'Gilles Duceppe will probably assume the Parti Québécois leadership after appropriate but swift formalities. Nobody else wants the job."
Who wrote those words just last week? Talk about being breathtakingly wrong. How embarrassing. Apologies, sincere apologies.
Gilles Duceppe just ran the shortest leadership campaign in Canadian political history. It lasted 29 hours. He jumped into a pool without any water.
An experienced operator, he miscalculated everything. His hubris convinced him the leadership was his for the asking. When he asked, however, the answer was a thunderous No. In the Guinness Book of Political Humiliation, a whole page will now be named "Duceppe, Gilles."
Only two members of the PQ caucus wanted him; the rest preferred the veteran Pauline Marois, whom the PQ had already twice spurned in leadership contests.
Mr. Duceppe apparently struck fear into the PQ, just as he has into the Bloc Québécois, that he rules with a dour intensity. The last thing the unruly PQ apparently wants is the smack of Mr. Duceppe's authoritarian ways. It didn't help when one of Mr. Duceppe's Ottawa-based supporters declared that the PQ needed a "kick in the butt" and Mr. Duceppe was just the man to administer that kick.
Instead, the PQ administered a kick in the butt of its own. So did Quebeckers, who responded to a CROP poll by preferring Ms. Marois 45 per cent to 21 per cent over Mr. Duceppe. Ms. Marois was a comforting, comfortable, almost grandmotherly figure who had given no offence, demonstrated a modest competence, and was best known for being the minister who gave Quebec an unaffordable but now politically sacrosanct $5-a-day daycare plan, since raised to $7 a day.
Mr. Duceppe had presumably, and for a time, plausibly, assumed that Ms. Marois would stay retired. She'd been around for so long, been beaten twice for the leadership, and seemed so like the proverbial "yesterday's woman," that the PQ would have no choice but to turn to him. Mr. Duceppe had even handpicked his successor as BQ leader.
If Ms. Marois's ascension represents "renewal," and all those other buzz words so favoured by parties in the dumps, then the federal Liberals should bring back Herb Gray. Ms. Marois was elected in 1981 and left upon losing to André Boisclair, who was supposed to be the candidate of "renewal" and change.
She will now take the leadership, after "appropriate but swift formalities," as the candidate of unity - there being no other candidates once Mr. Duceppe beat his humiliating retreat back to Ottawa.
She promises to put a secession referendum on the back burner, since Quebeckers obviously don't want one. This promise, however, leaves the PQ, and especially its many hard-liners, facing an obvious, painful question: If the PQ isn't there to make Quebec independent, why does it exist?
The answer is hardly satisfactory: independence eventually, but not any time soon. That answer, however, invites the question, as it always has, okay, not tomorrow or the day after, but when and how? Then follow the equivocations, fudges, contortions and internal debates.
Under her, the PQ will now join the mushy, nationalist/autonomist morass in Quebec politics, in which, from one day to the next, it's hard to discern any serious difference among the parties, all of which want more power and money from Ottawa. The separatists under Ms. Marois will be saying secession if possible but not necessarily secession; the "federalists" in the provincial Liberal Party are saying federalism if necessary but more autonomy if possible.
The same question about relevance that the PQ might ask should be thrown at the Bloc. Now that the PQ is putting secession on the back burner, what's the purpose of the Bloc in Ottawa? After all, Lucien Bouchard created the Bloc to help make Quebec independent. If it could not accomplish that objective, the party would disappear, said Mr. Bouchard.
The political instinct for survival, and the lure of nice salaries and pensions, long ago overtook Bloc members who seem at ease in the capital of a country whose unity they wish to disrupt. Moreover, they don't need to do much of the grubby work of fundraising, courtesy of generous public subsidies from taxpayers whose country they wish to destroy.
It's not a terrible place, bad old federalist Ottawa, for the separatists to get face time and money, without ever having even to think about governing.