Jean-Francois Lisee, a former adviser to Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau, has made a virage of his own. And what a virage it is. In his book Sortie de Secours, he asserts that a sovereignty vote cannot be won at the moment.
So he suggests that Bouchard hold a referendum on a demand by Quebec for a small number of powers - a list of powers that reads like a diluted Allaire Report.
He calls his proposal an "exercise in lucidity." Others might call it abandoning ship when times are tough. Of course, Lisee has a perfect right to embrace federalism. The problem is that he claims to be a sovereignist, even as he suggests we go back to the days of doomed constitutional negotiations.
His proposal tries hard to be all things to all people. It is renewed federalism, nonetheless. And that's a proven dead end, not an emergency exit by any stretch of the imagination. Reality check: English Canada would rather join the United States than be put through another one of these psycho dramas.
But there are still some Quebecers, including Lisee, it seems, who can't shake the fantasy that some day, Quebec will become sovereign within Canada without actually separating.
Out the Window
But the most disturbing aspect of Lisee's endeavour lies elsewhere. It is in the irresponsibility of someone who, while hiding behind his sovereignist credentials, nevertheless declares that hope for sovereignty has pretty much gone out the window (unless we get rejected by the ROC, like in the good old days of Meech, yada, yada, yada).
This kind of defeatism runs the risk of leaving sovereignists even more discouraged than some already are. Even more troubling is that it appears to lend credence to the belief many federalists have that separatism has reached its terminal stage, and is soon to expire. Lisee, you see, has taken it upon himself to declare that "the end is near" and that "we must mourn what no longer exists."
This is nothing new, of course. We heard the same song after the 1980 referendum. And yet, although the PQ was dealt numerous blows in the years that followed, it came back to life after Parizeau became its leader in 1988, achieving a near-victory for the Yes in 1995.
The fact is that independence is a long-term project - exactly how long, no one can predict. That's why perseverance - something that Lisee's proposal so obviously lacks - is essential. Parizeau reminded sovereignists this week that they must be patient, but that they also had better start preparing soon for a vote if they really want one.
The problem - as Lisee's book amply demonstrates - is that a number of sovereignist leaders have grown tired. The movement is in urgent need of a dynamic new guard that can work alongside those who have not yet grown tired, discouraged or too pessimistic.
We need leaders who won't be held back by fear of failure, who will be less interested in strategies than in the need to communicate principles and convictions. We need leaders who will carry this project through thick and thin, in power or in opposition.
As for Lisee's book, many PQ members I've spoken to believe that it's a trial balloon on behalf of Bouchard. Moreover, they say, it kills two birds with one stone. First, as we near Bouchard's confidence vote next May, it allows him and his ministers to sound super-sovereignist when they dissociate themselves from Lisee's ideas. Second, even though the trial balloon appears to have been shot down, it would remain available to be floated again.
But the most probable scenario, should Bouchard sail through his confidence vote and remain on as leader, is that all will remain quiet on the referendum front. On the one hand, it's unlikely that PQ members will agree to go through another beau-risque nightmare - they may be more more docile, but they're not dead. On the other, Bouchard continues to show no real interest in the PQ's sovereignty option to the point of suggesting it could be postponed to a third mandate.
At the May convention, Parti Quebecois delegates will get a chance to tell their leader whether they can live with the prospect of continued inaction. And if they can't, they will have their chance to do something about it.
Sovereignists need leaders who won't abandon ship