Quebec sovereigntists endure harsh weekend

Quebec's sovereignty movement is weathering a tumultuous weekend, with infighting in Parti Québécois ranks over a new separatist party and the performance of leader Pauline Marois.
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois had overwhelming support in an April confidence vote, but has lost the faith of many separatists in the months since. (Francis Vachon/Canadian Press)

Quebec's sovereignty movement is weathering a tumultuous weekend, with infighting in Parti Québécois ranks over a new separatist party and the performance of leader Pauline Marois.

The new sovereigntist group, called Un Nouveau Mouvement pour le Québec, held a daylong colloquium in Montreal on Sunday, at which participants accused the PQ of failing the push for an independent Quebec by being unable to capture the votes of all Quebec separatists.

"We need to have an independent government that decides, legislator by legislator, what's in the best interest of Quebec," said psychologist Jean-Marc Labrèche, a Montreal candidate for the Parti indépendantiste, which started up in 2007 in reaction to the PQ's fall to third-party status in that year's election. 

Three ex-PQ politicians — Pierre Curzi, Lisette Lapointe and Jean-Martin Aussant — attended Sunday's sessions, while MNA Louise Beaudoin couldn't make it. All four broke with the party in June over its support of legislation to block lawsuits against a sweetheart deal between Quebecor Inc. and Quebec City. The pact would give Quebecor tax-free control of the city's proposed $400-million hockey arena for 30 years. 

A new separatist organization had its first meeting Sunday in Montreal, rankling some eminent PQ figures. (Radio-Canada)

Their decision to partake in the conference did not sit well with PQ faithful, several of whom, including former Opposition leader Jacques-Yvan Morin, penned an open letter condemning the trio and saying a new party would further divide the sovereignty movement, which already splits its votes between the PQ, Québec Solidaire, the Action démocratique du Québec and the wee Parti indépendantiste.

Beaudoin said she thought about the criticism and has enormous respect for Morin, but ultimately decided that if the Parti Québécois crumbles, "it's because it's no longer strong enough."

Sunday's conference also saw some people defend the PQ, which has been the standard-bearer for the province's sovereignty movement since the 1960s.

Pierre Dubuc, co-founder of a left-wing PQ faction called SPQ Libre that was expelled from the party last year, said he too worries about the sovereignty movement splintering, and he recommended separatists hold a general assembly to try to smooth over some of their differences. "It's important to regroup our forces," he said.

Marois criticized

But even amid the calls for reconciliation, a new flare-up plagued Opposition Leader Marois, who as recently as April received 93 per cent support in a confidence vote from party members — only to see her fortunes plummet when Beaudoin, Curzi and Lapointe quit the caucus in June, followed by Aussant and Benoît Charette.

In an interview with La Presse published Saturday, president of the PQ youth wing Christine Normandin said "work needs to be done" for youth members to keep their confidence in Marois. She added that she is not among the members of the party who have assured their unconditional support for its leader.

Later in the day, she issued a statement retracting her comments, saying she and the youth wing "totally support" Marois.

All the skirmishing was seized on by former PQ cabinet minister François Legault, who's heading up his own, right-wing political movement and told a youth conference in Montreal on Saturday that the infighting shows the debate over independence should be put on the back burner.

Legault said the Quebec independence movement just isn't as popular as it once was.

Legault's movement, called the Coalition for Quebec's Future, promises to focus on economic and social reforms and shelve the debate over sovereignty for at least a decade.

With files from The Canadian Press