Montreal âe” The race for the top spot in the Parti Quebecois has taken a surprisingturn. Pauline Marois, the experienced Minister of Everything is showingwinning form in the debates. Her chief rival, former Minister AndréBoisclair has admitted to cocaine use. The other candidates, nine in all,have failed to register with public opinion. But Mme. Marois is trailingthe young, dynamic, openly gay André Boisclair.

It seems M. Boisclair has that something: the royal jelly, charisma,spark, speaking ability, energy, star quality, the leadership gene, callit what you wish, he connects to his public, and he is on his way towinning the PQ leadership.

The Cocaine File is going to follow him around. With only PQ membersvoting to elect the leader, the benefit of the doubt is going to the youngcandidate: he made a mistake, has admitted to it, is no longer a user,this is nothing to worry about.

Fellow leadership candidate Richard Legendre commented, gently but firmly, as a father I have some problems with public figures who use cocaine.

In a general election other more probing questions will be asked. Wheredid he buy it? What was his relationship with the dealers? How long did heuse it? How come a government Minister can get away scot-free when hisfellow citizens have gone to jail for doing what he admitted to doing?

The leadership race is focused on sovereignty for Quebec. Candidates aremeasured on a scale going from soft to hard on the issue. No one can winsaying sovereignty is dead for now. All are required to be blood testedfor their life-long commitment to the Quebec independence movement.Boisclair, who had left government to pursue studies at the Kennedy Schoolat Harvard, was supposed to be headed to a management firm in Toronto whenthe PQ leadership came open earlier than expected. Outgoing “chef” BernardLandry and his troops adopted the Boisclair candidacy, and he came intothe race, and has not looked back.

Governments in Quebec routinely win two mandates, but the Jean Charestgovernment is so unpopular, that a PQ victory in the next election lookslikely to many. This raises the traditional PQ dilemma. Do we promise tobe a good government, or do we campaign for sovereignty?The better the chance of winning the election the more pressure there isto soft pedal sovereignty. Except for two things:

  • The federal government presence has not been so weak, so poorly regarded,so ineffective, in the last 40 years as it is now. The Martin government hassucceeded in making people lose confidence in Ottawa, and question theneed for what amounts to, in Quebec, a second national government.

    The Charest government represents the federalist option. It has managed toalienate virtually the entire province, social category by socialcategory. It started with parents through the effort to undermine thechild-care system, and has proceeded through salaried workers, users ofpublic services, people outside Montreal, Montrealers, pensioners, theunemployed, students, natives, and, for good measure, federalists as wellwith his governmentâe(TM)s planned foray onto the world stage brandishing itsmade-in-Quebec foreign policy.

  • Quebec nationalism is back. The federal Liberals failed miserably to learnfrom the near defeat in the 1995 referendum. Rather than make Canada moreattractive, through commitments to communities, they ended up doingpatronage instead, which has rebounded into the Gomery fiasco.

All is not yet lost. The appointment of a new Governor General is thefirst potential upside for the federal Liberals. And, more importantly,the provincial Liberal party has a leader-in-waiting in the person of thepopular Minister of Health, Philippe Couillard.

After the election of André Boisclair, should the PQ show renewedstrength, look for the provincial Liberals to go looking for a new leader.And when the federal Liberals tire of Paul Martin, they will ignore Quebecat their peril.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...