15 years after referendum, division marks movement
Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois and PQ language critic Pierre Curzi, hours after Bill 115 was approved by the legislature (Oct. 19, 2010)THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 28, 2010 7:06PM EDT
QUEBEC - It's not a very happy anniversary week, so far, for Quebec's independence movement.
Fifteen years after the last referendum, there are hints of a family feud involving powerful personalities and clashing visions about how to proceed toward the ultimate goal.
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois -- who is ostensibly the leading figure in the movement -- found herself Thursday defending her performance and her approach.
She was reacting to eyebrow-raising remarks from a perhaps even more powerful figure within her party.
In a lengthy television interview this week, this 15th anniversary of the referendum on Oct. 30, 1995, ex-premier Jacques Parizeau didn't once mention the current PQ leader.
But he did applaud Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe as the sovereignty movement's best spokesman.
What Parizeau says matters within the PQ; the aging ex-premier is a hero of the party's hardline faction, and his words can sway the Pequiste rank-and-file.
That expression of admiration for Duceppe -- and the silence regarding Marois -- comes ahead of her leadership review next spring.
Marois had little to say to reporters as she entered a caucus meeting Thursday. But she did address the issue.
"Mr. Parizeau needn't worry," Marois said.
"I'm working actively to achieve sovereignty. Gilles does an excellent job to promote it.
"And, most importantly, he and I work hand in hand to achieve our objective: which is to give ourselves a country and achieve the soverignty in Quebec."
Duceppe also downplayed talk of a rift. He said he and Marois worked well together and that they played different roles on the same team, seeking the same goal.
In an interview with Radio-Canada this week, Parizeau cited Duceppe's recent trip to Washington as an example to follow.
Duceppe didn't get a chance to meet with any senior U.S. officials, but he did use the occasion to make contacts with Capitol Hill staffers and reassure them that America would have an ally in an independent Quebec.
That's the kind of strategic groundwork, Parizeau said, that the sovereignty movement needs to lay.
He said the movement's leaders must do more that just talk about sovereignty once in awhile to make members feel good.
Parizeau, himself, commissioned elaborate studies on how to make the transition to independence, called a referendum, and contacted foreign officials and federalists at home to line up their support for an independent Quebec in the immediate aftermath of a Yes vote.
He did all that in the year before Oct. 30, 1995.
The sovereigntist side wound up losing by only a handful of votes. Parizeau immediately left office after his bitter referendum-night speech, where he blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for the loss.
In the years since, however, polls have consistently shown less interest in independence and even less desire for another referendum.
So the party has found itself constantly grappling with a chicken-and-egg dilemma: Should it work toward sovereignty in the hope of gaining support? Or should it wait for people to want it before working for it?
Parizeau is the champion of those who favour the former approach -- and he's been a constant thorn in the side, over the years, of those who favour a go-slow strategy.
Each discordant note sounded by Parizeau has, however, been music to the ears of the governing federalist party.
The ruling Liberals were eager to draw attention to the potential spat as they arrived for work Thursday.
"Ms. Marois seems more and more isolated. I'm seeing some deep divisions in the PQ," Premier Jean Charest said.
His deputy premier, Nathalie Normandeau, was even more blunt. She noted that at a recent PQ convention, one well-known party member was even publicly touting names of potential future leaders.
"I think Madame Marois' leadership is being openly contested," Normandeau said as she arrived for a Liberal caucus meeting.
One former PQ cabinet minister-turned-political commentator said his old party is partly to blame for the repeated clashes over vision.
Jean-Pierre Charbonneau says the party never had a Plan B in the event of a referendum loss -- either in 1980 under Rene Levesque or under Parizeau in 1995.
He compared it to sending an army into battle with contingency plans for only one outcome.
"Parizeau didn't want to hear me talk about (losing). Levesque, either," Charbonneau said in a talk show on Radio-Canada.
But Duceppe called Thursday's episode a tempest in a teapot. What was so wrong, he asked, about Parizeau complimenting someone?
"For me, when I pay someone a compliment, it doesn't mean I'm denigrating someone else," Duceppe said.