Pauline Marois knew that not everybody in the Parti Québécois would approve of her cutting ties between the PQ and radical sovereignists.
So it took some courage for her to assert her authority as PQ leader by doing so on the eve of a weekend meeting of the party’s governing council.
But because she did it belatedly, under pressure and only partially, she might not get much credit for it from outside the PQ.
And inside her party, it might yet cause her some difficulty.
Last Friday, Marois ordered PQ members of the National Assembly to stop buying advertising in the sovereignist newspaper Le Québécois.
The newspaper is connected to a small group called the Réseau de résistance du Québécois, whose threats of violence contributed to the cancellation last week of a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham to mark its 250th anniversary.
Since early January, the RRQ had been warning of another "samedi de la matraque (truncheon Saturday)," referring to police violence against sovereignist protesters during a visit by Queen Elizabeth to Quebec City in 1964, if the re-enactment took place.
It promised visiting spectators "a trip they won’t soon forget." The spokesman for its "Opération 1759," Pierre Falardeau, had warned that "some people will get their asses kicked." And after the re-enactment was cancelled for security reasons, it claimed victory.
Yet it was only after the re-enactment was cancelled and Premier Jean Charest challenged Marois to dissociate her party from the RRQ that Marois ordered the advertising boycott of Le Québécois.
And Marois said nothing about her party’s relations with another radical group, the Jeunes Patriotes du Québec.
The JPQ is essentially the youth wing of the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste de Montréal, a partner of the PQ in the umbrella Conseil de la souveraineté.
Twice last year, its self-described "street sovereignists" tried to intimidate federalists and disrupt their meetings.
Marois is familiar with the JPQ. They started a shoving match when they tried to force their way into a PQ nominating convention early in the campaign for the Dec. 8 general election, after Marois had rejected the candidacy of a hardline sovereignist. Then they picketed her at a rally the next day.
Yet only two months later, a PQ MNA, Martin Lemay, accepted an invitation from the JPQ to commemorate the anniversary of the hanging of Patriotes by the British after the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837 and 1838. A Bloc Québécois member of Parliament, Maria Mourani, also accepted the JPQ’s invitation.
This was a week before the PQ council meeting, at which some delegates objected in the name of solidarity among sovereignists to Marois’s withholding financial support from Le Québécois and through it, the RRQ.
The Bloc followed the PQ’s lead, announcing its own advertising boycott of Le Québécois. But the PQ’s boycott might be only temporary.
During the council meeting, Marois opened the door to lifting the ban if Patrick Bourgeois, the publisher of Le Québécois and head of the RRQ, "apologizes for and withdraws" remarks about violence.
And it might appear to Bourgeois’s sympathizers in the PQ, at least, that he has done that, in a message sent to recipients on his emailing list shortly after the council meeting ended.
Bourgeois said it was "inappropriate" for him to say he would applaud if someone set fire to Quebec City talk-radio stations on which he had been attacked, a remark to which Marois had referred.
And he said he was pleased that the PQ council had adopted a resolution calling for co-operation with all non-violent sovereignist groups, which he said included his own.
Marois, who voted for the resolution, didn’t agree with Bourgeois. Now other sovereignists will have to choose sides between them.