Lisée faces backlash over comments
Refusing to back down from his controversial “Justin Trudeau’s guests” comment, Parti Québécois Leader JeanFrançois Lisée tried to get himself back on track by announcing that if elected, he will rip up an agreement giving doctors more money.
But Lisée finds himself waging a battle on two fronts: fending off attacks from his opponents, including a surging Coalition Avenir Québec and friendly fire within the sovereignty movement’s own ranks.
All this just 10 days before a critical PQ party confidence vote. Despite Lisée’s careful planning, he has managed, at the last minute, to ruffle the feathers of the left wing of his own party.
As party sage François Gendron, the dean of the PQ caucus, said Wednesday: “I would have preferred him not using these words, but since we are commenting on this issue, it has been bungled (by the federal and provincial governments) from A to Z.”
Arriving for a party caucus meeting Wednesday after the sovereignist backlash became public, Lisée was on the defensive, bristling when asked if the comment — made Monday in a cornfield in St-Augustin-Desmures — could cause the same kind of damage with minorities as former leader Jacques Parizeau’s money and ethnic votes comment the night of the 1995 referendum.
Lisée’s answer? “I am what I am.” “I am authentic,” Lisée said. “I say what I think and I think what I say, and I know the people who are listening are saying Lisée is asking the right questions and says the right things.
“There is a political rectitude. There are people who say we must not talk about these things, we must not ask these questions because it gets people mad. But these are real questions and I will continue to ask the real questions.”
At a second news conference later, Lisée was asked specifically if he thinks he hurt the PQ’s cause.
“Truth does not hurt sovereignty,” Lisée said.
But if he wanted to rock the boat to appeal to the same kind of rightwing voters surging to the CAQ — which is hurting all the other parties badly in the race for critical francophone votes — he succeeded.
Former PQ cabinet minister Louise Harel, a 30-year party veteran, tweeted her “profound disappointment” with Lisée’s comments. Harel said Lisée had picked the wrong target and ought to have focused instead on the false information Trudeau had provided.
Québec Solidaire MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, no pal of the PQ, anyway, wrote in Le Devoir that Lisée had damaged the idea of Quebec independence.
“As a sovereignist, they are remarks which anger me because they don’t just stigmatize people who are already vulnerable, they soil the independence movement.”
And so Lisée was on the defensive, trying to deflect the criticism by saying the real guilty parties are the prime minister and Premier Philippe Couillard for misleading Haitian asylum seekers into believing they would get a free ticket into Canada.
“The refugees, asylum seekers, are victims, victims of Justin Trudeau’s invitation,” he said.
Lisée said he is not surprised by Nadeau-Dubois’s outburst, reminding reporters that his Québec solidaire party is chasing the same electorate as the PQ and trying to oust sitting PQ MNAs.
But after this week’s events and a year at the helm of the party — a year in which it slipped to new lows in the polls — Lisée will soon face the ultimate test: a leadership confidence vote. Lisée gets his report card the weekend of Sept 9-10 at a PQ policy convention. Lisée insists he’s not worried, laughing off a story that there’s grumbling in the ranks and a move to draft former PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant.
By the end of the day Wednesday, Lisée was back at it, trying to get even with the CAQ, which devoted its two-day caucus earlier this week to attacking the Liberal health-management record.
Lisée rolled out the PQ’s own plan, which would include an immediate freeze of doctors’ wages and more freedom for nurses and orderlies to assume other tasks.
He honed in on CAQ Leader François Legault, who in his past role as the PQ’s health minister in 2002-2003 set about trying to even the playing field between salaries of Quebec doctors and doctors in the rest of the country.
Lisée said that has come back to haunt Quebec’s health system because while doctors got hefty raises, the rest of the system got peanuts. He said he would tear up a recently reached agreement with Quebec’s general practitioners giving them a six-per-cent increase.
He accused Legault of being at the heart of “the worst public finance decision of the century.”