Curtains on Duceppe’s second act

Gilles Duceppe’s comeback was going to rely on his spotless reputation, but a scandal may sideline him for good

Curtains on a second act

Jacques Boissinot/CP

Righteous outrage always came naturally to Gilles Duceppe. It seemed to live just behind those icy blue eyes of his, to be summoned on command usually when the cameras were rolling. It was his shtick, part and parcel of a narrative crafted over 21 years in federal politics: sovereignists are the only beings morally capable of defending Quebec’s interests in that foreign land of Ottawa. “The smell of scandal is wafting from the office of the Prime Minister,” the former Bloc Québécois leader belted, eyes ablaze, in a typical stump speech last April. “The Bloc will force Stephen Harper to be accountable as it did with the Liberals and the sponsorship scandal. That we will do.”

Odd, then, to see Duceppe embroiled in a scandal of his own, one that has already sullied his formidable reputation and will in all likelihood spell the end of his political career. Certainly, for a man who prided himself on his hot-blooded honesty, it doesn’t look good: as La Presse reported, Duceppe’s party paid its director general Gilbert Gardner with parliamentary funds for upwards of seven years. This is an apparent violation of House rules, which state that such funds must be used for parliamentary, not partisan, ends. La Presse also reported that Duceppe’s office paid the spouse of his chief of staff and allowed her to use parliamentary resources as she produced a book commemorating the Bloc’s 20 years in Ottawa.

The news has already stymied his attempted usurping of the Parti Québécois leadership—a move that, had it been successful, would have ushered the 64-year-old into the second act of his political career.

These second acts are something of a rite of passage in the Quebec political arena. Lucien Bouchard left the Bloc to take the helm of the Parti Québécois—only to lose the 1995 referendum. Jean Charest was leader of the floundering Progressive Conservatives. Long before both, former premier Robert Bourassa was summarily punted from office in 1976, “the most hated man in Quebec,” according to one of his own cabinet ministers. Shortly after taking office, Premier René Lévesque struck and killed a vagrant while driving along a Montreal thoroughfare well after midnight, his mistress at his side.

Yet in all four cases, their misfortune (self-inflicted or otherwise) only bolstered their public personas. Bouchard became the de facto face of Quebec obstinacy, referendum loss notwithstanding; Charest, the scrappy fighter, went on to become one of Quebec’s longest-serving premiers; Bourassa, the somewhat oily technocrat, returned as premier nine years later to sort out Quebec’s constitutional mess; Lévesque, the tragically flawed lothario, returned to tug Quebec’s collective heartstrings once again.

Sadly for Duceppe, his misfortune plays directly against his own myth. In 2004—the very year his party began paying Gardner’s salary with public funds—the former labour organizer successfully converted Quebecers’ ire at what became known as the sponsorship scandal into electoral success. In trying to sell Quebecers on the merits of the Canadian flag via a slush-funded public relations campaign, Duceppe argued, the Liberal government of the time demonstrated the frank immorality of the federalist option. The inference of the Bloc’s campaign slogan of that year—“A clean party in Quebec”—was difficult to miss: everyone else was dirty. Not coincidentally, support for sovereignty jumped.

Duceppe’s dramatic tumble has wider implications for the province’s sovereignty movement. Duceppe was, and likely remains, one of the province’s most popular leaders. Had he taken over the PQ leadership from Pauline Marois, a putsch hatched by the forever-restive anti-Marois elements within the PQ, Duceppe would have probably thrived. As it stands, Duceppe was forced to renounce any PQ leadership intentions in the wake of the staffing revelations. And though Marois lived through yet another internal attack, she now has the larger truth to deal with: she is chronically unpopular amongst the voting public. PQ MNA Bernard Drainville even suggested the PQ “may cease to exist” following the next election.

Duceppe maintains he did nothing wrong, though his former colleagues are already distancing themselves. “How Mr. Duceppe as a parliamentarian managed the funds in Ottawa is Mr. Duceppe’s jurisdiction,” said newly minted Bloc Québécois Leader Daniel Paillé recently. Time is a crushing reality among Quebec sovereignists—it always seems to be running out—and, robbed of his second act, Gilles Duceppe won’t likely be its saviour.


Curtains on Duceppe’s second act

  1. Good riddance

  2. The question of whether former Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe paid a parliamentary staff person with the public’s money to do Bloc political party work would have been fully investigated and cleared up years ago if former Auditor General Sheila Fraser had used her powers and fully audited MP spending when she was first appointed, and every few years after.
    MPs had not been audited for 10 years, and senators for even longer when Fraser was appointed a decade ago.
    The Auditor General Act requires audits of all spending and gives the Auditor General the right to any information needed to do audits.  While the Auditor General does not have the resources to audit the entire federal government every year, most of the main federal government institutions are audited every few years.
    So Fraser should not have waited so long to initiate an audit of spending by MPs, and in June 2010 she should not have compromised nor agreed to do less-than-full audit of all MP spending.
    To ensure an impartial investigation of the Duceppe situation, and to ensure that there is no improper spending by any MP (or senator, or the House or the Senate overall), the new Auditor General Michael Ferguson must immediately undertake a full audit of all spending by everyone in Parliament.
    Duff Conacher, Founding Director

  3. “Lucien Bouchard left the Bloc to take the helm of the Parti Québécois—only to lose the 1995 referendum.” I thought that Parizeau was leader of the PQ and Premier of the Province at the time that the referendum went down, and that Bouchard waltzed in after the loss of the referendum and Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote” rant…

    Am I missing something?

    • You are quite right. He was still Leader of the Bloc and would only become leader of the PQ and thus premier of Québec some six months after the defeat. And he probably came in as the next Saviour, although he should have been seen as one of the big losers of the referendum. The 1995 referendum was headed in a way that is not unlike the Holy Trinity: Father Jacques, Son Mario and Lucien as the Holy Spirit signed an agreement to work together. When Father Jacques’ popularity peaked, Lucien took over unofficially. So its not untrue to say he lost the referendum

      • Didn’t Bouchard get beat up quite badly over the Ice Storm. I remember some people commenting that his tearful press conference when he announced that Montreal could blackout as only one transmission line was left in service to the city was the day sovereignty died.

  4. Bouchard wasn’t Premier during the 1995 referendum. That would be Parizeau.

    I would suggest Bouchard’s second act came after his bout with flesh-eating disease — although he wasn’t unpopular before he got the disease, everyone wrote him off the political scene because of it. So in a way, this was perhaps his “Phoenix” moment.

  5. The self-obsessed community of arch sovereignists still manage to keep a flame a light in this community of the poranoid and the “what-if” prognosticator sentiment feverishly celebrated by master deceivers like Duceppe… like a barking dog in a back yard who barks only when people pass and once inside it’s pathetic house will curl up like an impotent and lazy domesticated pet knowingly dependent on its master but wanting the neighbors to think it owns them… Duceppe the Deception repulses me and his facial validity to any non-expert wreaks of a master manipulator and pathological person… He will rise again and be forgiven as a hero whilst he swims in his federal pension and continues to bark at neighbors from behind a secure fence that only he can lock.  That dog needs to be muzzled.   

  6. Good riddance.  The Bloc should not have been allowed to form a party in the first place!  A govt party needs to represent all of Canada not try to seperate it.  Sounds like treason to me.

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