Where was Lucien when it mattered? - Macleans.ca

Where was Lucien when it mattered?


It’s almost as if he’d never been in charge.

First, Lucien Bouchard breaks his years-long silence to say the PQ is hopelessly misguided—on sovereignty, on the economy, on identity. Then he says Quebec is starving its universities by capping tuition. I can’t be the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Jamais deux sans trois, and all that.) But whether or not he completes the trifecta, none of it really matters. Bouchard is hardly the white knight Quebec conservatives would like him to be.

The problem with Bouchard’s criticisms isn’t that they’re hypocritical—they’re not—nor that they’re fundamentally wrong. It’s that they’re anachronistic.

On tuition, Bouchard is criticizing a freeze on fees his own government declared in 1997. Moreover, he’s doing so more than two years (!) after Charest lifted it, however meekly, by imposing $100/year increases. The debate on tuition may very well be a necessary one, but Bouchard and his fellow retirees are jumping in with both feet only now that they know the water isn’t toxic.

But it’s Bouchard’s statements on the PQ and the sovereigntist movement as a whole that seem especially dated. Since he stepped down in 2001, not a single PQ leader has backed away from his insistence the party wouldn’t win a referendum even if they managed to convince Quebecers it was a good idea to hold one; they’ve just changed the way those reservations are phrased. Whereas Bouchard was waiting for “winning conditions,” Bernard Landry wanted “moral certainty” and André Boisclair wouldn’t use the R-word at all, calling it a “public consultation.” It was Pauline Marois who finally absolved herself and her successors of the responsibility to hold a referendum as soon as possible by changing the party program.

And while I think Andrew overstates* Bouchard’s affinity for ethnic nationalism, Bouchard sure did wait a while before delving into the identity debate. Now, he’s effectively telling everyone to calm down long after they’ve already done so. (Calm, of course, being an entirely different state of mind than rational.) Sure, the PQ has since pushed a reprehensible bill that would, among other things, bar non-Francophones from running in local elections. But where was Bouchard when the reasonable accommodations stuff was truly ugly? After all, it was the PQ’s shocking inability to formulate a coherent response to the reasonable accomodations crisis that led to its disastrous result in the 2007 election. If ever there was a breach for Bouchard to step into, that was it.

What Bouchard seems to be pining for is a re-hash of the ADQ that’s been stripped of nutjobs—a small-c conservative party with nationalist accents. And who knows, Mario Dumont may very well have welcomed Bouchard’s help in legitimizing the ADQ before it went belly up. But that’s just it—we’ll never know, because Bouchard wasn’t interested in pushing those policies when they were at their most viable.


*Granted, Bouchard’s remark about Quebecers being “the white race” with one of the lowest birth rates was indefensible. (Bouchard’s actual words, for the record, were the following: “Do you think it makes any sense that we have so few children in Quebec? We’re one of the white races that has the fewest children. This doesn’t make any sense and it says something—it says we haven’t solved family-related problems.”) But it’s a tad rich to single out catcalls of vendu (sell-out) to Jean Chrétien as a bow to ethnic demagoguery. As if instances of federalists and sovereigntists calling each other things like “traitor” were a rare occurrence.

Besides, Bouchard’s record on ethnic politics is hardly a monument to intolerance. Two events stand out: in 1997, Bouchard declined to re-impose a ban on English-language advertising in Quebec, despite Parizeau’s campaign promise to do so and the resulting pressure from PQ members to live up to that promise; and in 2001, Bouchard staked—and eventually lost—his legitimacy inside the party in an internal battle with PQ hardliner Yves Michaud. (Bouchard formally censured Michaud for telling a radio host that Jews complain too much about their historical suffering.)


Where was Lucien when it mattered?

  1. We're one of the white races that has the fewest children

    Wow, those just goes to show separatists really do believe that French Canadians are more than just a different cultural group, they're actually a separate race! Wow. Shades of that whole aryan race thing from a few decades ago.

  2. "Wow, those just goes to show separatists really do believe that French Canadians are more than just a different cultural group, they're actually a separate race!"

