Canada: Pauline Marois and her flip-flops on policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jan 25 15:48:05 UTC 2008

Pauline Marois and her flip-flops on policy
The PQ leader's reign has been marked by contradictions and confusion

The Gazette

Thursday, January 24, 2008

After Jean Charest became Quebec Liberal leader in 1998, it was said
that if you didn't like a position he took, all you had to do was wait
48 hours for him to change it. And it was said that Charest reversed
himself so often that to ensure the safety of anyone standing behind
him, he should have been equipped with a warning signal like the one
on a truck that starts beeping when it's about to back up.
In his defence, Charest had been FedExed into provincial politics
overnight from Ottawa without a firm grasp of provincial issues. So he
had to learn about them on the job, couldn't anticipate criticism of
the positions he took and wasn't prepared to defend against it.

So, then, what's Pauline Marois's excuse? The Parti Québécois leader
has been almost constantly involved in provincial politics for most of
her adult life, since Jacques Parizeau, then finance minister, hired
her as his press attaché 30 years ago. She was elected to the first of
her six terms as a member of the National Assembly in 1981. She has
held every major cabinet portfolio in the government except justice,
for which she is ineligible because she is not a lawyer. She was a
candidate for the leadership of the PQ three times, first running in

So if there's anyone who should know what she stands for by now, it's
Marois. Yet her 7-month-old leadership has been characterized by
uncertainty, confusion, contradictions and retreats on policy
questions. The latest example is her fumbling of the question of
whether the restrictions on admission to publicly funded English
primary and secondary schools should be extended to the pre-school
level. On Sunday, the Canadian Press news agency reported that some PQ
MNAs, including culture critic Pierre Curzi, were in favour of that
idea. The story was picked up by major Quebec news sites on the web,
saying the PQ wanted to extend Bill 101 "to the cradle."

Fearing ridicule, and perhaps a negative reaction among francophone
parents who send their children to English-language daycare, the PQ
hastily tried to distance itself from the MNAs' comments without
causing them to lose face. A few hours after the story was published,
the PQ released a statement saying that the idea hadn't been raised in
the party. And the next day, Marois disavowed the MNAs - sort of - by
saying the PQ had "no intention" of considering the question of the
language of daycare "for the time being."

Yet the MNAs had merely responded to a recent cue from their leader
herself. Perhaps carried away by the PQ's success at exploiting the
language issue, Marois had said in an interview only last week that
extending Bill 101 to daycare "is something we should be able to
discuss and raise." Another, memorable example of Marois's
contradicting herself occurred last November. In quick succession she
said a Marois government would raise the provincial sales tax by one
point, then said she wouldn't, while criticizing the Charest
government for not doing it.

She recently said a PQ government would commit "acts of sovereignty"
even before holding a referendum, after previously saying she would
de-emphasize sovereignty. She has proposed a citizenship bill
including a ban on newcomers running for provincial office if they
can't speak French, then appeared to waver in the face of criticism of
the ban. She has let it be known she was prepared to drop the ban, but
has not actually done so. She recommended the bill to the
Bouchard-Taylor commission on accommodations, but without mentioning
the ban. And she seems unable to articulate clearly who is included in
her definition of the Quebec "us."

Marois's political career has not only survived many changes in
leadership and prevailing ideology in the PQ, but has thrived through
most of them. But maybe she has trimmed her sails so often in response
to shifts in the prevailing winds in the party over such a long period
of time that she can no longer be truly said to have any principles of
her own.

Or maybe it is simply that Marois is proving to be the latest example
of a leader more suited to being a follower.

dmacpher at
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