Sunday, May 6, 2007

The fate of Andre Boisclair

I've been a keen observer of Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair's roller coaster leadership, mostly because Boisclair is the first openly gay leader of a major political party, at least in North America.

His fall from grace has been largely predictable. Even during the 2005 PQ leadership race, in which Boisclair gave up a promising career on Toronto's Bay Street (strange career move for a Quebec separatist) to run for his party's top job, he showed poor judgment and an inability to connect well with ordinary people.

I wrote a handful of articles about Boisclair that year for Toronto's Xtra magazine, an English-language gay and lesbian bi-weekly. It seemed at that time that Boisclair's support was largely based on the false assumption that electing such a cool/edgy/gay, cosmopolitan and youthful leader, the PQ would open itself up to a new generation of voters. (Plus Boisclair's opponents simply weren't all that great.) PQ party members ignored the controversy over Boisclair's use of cocaine while serving as a cabinet minister in the 1990s, as well as his amateurish reaction to the controversy, shutting down scrums, hiding from the media, refusing to take interviews or criticism.

It now seems clear that Boisclair was completely wrong for the job. The reasons for his failure to connect with Quebec voters were multi-faceted, mostly a combination of Boisclair's arrogance and obvious political immaturity. But his open sexuality was also a factor. His appearance in a tasteless 'Brokeback Mountain' TV parody last fall merely confirmed his poor judgment, and reinforced his gay "ickiness". In the end, he was too 'Montreal' to sell in the Quebec hinterland.

I am certain that Boisclair's homosexuality had much to do with his inability to connect with ordinary Quebecers. It seems the general public needs little reason to fail to connect with political leaders from outside the typical mold.

White, male, heterosexual, conventional leaders normally are cut much more slack than leaders who don't embody these normalities.

If Stephane Dion were gay, he would be finished as a leader (who are we kidding, if Dion were gay, he would never have been elected leader of the federal Liberal Party.)

Like numerous female leadership candidates or other leaders from outside the traditional norm, Boisclair failed because he was not perfect. Boisclair wasn't a walking disaster during the recent Quebec election campaign, but that didn't matter. References to 'family values' by both Quebec Premier Jean Charest and ADQ leader Mario Dumont in their campaigns helped reinforce the subtle point that Boisclair simply wasn't an ordinary Quebecer.

Boisclair's homosexuality simply irritated a large number of heterosexual Quebecers. Add to this Boisclair's leadership shortcomings and the PQ had a disaster in the making. They're lucky they got 28% of the vote.

Of course, most Quebecers, like most Canadians, would never admit they wouldn't vote for someone because they're gay. When confronted with open homophobia, Quebecers and other Canadians typically give a knee-jerk reaction like, "Of course I'm not homophobic."

The election of PQ MNA Sylvain Gaudreault in Jonquière is an interesting case. Gaudreault, like his leader, is openly gay. A local radio shock jock, Louis Champagne, attacked Gaudreault's homosexuality on the air during the campaign, saying factory workers in the Saguenay would never vote for a "tapette," the French slang equivalent of "fag." Champagne suffered a huge backlash for his comments, and in the end local voters proved him wrong by giving Gaudreault a local victory.

At times, voters will go out of their way to prove the bigots wrong.

But when unchallenged, or when given no particular reason to favour a gay candidate, it seems voters will gravitate more to straight leaders or candidates.

It seems that Boisclair's leadership was doomed from the very beginning. I'm sure many PQ supporters will take a collective sigh of relief when he is finally removed (or quits) and is replaced by a more "normal" leader like Gilles Duceppe.

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