An independent voice

Jacques Parizeau has a clear message

October 23 1989

An independent voice

Jacques Parizeau has a clear message

October 23 1989

An independent voice

Jacques Parizeau has a clear message

It was to be, by most predictions, a battle for the very survival of the Parti Québécois. And Jacques Parizeau’s advisers knew they had a problem. As they prepared for last month’s critical Quebec election, the PQ were suffering from the public perception that their leader was an aloof intellectual who lacked affinity with common Quebecers. “Parizeau’s image is that of an Oxford-educated member of the British aristocracy, and every day his aides were telling him that people could not relate to that,” said Jacques Langlois, a Montreal media consultant who helped to produce the PQ’s television ads for the election. At first, Parizeau resisted his advisers' attempts to convince him to stop wearing his trademark dark three-piece suits. “This is how I have always dressed,” he told them. “I am not an actor.” But, finally, Parizeau relented. One of the party’s 30-second television ads revealed a relaxed Parizeau—jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows—strolling through the woods while a dog playfully nipped at his heels. Said Langlois: “That is still the real Parizeau. It is just a Parizeau that people had not seen before.”

In fact, neither Parizeau image seems to fit easily with his demonstrated ruthlessness as a political tactician or his stated intention to break up Confederation. But Parizeau himself insists that the image most beloved of political cartoonists, who portray him as a rotund, old-fashioned banker, obscures his modernized political beliefs. “Physically, I belong to the past,” the 59-year-old Parizeau acknowledged during a Maclean ’s interview in his downtown Montreal office last week. But he clearly hopes to become identified in the minds of Quebec voters with the profound changes that have occurred in the province since the PQ’s defeat in the 1980 referendum. For one thing, he argues strenuously that new social and economic conditions make Quebec independence more viable now than ever before. In particular, he points to the new Free Trade Agreement, which, by improving Quebec’s access to U.S. markets, reduces its economic dependence on the rest of Canada. Declared Parizeau: “I want Quebecers to realize that they constitute a country.”

Such thinking sets Parizeau apart from PQ cofounder René Lévesque, who always couched his pitch for Quebec sovereignty in tandem with an undefined “association” with the rest of Canada. Parizeau’s unambiguous stand on independence has allowed him to escape Lévesque's long shadow and recast the PQ in his own mould. During the election, Parizeau ran a surprisingly vigorous campaign against Premier Robert Bourassa’s Liberals. In the end, the PQ captured 40 per cent of the vote

and 29 of the province’s 125 seats, for an increase of six seats. Now, Parizeau is trying to enlarge that base and drive new wedges between Quebec and the rest of Canada by

discrediting the Meech Lake constitutional accord—Bourassa’s attempt to accommodate Quebec’s concerns within Confederation.

Last week, Parizeau served notice that the province’s national assembly will be a raucous

forum when it resumes sitting on Nov. 21. Emerging from the first meeting of his party's new caucus in Quebec City, Parizeau predicted that the fall session will be dominated by “fireworks” over Meech Lake. The deal, which would make Quebec a signatory to the 1982 Constitution, is in danger of foundering over the objections of provincial governments in Manitoba and New Brunswick, which have never given their required ratification, and Newfoundland, which is considering withdrawing its government’s previous support. The leaders of two of these provinces—Manitoba and Newfoundland—particularly object to a provision in the accord that would grant Quebec a different status than other provinces as a “distinct society.”

But Parizeau dismisses even the loosest affiliation with the rest of Canada. Said former PQ cabinet minister Claude Morin, a longtime friend: “Parizeau’s position is unambiguous: he has never said that federalism is an option.” While Bourassa has resorted to threatening English Canada with the spectre of revived separatism if Meech Lake dies, Parizeau has expressed sympathy for English-Canadians who balk at the accord. By encouraging Meech Lake’s critics, Parizeau clearly hopes to hasten the death of the accord—an agreement that many people believe would lock Quebec into the federal system. Parizeau makes no secret of his intent to manipulate opinion in English Canada. Indeed, speaking to Maclean’s last week, he boasted that he was capable of “playing English Canada like a cello.” Parizeau’s first exposure to the Canadians whose political responses he now claims to have mastered came after the Second World War when, as the teenage son of a prosperous Montreal businessman, he spent a summer hitchhiking across the nation. “The country—as a country —did not really exist then,” he recalled. “But over the last 40 years, a kind of Cana| dian nationalism developed, u and we in Quebec have been a pain in the neck in that process.” Added Parizeau: “For a quarter of a century, Quebec politicians have been trying to prevent Canada from becoming Canada.”

