CANADA

To the losers... a mess

DAVID THOMAS February 21 1977
CANADA

To the losers... a mess

DAVID THOMAS February 21 1977

To the losers... a mess

CANADA

QUEBEC

“The opposition leader,” said former Quebec Liberal minister Raymond Garneau, “does not like to be called Mr. Lévesque.” Seated beside him at a recent gathering and nodding his embarrassed agreement was Gaspé lawyer, car dealer and now interim leader of the Quebec Liberal Party,

Gérard D. Lévesque. Born 50 years ago, just a few miles up the coast from the hometown of his adversary Premier René Lévesque, the affable but tireless 20-year veteran of the National Assembly has not only the confusion caused by his name to worry about. Lévesque—Gérard D.— must find the right glue to stop the bickering disintegration of what, only three months ago, was the front line defense of federalism in Quebec.

Robert Bourassa, the man who once led both the party and the concept of “profitable federalism,” is in disrepute. He spent the first winter months shuttling between Montreal and Miami, trying to shake off a black depression and then settled to earth in Brussels on a vague study mission. If Bourassa is plotting a political return, one thing seems certain: he is not likely to pick up the fight for Confederation, having burned his federalist bridges in his last public pronouncement as Liberal chief: the party, he said, must define a new vision of Quebec’s future and should do so in a spirit of “independence.”

Now anarchy more than independence is the prevailing temper of the party he left behind. Ideological division runs from the status quo federalism of National Assembly member George Springate to a scheme that Canada be carved into five autonomous states, put forward by probable leadership contender and Liberal House leader Jean-Noel Lavoie. Without a clear party line to follow on the issue, individual Liberals have started competing pro-Canada groups. In linguistically mixed Western Quebec, MNA Michel Gratton is nourishing suspected leadership aspirations with his new Canada-Quebec movement. He appears to be enjoying more success than Springate, the earthy MNA for Westmount who, in his locker room manner, says his “team Canada” group may be funded by the sale of T-shirts—“but only for broads with big boobs.” Work toward a new Liberal consensus on Confederation is blocked by the party’s inability to agree on whether a new ideology should be laid down before or after a new leader is chosen. So Lévesque, one of the few prominent Liberals not being blamed for the No-

vember 15 debacle, has neither a program nor the status of permanent party leader to build upon.

Both the policy and leadership issues are to be argued by an end-of-February conclave of top Liberals. Party president Benoit Payeur will likely again be called to task for his dismal efforts to sell the Bourassa Liberals with the same slick methods he acquired as an advertising executive. But federal intervention in Quebec Liberal affairs, particularly the parachuting of four Ottawa figures into provincial ridings, is held by many provincial militants to blame for the extent of the electoral damage. The panicky campaign pronouncements of former federal ministers Jean Marchand and Bryce Mackasey, say the anti-Ottawa Liberals, prove Quebec’s political soul is beyond the comprehension of “la gang à Trudeau.”

There appears to be virtual unanimity among Quebec Liberals that certain defeat would greet any Ottawa politician at an eventual provincial leadership convention, an event delayed at least until next year by the absence of obviously attractive candidates. Among the hopefuls is former finance minister Garneau, but his future is compromised by the never fully explained role he played in Quebec liquor board patronage. Lavoie, Gratton and Lévesque himself are other possible starters but the only declared candidate is Jean Cournoyer, a political dilettante who in his eight years of public life represented two parties and four different ridings before being defeated last November. Cournoyer’s integrity was smudged by criticism of his relations with certain union bosses made during judge Robert Cliche’s inquiry into construction labor two years ago.

Liberals, if they are to avoid dwindling to marginal status, must make significant recoveries among French-speaking voters after their clumsy “non aux séparatistes” campaign cost them every seat on the island of Montreal that does not have heavy

anglophone populations. Six of the Liberal MNAS are anglophones, which gives the party a minority representation exceeding English-speaking strength in the population of Quebec.

Profiting by Liberal disarray, the resuscitated Union Nationale and its leader, Rodrigue Biron, are rising quickly in public awareness as they act as though they were the official opposition and the Liberals a mere rump, a Parti Québécois tactic from 1970 to 1973. DAVID THOMAS