Quebec City power plays
Bouchard may not get Parizeau's blessing
In the swirl of extraordinary events that engulfed Quebec and Canada last week, the episode did not receive the attention it might otherwise have commanded. It happened on referendum day, when Jacques Parizeau agreed to a television interview that was originally not scheduled for broadcast until early next year. While the province’s voters trooped to the polls, Quebec’s premier unburdened his soul, delivering a series of remarkable confessions. He indicated that a No vote would bring his resignation, declined to anoint Lucien Bouchard as his successor and baldly declared his intention to use Quebecers’ hard-earned pension funds as a prop for the Canadian dollar. Most telling of all, however, was his candid admission that he had no faith in the plan—partnership with the rest of Canada—that he had been attempting to sell to Quebec’s voters during the entire referendum campaign and for months before that. “For a long time,” Parizeau acknowledged, “I have started from the principle that that thing would never happen.”
The premier’s revelations arrived too late to influence the outcome of last week’s critical referendum vote. They were not aired until Tuesday evening, hours after Parizeau stunned even the members of his own Parti Québécois government by announcing his intention to step down, the day after a phenomenal 94 per cent of Quebec’s five million eligible voters came within 53,498 votes of signalling the beginning of the end of Canada as it has existed since Confederation. But the outgoing premier’s televised confessions shed more light on the entire
process that brought the country so perilously close to the brink, unmasking the long-suspected cleavages within the ranks of Quebec’s separatist movement as well as the underlying contradictions in the drive for independence. “I think what we have before us are impostors, purely and simply,” charged Quebec Liberal Leader Daniel Johnson. “They made people believe in the possibility of a partnership, which they talked about in lyrical terms but which in practical terms they knew would never work.”
Given the source, the view is certainly partisan. But it was echoed elsewhere, beyond the ranks of committed federalists. And it added fuel to the arguments of all of those who, like Johnson, have been pointing to the public opinion polls to support the claim that as many as one-third of the 49.4 per cent of Quebec voters who cast Yes ballots last week did so in pursuit, not of outright independence, but rather of a new political and economic relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country. Even some separatists are willing to admit as much. “The majority of people said those who propose change merit being listened to one last time,” argued Parti action démocratique Leader Mario Dumont, urging his erstwhile colleagues in the PQ to make sure that they “open the mail that comes from Ottawa.”
Whether that occurs will depend on who eventually is chosen to succeed Parizeau when he steps down on Dec. 23 from his twin positions
as PQ president and premier of Quebec. At the moment, all eyes in the province are turned towards Lucien Bouchard. If the Bloc Québécois leader’s reluctant wife, Audrey Best, can be persuaded to agree, Bouchard can look forward to a coronation once he returns from his California vacation. While there are some Péquistes who are miffed by Bouchard’s public agonizing over the choice plum that party leaders rushed to offer him last week, not even his potential PQ competitors will stand in his way. “The job is his if he wants it,” declared MNA David Cliche, who has flirted with the idea of running for the party leadership himself. “There is simply no opposition to the man, either in the caucus or among the rank-and-file membership.”
In fact, the only Péquiste of any standing who may be opposed to Bouchard is Parizeau himself. In his television confessions, the premier displayed a marked reluctance to endorse Bouchard when he was asked directly by Stephane Bureau of Quebec’s TVA network if the Bloc leader was his own choice as heir. “There are many dimensions to this,” Parizeau replied, dropping a broad hint that he may well favor his longtime associate Pauline Marois, whom he promoted last week. “Shouldn’t it be a woman?” the premier asked. “There is in Quebec society now a movement towards equality for men and women that’s extraordinary. Is it the moment for a woman as premier?”
It was a delphic utterance, given further weight late last week when Parizeau shuffled his cabinet. He elevated Marois from treasury board president to Finance, the portfolio he himself once held in the late René Lévesque’s government. Parizeau first worked closely with Marois during his time in Lévesque’s cabinet. She was the finance department’s deputy minister at the time, later abandoning the civil service to run for office. In 1985, she ran second behind Pierre-Marc
Johnson, the Liberal leader’s brother, in the race to succeed Lévesque as PQ leader.
If Parizeau intended to send any signals with his cabinet shuffle last week, he succeeded. For Marois not only took over the finance ministry at a critical juncture in the government’s history, she also joined the cabinet’s priorities committee, an inner circle of close advisers that includes two other women—Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Louise Beaudoin and Employment Minister Louise Harel—along with deputy premier Bernard Landry and Guy Chevrette, the municipal affairs minister and PQ house leader.
Marois’s promotion was not the only message Parizeau relayed when he shuffled his ministers. He was saved the need to dump Restructuring Minister Richard Le Hir from the government when the scandal-plagued minister, in charge of now-notorious economic studies on sovereignty’s costs, saw the writing on the wall and resigned from the cabinet, indicating that he may even give up his seat in the national assembly as well. At the same time, Parizeau exercised damage control on other fronts. Jean Campeau, the longtime chief of Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt et placement, was demoted from Finance to Transport. And deputy premier Landry was stripped of one of his two portfolios. He retained International Affairs but saw his post as minister in charge of cultural communities and immigration handed to Harel.
As far as Landry was concerned,
Parizeau may have had no choice.
Quebec’s cultural communities minister serves as the contact point between the government and the province’s ethnic minorities. And Landry effectively sabotaged his own role in that regard as a result of a referendum-night encounter with Anita Martínez, a 42-year-old Mexi-
Marois (left); Landry (below): the next Parti Québécois leader will have to mend fences with ethnic voters
province’s anglophones and allophones (those whose mother tongue is neither English nor French). But it is also true that neither Parizeau’s nor Landry’s comment was much different from similar remarks voiced throughout the referendum campaign by many leading separatist spokesmen, including union leader Gerald Larose, former federal Conservative minister Marcel Masse and at least three sitting Bloc Québécois MPs. They are also not far removed from Bloc Leader Bouchard’s ill-conceived complaints about Quebec’s “white race” producing too few babies. By the same token, much of the condemnation that was directed at Parizeau had more to do with the fact that he chose to publicly air his complaints in front of the international news media gathered for the referendum outcome rather than with the substance of his comments.
