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Leader of the Opposition: An Extreme Sport



The departure of Dominique Anglade has few precedents. Of course, in all parties, leaders have decided to throw in the towel after an electoral defeat. Claude Ryan, Daniel and Pierre Marc Johnson, Bernard Landry and André Boisclair also resigned as Leaders of the Opposition.

But in each of these cases, the same ingredients were present.

An election defeat, an error in judgment, a position that causes you to lose the trust of the caucus. Finally, the presence behind the scenes of a suitor likely to replace you at short notice.

This time it’s different. Anglade bit the dust, lost all authority after his clash with his deputy Marie-Claude Nichols, who publicly demanded his departure.

But “plan B” is not easy. No one is seen as a natural successor.


Claude Ryan and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in 1980

In 1982, Claude Ryan left his position as Liberal leader. He had not been able to make himself appreciated by the militants, explained Monday Jean-Claude Rivest, alter ego of Robert Bourassa. These activists had sought intellectual support from the director of the To have to, which had nevertheless supported the Parti québécois in 1976. A dozen of its deputies, including Lise Bacon and Michel Gratton, had voted against their leader in the National Assembly, summarizes Ronald Poupart, witness of this period of the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ ). They had refused to blame Pierre Trudeau and his constitutional patriation. A veteran, Raymond Mailloux, had publicly demanded his departure.

Important ingredient: “Robert Bourassa was blowing in his neck,” recalls veteran Liberal Pierre Bibeau. Mr. Bourassa was biding his time, meeting activists all over Quebec. “When Raymond Garneau let us know that he wouldn’t be in the race in 1983, Bourassa told me: ‘It’s settled, I’m going to take over the leadership of the PLQ’”, recalls Pierre Bibeau.

Former Minister of Finance, Mr. Garneau had tried his luck against Mr. Ryan in 1978. did not want to risk my life again, ”summarized Monday Mr. Garneau. “The episode of Ryan’s succession had earned me a dinner at 24 Sussex, Pierre Elliott Trudeau wanted me to get into the race,” he recalls.

Johnson and Parizeau

When René Lévesque left in 1985, Pierre Marc Johnson was the obvious successor. However, Mr. Johnson also decided to resign, in November 1987, two years after an electoral defeat.

His departure had surprised many observers, but especially his obvious successor, Jacques Parizeau.

“The PQ had little chance of winning the 1989 election, we wanted to maintain a kind of instability for Johnson, but his departure surprised us”, confides today Jean Royer, a long-time confidant of Mr Parizeau.

The evening of the resignation, the television bulletins show a disconcerted Jacques Parizeau who refuses to comment, claiming that he was to give his course at HEC. The former Minister of Finance regularly attacked Mr. Johnson, who reduced the Parti Québécois (PQ) to a “cul-de-leg” party.

Upon Mr. Lévesque’s death on 1er November 1987, Mr. Johnson is in France, but decides not to hasten his return. Deputy Gérald Godin publicly calls for the departure of Mr. Johnson. Jacques Parizeau becomes leader, without adversary, and will be defeated in the elections of September 1989… as he had planned.

Quick successions

The departure of Daniel Johnson from the leadership of the PLQ is special. He had successfully crossed, at 80%, a vote of confidence of the militants, but understood well that in front of an extremely popular Lucien Bouchard, he had little chance of winning the elections. Many MPs criticized his leadership on condition of anonymity. When he left in March 1998, the rest of things were planned like clockwork. His emissary Pietro Perrino had tested Jean Charest’s interest in making the jump to provincial level. “A month before the announcement of his departure, there had been meetings”, the liberals Pietro Perrino, Benoît Savard and Richard Mimeau had discussed with François Pilote, the emissary of Jean Charest. “It was Daniel Johnson who showed selflessness. He understood that the PLQ had a better chance of winning with Charest than with him,” said Mr. Mimeau on Monday.

The position of Leader of the Opposition is difficult to occupy. The big guns of the caucus are not bound by ministerial solidarity.

Bernard Landry had a few missteps, notably by declaring: “I’ve had my day” the day after his defeat against Jean Charest in April 2003. A few decisions will undermine the solidarity of the party. That in particular of recognizing the “free SPQ”, a more radical phalanx, which created turbulence on the national councils of the party. Her authority over the caucus was diminished, the deputy of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Nicole Léger, demanded her departure – everyone already knew that she was the voice of Pauline Marois, who was biding her time. François Legault also contributed powerfully to destabilizing Mr. Landry. When he left, Pauline Marois, André Boisclair and Gilles Duceppe were in the waiting room.

Mr. Boisclair was returning from a brief stay in the private sector. His youth gave him a definite advantage over Pauline Marois, whom he easily overcame to the leadership of 2005. But his stay as leader of the opposition was laborious, in front of a Jean Charest who managed to define him as “immature” . At the end of his tether, he shouted at the Prime Minister: “You are not my father! »

The worst was yet to come. During the election campaign, at the end of 2007, he declared that even in the minority, the PQ would trigger the referendum mechanism. The PQ lost its official opposition status at the hands of Mario Dumont and the Action Démocratique du Québec. Like Dominique Anglade, Mr. Boisclair left the leadership of the PQ even before returning to the National Assembly. But like all the others, there was someone to take her place at short notice, Pauline Marois. Gilles Duceppe had thought about it, but had declined, a decision he still regrets.

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