BY KEVIN DOUGHERTY QUEBEC — Jean-Martin Aussant, leader and only elected member of Option nationale, says Quebec needs a party clearly committed to the goal of independence.
And the Parti Québécois is not that party, said Aussant, during a break from campaigning in his own Nicolet-Bécanour riding.
“They will talk about anything else,” he said, insisting on speaking in English to The Gazette.
Aussant, a former investment banker and London vice-president of Morgan Stanley Capital International, left the PQ last year to form Option nationale after concluding the PQ was only interested in regaining power.
“We are not expecting to form a majority government on Sept. 4,” he joked, noting polls giving Option nationale two-per-cent support, a score he considers “quite reasonable.”
Aside from political science professor Denis Monière, the Option nationale candidates are not well-known, but are accomplished in their fields, Aussant said, calling the ON a party of “new blood and new faces.”
A six-minute video, featuring Catherine Dorion, Option nationale candidate in Quebec City’s Taschereau riding, has had over 98,000 hits on You-Tube.
In an interview, Dorion explained mainstream media pay little attention to Option nationale.
So the party has embraced social media — videos, Facebook and Twitter — to spread its message that sovereignty is a positive force for change in a world where 40 new countries have joined the United Nations since 1980.
Dorion says Option nationale is a break from the “frustrated, incapable” nationalism of the PQ, adding that people who have never voted tell her, after seeing the video that they plan to vote ON.
In her up-beat, humorous message, Dorion, a television actor, says she has a master’s degree in political science from King’s College in London and decided to run for Aussant because once he is known, “Things will rock.”
Lawyers representing Option nationale are taking Quebec’s major television networks to court, arguing that under Quebec’s Election Act the media must give coverage to all parties with elected members in the National Assembly.
Option national has not been invited to any of the leaders’ debates. “We are the only party that has been excluded,” he said, pointing out that Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec invited Québec solidaire to their Aug. 19 leaders’ debate.
Aussant was first elected as the Parti Québécois MNA for Nicolet-Yamaska in the 2008 election.
Last year he was one of four PQ members who left after PQ leader Pauline Marois ruled all PQ members had to vote for Bill 204, retroactively making legal an agreement giving Quebecor management and naming rights for a proposed new National Hockey League arena.
Benoit Charette, another PQ dissident, is running this time for François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec. Louise Beaudoin returned to the PQ but has stepped down.
Aussant formed his own party and he said the two remaining dissidents, actor Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe, wife of former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau, told him they would have been Option nationale candidates if they ran again.
Aussant also said he is in touch with Parizeau, calling him “a statesman,” and recalling that Parizeau came very close to winning his 1995 sovereignty referendum, but lamenting the PQ “doesn’t even talk about it.”
The PQ has gone back and forth on the issue and its current program, while maintaining sovereignty is its first goal, leaves to Marois the decision to call a referendum at “the appropriate time.”
Aussant interprets this as meaning Marois only wants to win power, noting that PQ recruit Jean-François Lisée at his nomination meeting as PQ candidate in Rosemont riding, said fixing a referendum timetable would be “a passport for another Charest mandate.”
In the 2007 election, when André Boisclair was party leader, the PQ placed third behind Jean Charest’s Liberals and Action démocratique du Québec, its worst showing since 1973.
Boisclair was bound then by a PQ program calling for a referendum as soon as possible after winning power. But Quebecers in polls then said they did not want a new referendum.
Aussant aims to run 124 candidates in the Sept. 4 election, with the goal of raising the profile of Option nationale and promoting the idea of making Quebec a sovereign state.
The ON is not running a candidate in Gouin, where Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David is running. In return, Québec solidaire is not running a candidate against Aussant in Nicolet-Bécancour.
He noted that René Lévesque, after forming the PQ in 1968, lost his seat in the 1970 and 1973 elections, before leading the first PQ government to power in 1976 with a majority.
“It’s a long-haul project,” Aussant said.
He is also critical of the PQ for writing off the votes of Quebec’s English and other non-French minorities, pointing out he has video in English and Spanish explaining the ON program.
Once Quebecers vote in a referendum for sovereignty, he said, Quebec will be better off and its minorities, at the point new state is founded, will be co-founders.
“Everyone will be souche,” he said, using the term for old-stock Quebecers.