point where he couldn't find work and ended up on social assistance. After his close friends tried to help him, it was Robert Bourassa, a man who respected adversaries he knew were respectable, who got him a position as professor of communications at UQÀM. That's when he gained back the two most precious things a human being can have: dignity and the freedom to speak out.
In his last years, Bourgault enjoyed life and precious friends and adored his animals, including his last dog, Beau Bonhomme. He also took an interest in many things other than independence. His was an eclectic and brilliant mind, for sure. But he also knew that he had done his part for Quebec and that his conscience was clear.
Merci, Pierre. Merci Pour Tout.

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