Bouchard calls PQ too radical

The Parti Québécois is scrambling to pick up the pieces after former leader and premier Lucien Bouchard dropped a bombshell on the sovereignty movement by saying the party is too radical and independence is out of reach.

Former PQ premier says sovereignty offers no fixes for Quebec's problems

The Parti Québécois is scrambling to pick up the pieces after former leader and premier Lucien Bouchard dropped a bombshell on the sovereignty movement by saying the party is too radical and independence is out of reach.

Lucien Bouchard, one of the most outspoken "yes" campaigners during the 1995 referendum, now says sovereignty won't solve Quebec's problems. ((Canadian Press))
Bouchard made his incendiary remarks during a panel event honouring Montreal newspaper Le Devoir's centennial. The former PQ premier lambasted the current party for its increasingly anti-immigrant talk, declaring the party he used to lead is moving too far to the right, away from its roots.

The late PQ co-founder René Lévesque "never thought his identity was threatened by immigrants," said Bouchard, who rarely makes public appearances these days.

The 71-year-old also accused the PQ of pandering to right-wing voters with its "Quebec" identity discourse. He said it risks becoming fertile ground for "radicalism" in Quebec's debate over the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities.

Bouchard also said the PQ's dream of Quebec independence is unattainable, at least for now. He said the party is ignoring important issues such as education and reducing public debt, and he described the PQ's very raison d'être — Quebec independence — as unattainable.

He said he's still a sovereigntist at heart, but the notion offers no solutions for Quebec.

His wide-ranging remarks were summed up by a front-page headline Wednesday in Le Devoir: Sovereignty Is No Longer Achievable, Bouchard Says.

Sovereigntist figures all offered variations on a similar reaction: they expressed affection for Bouchard, stressed he was still a sovereigntist at heart, and said they disagreed with his assessments.

"He said it is not possible to realize sovereignty," said current PQ leader Pauline Marois. "It is possible. It is harder now, but it is possible to do."

When asked whether her predecessor had become one of her party's notorious armchair quarterbacks (the expression used in Quebec is "mother-in-law" – or "belle mère"), Marois said he had.

But Marois said she still speaks to her old boss regularly. "He's a man I respect a lot," she said.

'We have a dream'

It was a rare comment on current affairs from Bouchard, who has avoided speaking publicly about politics since his 2001 retirement.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, in an interview with The Canadian Press, called it normal for fellow travellers to have disagreements, and he noted that federalists have their own.

As for Bouchard's view that sovereignty is unachievable, Duceppe said, nobody thought Quebec's Quiet Revolution was attainable before it finally happened in the 1960s.

He also warned Canadian federalists not to get too giddy over Wednesday's headlines. 

"If federalists think they've found a new weapon and start patting themselves on the back with it, it might blow up on them," Duceppe said.

"[Bouchard says] sovereignty is a dream. I say we should realize our dreams. … So we have a dream. Federalists don't even have a dream."

Duceppe said there obviously won't be a referendum anytime soon, since the PQ is stuck in opposition in Quebec. But he added that the other side — Canadian federalists — haven't given the slightest indication they might ever dream of offering a constitutional deal acceptable to Quebec.

Other sovereigntists are puzzled by Bouchard's contentions.

"What strikes me, and I have a lot of affection for Mr. Bouchard, I worked with him for four years, is that most if not all of his public interventions, are godsends for [Liberal premier] Jean Charest," said Jean-François Lisée, executive director of a research centre at the University of Montreal, and a well-known sovereigntist thinker in the province.

"Every time he comments on the public policy topic, it is to the advantage of Mr. Charest."

Charest would only say Bouchard's opinions ring true, and this latest round of PQ infighting is the price to pay for playing the identity card on the backs of immigrants.

"Madame Marois has chosen the lowest common denominator in debates," the premier said Wednesday. 

With files from The Canadian Press