Where will Daniel Johnson lead Quebec?
Lesage led Quebec with a team of college-bred technocrats. Now Daniel Johnson must do the same with a cabinet of small-town politicians. They're old-fashioned, canny and tough—and most of them used to take orders from Duplessis. That's why this season's biggest political question is
WHEN JEAN LESAGE was Premier of Quebec he was in his office every morning by 8.15—and most weeks “every” morning meant all seven, not just five. Premier Daniel Johnson gets to the office between 10.30 and 11, Tuesday through Friday. He spends his three-day weekends in Montreal, where he lives, or in the village of St-Pie de Bagot in his riding, where he also maintains a home the year round.
Not that Johnson is lazy. He isn’t a work addict like Lesage, but he works hard enough in his own fashion. Each morning, for example, before going to the office he spends an hour or more on the telephone, talking to political advisers in every corner of the province. His weekends at home are solidly booked with political appointments,
as are his evenings. Jean Lesage didn't
have, or didn’t take, time for this kind
of grassroot cultivation, which is one
reason why his government was de-
Both men are well endowed with
charm, but of very different sorts.
Lesage is brilliant, forceful, a domin-
ating personality—formidable is the
word, in either language. Johnson is amiable, easygoing, a natural concili-
ator and good companion. One of the
English - speaking correspondents in
Quebec City summed up the differ-
“If I were choosing between them for prime minister. I'd pick Lesage. but if I were choosing a roommate I'd
rather have Dan Johnson.”
There is the same kind of contrast
between the governments they lead.
or led. Lesage’s cabinet included a
Rhodes scholar, a professor of eco-
nomics, two distinguished journalists,
one a world-traveled war correspon-
dent, two French Canadians who took
their degrees at McGill and two more
who went to college in the United
States. The English-speaking Protes-
tant representative. Richard Hyde, is
a graduate of Cambridge,
Johnson's cabinet includes six mayors of small municipalities, three
aldermen or school trustees, at least
two presidents of local St. Jean
Baptiste Societies. Ten represent the
counties in which they were born and
two more, including Johnson himself, have had close ties with their ridings since boyhood. Five are country
lawyers, two country doctors, eight
small businessmen or employees (one
was a CPR brakeman) and three are
farmers. The one university professor
holds a Bachelor's degree in theology; he and two others, including Johnson. studied for the Roman Catholic clergy in their youth. The cabinet has no English-speaking Protestant, because none was elected under the Union Nationale banner.
Each cabinet represents a certain Quebec élite—one the old, the other the new.
Lesage’s men are the intellectuals, modernists, anti-clericals who for six years had been building a new FrcnchCanadian culture to replace the traditional one which, they fondly supposed, they had virtually destroyed since I960.
Johnson's men are the old élite, still very much alive. They are the village notables—the lawyer and the notary, the doctor and the county clerk, the college-trained farmer who is better off than his neighbors but still close to them. Those who lack learning have won local distinction in some other way. (The one-time CPR brakeman, for example, has been an M LA since 1944 and is now dean of the Legislative Assembly.) Most of them, who had more than elementary schooling, went to colléges classic/ties and imbibed the traditional culture which, unlike the rebels around Lesage. they have continued to cherish all their lives. They can claim with some justice to be more truly representative of Quebec than are the authors of the Quiet Revolution.
This is what Marcel Masse, the youngest man in the cabinet, meant when he told me. "There are two kinds of political party, the ideological and the pragmatic. Ours is pragmatic. We choose our candidates not for ideology but for représentativité—the ability to represent their people.”
Masse himself is a representative, so the Union Nationale hopes, of a considerable number of French-Canadian youth. He has just turned 30 and. until he ran for office, was a history teacher in the high school at Joliette. He is the only member of the cabinet who went to university outside Quebec—the Sorbonne in Paris and the City of London College.
Masse (his name rhymes with class, not with classy) is a slim, handsome, highly articulate young man who believes that Quebec's political parties do not, and need not. differ much in principle. He himself voted Liberal in 1962. but soon became disenchanted with the Lesage government and joined the Union Nationale, he told an interviewer last winter, “just because it did not then represent a real alternative.” Having joined it, he rose in its ranks very quickly—became a member of the policy committee in 1963 and presided at a major policy conference in 1965. He thought it his duty to do all he could to make the UN an alternative to the Lesage government and ti better instrument for attainment of French Canada’s aspirations. I asked him what these aspi-
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Masse’s answers to that question are somewhat reminiscent of Mackenzie King’s famous phrase: “not necessarily separatism, but separatism if necessary.” Quebec is French Canada’s heartland, the only place where French Canadians are a majority and can exercise effective control. Therefore its government should have all the powers it needs to protect French Canada’s interests. Ottawa should not do anything that affects Quebec without the Quebec government's approval. By the time he got through listing the things he had in mind, it was obvious there'd be little left for Ottawa to do that would not be subject to a Quebec veto.
