Marois' a-flippy-to-a-floppy

marois190208aWe come not to bury Pauline Marois, but to praise her. Or to praise her and then bury her with her own contradictions.

Let us explain. Marois is a smart woman who has mot only survived in a harsh political clime–Quebec–for more than 30 years, but has done so whilst ensconced in the harshest subset thereof, the Parti Québécois. The party likes to say it is a big tent, and it is, if you have a thing for portable abattoirs. This corner has interviewed her, and chronicled her travails and challenges before. All is to say that Marois gets a medal just for keeping her relatively back dagger-free for three whole decades.

As education minister she begat the province’s $5-a-day daycare system in 1996, a bold, ballsy and tremendously popular initiative that has directly resulted in a rare bump in Quebec’s forever-moribund birthrate. That she did so under the rightist auspices of Lucien Bouchard’s rightist government is even more impressive. Charest would never have had the mindset or the political gumption to enact anything like this. In fact, about all he could do was raise the fees to $7 a few years ago. 

But sweet lord, the poor woman can’t seem to make up her mind.

Over the years there have been myriad examples of Marois’ flippery-floppery, the most recent of which involved the freezing of user fees for government services. Last week she pilloried Jean Charest for not freezing them; at the PQ’s national council over the weekend, she said she’s actually for the unfreezing of them. This isn’t a flip-flop, strictly speaking: she hedged her comments by suggesting the government should wait until the end of the economic crisis to unfreeze them (even though they aren’t frozen now; pretzel, anyone?). Still, this little dance doesn’t look particularly good for a politician who has a reputation for fiery (and fickle) flights of fancy more frequently than most.

Marois’ biggest volte-face went largely unnoticed this past weekend. Her keynote speech, as per usual, was a bit of péquiste boilerplate rejigged for these uncertain times. A sovereign Quebec, Marois espoused, “would have more manoeuvring room to develop an economic strategy, to support families and workers” and could better weather the current nastiness. (The Post’s Graeme Hamilton has a nice smarty-pants summary of the whole gaping mess.) With one notable exception, these speeches have long stopped being infuriated to federalists within and beyond Quebec, if only because they are a carbon copy of just about every speech delivered by péquiste leader over the last 20-odd years.

What is utterly flabbergasting about her whole sovereignty-is-good-for-the-economy spiel is that Marois herself has said the exact opposite, very loudly and in public, not four years ago. During the race for the PQ leadership in 2005, which Marois would end up losing to André Boisclair, Marois declared that a referendum victory would inevitably be followed by “five years of disturbance” as a sovereign Quebec gets up on its feet. Sovereignist luminaries jumped down her throat, and she was force to, uh, nuance her views by saying it might cause a disturbance, but maybe not. With this weekend’s declaration, her flip-flop is complete: with the ‘five years’ declaration stuffed firmly in the PQ’s overflowing memory hole, she has declared that sovereignty isn’t an economic albatross, it’s actually more of a… falcon. Or a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, which is apparently native to Ile-Bizard, where Marois has a wee dacha.

It’s nice and all to champion sovereignty in the classroom, or in one’s basement, or the shower. Wherever you want, really. Doing so in front of a national audience, without even an inkling of one’s own hypocrisy, after nearly 30,000 Quebecers lost their jobs in a single month, is another entirely. Il y a des hosties limites, as they say around here.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.