MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Blair Fraser June 19 1965
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Blair Fraser June 19 1965

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Blair Fraser

The Liberal "cleanup” in Quebec: how the Old Guard still hang on

PUBLICATION of Chief Justice Dorion’s report on the Rivard scandal is going to bring on a crisis in Quebec’s federal Liberal party. And it has been evident for some time that the crisis would be more easily resolved if the Dorion report were harsh than if it were gentle.

Liberals have long taken for granted that the report would not be severe with Justice Minister Guy Favreau personally. His own integrity has never been questioned, and the inquiry brought out no new reasons to question his judgment. Speculation has centred rather on what the report would say about Guy Rouleau, the onetime parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Pearson who, without the PM’s knowledge, supported Lucien Rivard’s quest for bail.

Rouleau announced in May his intention to run again as Liberal candidate in Montreal - Dollard. He can easily get the nomination from his docile organization, unless there is a firm veto from Liberal party headquarters — which would be easy if the Dorion report condemned Rouleau, more difficult if it let him off lightly. And the question whether Guy Rouleau can again be an official Liberal candidate has become a test for a larger question: Has the federal Liberal organization in Montreal been effectively cleaned up, or is it still run by the same old crowd?

Guy Favreau thinks the clean-up job (or as he prefers to put it, the reorganization) is well on the way to successful completion. It is only about a year since Favreau became federal Liberal leader in Quebec, and in that brief time he has made many changes, the effects of which are only now beginning to be seen.

Probably the most important is the reconstruction of Quebec’s central campaign committee. In the 1963 election this committee was recruited almost exclusively from the Old Guard, with a small and feeble minority of younger newcomers. Not a single Old Guardsman now remains on the com-

mittee; their places have been filled by bright young Liberals bent on reform. Similar changes have been made at lower levels of organization in many Quebec ridings.

But Favreau’s critics (many of whom are his personal friends) are not yet satisfied. The real power, they say. has not changed hands. To prove it they cite an example trivial in itself, but important as a test of strength within the party.

When plans were first begun for the Pearson banquet in Montreal May 7. the chairman of the dinner committee was a real-estate operator named Réal Rousseau. Rousseau has been associated with Yvon Dupuis, the exminister recently accused of demanding a ten-thousand-dollar bribe to help a constituent get a race-track license. In April, a witness at the Dupuis hearing named Rousseau as a major figure in the race-track bribery scandal. specifically as the man who suggested faking the dates on certain letters in order to deceive Prime Minister Pearson and thus give false corroboration to Dupuis’ story.

This testimony was drawn to the attention of the prime minister, who ordered Rousseau removed from the banquet committee. Another man was appointed chairman, but Rousseau continued to sit on the committee and appeared, in fact, to be in charge of the whole affair as before.

Bryce Mackasey, chairman of the Liberal caucus, raised this question at a social gathering of Quebec Liberal MPs. Exactly what position, he asked, did this man Rousseau still hold? Why hadn’t the prime minister’s orders been carried out? There was a brief flurry of embarrassment, but then a counter - attack came from René Emard, MP for a west-of-Montreal riding. “Réal Rousseau is my organizer,” he said in effect, “and I don’t want to hear any more slurs on him from you damned English.”

Mackasey is a bilingual Irish Catholic who was born in Quebec City and is MP for Verdun, a working-class suburb of Montreal. He considers himself a true Quebecker by birth, education, language and love, and it infuriated him to be told that criticism of Rousseau was mere ethnic prejudice. The social evening ended in angry dispute, but at least it looked as if Rousseau had been dislodged from the banquet committee at last.

Not at all. At the banquet he was much in evidence, handing out tickets, giving directions and shaking hands with the prime minister (who didn’t know him from Adam) while photographers’ bulbs popped. Of the suites

reserved on the twenty-first floor of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel for party dignitaries to entertain in, one was occupied by Réal Rousseau.

Guy Rouleau and Yvon Dupuis both had the grace to stay away from the Pearson dinner, at which the prime minister declared his belief in the honor and integrity of “all my colleagues from Quebec.” One MP who did attend, surrounded by members of his local executive, was Edmund T. Assclin of Notre Dame île Grâce, Montreal. Assclin was named in a commission report two years ago as having received an “inordinate” profit (more than sixty thousand dollars) in a land deal with the Montreal Protestant School Board, a deal in which he had risked no money of his own. He was not an MP at the time but he was a member of the Montreal City Council, and the deal looked to many like a textbook example of a conflictof-interest case. At Assclin’s own insistence, the Protestant School Board is now suing him for recovery of the money. If (as many lawyers predict) the courts find that the land deal was not actually illegal, he too will be a candidate for renomination at the Liberal convention in his riding.

Liberal New Guardsmen are determined to block both Rouleau and Asselin, but they’re not at all sure they can do it. They’re not even sure they can stop renomination of Yvon Dupuis, unless he’s actually convicted of a crime. And they feel resentful of their own uncertainty. They think Guy Favreau should use his authority as Quebec leader to read these men out of the party. They are not convinced by Favreau’s argument that this would be “undemocratic” (one of his most cherished reforms has been to restore autonomy to local organizations, which can now choose the candidates they want instead of taking what the party headquarters may send them). Local autonomy shouldn’t go so far as to protect men who have damaged the party’s good name, New Guardsmen say, and if Guy Favreau won’t purge them himself he should let someone else do it — for instance Maurice Sauvé, the tough young minister of forestry, who would undertake the task with enthusiasm.

“It won’t make much difference in the next election,” one of the young Montrealers said the other day. “With the Tories in a state of disarray and the Créditistes on the wane, there’s nobody to stop us in Quebec at the moment.

“But if we coast along and don’t bother cleaning house, we could be dead by 1970.”