Perhaps inspired by the example of Pierre Curzi, a well-known actor (Le Declin de l'empire americain, Les Invasions barbares) who is running for the Parti Quebecois in the next election, Andre Boisclair put on the longest show of humility of his political career last week.
It lasted three days. In closed-door sessions first with the PQ's National Assembly caucus, then the party's riding and regional presidents, Boisclair listened to complaints about his performance as leader. And at the end of each day, he went before the media to demonstrate the lessons he had learned.
It seemed to work. The ovation that greeted him when he got up to speak in public to the presidents on Saturday morning was so enthusiastic that when it finally died down, he stood silently for a moment and then said: "Wow."
Usually, PQ members applaud more enthusiastically when he starts to speak than when he finishes. This time, for once, it was the other way around. When he concluded, he was rewarded with a three-minute standing ovation accompanied by more chants of "Andre, Andre" and "on veut un pays" (we want a country).
The 54-minute speech was perhaps the best Boisclair has delivered since his acceptance speech after winning the leadership 15 months ago.
He was aggressive, calling Premier Jean Charest a liar for not keeping his election promises, and attacking the Liberals on one of their traditional strengths, the economy, citing evidence that the province's economic performance is lagging.
And he outlined some of the measures that will be in the party platform in his priority areas of education, the environment and the economy.
While he began by saying he had heard his critics, his speech actually contained few concessions to those who had said he was moving too far to the right or not speaking enough about sovereignty.
He stood by his intention to encourage private investment by reducing corporate taxes in return for commitments to improve working conditions and environmental protection. And, as did one of his moderate predecessors, Lucien Bouchard, he mentioned sovereignty just enough so he couldn't be accused of ignoring it entirely.
It was a "good government" speech, that of the aspiring leader of a province rather than a country, in line with Boisclair's gradual distancing of himself from the party program he inherited when he became leader. That program committed the PQ to fighting the next election on a platform of sovereignty.
One of Boisclair's most outspoken critics, Marc Laviolette, former president of the CSN labour organization, arrived at the presidents' meeting growling about Boisclair's intention to move the PQ closer to the political centre - that is, to the right - notably by cutting corporate taxes. A few hours later, he left purring contentedly, though not before receiving a lecture on economic realities from Francois Legault, a business executive before he became a PQ minister, outside the meeting room.
But maybe Boisclair wasn't the only one in the PQ who was acting last week. It was hard to reconcile the show of unity behind the leader at the presidents' meeting with the almost daily sniping at him from within the ranks over the previous two weeks.
Maybe they had not so much been reassured about Boisclair as become resigned they might be stuck with him through the election and, therefore, had to make the best of it. The Liberals have started hinting the next election might be called in only a few weeks, perhaps with the sole intention of leading the PQ to believe it has no time to replace its leader. And union members might have concluded a PQ that is even only slightly to the left of the Liberals is still preferable to four more years of Charest.
Still, all of this was true two weeks ago, and even with an election imminent, it didn't stop PQ members from undermining public confidence in their leader and, therefore, in their party. As leader of a party prone to such irrationally self-destructive behaviour, Boisclair's position might be secure only until the next bad poll.
They're stuck with him
Even if the Parti quebecois wanted to dump Boisclair, it doesn't have time before the next election