Popular ex-leader Bouchard blasts PQ radicalism, urges it to shelve sovereignty

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

QUEBEC - Quebec sovereigntists found themselves fending off a barrage of friendly fire Wednesday from the old general who once nearly marched them into the promised land of independence.
Lucien Bouchard, the charismatic former Parti Quebecois premier who brought Quebec to within a whisker of sovereignty, launched a broadside against his old party.
He levelled charges in three sensitive areas: he said the PQ had become increasingly "radical" toward minorities, ignored important issues like education and reducing public debt, and he described the PQ's very raison d'etre - Quebec independence - as unattainable.
It was a rare comment on current affairs from Bouchard, who has avoided speaking publicly about politics since his 2001 retirement.
His wide-ranging remarks were summed up in a front-page headline Wednesday in Le Devoir newspaper: Sovereignty Is No Longer Achievable, Bouchard Says.
Not only is independence on the shelf but it's not even something Quebecers should be focusing on for now, Bouchard said during a public discussion forum the previous evening in Quebec City.
Sovereigntist figures all offered variations on a similar reaction: they all expressed affection for Bouchard, stressed that he was still a sovereigntist at heart, and said they disagreed with his assessments.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, in an interview with The Canadian Press, called it normal for fellow travellers to have disagreements and he noted that federalists have their own.
As for Bouchard's view that sovereignty is unachievable, Duceppe said, nobody thought Quebec's Quiet Revolution was attainable before it finally happened in the 1960s.
He warned Canadian federalists not to get too giddy over Wednesday's headlines.
"If federalists think they've found a new weapon and start patting themselves on the back with it, it might blow up on them," Duceppe said.
"(Bouchard says) sovereignty is a dream. I say we should realize our dreams. . . So we have a dream. Federalists don't even have a dream."
Duceppe said there obviously won't be a referendum anytime soon, since the PQ is stuck in opposition in Quebec. But he added that the other side - Canadian federalists - haven't given the slightest indication they might ever dream of offering a constitutional deal acceptable to Quebec.
Another close ally of Bouchard's said he was convinced, after spending thousands of hours working with the man, that he believed in the cause of independence.
But Bernard Landry admitted he found the remarks troubling.
"I learned about it this morning. But if I'd learned about it last night I wouldn't have slept," said Landry, the man who replaced Bouchard as premier, in an interview with LCN.
"(Bouchard) is a great and complex man. . . This deeply disappoints me."
Current Pequistes in Quebec City said they will continue fighting for sovereignty even if Bouchard won't.
Leader Pauline Marois, when asked whether her predecessor had become one of her party's notorious armchair quarterbacks (the expression used in Quebec is "mother-in-law" - or "belle mere") she said he had.
But Marois said she still speaks to her old boss regularly: "He's a man I respect a lot," she said.
Aside from the dealing with the controversy, it was business as usual for Marois on Wednesday.
She started the day's question period by asking the government why it had changed the law to allow Orthodox Jewish schools to offer classes on Sunday.
Premier Jean Charest snapped back that she should have taken her former leader's advice before the day's question period.
"Madame Marois has chosen the lowest common denominator and that's the choice she made," Charest said outside the legislature.
"We have a choice in politics: we can either go to the highest common denominator or the lowest and that's a choice we make individually."
Charest told reporters he wasn't celebrating Bouchard's comments because he was, in fact, saddened by the toxic climate of the debate being fuelled by the PQ.
The Jewish-schools question is only the latest so-called identity issue being stressed by the opposition in recent months as it seeks to win over nationalist voters once tempted by the tiny ADQ party.
It's also the issue that caused Bouchard to launch his broadside. During a public forum on Tuesday night, he was asked about the Jewish schools question.
Bouchard replied: "I don't like what I'm hearing from the Parti Quebecois."
He invoked the memory of the party's most beloved figure, the late founder who went out of his way to demonstrate respect for religious minorities.
"I think of Rene Levesque," Bouchard said.
"Rene Levesque was a man of generosity. He didn't ask questions like that, Rene Levesque. He didn't think our identity was threatened."
He then dropped one more grenade: the sovereignty battle should be shelved for the foreseeable future, he said.
Bouchard was so popular in Quebec that, during the 1995 referendum, supporters would strain to touch him as he delivered a series of stemwinding speeches to adoring nationalist crowds.
His pro-Independence Yes side started the referendum campaign at a major disadvantage, before Bouchard - then a federal politician leading the Bloc Quebecois - took leadership of the campaign.
Under his watch, the Yes rallied to within less than a percentage point of breaking up the country.
Bouchard then became premier, and spent most of his time in office saying he would wait for the so-called "winning conditions" - like eliminating the budget deficit - before holding another referendum.
That go-slow approach annoyed the PQ's most ardent faction.

Organizations: Parti Quebecois, Bloc Quebecois, Canadian Press

Geographic location: Quebec City

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page