Copied from The Montreal Gazette

Saturday, February 24, 2001

A Parting Shot

Don MacPherson

Bouchard couldn't resist taking one last poke at Parizeau

A lot of people will spend the weekend with their fingers crossed, hoping the obscure Jean Ouimet doesn't surprise everybody by clearing all the hurdles the Parti Quebecois has set up to stop him from running for its leadership.

For starters, there's the PQ itself. A contested leadership campaign would cost the party $435,000 more than a coronation procession for Bernard Landry, only to end up with Landry becoming leader anyway.

Then there are all the people who paid lengthy tribute to Lucien Bouchard this week on what they expected to be his last day in the Assembly as premier.

If Bouchard has to wait another five weeks for Landry to get elected PQ leader, the house will be back in session. And everybody will have to come up with new praise for Bouchard on his last, last day in the Assembly.

This will not be easy for Landry, in particular, in spite of his gift for hyperbole. What else can you say about a retiring Quebec premier after you've already called him, as Landry did this week, one of the great political leaders of the Western world? Is there a Nobel Prize for introducing $5-a-day daycare?

On the other hand, yet another farewell would give Bouchard one more chance to settle scores with people in his party.

Let's see, is there anybody he's left out? In his petulant, self-pitying resignation speech Jan. 11, he implied that he was being run out of politics by sovereignist hard-liners and xenophobes in the PQ, and set himself up as a martyr to ethnic intolerance.

By doing so, he exaggerated the importance of a small, easily manageable minority in the PQ and made his party look worse than it is. Rather than confront that minority at the PQ's next national council meeting, he turned and ran.

Then, this week, Bouchard got an unexpected opportunity to fire off another parting shot in a farewell address to the Assembly, which was called into emergency session to stop druggists from opting out of pharmacare, yet another of his government's botched "reforms."

This time, his target was his predecessor as PQ leader and premier and his sometime nemesis, Jacques Parizeau. You get the impression Bouchard likes his political adversaries more than his friends.

After Mario Dumont of the Action Democratique Party expressed hope that in political retirement Bouchard would occasionally favour Quebecers with the benefits of his experience, Bouchard replied that former premiers have what "used to be spoken of" as a "duty of reserve" not to comment upon their successors' decisions.

"I believe this notion is not outdated, that it is current and that it will be deeply inscribed in the future so that I will certainly not comment upon the actions or decisions of the government."

Everybody understood he was referring to Parizeau, who often tormented Bouchard with his public criticism. Most recently, Parizeau signed a petition criticizing the Assembly for condemning Michaud's remarks and then accused Bouchard of acting in the matter like authoritarian former premier Maurice Duplessis.

But when Parizeau was premier, he had troubles of his own with Bouchard, who was then leader of the Bloc Quebecois. Notably, Bouchard blindsided Parizeau in early 1995 by calling for a "change of direction" in sovereignist strategy - and threatening to sit out the coming referendum campaign if Parizeau didn't go along.

And there are those in the sovereignty movement who insist Bouchard was already laying the groundwork to take over the PQ from Parizeau as far back as the summer of 1994.

There is one distinction that Bouchard and Parizeau share, however. In modern Quebec history, they are the only two premiers to resign from office well before the ends of their terms. And both resigned for essentially the same reason: neither was interested in being premier of the province of Quebec once he realized he was not going to become president of the republic of Quebec.

Another of Bouchard's predecessors, Robert Bourassa, gave his life to the job of premier, staying at his post rather than receiving cancer treatment during the 1990 Oka crisis. Bouchard walked away from the office of premier of Quebec the way a teenager quits a summer job flipping burgers, because he can't take the heat any more. And for this, he was hailed this week as a statesman.

- Don Macpherson is The Gazette's Quebec-affairs columnist. He is based in Montreal and can be reached by E-mail at dmacpher@thegazette.southam.ca