CANADA

Parizeau’s lone quest

LISA VAN DUSEN February 29 1988
CANADA

Parizeau’s lone quest

LISA VAN DUSEN February 29 1988

Parizeau’s lone quest

CANADA

Jacques Parizeau’s supporters had billed the event as one of the most interesting speeches in an otherwise colorless campaign. But the portly, 57year-old economics professor did little to arouse the enthusiasm of the 250 people who had braved a fierce snowstorm last week to hear him speak in a church basement in a Quebec City workingclass neighborhood. Rather than seeking their support, Parizeau delivered a dry dissertation on social policy.

As the only contender so far for the leadership of the 66,000-member Parti Québécois, Parizeau has the prize in sight. His speech was part of what he has called his “intellectual striptease”—a gradual disclosure of his views on social and economic issues. And he had good reason to be confident: no other candidate is expected to emerge before the March 17 deadline for nominations, enabling Parizeau to become the PQ’s next leader without a vote.

Although Parizeau’s victory is all but assured, his party faces severe problems. Instead of uniting the PQ, the leadership campaign has reignited the bitter debate between supporters of Parizeau’s hard-line stand in favor of Quebec independence and those who favor a more gradual, step-by-step approach. At the same time, recent polls indicate that the PQ under Parizeau would face an uphill battle in any early election showdown with Premier Robert Bourassa’s governing Liberal party. A survey conducted in mid-January by Montreal’s Centre de recherche sur l’opinion publique showed that the PQ would gain support if it were led by Parizeau—but not enough to defeat the Liberals. It also indicated that PQ support would increase to 39 per cent from 31 per cent, while backing for the Liberals would slump slightly to 51 per cent from 55 per cent—still enough to win a comfortable majority. The PQ now holds 20 seats in Quebec’s legislature, and the Liberals hold 99.

Parizeau opened up old divisions in the party by announcing early in his campaign that he would interpret a PQ victory in the next election as a “mandate to prepare Quebec’s sovereignty.” That alienated members of the party’s moderate sector, who subscribe to the program of so-called national affirma-

tion spelled out by Pierre Marc Johnson, who resigned as party leader on Nov. 10 after a series of public attacks on him by hard-liners. Johnson’s supporters espouse a more gradual approach to achieving sovereignty for Quebec, arguing that it is a more politically palatable option at a time when independence appears to be less important than economic issues among voters. Said François Landry, the PQ’s regional president for northern Montreal: “People have other priorities now. It’s pretty hard to get the indépendantiste message across when things are going so well.”

The divisions deepened when Parizeau launched his leadership bid in the

central Montreal riding held by Gérald Godin, a PQ member of the legislature who led the attacks on Johnson in the days following the Nov. 1 death of party founder René Lévesque. Said one Johnson supporter: “To us, he was calling for support from the front porch of Brutus.” But in Quebec City last week, party fund raiser Jeanne Blackburn downplayed the division. Said Blackburn: “The tensions in the party have always been about what means to employ, not about the objective. On that, we are united.”

Parizeau has faltered on some issues. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of free trade with the United States, but he drew criticism for

an assertion last month that an independent Quebec could simply sign on as a third party to any agreement reached between Canada and the United States. Bourassa, for one, said that it would not be so simple. Quebec, he added, would have to renegotiate a deal, and “Mr. Parizeau never talks about that.”

In addition, Parizeau offended many women by describing his campaign as a “striptease”—and by telling a radio interviewer in Montreal that he would try to improve his image among women by smiling at them more often. Said Ginette Busque, president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec: “If he thinks he can seduce us by smiling, he must take us for complete idiots.”

For many observers, Parizeau’s takeover of the party was an almost inevitable development. During eight years as Quebec’s finance minister under Lévesque from 1976 to 1984, he developed a constituency among the party’s hard-liners for never compromising on the issue of sovereignty. And he became known as a shrewd finance minister in the late 1970s when he introduced the highly successful Quebec Stock Savings Plan, which assisted Quebec-based companies by giving tax breaks to Quebecers who invested in them. Three provincesAlberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia—have introduced similar plans.

Parizeau’s patrician manner and penchant for pinstripe suits reassured many nervous anglophones and federalist francophones who found Lévesque’s style too radical. Parizeau is a product of Montreal’s Outremont district, the enclave of the city’s Frenchspeaking establishment, and his anglophile affectations, including his frequent use of such phrases as “chap” and “by Jove” in conversation, were acquired at the London School of Economics. He earned a doctorate there before returning to Montreal in 1955 to teach economics, and later became an economic adviser to former Liberal premier Jean Lesage.

Even Parizeau’s supporters acknowledge that he does not offer the kind of emotional commitment to independence that Lévesque did. Still, they predict that his cool, analytical approach will ultimately appeal to Quebecers’ sense of logic, if not to their imagination. “We’ve graduated from passion to reason,” declared Godin last week. “We can no longer be swayed by the warning that if we separate we will lose the mountain goats that romp atop the Rockies.” If Parizeau becomes leader, he will have to convince not only his divided party of that but a majority of Quebecers as well.

LISA VAN DUSEN in Quebec City