This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on June 20, 2005
Bernard Landry's Resigns PQ leadership
SURE, THERE IS LANGUAGE, and lifestyle, and attitude, but what has also made Quebec distinct in the bigger Canadian picture is politics. It's a politics-driven society, and great politicians here have achieved star status that only athletes and movie luminaries can hope for elsewhere. But not now. Currently, the political landscape looks like the aftermath of an earthquake. The federal Liberals have been maimed beyond recognition by the sponsorship scandal; Tories and New Democrats have yet to find the road to the province; the provincial Liberals are in the pits, polling-wise. And now the PARTI QUÉBÉCOIS is leaderless and in disarray - and threatening to pull the Bloc Québécois into its torment.
BQ Leader Gilles DUCEPPE was expected to announce early this week whether he would seek the job vacated by Bernard LANDRY, who resigned the PQ leadership in a huff on June 4. Landry threw in the towel in the middle of a party convention after a review of his leadership failed to reach the 80 per cent level of support he had called his comfort zone - thanks, in part, to sniping from purs et durs hard-liners. But Landry's abrupt exit from public life (he actually received 76.2 per cent support) also had deeper motives, beyond his notorious thin skin and short fuse. The PQ is bogged down in internecine feuds and ideological squabbles, and it has seemed unable to dust off its platform and renew its outlook. For many younger voters in the province, the PQ looks like a quaint and obsolete vehicle for aging baby boomers to replay dreams and battles of the past.
That, in part, helps explain why, under the 68-year-old Landry, the party seemed unable to capitalize on the weakness of the Jean CHAREST government, currently charting new lows in popularity. But the bumbling Charest does not have to call an election until 2007. And whoever assumes the helm of the PQ will face the possibility of running against a fresh and more credible Liberal leader.
The malaise in the PQ runs deep. The party even seemed unprepared to deal with the windfall of goodwill that flowed from the sponsorship imbroglio and the GOMERY INQUIRY looking into it. The scandal not only discredited the Liberals, it also seriously damaged their brand of federalism in the province. A new referendum - which, just a year ago, was only a glimmer in the eyes of those aging hard-liners - suddenly became a distinct possibility. That was enough to send the Péquistes back to reliving their favourite nightmare: arguing and bickering over fine points of the Dogma - with the familiar outcome of their leader slamming the door, à la Lucien Bouchard.
The PQ has not had a leadership race since 1985; usually, its leaders are acclaimed as saviours, only to be driven away by the restless hard-liners a few years later. Former speaker Louise Harel has been named interim leader. For how long? Nobody knows. An executive committee meeting over the weekend was not expected to decide on a date for a leadership vote. Former finance minister Pauline Marois - an apparatchik's apparatchik, Landry's lifelong rival, and the only declared candidate at week's end - wants to proceed quickly. Others have lobbied for time. François Legault, a self-made millionaire who'd been waiting in the wings for at least two years, suddenly announced last week that he won't run. André Boisclair, 39, a whiz kid and a Landry protege, is seen by many as the PQ's great white hope for the future, but not yet ready for the front office. It wasn't clear last week whether he'd run or not - but a group of supporters was furiously manning the phones on his behalf, collecting pledges of support from sitting members. Landry's distrust of Marois is such that his entourage speculated in public that Landry himself could again seek the leadership should Boisclair pass and Duceppe stay put in Ottawa, rather than let Marois run unopposed.
Far-fetched? No doubt. But plausible, too. As Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, a veteran MNA and potential candidate himself, puts it, "The Parti Québécois is like a wild horse. This is not a tame party."
Maclean's June 20, 2005