"By God, I'll boot the rear end of anyone who can't speak English," Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau thundered in a 1992 interview with Time magazine. "In our day and times, a small people like us must speak English."
The remark raised a few eyebrows in the PQ, but nothing more, since nobody questioned Parizeau's nationalism.
Pauline Marois, however, is not Parizeau, and as leader of the PQ does not enjoy the same trust among sovereignists.
And unlike other parties, it's not enough in the PQ for its leader to have the party in first place in popularity, as it was in the latest polls.
In similar circumstances, Bernard Landry was ushered toward the exit, apparently because he couldn't figure out how to hold a sovereignty referendum while the PQ wasn't in power. In the PQ, "what have you done for us lately?" doesn't matter.
So ever since Marois said in interviews last week, in much milder terms than Parizeau, that all Quebecers should be bilingual, and proposed ways of making them so, she has come under often ferocious attack from nationalists.
Marois even saw herself called a traitor in headlines on the opinion pages in the major French-language dailies, over an article by author-publisher Victor-Lévy Beaulieu.
And she was ridiculed for suggesting that from Grade 5 on in French schools, some courses, including history, might be taught in English.
Much of what Marois said in the interviews made sense. "All Quebec parents dream of their children having a good knowledge of a second language, and English is the language that is most useful to us."
She suggested that some francophones went to English-language CEGEPs because of the poor quality of the teaching of English in French schools.
She might have added that because of the poor reputation of English teaching in French schools, francophone parents also seek out daycare and extracurricular activities in English for their children. And that those who can afford it send their children to unsubsidized English schools, which are exempt from Bill 101's restrictions on admission.
So instead of extending the restrictions to the CEGEPs, as proposed by some in the PQ, she wanted to improve the teaching of English in French schools.
A PQ government would stop the present teaching of English for an hour a week from Grades 1 through 4, which was brought in by the Charest government, and instead have it taught more intensively from Grade 5 on.
"We might take some history courses and give them in English," Marois said.
It was an original suggestion, but in politics, no points are awarded for proposing original solutions, or for correctly identifying problems.
Among her critics, Beaulieu attracted the most attention by accusing Marois of "cowardice, not to say treason," and calling for a "war without mercy" against her "by all means possible."
But she was also publicly criticized, though less stridently, by more influential PQ allies.
"I fell over when I heard that," said the president of the teachers' federation, Réjean Parent, of Marois's proposal to teach history in English. "What next? Teaching French in English?"
And Mario Beaulieu, head of the Mouvement Montréal français and a prominent PQ language hawk, said Marois would turn French schools into "(English) immersion schools."
It was generally overlooked that Marois had also proposed to require students in English-language CEGEPs to show they have "a perfect knowledge of French" to receive their diplomas (a test some French-language CEGEP graduates might not pass).
Marois had to clarify her position several times.
Yesterday, she had an article of her own published on the French-language opinion pages, admitting that teaching history in English in French schools was "not at all" a good example and saying she favours individual, not institutional, bilingualism.
It's hardly the first time since she became leader last June that Marois has been forced to retreat.
And the week-long controversy showed that some PQ supporters, at least, already have doubts about her as leader.
Some PQ zealots doubt Marois's commitment
Her musings on bilingualism make sense, but not to the party's hardliners