National Column: Don’t discount Chong, Lisée bids for leadership

by Chantal Hébert

As Stephane Dion demonstrated by snatching the Liberal crown from under the noses of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae a decade ago, it is poor form as well as potentially short-sighted to dismiss the possibility of an eleventh-hour leadership upset out of hand.

On that basis, let’s postulate at the outset that former Conservative and Parti Quebecois ministers Michael Chong and Jean-Francois Lisee are no less qualified to lead their respective parties than the men they – as of Monday – officially seek to succeed.

But it is neither their credentials nor their momentum that make the latest entries in the Conservative and PQ contests must-watch additions to the leadership lineup of their parties.

Neither is currently riding anything resembling even the beginning of a wave of support.

Chong is a progressive in a Conservative party that has eliminated the word from its label. He is the only leadership aspirant (declared or undeclared) to have voted for the Liberals’ assisted-death bill earlier this month. He supports same-sex marriage.

At his news conference, he had nothing but good words for former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Chong resigned from Stephen Harper’s first cabinet in protest over the Quebec nation resolution. None of this will stand him in good stead with some sizable constituencies within his party.

Perhaps because Lisée served as a senior adviser to Quebec premiers Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, or because he was a journalist for too long, he has the pesky habit of speaking truth to power.

At the time of the last year’s PQ leadership campaign, he broke a party omerta of sorts by pointing out that Pierre Karl Peladeau’s dual status as a media tycoon and a party leader was a recipe for trouble.

That rubbed so many PQ members the wrong way that he had to abandon his own leadership bid.

If Lisée’s caucus colleagues were choosing a leader among themselves he would not stand a chance.

And yet, Lisee and Chong may be the candidates most likely to bring a chilly breath of mainstream air inside the stifling PQ and Conservative tents.

Lisée thinks his party is unlikely to win the next election let alone a majority government unless it commits to a referendum-free mandate. As leader he would bolt the door to a third plebiscite on Quebec’s political future for the PQ’s first four years in power.

He believes it will take years to recreate optimal conditions for a winning vote on sovereignty.

With this stance Lisée will not make many friends among the most fervent sovereigntist crowd but he may force his leadership rivals to have a more adult conversation about the two-decade old disconnect between the PQ’s central tenet and the consistent will of a majority of Quebecers to avoid another showdown over their political future.

Ditto in the case of Chong and the Conservatives. The GTA MP is calling on his party to not only join the climate change parade but to also embrace carbon pricing. That only sounds like a no-brainer – given that most provinces are already on side – until you consider that Harper’s last caucus spent the past few years talking down carbon pricing as a job-killing tax at every opportunity.

The Conservative leadership vote will be held next spring. It is hard to handicap the race until two of Harper’s former senior ministers declare their intentions.

Peter MacKay has consistently held in first place in every leadership-related poll. Jason Kenney has a political organization second to none. With both of them in, the Conservative contest would at least initially be a two-tier battle; without them the playing field would be more level.

By comparison and by the current federal standard of marathon leadership campaigns, the PQ contest will be over in a blink of the eye.

PKP’s successor will be chosen before Thanksgiving. The PQ campaign will mostly be a summer event.

That is somewhat appropriate given that it was only a year ago that the party held a leadership vote that featured many of the same players. In a season traditionally devoted to reruns, Lisee’s entry should help make this one worth a look.

In Quebec and on Parliament Hill, Monday was a good day for leadership watchers.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email