Inside the PQ, independence starts at home

Yet another MNA quits the Parti Québécois over its referendum policy

Leave it to the Parti Québécois to find a way to make a bad situation worse. On Tuesday, the PQ’s Benoit Charette became the fifth MNA this month to quit the party. PQ leader Pauline Marois also expelled René Gauvreau from caucus over allegations an aide was helping himself to party funds, but let’s focus on Charette for now, if only because my brain can’t process how bad a month Marois is having.

Unlike those of his four predecessors, though, Charette’s departure wasn’t followed by the usual complaint the PQ hasn’t spent enough time organizing a referendum it can’t possibly hold until it wins power. No, sir. That would too simple, not to mention boring. Rather, Charette complained the PQ has been too focused on sovereigntist politics. Raise your hand if you still think Gilles Duceppe (or anyone else for that matter) is looking at the PQ and thinking, ‘Now there’s a party I’d like to lead.’ C’mon, there must be one of you out there.

Even before the PQ started losing support on two flanks—who knows how the 14 other flanks are doing—questions were being raised about the party’s long-term viability. It’s easy to see why. The results of the last federal election don’t bode well for the PQ. The Bloc’s demise was one thing, but the collapse of the Liberals after a long experiment in aimless soul-searching may be an even closer parallel. Along with the Alberta Tories, who are suffering through a monumental crisis of their own, are any other political parties in Canada as obsessed with leadership politics as the federal Liberals and the PQ? Is it a coincidence they’re each suffering through an existential crisis? More importantly for the PQ, what does the vanishing support for the Bloc and the Liberals say about Quebecers’ taste for big-tent politics?

The NDP’s success in Quebec is in large part due to its disruption of the ground on which the Bloc and Liberals had been waging their sovereigntist/federalist battles. Once the Dippers became a credible political force in Quebec—no small feat, and perhaps entirely attributable to Thomas Mulcair’s win in Outremont—it forced the Liberals and the Bloc to either tack left in a bid to protect their turf, or tack right to prevent any further losses. When they chose to do neither, stubbornly insisting they could be all things to all federalists/sovereigntists, they became the worst thing a party can be: irrelevant. Any PQ members who think it won’t happen to them should look to their left at Amir Khadir and the rest of Québec Solidaire, and to their right at the ADQ and the rest of Quebec’s deep-rooted conservative movement. Which brings us to François Legault.

In case you’re not familiar with him, the former PQ cabinet minister is the hotttest political commodity in Quebec these days. A recent poll for Le Devoir named Legault the most popular person in Quebec politics. Despite having recently set up a party think tank, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (Coalition for the Future of Quebec), Legault has also been rumoured to take charge of the ADQ. Unlike many others, I don’t put much stock in Legault’s chances. He is, put simply, more of the same, only his big tent is built to house Quebec’s admittedly sizable contingent of declinists, rather than its sovereigntists and/or federalists. Though nominally right-wing, if only because of his distrust of Quebec’s state-driven economy, Legault’s politics more closely resemble an alarm bell than a roadmap to prosperity. That said, combined with the impacts of a seemingly rejuvenated ADQ and the impossibly energetic Amir Khadir, the PQ could be in real trouble by the time the next election rolls around.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate how much Marois and the PQ are letting slip through their fingers. The Charest government is an unmitigated disaster and its principal weakness—widespread accusations of graft and corruption—plays right into the PQ’s brand as the party of good government. The ADQ, in spite of a resurgence in the polls, is all but broke, and even the provincial Liberals are in a bit of financial trouble. It’s been eight months since the PQ’s lead in the polls was less than 10 points. And yet tonight, in Pierre Curzi’s riding of Borduas, the party’s former star MNA will be hosting a meeting of prominent sovereingtists eager to poke even more holes in the PQ’s hull.