By Jason Menard
Navigating through the murky waters of a minority government and weighed down by the anchor that is the Gomery inquiry, Paul Martin has just been thrown a life preserver by the least-likely source possible.
Mr. Prime Minister, next time you’re in your home riding of Ville Emard, make sure you make a side trip to say merci to Mr. Bernard Landry.
The Parti Quebecois’ leader decided this weekend to step down after receiving a less-than-enthusiastic 76.2 per cent support from the party’s delegates during its leadership review. His decision to gracefully step away leaves a void in separatist leadership – a void that would probably best be filled by one man, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.
The lure of the PQ post may be too much for Duceppe to resist. While politicians for other parties often look to move from provincial politics to the federal ranks, Quebec separatists know the true seat of separatist power doesn’t lie on Parliament Hill – it is firmly entrenched in Quebec City’s National Assembly.
The call of the PQ leadership is enticing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Duceppe could take control of a party that is not in power. Quebec Liberal leader Jean Charest is under no obligation to 2008 and is not exactly enjoying exalted status in the province.
The Parti Quebecois is at its most effective when it doesn’t have to worry about little things like actually running a province. Without the distractions caused by the compromises and sacrifices that a ruling Party needs to make to effectively govern a province, Duceppe could ride his wave of popularity back into the province and spend the next three years promoting the sovereigntist cause without actually having to be accountable for anything. He could use his gift for rhetoric and charisma to chip away at the ruling Liberal government and to build momentum for the separatist movement.
And Quebecers’ collective memories are long. With a federal government in turmoil, a provincial Liberal party that’s struggling to make inroads with the soft separatists, the PQ is poised for a return to power – and Duceppe knows that it may be time to strike while the iron is hot. Who else has the record and the charisma to take the reins? Certainly not Pauline Marois and her $400,000 taxpayer-funded renovated bathrooms (complete with silent toilets). Anyone else is just a pretender to the throne should Duceppe decide to accept his coronation.
After all, how much more can he do on the federal level? He has shown that he is a competent statesman and an effective thorn in the side of the government. He has displayed the poise and grace that his federal counterparts only wish they could — Duceppe’s performances in the two national debates left his three opponents choking in his exhaust. And he’s raised the profile of the Bloc, with the help of some Liberal blundering, to lofty heights. A virtual sweep of the province of Quebec would be almost assured in the next federal election should he remain at the helm.
But therein lies the problem. By leaving the federal forum for the provincial arena, Duceppe would be filling one void only to create another. A fall federal election would likely coincide with a fall PQ leadership convention. Duceppe would have to make the choice, and should he make the politically savvy move to provincial politics, he would leave his federal party struggling to find a leader in its time of need – a scenario that would play right into the Liberals hands.
The Bloc and the PQ are parties that thrive on charisma. Rene Levesque had it, Lucien Bouchard had it, and Duceppe has shown he has it as well. But there’s no one else on the horizon that displays the same je-ne-sais-quoi that the position requires. And the loss of that X-factor on the federal level could make the difference in a handful of ridings – which could make all the difference in a fall federal election.
The ideal situation for separatists is to convince Landry to retake the reigns and guide his party through the coming federal election. With no provincial vote on the horizon, there is no urgency for a change in leadership. Landry could steward the PQ through the federal election, which would allow Duceppe to focus on continuing the momentum the Bloc has enjoyed up to now.
After the election, Landry could announce his resignation and Duceppe could, at that time, ride in on his white horse to spin his magic with the provincial party. But would Landry be able to subjugate his pride for the betterment of his party? That’s a question only he can answer.
If he doesn’t, then Prime Minister Martin should make sure Landry’s added to his special Christmas card list – along with Belinda Stronach – of former adversaries who have helped keep his government afloat.
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