Log Cabin Chronicles

Old Quebec City

Photograph/John Mahoney



Confidence, Man

Some politicized punk with an Exacto knife has customized a Parti Québécois poster in our neighborhood. Before it was desecrated the poster featured a beaming Premier Lucien Bouchard next to the PQ's campaign slogan, "J'ai confiance." But the blade-wielding artist has gone to work on the motto, trimming it down to the single syllable "con."

Now "con" is not a nice word in French. In fact, the translation in my CD ROM dictionary is not printable in a family newspaper. Harrop's daintily suggests "idiot" and not a word more.

My mammoth old Dictionaire de la langue française au Canada, published in the less vulgar fifties, doesn't even include the word. To call someone a "con" is evidently a nasty slur and therefore all the more surprising to see it used in connection with a revered figure such as Bouchard, particularly in the Quebec City area, where all but one of 10 seats went PQ in 1994.

While this particular act of vandalism may have nothing whatsoever to do with politics, it does set one to reflecting on the PQ's choice of a slogan for this crucial campaign. Far more down to earth than the psychedelia of the 1995 referendum's "Say Yes and this becomes possible" motif, the "j'ai confiance" slogan is one that appears designed to work on several direct and subliminal levels.

I've been conducting an informal survey among the francophones in my circle of friends and colleagues, hoping to reach a consensus on what "j'ai confiance" actually means. The list so far includes "I believe," "I trust (you, them)," "I have faith," "I can do it," "I know what I'm doing," and so on.

But no one is clear about what the political message actually is. That, perhaps, is the beauty of the message - it means something different to different people.

For example, if you are a softy nationalist but don't want a wrenching referendum, "trust me" means, as Bouchard has said, there won't be a referendum without the winning conditions - which most reasonable people would take to mean when the people want one. Therefore folks might feel more comfortable voting PQ with the assurance that Bouchard won't do anything radical without making sure he has the confidence of the people.

But, if you are a hard-line sovereignist and believe in the raison d'etre of the Parti Quebecois, "trust me" means that, as Bouchard also has said, he will do everything in his power to hold a referendum within his next mandate. To this key element of PQ supporters, "trust me" amounts to a wink of complicity that once the party gets past this election hurdle, it will move on to set the stage for another referendum.

It's apparent the PQ has built its campaign almost entirely on the "trust" theme. The polls, to the bafflement of most observers, show that the PQ and Bouchard personally are way more popular than they should be after the wild ride the péquiste regime put the province through these past four years. With these golden approval numbers in hand, Bouchard decided to gamble they could be sustained for a fall election.

Hence, on the policy side, the PQ campaign looks improvised, featuring an absolutely breathless pace of doling out pricey promises, many intended to outbid to ones Jean Charest made the day before.

Meanwhile the leader is racing about the province preaching the trust message and trying to undermine the credibility of Charest as a patriotic Quebecer and as a caring human being.

So far in this Quebec campaign Bouchard has been the man selling an all-purpose confidence. He's the confidence man, and that's another one of those expressions that doesn't translate very well.

CBC logo Peter Black is a writer living in Quebec City, where he is the producer of Quebec A.M. -- CBC Radio's popular English-language morning show (91.7 FM, 6-9, Mon.-Fri).

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