Before a crazy man ruined a momentous night, Pauline Marois took the stage and delivered what should have been a rousing victory speech.
Becoming the first female Premier of Quebec is a feat made even more impressive when one considers just how close she was to political oblivion not nine months ago. Despite receiving a 93 per cent vote of confidence in 2011, Marois came close to being a victim of a putsch orchestrated by members of her own party earlier this year. That’s the Parti Québécois in a nutshell: even in victory there is drama and the very real spectre of self-immolation.
And so it was with Marois’s post-election spiel speech night.
Robbed of the ability to make the kind of fiery ode to sovereignty that PQ leaders are all too good at—she herself delivered one from the exact same spot just nights before—Marois was instead as tentative as her hold on power. She spoke early on about the importance of the uniting the world’s French-speaking nations, a decidedly opaque first reference to Quebec sovereignty. She faced a chorus of boos when she thanked Jean Charest; like John McCain in 2008, she couldn’t control her own supporters when daring to speak well of the enemy.
When she finally mentioned sovereignty, it was almost as an afterthought teaser to the crowd—one about as predictable as James Brown shimmying back to the stage and throwing off his cape.
“We want a country, and we’re going to have it!” she said.
Today, 44 years after the Parti Québécois’s founding, it’s less a promise than something out of Waiting For Godot. She quite sensibly spoke of compromise with the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec. What went unsaid, of course, but what is an enduring truth about the PQ, is how it and many péquistes themselves are purpose-built to be uncompromising. Marois knows this all too well, having been victim of its institutional stubbornness as recently as January.
“The second the PQ gets away from sovereignty, they have a fight,” former péquiste MNA Jean-Martin Aussant told me a couple of weeks ago. It is going to be a fraught few months for Marois, forced as she is to do battle on two fronts: with her political opponents across the aisle and her allies within her own party.