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Gay former bad boy to lead separatists

Federalists question Boisclair's moral authority to govern

An openly gay man who recently admitted to using cocaine while serving as a Quebec cabinet minister has easily won the leadership of the Parti Québécois.

André Boisclair, 39, a former PQ cabinet minister in the governments of Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry, won the leadership of the Quebec separatist party last week, taking 54 percent of the vote on the first ballot.

“Let us all work together to achieve the country of Quebec,” said the telegenic Boisclair in his victory speech.

Immediately after his win, federalist politicians in Quebec started to publicly question Boisclair’s “moral authority” to govern.

“I think [the drug issue is] going to come back to haunt him,” says Richard Burnett, editor-at-large for Montreal’s Hour Weekly.

After repeated questioning, Boisclair admitted to reporters in September that he used cocaine while a cabinet minister. But he refused to discuss how often he did the drug or who supplied it to him. By the end of the campaign, Boisclair had cancelled a host of public appearances, news conferences and media interviews to avoid more questions about his cocaine use. He even sent another leadership candidate a lawyer’s letter warning him to stop making allegations against him.

Polls showed his popularity among Quebecers increased when the issue first came to light. But critics questioned Boisclair’s handling of the scandal more than his actual use of the illegal drug.

“The cocaine issue showed that his steely nerves really aren’t that steely. He seems to have thin skin,” says Burnett.

Yves Lafontaine, editor-in-chief for Montreal’s Fugues magazine, says his publication was inundated by e-mails the day after Boisclair’s win.

“Gay men and lesbians were very happy to see his victory. Some were just proud of him.”

After years of avoiding the gay press, Boisclair agreed to his first interview with Fugues last summer. Lafontaine still calls Boisclair an “enigma.”

“His non-answers say as much as his answers.”

For example, Boisclair refused to answer questions about previous romances, but did confirm that he is currently single.

“He’s young, but some of his ideas are conservative. He’s gay, but he doesn’t make a big deal of it,” says Lafontaine.

Burnett says Boisclair had a spotty record in terms of supporting queer issues in government. He only came out publicly in the late 1990s, after Burnett outed him in a column.

Recent polls put the PQ as many as 20 points ahead of the governing Liberals under Premier Jean Charest. An election isn’t expected until 2007.