Bouchard and Parizeau endure a prickly partnership
Quebec’s family feud
Bouchard and Parizeau endure a prickly partnership
On the face of it, they are a team, the powerful combination that may yet lead Quebec to independence. And to the untutored eye they work easily in tandem, like the well-oiled parts of the same political machine. But while the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa and the Parti Québécois back home in Quebec may be travelling the same road, they do not always share the same view of the best way to reach the ultimate destination. The two organizations are, in fact, evolving quite differently. Contrary to the carefully nurtured public image, they are not always comfortable in each other’s company. And nowhere is that more evident than in the increasingly prickly relationship between Bloc Leader Lucien Bouchard and the man at the helm of the PQ, Jacques Parizeau. “I don’t think they’ve ever liked each other very much,” says one insider who knows both men well. “But what’s becoming clearer is that they don’t really trust each other much, either.” It has never been an easy association. The reasons are straightforward, revolving around
the compelling fact that Bouchard remains the most obvious candidate for Parizeau’s job. Ever since he quit Brian Mulroney’s cabinet in 1990 and became a passionate advocate of the separatist cause, Bouchard has consistently maintained an overwhelming lead over Parizeau in popularity among both the PQ rank and file and Quebec voters at large. The issue has always rankled Parizeau, clouding their dealings. Until recently, however, both the Bloc leader and the PQ chief managed to bury their private differences in the interests of public solidarity behind the overriding objective of winning sovereignty. “Neither wants to be remembered in history as the individual who scuttled what could be Quebec’s last— and best—chance for independence,” says University of Montreal political scientist Stéphane Dion.
As long as the goal remained within sight, Bouchard and Parizeau were able to maintain the fiction of a well-integrated, smoothly running sovereigntist team. But I now that Daniel Johnson’s Liberal 1 government has caught up with the $ PQ in the polls and transformed the I impending Quebec election into a t real horse race, there is a dawning s realization among separatist forces 0 in both Ottawa and Quebec that the prize may be slipping from their
grasp. And as a result, the underlying tensions between Parizeau and Bouchard have bubbled to the surface. In both separatist parties, there are private murmurs that Parizeau has squandered the PQ’s once commanding lead in the polls through his aloof manner, hectoring tone and chronic penchant for striking precisely the wrong note in public statements. For example, he recently irked his handlers by speculating that a referendum on independence could be held as soon as two months after a PQ election victory.
Bouchard shares that distinctly unflattering view of Parizeau, according to close associates. “Lucien sometimes feels like he’s trapped in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by Parizeau,” confides one intimate of the Bloc leader. “Every time Jacques heads for another cliff, he’s forced to sit there quietly, hanging on for dear life and hoping for the best.” Bouchard certainly has good reason to be wary of ruffling Parizeau. He has been reprimanded in the past for expressing sentiments at variance with Parizeau’s views. When Bouchard voiced his agreement with former Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa’s call for a loose political “superstructure” broadly similar to that of the European Community to manage relations between Canada and Quebec, he was summoned to Parizeau’s Outremont home for a stem lecture. And when Bouchard declared his support for the limited use of English on Quebec signs, he was promptly contradicted by the PQ leader.
In private, the two leaders’ relations are correct but decidedly cool. They address each other in French with vous rather than the more intimate tu. They never use first names: it is invariably “Monsieur Bouchard” and “Monsieur Parizeau.” In recent weeks, party handlers have even taken pains to avoid bringing the pair together at public functions, apparently because Bouchard gets all the media attention, enraging Parizeau. When a joint appearance is inescapable, as occurred earlier this month at the election nomination meeting of PQ vice-president Bernard Landiy in his suburban Montreal riding, Bouchard is pointedly not called upon to speak. Parizeau, say Bouchard loyalists, fears that applause for the Bloc leader will drown out his own cheers.
But of the two, it is Bouchard’s position that is the more delicate. The Bloc leader is painfully aware of the reputation he acquired in some quarters as a result of his decision to abandon his old friend and mentor Mulroney. “He cannot afford to be seen as betraying another colleague,” notes a close associate.
For the record, sovereigntists dismiss suggestions of a widening rift between Bouchard’s Bloc and Parizeau’s PQ. “There are no adverse factors between us,” claims Landry. “As a matter of fact, it is so crucial that the relationship be perfect that we take great care to make sure that any problems that do arise are quickly resolved.” If that is true, both the Bloc and the PQ have some work in store. For judging by the telltale signs, relations between the two are troubled at best.
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