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Last revised:
19 February 2001

Documents sur l’affaire Yves Michaud / Documents on the Yves Michaud Affair

Different visions of PQ's role
by Josée Legault

If I were a member of the Parti Quebecois and a resident of the riding of Mercier, and I am neither, I wouldn't vote for Yves Michaud at the nomination assembly of March 4. The PQ government desperately needs to renew its caucus, to bring in younger, dynamic sovereignists who live in the present world, and not in the distant past. Michaud does not fit the bill - to say the least.

On top of displaying what sounds like an obsession with the way in which Jews vote in Quebec, Michaud's comments are those of a man who has never understood Rene Levesque's definition of who is a Quebecer, that is, someone who lives in Quebec, period. Being a Quebecer has nothing to do with whether one votes Yes or No in a referendum.

But like many Quebecers, I cannot condone the unanimous motion of blame that was passed by the National Assembly. That motion condemned the statements of a man who, though he's a public figure, holds no public post and isn't even an official PQ candidate for the Mercier nomination. One wonders how a legislature can condemn the words of a single individual when controversial statements are made left and right in any society. It sends a frightening message to all citizens, one that crosses party lines: who will be next?

If anything created the Michaud affair, it was that motion - a "grave error," as Mario Roy wrote yesterday in the very federalist La Presse. Instead of supporting a Liberal motion to blame Michaud, Premier Lucien Bouchard would have been better advised to resolve the issue within party ranks. It was, after all, a partisan issue - Michaud wants to run for a PQ nomination. And what made Bouchard's support of the resolution all the more ill-advised was that the premier was more than able to convince his party, using reason, not to let Michaud run. He didn't need the big stick of the National Assembly.

After having consulted the party, Bouchard, as party leader, still would have had the prerogative to refuse to sign Michaud's nomination papers. In 1989, Jacques Parizeau did the same thing in the Outremont riding. And so did Daniel Johnson in 1994, when he refused to sign Robert Libman's papers. By resorting to the National Assembly, Bouchard turned the self-important Michaud into a veritable martyr of epic proportions. And he diverted the debate from what Michaud said to whether the weight of the legislature should be used to condemn a citizen's comments.

Even though Bouchard is right in what he has said about Michaud's statements, the fact he approved the National Assembly motion set off a chain reaction among many sovereignists who saw it as yet another sign of Bouchard's penchant for control within PQ ranks. Michaud became a catalyst for the pent-up frustrations of so-called hard-liners who have been shown precious little respect by the party leadership. Now they fear if Michaud is kept from running, the anger will push more of them to leave the party, leaving Bouchard with what could be a Pyrrhic victory. Put bluntly: without the so-called hard-liners, there is no coalition in the PQ. Without a coalition of soft and hard-liners, there is no party. Without a party, there is no re-election. And without re-election, there is no referendum.

The Michaud affair is not only about two competing visions within the PQ, one inclusive and one ethnocentric. It is also about two competing visions of the role the party and its members can and should play as forces working for the sovereignist cause. Should the PQ be an active coalition party, where differing visions and opinions, soft and harder-line ones, can co-exist as long as the goal of sovereignty unites all? Or should the party consistently adopt positions that are in harmony with those of its leadership, as it's been pressured to do for the past five years? Most members would answer that it must be a coalition and that if that coalition is weakened by the departure of many so-called hard-liners, extremely arduous and lean days are ahead for the sovereignist cause.

During the Christmas period, Bouchard and Michaud would be wise to reflect on two small, but telling ironies brought out by the whole Michaud affair.

Primo: while Michaud appeared to have his freedom of expression curtailed by the National Assembly, this was in part the clumsy result of Michaud's own inability to respect the freedom of expression of some cultural communities, which includes the freedom to vote as one sees fit.

Secundo: while Bouchard wants Michaud out to protect the PQ's value of tolerance, he has seldom shown himself to be tolerant of sovereignists who harbour visions different from his own.

Source: Montreal Gazette, December 23, 2000.