Professor Hare and Madame Tortoise

When Maurice Duplessis died in 1959, Pauline Marois was ten years old, living in a working-class and devoutly Catholic family. Jacques Parizeau, who came from one of the wealthiest families in Canada, already had his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, and had been teaching at HEC for four years. He was then a federalist, remaining one for another decade, and spent most of that decade as an influential economic adviser in the Quiet Revolution. He would teach continuously at HEC from 1955 right up to 1976; Marois herself took a couple of courses from him in the early 1970s, on her way to an MBA.

Throughout his adult life, Parizeau has been above all an advocate of statist centralization, complacently immovable. Although Harold Laski, who had actually taught Pierre Trudeau at LSE in the 1940s, was dead by the time Parizeau got there, he seems to have formed his ideas in Laski’s long quasi-Marxist shadow. He often compared himself with Trudeau, whom he liked personally, once saying that the only difference between them was that Trudeau wanted ‘only one centre’, while Parizeau thought there should be two.

Even his own often-described 1969 conversion from federalism was one he imagined as being a consequence of his purely logical reasoning. He observed that Quebec was ‘never going to give back’ the governmental powers it had acquired in the 1960s, almost sounding as if he regretted the frustration this would cause all future would-be centralizing federalists. He would later often use this argument in trying to appeal to English-speaking Canadians, declaring that ‘Quebec had become a problem for Canada, as Canada had for Quebec’. Quitting his Finance Ministry post in the PQ government of the early 1980s as an opponent of the equivocal policies of Rene Levesque and Pierre-Marc Johnson, his subsequent 1985-95 decade as the leader of the temporarily small rump of fellow hardliners was less the climax of an ordinary career of political ambition and multiple offices – the necessary route for Pauline Marois – than because his utopian ‘technocrat’ convictions had make him a model of firm and inflexible purpose.

Marois began as a politically ambitious social worker, but by 1978, with an MBA from HEC now in hand, she briefly went ot work in Parizeau’s Finance Ministry office, but soon complained that he did not use her ‘to her full potential’. She made her own first failed bid for PQ leadership in 1985; in 1988, she attacked Parizeau’s leadership, among other things for his ‘archaic attitude towards women’, and threatening to quit the party, but Parizeau managed to reconcile her.

The 1989 election that brought both of them new seats also brought me to Quebec City as one of four Members of the anglo protest Equality Party. So I spent five years daily watching Parizeau serve as Chief of the Official Opposition, Marois sitting right next to him on the front bench. She was responsible for the official party platform, which at first led me to have an exaggerated notion of her unworldliness. The platform assured francophone federal civil servants that a Sovereign Quebec would simply rehire them all, and integrate them into the existing Quebec departments. paying for this with all the money saved by no longer sending any to Ottawa. This stunned me, but I later came to realize that Marois cheerfully talks and writes complete nonsense with bland confidence that it will have no effects in the real world, and not do her much harm.

Jacques Parizeau fascinated me. He had already become famous for dropping verbal bricks, as often falling on the toes of his own party as on anyone else’s. Probably the most remembered one was his comment of a decade earlier, that a ‘Oui’ would win a referendum if it were held at three a. m., after the bars had all closed, while failing in the daytime. He was still dropping them when I was in Quebec City, mainly because, even when most serious, he presented hopeful speculations as if they were pontifical certainties. When the Meech Lake Accord permanently failed in June of 1990, Parizeau immediately declared “I or Bourassa will lead Quebec to sovereignty,” and he has continued to predict such non-events ever since.

But he could also be impressive and even admirable. Despite his notorious emotional outburst on referendum night, I have never believed that Parizeau was racist or xenophobic. He made many speeches, not just before anglo audiences, but in the legislature, that were entirely generous and fair-minded in what they said about the English-speaking minority in Quebec. I once heard him give a long legislature address, summarizing what he saw as English Canada’s view of Meech Lake and other attempts at constitutional accord, which was one of the most intelligent and fair-minded accounts I ever encountered from anyone on that subject.

But he was no star in Question Period; it was House Leader Guy Chevrette and Party Whip Jacques Brassard who gave the Bourassa Liberals most cause for alarm. Parizeau, always ‘Monsieur’ to his not especially adoring colleagues, almost seemed like a stage actor, ‘playing’ his carefully-tailored role of affluent, anglophile, cultivated grand bourgeois. and not only very much a lifelong HEC doctrinaire, but a very ‘professorial’ professor. He was not quick-witted, but always a lucid, if unpersuasive reasoner, amiable, but visibly contemptuous of the ordinary game of politics. The 1995 referendum campaign finally brought his most intense emotions to the surface, moved to tears when joining in a PQ songfest. But he soon retreated to his usual sublime complacency and assurance of logical and ideological rectitude.

His desperate eventual alliance with Lucien Bouchard in the 1995 referendum provided a painful reminder of just how remote his professorial statism was from emotional nationalism. Nationalist crowds would greet Bouchard with cries of “On est avec toi, Lucien!”, inconceivable for him. He knew, well before dropping his ill-received ‘money and the ethnics’ line, that a referendum failure meant he had run his political course to its end. Not for him any late second coming in the manner of Bourassa, or continuance in a secondary role like Claude Ryan. Even if he had been willing to accept such a role in a post-Bouchard cabinet, he had no powerful PQ allies who would have made such a place for him.

Certainly Pauline Marois would not have been one. Tortoise-like, pushing past several temporary falls in fortunes, she has rolled on, her arguments of substance getting worse all the time, her determination and adaptability still carrying her forward. She will turn 65 at the end of March, probably little worried her chances of achieving a majority electoral victory will be much reduced by Parizeau’s recent attack on the ‘Charter of Values’, or even by his endorsement of the HEC report on Quebec’s dire future economic prospects. She will be almost exactly the same age he was when he unhappily ended his formal political career. Remaining a spectre at every PQ feast, rattling the chains of Quebec’s economically failing statist vision, trapped forever in his dogmatic and superannuated progressivism, it is now his fate to be largely ignored, even as he finally gets a couple of things profoundly right.

PAH Third 2014 Article