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PQ’s token ethnic

By DON MACPHERSON,
The Gazette
Wednesday 7 February 2001

 

Every time the Parti Quebecois gets into trouble because somebody in the party has said something offensive about ethnic votes, Claudel Toussaint comes to the aid of his party.

It was Toussaint who served as the messenger for the closest thing to an apology by Jacques Parizeau for blaming the sovereignists’ narrow defeat in the 1995 referendum on “money and ethnic votes.”

After Toussaint, as chairman of the PQ committee on ethno-cultural relations, wrote Parizeau to complain about the remarks, Parizeau replied by expressing “regret” for a poor choice of words. This was more than three weeks after he had made the remarks.

It was then left to Toussaint to make the half-hearted apology public – in a Saturday-afternoon interview on a Laval radio station.

Now Toussaint, who is of Haitian origin, has been parachuted into the midtown Montreal riding of Mercier as the choice of the PQ establishment for the party’s nomination there. This time his mission is to make everybody forget about Yves Michaud, who was the front-runner for the nomination until his criticism of Jews and immigrants for opposing sovereignty and his role in Lucien Bouchard’s resignation made him too hot for the party to handle.

Landry Backs Him

Toussaint, who was recruited from the staff of PQ minister Sylvain Simard, has the backing of Robert Perreault, whose resignation last September as the riding’s member of the National Assembly opened up the seat, as well as Bernard Landry, the party’s leader-in-waiting. Landry had encouraged Michaud to run, but quickly distanced himself from his old friend because of his xenophobic remarks. He then turned to Toussaint, going so far as to put pressure on another candidate for the nomination to withdraw and to endorse Toussaint publicly

Last week, a major obstacle in Toussaint’s path to the nomination was removed when the party’s riding president, Andre Reny, announced his decision not to run. In doing so, Reny bitterly complained about “party apparatchiks and leaders” who had been “manipulating” the nomination. His withdrawal left Toussaint facing only one declared opponent, Pierre Tadros, a teaching assistant at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. The deadline for candidacies is Feb. 17, and the convention will be held March 4

Toussaint denies being the PQ’s current token ethnic, but there’s no doubt that his ethnicity is what made the party brass suddenly reach for him at a time when it was in full damage-control mode over the Michaud affair. And Toussaint’s telephone canvassers are urging Mercier Pequistes to come out to vote for him to show that their party isn’t xenophobic. Toussaint is the PQ’s black knight.

Mercier is a safe riding for the PQ, and it would help the party’s image if Toussaint wins the nomination. But the ploy might backfire if Toussaint loses. And in the race against Tadros, he’s carrying some handicaps.

Doesn’t Live There

He entered the race after the deadline for recruiting supporters to vote at the convention, while Tadros had signed up 156. Toussaint doesn’t live in the riding, while Tadros does. And in the past, Mercier Pequistes have resisted the efforts of the party establishment to impose upon them a candidate from outside the riding – especially an “ethnic” candidate.

In 1994, they rejected the candidacy of Giuseppe Sciortino, even though he had the backing of Parizeau, who was then leader, in favour of Perreault. Some of Perreault’s supporters attacked Sciortino because of his Italian origins and his accented (though fluent) French and for being parachuted into the riding. They said he should have run instead in St. Leonard, a suburb with a large population of Italian descent.

Coincidentally, Sciortino was later enlisted in the party’s Parizeau damage-control operation, just as Toussaint has been in the Michaud one. It was up to Sciortino, as a member of the party executive and the PQ’s most prominent ethnic member at the time, to deliver the public apology on behalf of the party for Parizeau’s remarks. A year later, after the PQ’s language hawks started to take out their referendum defeat on non-francophones, Sciortino resigned from the executive. He is no longer active in the party.

Since he’s no longer available to serve as the PQ’s token ethnic, now it’s up to another would-be candidate in Mercier to fulfill that role.

 

– Don Macpherson is The Gazette’s Quebec-affairs columnist. He is based in Montreal and can be reached by E-mail at dmacpher@thegazette.southam.ca


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