The end of an error

André Boisclair was ahead of his time - he wasn't ready to lead Quebec and Quebec wasn't ready to be led by him

André Boisclair se retire de la politique

André Boisclair indulged himself again yesterday. This time, however, it was not weakness for the cocaine he admitted using while a young cabinet minister that he indulged, but simply his ego.
This is ironic, considering that while the former leader of the Parti Québécois was doing so, he was criticizing others in the PQ for doing the same thing.
Taking advantage of what could be the last occasion on which he has the public's attention - that is, the announcement of his second resignation from active politics in three years - Boisclair settled some scores, with predecessor Bernard Landry and other, unnamed Péquistes.

He did so in a newspaper interview published on the eve of the resumption of the National Assembly session after the summer recess, at the risk of upstaging the first day back in the legislature for the successor to whom he professed loyalty.
And tomorrow, Pauline Marois can expect to face questions about another disgruntled Péquiste, Diane Lemieux, who is to return to the Assembly just long enough to make official the resignation of her seat that she announced in August.
It's a measure of the decline of the PQ that when Boisclair officially resigns Nov. 15, he will become the party's third MNA to resign his seat within eight months of winning it in the general election, a record for a Quebec party.
For the PQ, Boisclair's announcement yesterday marks the end of an error.
It should have chosen the more qualified Marois over Boisclair two years ago. But it hoped to rejuvenate itself instantly by choosing a leader who was then not yet 40 years old and appeared to have a following among otherwise apathetic young voters. He would also be the first openly gay candidate for head of government of a major party in North America.
But he was ahead of his time. That is, he wasn't ready to lead Quebec. And Quebec wasn't ready to be led by him.
Two enduring images remain from his leadership campaign.
One is of him fleeing in panic from reporters trying to question him about his cocaine use. The other is of him jokingly flirting with the gay second banana on Quebec's most popular television talk show.
From his election as leader, the PQ's support steadily declined in the hinterland where elections are usually won or lost, and it was clear that he was the main reason.
He was said to be too cosmopolitan, too "Montréalais," which may have been code for something else. Of the 143,637 votes the PQ lost between the general elections in 2003 and last March, how many were because of its leader being gay, or having admitted to using cocaine while a minister, or both?
His unpopularity created a vacuum that would be filled by Mario Dumont and his Action démocratique du Québec. And the fall of Boisclair and the rise of the ADQ shattered a couple of myths about Quebec's tolerance for diversity.
One was that Quebec was so advanced in its acceptance of homosexuality that it would even elect an openly gay head of government.
The other, long promoted and constantly repeated by politicians and opinion leaders anxious to burnish the image of Quebec nationalism, was that the latter was inclusive or "civic" rather than ethnic.
But this transparent fig leaf scarcely concealed the truth to begin with. And since Dumont's successful exploitation of the "accommodation" issue and the accompanying revival of what now is called "identity" nationalism, no one even pretends that it is still there.
It might have been replaced by new myths about Quebec's valuing secularism and gender equality, which is no doubt true for many, but which also sounds better than saying that one just doesn't like non-Christians.
There is reason for hope in the future, however. Polls consistently show that young French-speaking Quebecers are more comfortable with diversity than their elders.

Boisclair, whose own belief in inclusive nationalism actually seemed sincere, tried to involve these young people in politics, but without apparent lasting success. Maybe he was just ahead of his time.
A brain cramp caused me to get the date of the school board elections wrong in Saturday's column. The correct date is Nov. 4, with advance polling Oct. 28. Sorry.
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