Landry's future in doubt
By JEFF GRAY and ALLISON LAWLOR
Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press
Tuesday, Apr. 14, 2003
He had wanted to be the leader that turned Quebec from a province into a sovereign country. But Bernard Landry's dream went down to defeat Monday as Jean Charest's Liberals handily defeated his Parti Québécois.
Political observers had speculated that a defeat would almost certainly result in Mr. Landry's resignation, but there we no immediate hint from the defeated premier in his concession speech.
He vowed to fight on in opposition, saying iN French: "At the next election, the party of change will be the Parti Québécois."
Mr. Charest's win returns the federalists to power after nine long years in opposition, striking a devastating blow to the sovereignty option and placing status quo federalism in Quebec on its strongest footing in decades.
Political observers had speculated that a defeat for Mr. Landry could also result in a leadership race with a bitter internal debate between the more pro-active sovereigntists and the more conservative elements who have controlled the party since the days of Lucien Bouchard.
Under Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Landry, 66, the party leadership has not been able to define a clear direction on how to achieve sovereignty. And yet in the minds of many Quebeckers, who also rejected status quo federalism, the issue remains unresolved.
Mr. Landry, who was acclaimed PQ Leader in March 2001, focused his election campaign on social issues, proposing benefits for young families with children to promote population growth in Quebec.
The PQ will likely recover from this setback, which is the fifth election loss in its 35-year history.
What's less certain is whether Mr. Landry will be there to lead it back into power. He was re-elected in his own riding, but is not expected to wait out the next four years in opposition.
Monday's loss was a swift drop in fortunes for a man who seemed to be cruising toward a near-miraculous political comeback.
Mr. Landry had successfully restored support for the PQ after it almost hit rock bottom in 2002.
The PQ's support level crashed into the high teens last year, as the party registered some of the worst poll results in its history and left some pundits predicting it could be reduced to a rump party.
And Mr. Landry was seen as a cantankerous figure, whose cheeks would occasionally flush with anger while he lashed out at his adversaries.
The rest of Canada became familiar with Mr. Landry's sharp tongue when he referred to the Maple Leaf as a "red rag" weeks before he took over as premier in 2001.
"Everybody does things they're not always happy with the next day," Mr. Landry said after that outburst.
"This was my case in the past and it will be again."
But Mr. Landry eventually underwent an image makeover, followed by a sudden jump in support for his party late last year.
He began publicly discussing his personal life often mentioning his wife who died of cancer in 1999, as well as their children and grandchildren.
Mr. Landry was often seen arm-in-arm with his new love, former pop singer and movie actress Chantal Renaud, and recently appeared on a popular Quebec reality TV show.
He suddenly became the most popular party leader in Quebec.
Mr. Landry's face was plastered on campaign posters everywhere in the province, as PQ strategists made him the centrepiece of their campaign.
The strategy seemed to be working until the midway point of the campaign as the PQ appeared to be cruising toward re-election. Until then, many Quebeckers had been ignoring domestic politics while war raged in Iraq.
That changed on March 31, however, when an audience of 2.1 million tuned in for the televised leaders' debate and Mr. Landry picked the wrong night to fall a little flat.
Perhaps fearful of making an ill-timed verbal blunder, Mr. Landry ditched his typically lively debating style and stuck to a careful script, sometimes reading directly from notes.
Meanwhile, a loose and confident-looking Mr. Charest immediately gained esteem from his performance and quickly shot up in the polls.
A lawyer and economist, Mr. Landry joined the PQ shortly after its creation in 1968 and held several cabinet positions after winning a seat in 1976.
He aborted a run at the party leadership in 1985, then spent nine years teaching economics in Quebec and abroad.
Mr. Landry returned to the legislature when the PQ regained power in 1994, and became deputy premier until Mr. Bouchard resigned in early 2001.
As finance minister in the late 1990s, Mr. Landry gave Quebec its first balanced budget in decades.