But Parizeau’s formative years also included a stint in Britain earning a doctorate from the

London School of Economics. His conversation in English is still sprinkled with such dated British expressions as “chaps” and “bloody,” but Parizeau said that the legacy of his British experience goes much deeper. “When I came back in 1955, it was to a very peculiar kind of Quebec, where there were inferiorities with respect to the Anglo-Saxon world,” he said. “Quebecers felt that they were not good enough when it came to business or technology. But coming from England, I did not feel inferior in any way and could not give a damn about those worries.”

Parizeau’s evident self-confidence distinguishes him from Lévesque’s more populist —and often seemingly humble—stage presence. Said Louise Harel, a PQ MNA from east Montreal who has worked closely with Parizeau since he became party leader in December, 1987: “Mr. Lévesque personified the Quebec of the underdog. He was David against Goliath, trying to show Quebecers that they were equal to other peoples. But Parizeau is closer to Trudeau: he has no inferiority complex, and his message is that we are capable of doing it on our own.”

That was the message that Parizeau pounded home during the 47-day election campaign. Said Daniel Latouche, a PQ adviser in Lévesque’s era: “Parizeau’s great strength was realizing that political parties have souls, and the soul of the PQ is independence.” But Parizeau’s approach to selling independence differs sharply from that of Lévesque. Said the PQ leader: “People are asking, ‘Why isn’t Parizeau similar to Lévesque?’ Well, for one good reason: I can rely on new strengths that Quebec did not have 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, it

was not at all obvious that Quebec entrepreneurs were capable of competing internationally. Now it is.” Parizeau covets the support of business leaders, who, he evidently believes, will be receptive to the dispassionate, intellectual approach he brings to his appeal for independence. “I am a bloody university professor, and it is perfectly useless at my age to think that I can change myself into some kind of emotional character,” said Parizeau. Noted Yves Michaud, a friend since 1960: “He is an indépendentiste by reason, not by sentiment or emotion.”

Still, despite the sometimes academic tenor of his message, Parizeau told Maclean 'sthat he is keenly aware that “I get an emotional response to that message.” With his PQ advisers, Parizeau helped create a series of brutally emotional 15-second advertisements to attack the Liberals during the recent campaign. In order to dramatize the PQ’S accusation that Bourassa’s restrictions on minority language rights do not go far enough to protect the French language, one ad featured a young man being viciously slapped across the face, purportedly illustrating what Bourassa’s language policy does to Quebec’s francophone youth.

Another ad, which attacked the Liberal’s family policies, showed a baby struggling to keep a pudgy grip on a wooden block shaped like a dollar sign that was being

tugged away by an adult hand representing the government. “The ads were very avant-garde for Quebec,” said their producer, Langlois. “And some of Parizeau’s advisers were worried that they were too negative and would provoke a backlash. But Parizeau wanted the ads to be tough.” Recalled Langlois: “He even preferred a version of the baby commercial in which the hand reached into the crib and yanked a bottle from the baby’s mouth.” Parizeau’s unflinching campaign performance—and the fact that the PQ made a slight improvement over its 1985 showing under Pierre Marc Johnson—has solidified his hold on the party. Said Jules-Pascal Venne, a Johng son loyalist: “The election re| suits confirm the hold of the as orthodox separatists over the

0 PQ.” For his part, Parizeau

1 believes that the postelection u political alignment has left

the Liberals and the PQ competing for the support of Quebec’s moderate nationalists. Said Parizeau: “There is no political space between Bourassa and the Parti Québécois anymore.” That, he added, is likely to end the plans of some francophone federal ministers—including Environment Minister Lucien Bouchard and Transport Minister Benoît Bouchard—to return to Quebec and found a new, moderately nationalist party in the province if Meech Lake fails.

If any political space does exist in Quebec, Parizeau believes, it is on the federalist side. And Parizeau is counting on the four Englishspeaking Equality party members who were elected on Sept. 25 to force Bourassa to clarify his stand on federalism.

Meanwhile, Parizeau said he is encouraged by the fact that the English-Canadian business community is not expressing alarm at the new vigor of his party and the revived prospects for Quebec separatism. “It is the great discovery7 of our time that small countries can exist politically within large markets,” he said. “In that sense, I do not belong to the past—I belong to this extraordinary discovery of our time.” That certainty of conviction accounts for much of Parizeau’s new command over his party and his confidence that Quebecers

will eventually embrace his

vision.

BRUCE WALLACE

2 in Montreal