Lisée faces back­lash over com­ments

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP AU­THIER

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.”

Jean-François Lisée

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