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PQ crisis is 'over' for Marois, less so for rank and file

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois says the party's leadership crisis 'is over."

francis vachon The Globe and Mail

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois says the crisis that has shaken the party and her leadership is over.

Or is it?

After a two-day caucus meeting, Ms. Marois said she has embraced proposals tabled by dissident voices among PQ members of the National Assembly and can now focus on dealing with the daily problems facing Quebeckers. "I think it [the crisis]is over," she said. "We have real problems [in Quebec]and what we will do at the Parti Québécois is present solutions to solve those problems."

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However, some party members argue differently. The president of a PQ riding association in Montreal, Philippe Leclair, said decisions taken by Ms. Marois and her caucus failed to respond to demands by a growing number of PQ members who want changes to Quebec's democratic institutions, as well as demands to give citizens a greater role in determining whether to hold a referendum on sovereignty.

"The caucus is living in la-la land. You can't deal with daily problems if citizens aren't allowed to play a greater role in solving them," Mr. Leclair said in an interview. "I'm disappointed. There is little enthusiasm among rank-and-file members and we are down to 18 per cent in the polls. More important changes are needed."

Mr. Leclair said his executive as well as those in other Montreal riding associations will continue to press Ms. Marois for more significant changes.

The dissension gave no signs of relenting when Ms. Marois agreed to allow the party to join more than a half dozen other pro-sovereignty groups in a vast consultation on Quebec independence this fall – but added that she had no intention of radically changing the way the party proposes to achieve sovereignty.

Ms. Marois's leadership was dealt a devastating blow when four caucus members quit the party last June. Since then, numerous pro-sovereignty groups attacked her go-slow strategy on achieving independence, and this week the head of the party's regional riding association executive in Montreal, Atim Léon, quit over Ms. Marois's leadership credentials.

As the crisis unfolded in the aftermath of the Bloc Québécois demise in the federal election, the PQ support crumbled in public opinion polls.

Heading into this week's crucial caucus meeting, dissident voices such as MNA Bernard Drainville continued to call for changes demanded by party members that would allow citizens to initiate a process for holding a referendum on sovereignty.

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In a bid to calm the internal caucus dissent, Ms. Marois accepted one of Mr. Drainville's proposals that would allow MNAs a free vote on certain bills tabled in the National Assembly. A caucus committee will examine other proposals, including one allowing citizens to initiate a referendum on sovereignty.

But on the fundamental issue of how to achieve independence, Ms. Marois refused calls for a more aggressive strategy. If elected, the PQ would take a step-by-step approach and attempt to gain more powers from a reluctant federal government in the hope that by locking horns with Ottawa, support for sovereignty would grow. More hard-line pro-sovereigntist groups called the strategy too timid and demanded radical changes as part of a vast consultation process called "estates general on sovereignty."

"The decision was taken by the Parti Québécois and it belongs to the Parti Québécois. We had a convention and it was adopted almost unanimously," Ms. Marois said. "The day we will go before the voters it will be with the strategy we adopted at the convention."

Party president Raymond Archambault said he sees nothing unusual for the PQ to relegate the future of Quebec sovereignty to an outside body, Conseil de la souveraineté, to organize the public debate while the party tackles daily issues.

By the end of the meeting, the caucus had closed ranks and was determined to give Ms. Marois the opportunity to rebuild confidence among voters in her leadership.

"You can't solve a crisis in a few hours," said PQ MNA Stéphane Bergeron. "So we have to work on it and I think we will solve the problem. Will it be today? I hope so. Will it be in the next few days? Maybe. But we will solve it."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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