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Future of the PQ and beleaguered Marois threatened from left and right

September 2011

This is the summer of discontent for Quebec sovereignists. Every time you turn around, another splinter group is meeting to proclaim how to best achieve independence.

So far as I can tell, these groups have one thing in common: They want to get rid of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois. The beleaguered Marois is hoisted on the petard of the sovereignist movement’s fatal split. Going back as far as the days of its founder, René Lévesque, the PQ has never clearly decided whether its primary objective is to separate or to govern.

The first group, whose real leader is Jacques Parizeau, want to promote sovereignty and prepare for a referendum.

The second group, represented by Lucien Bouchard and Lévesque himself, want to govern the province well, get re-elected and call a referendum only when there are “winning conditions.” Opposition leader Pauline Marois clearly falls into the second camp. That’s not good enough for her more militant members like Parizeau’s wife, Lisette Lapointe, Louise Beaudoin and Pierre Curzi, all three of whom have bailed from the party.

Last month, some of them attended a founding meeting of another splinter group, the Nouveau movement pour le Québec. Some in this group want separation ipso facto when the PQ wins an election.

This crisis resembles another one, in 1984 when Parizeau and a few of his associates resigned after Premier Lévesque announced he was accepting an offer from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to reopen constitutional talks to welcome Quebec back into the Canadian federation.

PQ leader Pauline Marois in 2007. Photo: Boucheci, Wikimedia Commons

One of my favourite columnists referred to these crises in a recent column in the Gazette. But Josée Legault judges the current crisis is far more dangerous: “The Parti Québécois has suffered many a crisis since it was created in 1968. Its latest one may well be its last. Its very existence is now on the line.”

The PQ’s existence is threatened from both the left and the right. On its left, Québec solidaire commands islands of strength in the Montreal area. On its right, two business heavyweights, former PQ minister François Legault and former Liberal recruiter Charles Sirois, are on the verge of leading a new party into the field. This party would concentrate on business and social issues, leaving independence on the back burner for at least a decade.

Suppose Legault’s party amalgamated with what is left of the Action démocratique du Québec. This would hurt the PQ a lot more than it would hurt the Liberals. According to a recent CROP-La Presse poll, this proposed coalition would gain 47 per cent of voter support (much higher than for the Charest Liberals in the last election.) This is pretty impressive for a non-existent party whose main message is that sovereignty has become irrelevant for solving any of Quebec’s problems.

So Pauline Marois is not only threatened from within the PQ, she is being pinched by both the left and the right. The odds of her surviving to fight the next election are diminishing by the day. The popular Pierre Curzi is waiting in the wings.

Meanwhile, another threat, outside provincial politics, is overtaking Quebec. It is what John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail called “Quebec’s profound isolation.”

For openers, Quebec’s share of the national population is steadily declining, from 29 per cent in 1961 to 21 per cent today. Politically, the days when elites in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal shaped the national agenda are finished. The new consensus is between Ontario and the West. Quebec is outside that consensus. As of now there are only five Quebec MPs within the governing Conservative caucus.

These worrisome trends are bound to reshape the nature of nationalism in Quebec. Whether they accelerate the drive to independence or reassert the desire for good provincial government remains to be seen.



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