Macpherson: Who wants to be leader of the Parti Québécois? Anybody?


Macpherson a peut-être raison : Bérubé pourrait être tenté de se lancer

The person who appears most qualified to be the next permanent leader of the Parti Québécois doesn't want the job.

What if a political party had a leadership vacancy and nobody wanted the job? That’s a problem the Parti Québécois could be facing.

The PQ’s leadership election won’t be held until next year, and the campaign hasn’t even officially begun. The party’s future policy orientation — maybe even its name — won’t be decided until a special convention in November.

Still, the permanent leadership has been vacant for nearly a year, since Jean-François Lisée resigned following the PQ’s defeat in last October’s general election.

Leadership hopefuls who wait for the race to start officially before they start running, giving rivals a head start, have waited too long; if they snooze, they lose. So, it’s not too early for potential PQ leadership candidates at least to show signs of testing the water.

The early consensus frontrunner to succeed Lisée was Véronique Hivon.

She was Lisée’s unofficial running mate in last year’s general election, after either entering, or considering entering, the last two PQ leadership elections, in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Hivon is also one of the party’s most visible and most popular members with the general public, and one of only 10 PQ candidates who won seats in the National Assembly last October.

Recently, however, Hivon announced that she will not run in next year’s leadership election. This week, another potential contestant, defeated PQ candidate Alexis Deschênes, said he won’t enter, either. And neither of the remaining possibilities who have even expressed interest could be described as exciting.

Five-time MNA Sylvain Gaudreault is best known for a line that the PQ wouldn’t support the proposed Energy East pipeline across Quebec “if it was strawberry Quik flowing through it.”

Frédéric Bastien, a Dawson College history teacher, is the only one who’s shown signs of laying the groundwork for a candidacy. Last May, he published what could be a campaign manifesto, proposing that the PQ use constitutional issues to revive interest in independence. But Bastien has never sought elected office, and is not well known to the general public.

When Hivon withdrew from consideration, she cited family reasons, without elaborating. But the Herculean labours facing the next PQ leader must give any potential candidate pause.

The next leader will have to rebuild the party while holding together what’s left of its Assembly caucus, now down to nine members and fourth place in the party standings, and preventing defections to the governing nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec party.

If the PQ survives until the next general election, another bad defeat would almost certainly mean the end of its leader’s political career.

Maybe that’s why the person who appears to be the most qualified for the job doesn’t want it.

Pascal Bérubé is smart, energetic at age 44, and a strong debater; in a survey of MNAs by La Presse last June, he was chosen best speaker in the Assembly. He has punched above his weight as interim leader of the fourth party in the Assembly to draw coverage in the media, while holding the rest of the PQ caucus together after Catherine Fournier’s desertion last March.

But his personal popularity among his constituents in the Lower St. Lawrence riding of Matane—Matapédia probably gives him more job security as its MNA than he would have as PQ leader.

He has been elected five times in the present riding or its predecessor, and in the last election, amid the province-wide collapse of his party, he received 69 per cent of the vote in Matane—Matapédia, his biggest vote share yet.

As is customary, in accepting the interim leadership Bérubé ruled himself out as a candidate for the permanent post. But he’s done so well as interim leader that PQ supporters keep pressing him to seek the permanent job anyway.

He keeps saying no. But he may have reason to worry that nobody else wants the permanent leadership badly enough to run, leaving him stuck with the job by default.

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