    PMs up to and including Pearson used the term "founding races" rather than the contemporary "founding nations", St. Laurent did, King did, Pearson did. See "Memoirs of a Very Civil Servant" by Gordon Robertson for multiple examples of this usage by Canadian PMs. There is also what genetic science has established, scientifically, as the "Founder Effect" at play here: Quebec has optimal linkage disequilibrium (genetic sharing) based on its foundation 12-16 generations ago by only 2,600 effective founders, and its 80 fold growth over the last 230 years, with minimal gene dilution from intermarriage…The growth of the Quebec population in relative isolation has maintained high levels of genetic sharing, providing greater power to population genetics methods for disease gene discovery. Today, 68% of the gene pool is derived from the 2,600 founders, making genes more readily detectable. http://www.genizon.com/english/discovery/founder….

  3. Great post.

    "Bouchard seems to be pining for . . . a re-hash of the ADQ that's been stripped of nutjobs"

    Or planning to start one? He's only 72 and he seems in good health. ADQ is toast, Marois is floundering, Charest is up to his neck in scandal . . . perhaps the second coming of Bouchard is at hand? Otherwise, why would he be offing sacred cows at the rate of one per week?

    • "Why would he be offing sacred cows at the rate of one per week?"

      Good question. I really have no idea, though I suspect there aren't any broader political ambitions behind it. It's too late to revive the ADQ and probably too early to set up a viable replacement. If I was an ADQ organizer, fundraiser, donor, whatever, the last thing I'd be interested in doing is starting over, even if it's with Bouchard at the helm. The movement itself has no steam left in it.

      Also, I'm not sure it's fair to say Marois is floundering. The last Léger Marketing poll had the PQ at 40%, three points up on the Liberals. It may not mean much when the next election rolls around, but the PQ is certainly a viable place for nationalists to park their vote right now.

      • Ah, thanks, I hadn't realised the PQ was that high in the polls. Is that because of voter disgust with Charest, or are Marois' various (to this observer) far-out-there policies like targeted referendums and Quebec citizenship (that one still on the table?) actually resonating? They struck me at the time as rather desperate symbolic nationalism, but maybe with the ADQ having gone nova she'll pick up some of that chauvinistic vote?

        How do you see Bouchard's bombshells affecting the Liberals? Is lucide generally sentiment behind the Liberals?

        • I think Bouchard's bombshells are just as bad for the Liberals as the PQ. As easy as it'll be for Charest to throw Bouchard's statements in Marois's face (and he's already doing it), it's the Liberals who've been in power for the past 7 years, so it's a bit hard to pin whatever problems Quebec has on someone else. The other thing is that Bouchard's press conference on tuition fees also featured Charest's own former finance guru, Monique Jérome-Forget, so it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of Charest, either.

          As for why the PQ is coming back, I think it has more to do with Charest-fatigue than anything else. The PQ, like the Liberals, can stake a legitimate claim to being the province's "natural governing party," so it's not like their core support ever disappears, even when they're not particularly effective. They stopped being a repository for protest votes a long time ago.

          • Thanks for this. Looks like Marois might be in business! Why is Quebec politics so much more interesting than any other province's?

  4. So years after it matters you're telling us that Bouchard is a harmless demagogue?

    • You'd be right if I'd said, or even thought, Bouchard is a demagogue.

  5. Bouchard was alway an overpaid, self serving quack, without a leg to stand on, even before he got the virus. He was a true politician, in the worst sense, of the worst meaning of the word. Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change.
    All I can say about him that is good, is that unlike 95% of Canadian Politicians (Those from TROC), he at least knew what he wanted: Out of the silly forced marriage of Upper and Lower Canada that resulted in this country. That has been the attitude of the upper crust of Quebec, since the day that battle took place between Montcalm and Wolfe took place. Can't really say I blame them, in a way. Can you blame them with all the benefits they got under Confederation? I mean, the job, in retunr for the benefits, was babysitting TROC… until one side could escape the other, some day.