Welcome to PQ's season of ideas


Friday, October 10, 2003
Yesterday, Parti Québécois leader Bernard Landry stated again that for now, he's convinced that he is "the best person to lead this party, eventually to lead a government and to bring Quebec to sovereignty." And PQ members had better make sure they repeat that line until they actually believe it.
As they came out of their pre-Parliament meeting in Tadoussac, caucus members supported his decision to stay on at least until the party's convention in 2005 and perhaps even until the next election. "We're all behind him," they chanted obediently. Even though some will be standing behind him bearing well- sharpened knives, Landry appears to be safe for some time.
So the betting is open. Will he run in the next election? Answer: He really, really wants to. One reason is that while he's riding the wave of Jean-Claude Labrecque's film that portrays him as a hero, he's come to believe that he's capable of booting out Jean Charest after only one mandate.
Another reason is Pauline Marois, whom he refuses to have succeed him. He knows that she's a notoriously hesitant strategist, especially in making personal decisions; time, therefore, can only work against her. By staying on until 2005 at least, he buys time for his chosen successor, François Legault, who will discreetly gather support while Marois risks becoming isolated in her open bid for the job.
If Legault isn't ready by 2005, Landry will gladly oblige him and lead the PQ into the next election. For Landry, that would be a win-win situation. If he wins, he becomes premier again. By then 70, Landry could keep the premier's seat warm for Legault and bow out in a year or so. If he loses, he walks away as the self-sacrificing hero, paving the way for Legault.
For many, Landry's aversion to Marois is hard to grasp. They share ideas on socio-economic issues and both supported Lucien Bouchard's positions on sovereignty. So the problem is not ideological.
Behind the smiles, they exchange in public lies a deep, mutual dislike that goes back years. It started in 1985 when Marois ran for the leadership and Landry withdrew. It continued in 2001 when Bouchard resigned and Landry, along with Legault, appeared to trick Marois into giving up on the leadership. It escalated last year when Marois forced Landry to drop two of his closest allies, Raymond Bréard and Gilles Baril, for apparent conflicts of interest.
This dislike is fed by Landry's close relationship with Legault and Bouchard. After all, Legault was brought into the cabinet by Bouchard, who saw him as the potential leader of the next generation and with whom he shares the ability to switch positions faster than a speeding bullet. Witness Legault's recent metamorphosis from advocating a referendum on federal-provincial fiscal imbalance to now playing the sovereignty hard-liner to better seduce unsuspecting PQ members.
Before this saga unfolds, Landry is inviting his party to the "season of ideas." That means contenders, MNAs and party members will be kept busy penning nice little articles that will debate sovereignty and social democracy. Time will fly and they'll be having fun, but the debate will be mostly artificial.
First, now that most MNAs have declared their support for him, no one will dare to openly question Landry's leadership for fear of being marginalized. Second, he can control the process leading up to the 2005 convention and the ensuing program. Here's a telling sign: Marois's supporters recently failed at getting the party to vote on a resolution asking that the convention be held next year, instead of 2005.
The control also includes Landry's refusal to drop his European-style confederal-union vision. Although he had been backing away from the idea, yesterday he said "we must take inspiration from the principles that gave birth to the European Union." He talked about a "Canada-Quebec union" in which institutions would be adapted once both parties "sitting at the table would establish in detail the desired relations." If that ain't a confederation, I don't know what is.
So the PQ stands to be served more of the same for some time, be it under Landry, Legault or even Marois, should she survive. This means that the gap between the percentage of those who support sovereignty and those who vote for the PQ or the Bloc Québécois will remain hard to close.
This week, a CROP poll for La Presse showed that a respectable 44 per cent of Quebecers would have voted Yes to sovereignty, while only 37 per cent would have voted for the PQ and an even lower 35 per cent for the Bloc.
That's food for thought for the PQ's season of ideas.

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