How not to get elected

Ok, so let’s assume you have a job, and that you’re hard at work trying to make everything right and swell (or, if you’re like me, gazing out the window as Pointe St Charles gentrifies before your very eyes.) Anyway, there you are, all conscientious and forward-looking, and all of a sudden three people who used to have your job take to the telly and announce to the world that you are doing a terrible job. You aren’t devoted enough. You’re moving too slow. You’re moving in the wrong direction. You aren’t going to reach your goals. Oh, and for Christ sake, what were you thinking when you put on that outfit?

Now you know how Pauline Marois feels (except about that outfit jibe. Vous êtes chic, madame.). Whatever ideological differences this corner and the would-be Premier of this province may have, let me say this: I admire anyone who steps into the breach that is the leader’s office of the Parti Québécois, if only for their ability to absorb shrapnel in their rear ends. This past weekend was meant to be the pre-release of key PQ policy in advance of the party’s (pre-electoral, in all likelihood) convention in 2011. The party’s direction is interesting (more on this in a sec)… and completely overshadowed by three former PQ preems who chose this particular moment in time to kvetch about the direction of the party. You might call it the PQ  Self-Defeating Syndrome, In Three Acts.

The PQ Self-Defeating Syndrome is a prevailing sickness within the party. Symptoms include backstabbing, public cris de coeur and an apparent allergy to power.

Exhibit 1: Jacques Parizeau, who obviously has a book to peddle, says too many in the PQ are obsessed with governing a province rather than building a country. “Those who have a clear idea of what their objective is [sovereignty] and want to prepare for it. And those who would be happy to take power and then have a look at the possibilities. They are still sovereigntists but first and foremost they want to offer good government,” Parizeau told The Globe’s Rhéal Séguin in a piece published last week.

Exhibit 2: Bernard Landry agrees with Parizeau. “I’m like Parizeau,” Landry told Radio-Canada. “You have to go towards a referendum as soon as possible.” This coming from the guy who spent his political career coming up with ever possible moniker under the sun–1000 days till sovereignty! Season of ideas! Referendum ASAP SVP! –to stave off the ugly task of launching a referendum.

Exhibit 3: Lucien Bouchard gives an interview to TVA’s Paul Laroque, says the following: “When the sovereignist  leader doesn’t commit to a referendum, that means sovereignty is not advancing.” This coming from the guy who came up with the mother of all monikers, “Winning Conditions”, to avoid, er, committing to a referendum.

U.S. Presidents don’t have this much hanging over them. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but at least he had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about the new guy. The PQ, as some eloquent dude said in 2008, “is often more concerned with being righteous than being in power”, to the great disadvantage of anyone who is trying to lead the damned thing.

Which is a shame, because what Marois is proposing should she get into office is as close to a hardcore Quebec nationalist’s wet dream as you’ll get this side of Pierre Bourgault. Not to say she hasn’t had her own jargon (remember her much-hyped “national conversation”? Me neither), but consider what a péquiste government proposes to do in its first mandate: it would extend Bill 101 to businesses of 50 people or less, something Lévesque refused to do; it would make French CEGEP mandatory for all immigrants–a policy idea that was relegated to the fringes of the party until Marois arrived.  It would institute measures to reverse the tide of young Francophone families leaving the island of Montreal. I haven’t the foggiest how you’d do this, but apparently it is in Quebec’s “national interest that the majority of the island’s residents be Francophones,” according to Jean-François Lisée.

I can’t pretend to agree with any of her proposed measures, which I imagine is exactly the point: this is the stuff of punchy, forthright, us-versus-them nationalism on which the party was built, and on which it could find its stride. Pity about the noise of old ghosts who can’t seem to shut up.