Whatever the case, it is just one of the many problems that will face whoever takes over as the new PQ leader and Quebec premier. Parizeau helped to control the damage somewhat by giving the cultural communities portfolio to Harel, whose husband is of Palestinian origin. But it is clearly going to take some time to rebuild the all-too-fragile bridges between the separatist movement and Quebec’s non-francophone voters. If Bouchard is selected as the new leader, he will likely take over the reins of the party quite soon. The PQ’s executive council is scheduled to meet on Dec. 9 to set the rules for the succession. Under party regulations, leaders are chosen by means of universal suffrage, a riding-by-riding vote among the PQ’s 170,000 members, rather than at a traditional leadership convention. If there is more than one candidate for the job, it is likely to be an onerous process that will not reach a final resolution until late next February or early March.
If Bouchard overcomes his reservations, however, and decides he wants the job, the transition is likely to be more swift. In view of the fact that both Landry and Marois, the other two leading contenders to succeed Parizeau, both publicly promised to step aside for a Bouchard coronation, the Bloc leader could assume the post of party president
'Is it the moment for a woman as premier?'
can-born desk clerk at Montreal’s downtown InterContinental Hotel. As Martínez, a resident of Canada for the past 25 years, related the story, Landry arrived at the hotel around 3 a.m. and, after removing his glasses to stare at her name plate, belligerently asked: “Are you happy?”
He then berated the woman, blaming immigrants for the Yes side’s narrow defeat and complaining, in Martinez’s words: “Why is it that we open the doors to this country so you can vote No?”
Martinez’s francophone colleague at the front desk confirmed her version of events, as did hotel security guard Ralph Boulet, who was summoned to the scene at 3:03 a.m. « and reported finding Landry “ranting and raving some| thing about the language bit and girls will have to speak § proper French.” Landry later confirmed that he engaged in a “post-referendum” conversation with the hotel’s receptionists but denied raising his voice or resorting to impolite language. He also refused to apologize, telling reporters as § he emerged from the cabinet meeting where he lost his 5 cultural communities portfolio that “immigrants were not 5 to blame” for the situation that saw “some segments of our society always voting 95 per cent in favor of one side.”
Landry’s remarks echoed those uttered by Parizeau himself on referendum night, when he blamed “money and the ethnic vote” for the Yes side’s narrow defeat. Like Landry, Parizeau also refused to apologize, claiming during his resignation announcement last week that he was merely using harsh words to describe a fact of Quebec political life. That may well be true, even though Parizeau was almost universally condemned by francophone commentators for singling out the
soon after the PQ executive meets in December. After that, he would likely run in a byelection to gain a seat in the national assembly. Already, two MNAs, both from Bouchard’s home turf in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region, have publicly said they would resign their seats to make way for the Bloc leader. In addition, Le Hir’s riding in Iberville, 30 km east of Montreal, may well open up if the former minister decides to leave politics.
Once in office, however, Bouchard would have to deal with the onerous task of actually governing Quebec. And that is no small chore, given the province’s $5.7-billion budget deficit last year. For the first time in his career, the Bloc leader would have to deal with the difficult decisions that come with running a government: presiding over decisions about cuts in public spending and the curtailing of social services that presumably have been placed on hold in the run-up to the referendum. Many analysts believe that another referendum adventure does not seem to be in the cards for the time being—despite referendumnight comments by Bouchard and Parizeau that the fight for sovereignty would soon continue. One problem is that Quebec’s referendum law forbids a second vote on the same subject in the same government mandate. In addition, there is a powerful current of
opinion among Péquistes that the time has come to govern rather than embark on yet another push for independence. ‘The prevailing view among everyone I’ve talked to in the caucus,” said PQ MNA Cliche, “is that we’ve presented a project. It was rejected. Now, it’s the other side’s turn.”
The “other side,” at least as far as Quebec’s Liberal party is concerned, does not disagree. “I think the message that has been sent by this referendum is crystal clear,” said former Liberal finance minister André Bourbeau, a member of Johnson’s inner circle of advisers. “We laid out all the facts and figures about the costs of separation, but in the end, it seems to me that Quebec’s voters, at least a majority of the francophones, indicated that they are willing to pay the price if there are no significant changes in the way the Canadian federal system works.”
To that end, the provincial Liberals, acutely aware that the province may soon face another election, is drafting the constitutional platform that Johnson refused to discuss during the referendum campaign. It will revolve around three basic demands: the recognition of Quebec’s “special place” in Canada, a Quebec veto over future constitutional changes and the further decentralization of federal powers. On the last point, at least, Johnson can point to allies like Ontario’s Mike Harris, Alberta’s Ralph Klein and British Columbia’s Michael Harcourt. On the other two issues—Quebec’s special place and a veto—the situation appears more problematic, likely to lead once again to the kind of debilitating debate that surrounded both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.
There is another force driving Johnson’s initiative.
The Liberal leader’s hold on the helm of his own party is not entirely secure.
There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Johnson inside the party, stemming from the referendum results, which clearly showed that a majority of francophones—roughly 60 per cent—voted in favor of the Yes side. If that vote were translated into a provincial election, the outcome would be grim for the Liberals. And in order to avoid that prospect, Johnson needs a plank to negate the separatists’ appeal—particularly if they are going to be led by someone with the charisma of Lucien Bouchard. □