I used to have a bit of a soft spot for Pierre Brien, who was 24 by the time I came to Ottawa in 1994 and whose adoration for Lucien Bouchard was visible in the way he had, probably quite unconsciously, affected almost all of Bouchard’s mannerisms: the quick hand jab to straighten the hair, the rushing/pausing speech pattern, the way he’d look just over the government MPs’ heads, into the middle distance, as he formulated his next sentence for maximum impact. Later, still quite young, he became the Bloc’s Intergovernmental Affairs critic, which means he was their main spokesman against referendum clarity, the threat of partition, and all the other elements of the Liberals’ so-called “Plan B” that the Reform Party had so vigorously supported and, in fact, believed their man Stephen Harper had invented.
So then Brien quit federal politics in 2003 because that was one of those moments where if you kind of half-squinted you could imagine Mario Dumont was going to become the next premier. Yeah, they never last, do they. Brien lost up in Rouyn in ’03 (strong third in a three-way race), then lost badly in a Laval riding in ’08 (11% of the vote), and now he’s washed up in the next logical place given such a trajectory: Stephen Harper’s Quebec kitchen cabinet, where he’s a political counsellor to Christian Paradis but where he may one day wind up replacing Dimitri Soudas. (Pop quiz: One’s a serial ADQ loser. The other used to do Lucien Bouchard imitations in the House!)
This is where I would normally point out that Harper has now surrounded himself with everything he used to decry in Quebec. I assume we’re only days away from a Bill Johnson article somewhere explaining why this is a brilliant strategic move. But you know what? Whatever. One day, perhaps still distant, Stephen Harper will be a distinguished ex-prime minister writing Fraser Forum commentaries about how the rest of Canada must never bow to separatist blackmail, and when a few people snicker, Harper will tell himself it’s media bias.