Montreal Gazette

Lisée warns against referendum

PQ leader candidate fears promising vote would marginaliz­e party

- PHILIP AUTHIER pauthier@montrealga­­ier

QUEBEC The Parti Québécois would be shooting itself in the foot if it goes into the next election promising a sovereignt­y referendum, says Jean-François Lisée.

In fact, given the mood of the people — for whom the very word referendum is “poison” — the PQ could find itself busted down to the second opposition party if it sticks to the idea, he said.

“My forecast is simple,” Lisée said Tuesday. “If we persist in proposing a referendum in a first mandate, we will be the third party of Quebec in 2018. The Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec will have won.

“We will be the third party. We will be marginaliz­ed. The future will not be pretty.”

Lisée, one of five candidates running in the PQ leadership race to replace Pierre Karl Péladeau, made the comments following publicatio­n Monday of a new SOM-Cogeco poll showing two-thirds of Quebecers think the PQ should not plan to hold another referendum.

If we persist in proposing a referendum in a first mandate, we will be the third party of Quebec in 2018.

Only 13 per cent of respondent­s supported the idea of the PQ holding a referendum in the first mandate if it takes power in the October 2018 general election.

The dates and mechanics of another referendum have dominated the PQ leadership race for several weeks now.

While Lisée is campaignin­g against any referendum in a first PQ mandate, leadership hopeful Martine Ouellet is promising one. Candidates Alexandre Cloutier and Véronique Hivon have been vague, refusing to say one way or another.

“My commitment to make Quebec a country is not based on polls, but on serious and rigorous studies and the participat­ion of the PQ members,” Cloutier said Monday.

A few days earlier, Cloutier, the perceived front-runner in the race, said he would not launch another referendum unless he had a “feeling” it could be won.

But Lisée, the MNA for Rosemont, said the referendum talk is a grave error.

“I don’t doubt (Cloutier’s) qualities or ability to feel things out, and polls come and go, but we’re talking about a significan­t downward trend,” Lisée said. “You have to be able to smell that and it smells very, very strong.”

He noted the last two public opinion polls have shown even people who usually vote PQ would be less inclined to do so if the party proposed a referendum in a first mandate.

“Those people, our voters, are getting worked up about this,” Lisée said.

“They are saying, ‘Don’t go there now.’

“They are in the real world. They say, ‘If you go there now, we will fail.’ They are in a hurry to make Quebec independen­t, but not in a hurry to fail.”

He said the idea of a referendum being poison started to solidify in people’s minds around 1998, after the failed 1995 sovereignt­y referendum.

He estimates it will take about six years of good PQ government to get people to warm up to the option again.

“I respect colleagues who are more optimistic than me,” Lisée said.

“But I would like them to better pick up on the signals we are getting from our own members, the population.”

His comments came on the same day Cloutier announced he has the support of an 11th member of the PQ caucus, Taillon MNA Diane Lamarre.

The same SOM poll shows Cloutier leading the race with 25 per cent support from respondent­s compared to his nearest opponent, Hivon, with 16 per cent.

Lisée is at 12 per cent, and Ouellet has six per cent.

The bad news for the PQ is that same poll shows only one voter in three is interested in the party’s leadership race.

Cloutier has announced plans for a big Montreal leadership launch rally on Sunday. Lisée has other plans: he will officially kick off his campaign in his hometown of Thetford Mines on June 26. Perceived as an intellectu­al, he wants to show he came from modest roots and once worked in an asbestos mine.

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