In the annals of Quebec and Canadian politics, there has never been a crash like the candidacy of Gilles Duceppe for the leadership of the Parti Quebecois. In less than a week, he went from heir presumptive to a spent force in the sovereignty movement.
Or as La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal put it yesterday, the Bloc Quebecois leader went from "from a great saviour to the biggest wet firecracker in the recent history of Quebec and even of Canada."
Duceppe has only himself himself to blame for the unbelievable wreckage of his leadership campaign, which lasted only 24 hours from beginning to end, surely the shortest-lived campaign on record.
On Friday, he tried to bluff Pauline Marois out of the game. On Saturday, he folded his hand. Call him the Deuce.
Andre Boisclair must be killing himself laughing. At least he knew how, and when, to quit. In his resignation last Tuesday, Boisclair not only pre-empted a leadership putsch, he put Duceppe on the pin.
Since then, we’ve learned two things about Duceppe - he has lousy judgment, and he can’t take a punch. And now, just like that, his political future is behind him.
First of all, Duceppe was not innocent in the plot to overthrow Boisclair, making it all too apparent that he would be available to save the PQ when it decided to dump its leader.
But if he was expecting a coronation, he wasn’t counting heads in the PQ caucus. And he wasn’t counting on Marois, who had quit after losing the leadership to Boisclair only 18 months ago.
Duceppe should have been in touch with her when the plot to oust Boisclair was afoot. In the event of Boisclair’s resignation, Duceppe should have called her no later than noon last Tuesday, to ascertain whether she was interested in running herself.
If he had said : "Pauline, I’m under a lot of pressure to do this, but I want you to know I won’t run against you," then all the pressure would have been on her.
Had she decided to give it a miss, Duceppe could then have legitimately orchestrated a draft, to which he would have been duty bound to respond.
Instead, he got caught up in a cheesy bluff. When he called her on Friday to inform her that he would be announcing on Monday, she replied that she would be announcing on Sunday. So both moved up their announcements to Friday afternoon. He said there was no point prolonging the suspense. Actually, he was trying a pre-emptive takeout.
Duceppe was attempting a replay of 2001, when Bernard Landry forced his leadership opponents out of the game by being the first one in it. But one of those pushed out was Marois, and that wasn’t going to happen to her again. As if she had forgotten.
Even before his announcement on Friday, there were early warning signals that no draft was in the works for Duceppe, and that his campaign would be against the wind.
After Boisclair’s resignation on Tuesday, an overnight poll by Leger Marketing found that Marois, who has been out of politics for a year, was more popular with voters than Duceppe, who is in the news nearly every day.
Then a statement by Duceppe’s caucus president, that the PQ was undisciplined and needed a kick in the butt, became a lightning rod with the PQ caucus. Not a single member of the legislature, not even his friend Louise Harel, openly backed his leadership bid.
Then, there was a bad CROP poll for Duceppe in Saturday’s La Presse showing her as the winner of a beauty contest against him by a more than 2-1 margin, and even more significantly indicating she would beat both Mario Dumont and Jean Charest hands down.
What had been proclaimed as a "battle of the titans" by Le Devoir on Saturday morning fizzled with a statement by Duceppe that very afternoon that he was withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to Marois.
No contest, in more ways than one.
So now he returns to his caucus in Ottawa this morning, and asks them to take him back. They’ll have him back all right, if only because they have no one else to replace him.
But he has irreparably damaged his brand. Having already indicated his desire to leave Ottawa, how can he possibly justify running there again ?
As a defender of Quebec’s in Ottawa ? Yeah, right. Someone who can’t figure out how to run a leadership race.
He’s put in 17 years in Parliament, and is fully vested in a very nice indexed pension. Maybe it’s time he thought about cashing in.
Loss of a kingmaker scuttled leadership bid
Pierre Curzi was supposed to be the popular third PQ candidate who would draw support away from Marois. He decided not to run.