To Marcel Masse, the Union Nationale is a new party: "For us, Duplessis and the old days don't mean anything. They bear the same relation to the Union Nationale today that the old Taschereau regime does to Rene Lévesque.”
This turned out to be an overstatement. Three of Johnson’s ministers were members of the Duplessis cabinet, counting Johnson himself (who was also parliamentary assistant to Duplessis for two years before joining the cabinet). One was Union Nationale whip from 1948, and chief whip from 1953, until the party’s defeat in 1960. One spent six years as parliamentary assistant to Antonio Talbot, the Duplessis Minister of Roads who has since been convicted of operating a kickback system. (Talbot is now appealing the conviction.)
Of the 20 former MLAs re-elected under the Union Nationale banner, 16 are now ministers. Three of the remaining four were freshmen, elected for the first time in 1962. The other, a Lotbinière farmer named René Bernatchez, has thus the invidious distinction of being the one and only Union Nationale veteran who is not deemed minist rabie.
Even the newcomers are not all New Guardsmen. Fernand Lafontaine, 43, was the Union Nationale’s chief organizer; he has been named Minister of Roads and of Public Works, the two departments with the biggest patronage potential. Jean-Noël Tremblay, 40, is a former federal MP; he is remembered in Ottawa as a reactionary witch-hunter, and he is now Quebec’s Minister of Cultural Affairs. The only member of the Johnson cabinet who is conspicuously New Guard is Marcel Masse himself, a minister without portfolio attached to the education department.
The strongest figures in the Johnson cabinet are the two men who, with Johnson himself, were ministers under Duplessis. Jean-Jacques Bertrand, 50, became Minister of Lands and Forests in 1958, after having been parliamentary assistant to his predecessor for four years. Fie contested the party leadership against Johnson in 1961, but is now Johnson’s chief lieutenant, holding the two portfolios of Justice and Education. Paul Dozois, 58, entered the Quebec legislature for the first time in 1956 as Duplessis’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, a field in which he had had much experience as a member of the Montreal executive committee and an author of a massive
Will the bad old days return? So far, indications are: no
urban-renewal scheme in that metropolis. He holds the same portfolio under Johnson, but also the much more important one of Finance.
Both Bertrand and Dozois arc highly respected, not only in their own party but by the opposition as well. Bertrand, when he contested the party leadership, was supposed to be
the “reform” candidate whereas Johnson was said to represent the Old Guard. There is no clear evidence that either title was particularly apt, and the two men appear now to get along in complete harmony. Dozois, who started as a small businessman, is esteemed for his integrity and his capacity for work. As Minister of
Finance, he is expected to be conservative, orthodox, unyielding in his determination to get back to balanced budgets, conventional bookkeeping, reductions in taxes and expenditures.
Will this cabinet of Old Guardsmen lead Quebec back to the dismal swamp of patronage, corruption and petty tyranny that made the name of
Duplessis notorious? So far, there is encouraging reason to believe the answer will be No.
True, some of the older ministers have been inquiring plaintively when the government will get back to the good old days of good old political patronage. Hundreds if not thousands of Union Nationale workers are waiting impatiently for tangible reward (that’s why cynics in Montreal describe the election result as the “under-the-counter-revolution”). Also, it’s now generally agreed that Lesage and his Quiet Revolutionaries turned their backs too fast and too firmly on certain long-accepted practices in Quebec, such as the preferences for small local contractors over the big, efficient companies that submit low bids, and that this was an important cause of the Liberals’ downfall.
Nevertheless, several countervailing factors give solid ground for hope that the changes for the better during the past six years will not now be undone. The most conspicuous is the retention in Quebec government service of Jean Lesage’s “technocrats”—the brilliant young economists and political theoreticians who were the architects of the Quiet Revolution.
All are still on the job. Claude Morin, Lesage’s Deputy Minister of Federal-Provincial Affairs, has the same position with Johnson, and the new premier told a press conference in June: “Mr. Morin has my full confidence.” Jacques Parizeau, Quebec’s leading representative on the federalprovincial tax structures committee; Michael Belanger, René Lévesque’s right-hand man, who had just been named Deputy Minister of Industry; Jean Fournier, the onetime diplomat who heads the Quebec Civil Service Commission and has imposed a strict merit system on the allocation of jobs; even Arthur Tremblay, Deputy Minister of Education, whom Johnson as opposition leader once denounced by name in the legislature—all are carrying on at the new government’s earnest request.
Not that they need to. By 2 a.m. on election night, Claude Morin got a telephone call from a member of the federal cabinet, offering him a job as deputy minister in Ottawa. Next day he got another call from a federal civil servant, asking if he’d consider a post as assistant deputy minister. Besides, Morin has never abandoned his teaching post at Laval University — he used to refer to his one or two lectures a week as “my unemployment insurance.” He and every other top civil servant in Quebec, fluently bilingual men of proven competence, could go to jobs in private industry any day, at higher salaries. But after a rapid consultation with each other on election night, they all decided to stay where they are.
