Spells Trouble for Premier
Yves Michaud has made a nuisance of himself for Premier Lucien Bouchard at Parti Quebecois conventions four years apart, where he's led the fight for a harder line on language.
So you can imagine how Bouchard must look forward to seeing Michaud sitting in the government backbenches in the National Assembly and the weekly PQ caucus meeting, ticking like a time bomb waiting to go off.
What's more, Michaud could be arriving in Quebec City just in time to participate in a language debate within the governing party.
Michaud is expected to announce today that he's a candidate for the Parti Quebecois nomination for the by-election to be held by mid-May in the midtown Montreal riding of Mercier. The seat was vacated by the resignation last October of former minister Robert Perreault.
If he runs, he'll start his official campaign as the favourite to win the nomination. He has the backing of the local PQ executive, which invited him to run even though he lives outside the riding and Pequistes there have opposed parachute candidacies in the past. His supporters are reported to have recruited the most members to vote at the nomination convention to be held March 4.
And Mercier Pequistes aren't the kind to defer to the party's provincial leadership in such matters; in 1994, the Mercier association rejected party leader Jacques Parizeau's preference for the nomination, choosing Perreault instead.
Whoever wins the PQ nomination there stands an excellent chance of winning the election in a riding that has voted PQ since 1976. In the last election, the PQ's Robert Perreault held the seat with a majority of more than 8,500, nearly doubling the votes of the Liberal runner-up.
Michaud is best known to Quebecers as "the Robin Hood of the banks," a crusader for the rights of bank shareholders (although his armour was slightly tarnished when it was revealed that one of the financial backers of his campaign was a financial institution that competes with the banks).
But at the last two PQ conventions, Michaud stood out as an impassioned advocate of banning languages other than French from commercial signs and extending to the CEGEPs the restrictions on admission to English elementary and secondary schools.
And although Bouchard's defence of the status quo prevailed on both occasions, Michaud has not been silenced. Last August, three months after the latest PQ convention, he was among nine people who signed an open letter in Le Devoir criticizing the Bouchard government for being afraid to defend French. (The letter was also signed by Andre Reny, who happens to be president of the PQ association in Mercier.) Michaud used the word "faintheartedness" in an interview to describe the government's inaction.
Tomorrow, he is to present a brief on the integration of immigrants to the Larose commission on language. The commission's report on the estates-general consultation to the government is due by May 31. By that time, Michaud could be the new PQ MNA for Mercier. The minister responsible for the French Language Charter, Louise Beaudoin, has said she intends to introduce legislation in the fall based on the commission's report.
Bouchard would have to keep an eye out for Michaud both in the Assembly and in the PQ caucus during a language debate. Michaud can speak passionately on the subject. And he is especially dangerous because if he goes into active politics at age 70, it will be in pursuit of a cause, not a career as a cabinet minister, which will make him less susceptible to pressure to knuckle under to the boss.
Actually, Michaud would be pursuing not one cause but two, the other being Quebec sovereignty. This is what makes him doubly attractive to Mercier Pequistes - and potentially doubly troublesome to Bouchard, who is already facing criticism from some party members because he doesn't appear to be doing anything to bring the PQ closer to its main objective.
And Michaud has already shown himself to be willing to break with the party line in the Assembly, where he served one term in the late 1960s. It was over the language issue that he left the Liberals to advocate a harder line as an independent. At that time, the issue was a piece of legislation called Bill 63, which recognized freedom of choice in the language of schooling. Michaud was against it, just as he now is against freedom of choice at the CEGEP level.
Source: Don Macpherson, « Michaud spells Trouble for Premier », Montreal Gazette, December 12, 2000.