“We have no reason to quit,” one of them said the other day. “Civil servants have to be prepared for a change of government, and accommodate themselves to it.”
But this willingness has an important condition attached. “If there is even half an attempt to go back to the old patronage system, that would be the end of everything.”
This, then, will be a continuing test of the new regime, like canaries in submarine. If the top men begin to
DANIEL JOHNSON comi,wal
Will Johnson keep the experts? Yes
leave, it will be good cause for suspicion that the bad old days have come back. If they stay, as they now intend, it will be to work for a Quebec they car. be proud of — “not for a banana republic,” as one of them put it.
But why can they assume the decision will be theirs? What if the government dismisses them as the Liberal appointees that indeed they are?
The government won’t. This is the nearest thing to a certainty in the uncertain Quebec situation.
In October, Premier Johnson and his senior ministers go to Ottawa for their first federal-provincial conference. It will be one of the most important ever. Key decisions will be made on fiscal arrangements for the next five years, and these decisions will proceed from vast amounts of work already done by the tax structures committee, which has made the first thorough study ever carried out on all government budgets in Canada, federal and provincial.
Without such advisers as Claude Morin and Jacques Parizeau, the new Quebec ministers would be helpless. They are not yet equipped to go into hard bargaining sessions with Mitchell Sharp and his professional experts, or with the experienced horse traders who come with Robarts of Ontario, Bennett of British Columbia and the rest. And if Union Nationale ministers did go home empty-handed, they would run into withering fire from Jean Lesage, who is described by the men who were his officials as “superbly informed, one of the few provincial premiers who really knew the detail of what we were negotiating.”
The aim: a good name
For these reasons if for no other, Johnson would want to keep his experts with him for at least his first year in office. But there is no need to doubt the sincerity of another and nobler motive. He wants to preserve the good name of his province, and restore the good name of his party, by retaining the good effects of the Quiet Revolution while smoothing out some of its more abrasive edges.
Johnson speaks of his old boss, Maurice Duplessis, with a kind of affectionate amusement now. “Duplessis came into office in 1936 when the budget of the province was only $36 millions,” he said not long ago. “He ran his government like a country storekeeper—kept all the bills payable in one pocket, all the accounts receivable in another pocket, and always knew exactly where everything was in the back shop.” Even before Duplessis died in 1959, this mode of operation had ceased to be feasible—the younger ministers, such as Johnson and Bertrand, were working day and night to bring some kind of order into their vastly expanded departments.
When he talks about the future of Quebec within Canada, Johnson sounds much the same as Lesage—his objectives, defined in general terms, are practically identical: “We have not closed any of the avenues to Confederation except two,” he says. “One is the status quo, which nobody wants
any more: the other is assimilation [of French Canada by the English-speaking majority]. Any other alternatives, we are prepared to consider and discuss.”
What then is the difference between the Union Nationale and the Quebec Liberals?
“We are entirely a provincial party. We don't have to wait to see what will be the attitude of the federal Conservatives on any question. We have friendly relations with them, but that’s all—we are a provincial party, period. When you’re in a minority position in the country, as we French Canadians are. you need an instrument like this.”
Johnson knows from personal experience the harsh realities of FrcnchEnglish relations in Canada. He remembers vividly when he and his brothers, as boys in the Eastern Townships village of Danville. Quebec, were called “maudits anglais” by the French because their father was Irish, and “damned Frenchmen” by the English because their mother was French and they went to French schools. Thus given a choice, the Johnson boys all opted for the Frenchspeaking community. Daniel spoke English at home as a child but lost the language entirely during his school years, and had to relearn it when he grew up. He now speaks it without flaw, but with a French accent. Just as he knows at first hand the existence and impact of prejudice, so he also knows by experience that a tolerable accommodation between the two groups is possible, and not too difficult.
About the immediate future Johnson talks like an optimist. He knows, though of course he doesn’t say, that his cabinet is not as strong as it might be—some of the men on whom he was counting were defeated in the June election, and some he’d like to have had declined even to run. He often talks wistfully, in private, about “the presidential system” whereby an elected president can choose whom he likes for his cabinet, without having to find seats for them. But he believes, and some nonpartisan observers agree, that there are some good young men among the party’s MLAs who will do well when they acquire some parliamentary experience, and when some of the old retreads are “promoted” into retirement to make room for them.
Anyway, this is the Quebec government and will almost certainly remain so for the next four critical years. “It will be a tragedy,” said an Englishspeaking Quebecker now in the Quebec government service, “if English Canadians just take it for granted that the old Duplessis days are back, and wash their hands of this regime. On those terms, we’ll never be able to keep Canada together.” ★