Ignoring urgent telephone entreaties from Ottawa, Lucien Bouchard spent part of May 19 viewing the works of turn-of-thecentury French artist Claude Monet, on display at the Monet Museum in the French village of Giverny, 80 km from Paris. But the studied tranquillity of Monet’s pastels was in marked contrast to the turbulent political events that were about to be set in motion by the federal minister of the environment, one of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s closest confidants. Shortly before his visit to the gallery, Bouchard had sent a congratulatory telegram to the Parti Québécois on the 10th anniversary of the Quebec referendum as it held its annual convention in Bouchard’s riding of Lac-SaintJean. That message, say those who know him well, was a sign that Bouchard—a former member of the separatist PQ—had already decided to resume an active role as a Quebec nationalist. No longer willing to hide his anger at what he perceived to be Quebec’s humiliation at the hands of an English Canada determined to reject the Meech Lake accord, Bouchard instead was prepared to jeopardize his cabinet post—and a 30-year friendship with the prime minister who relied on him.
In fact, the telegram signified the end of a political journey that the 51-year-old lawyer from Chicoutimi, Que., had shared with Mulroney since both were classmates at Quebec City’s Laval University. Returning to Montreal from France on Sunday, May 20, Bouchard, accompanied by his wife, Audrey, and their sixmonth-old son, defended his decision to send the telegram. The next day, Mulroney, who had first heard of the congratulatory message on the radio, summoned Bouchard to his official Ottawa residence at 24 Sussex Drive. During an hour-long meeting, Mulroney asked for, and accepted, his friend’s already prepared resignation. Announcing his decision the following afternoon in the House of Commons, Bouchard peppered his speech with criticisms of the government. The Tories, he said, were contemplating additions to Meech Lake that would weaken Quebec’s constitutional stature.
Passion: For the two friends, the break underscored conflicting visions of federalism. As Bouchard summed it up in his five-page resignation letter, written on the kitchen table of his Ottawa home on the morning of May 21: “I deeply believe that we have to rethink this country. We must stop trying to fit Quebec into the mould of a province like the others.”
At the heart of Bouchard’s anger was the report of the House of Commons committee that held public hearings into the additions to
Meech Lake which New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna had proposed on March 21. That report, released on May 17, recommended a number of additions to the accord— additions that Bouchard stridently opposes. And last week, he demonstrated that he had ripened into a polished, charismatic orator and a political force to be reckoned with in the coming constitutional battles. In his first speech as an Independent MP, to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, he issued an impassioned call to Quebecers to come “to a grand consensus” against the rest of Canada. The speech brought two standing ovations from Montreal’s business elite.
Still, it was clear last week that Bouchard himself remained unsure of his own next move. For now, he said that he would sit as an Independent member of parliament alongside former Tory backbench MPs François Gérin and Gilbert Chartrand, both of whom also resigned from the Conservative party in sympathy with the Quebec nationalist cause. In Quebec, meanwhile, where Bouchard campaigned vigorously in favor of sovereigntyassociation during the 1980 referendum, his former PQ colleagues clearly consider him to be a valuable asset—and a potential future leader of the party. For his part, Bouchard said that he would spend the next several weeks considering his options, adding that he needed “a moment of sober thought.”
Shifts: Despite the controversy that it produced, Bouchard’s return to the nationalist fold was only the latest change of heart in a political career marked by shifting allegiances that included brief alliances with the New Democrats and the Liberals before his switch to the PQ during the early 1970s. He went on to serve as Premier René Lévesque’s chief negotiator with unionized public servants in Quebec. Bouchard remained affiliated with the PQ through the 1970s and into the early 1980s.
But some observers said that Bouchard’s political evolution has mirrored the political development of his fellow Quebecers, as they have sought a better deal from Confederation under a succession of constitutional proposals. Said former Conservative party president Michael Meighen, another Bouchard classmate at Laval: “Lucien has always reflected the reality of Quebec. Today, that reality is a self-confidence and a lack of fear that English-speaking Canada has not yet been able to understand.”
In fact, Bouchard’s ability to grasp unerringly the political mood of Quebec has long impressed the ambitious Mulroney, who frequently told his fellow Tories that the province held the key to their return to federal power. Bouchard, meanwhile, became intent on righting what he saw as the constitutional injustice dealt to Quebec in the negotiations that resulted in the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution—over Quebec’s objections. The two men’s political interests converged in the 1984 federal election campaign. Mulroney declared his intention to include Quebec in the constitutional family. Bouchard, who earlier had tutored Mulroney in the language and subtleties of Quebec nationalism, helped his friend craft the speeches and campaign strategies that led the party to sweep 58 of Quebec’s 75 seats. A year later, Mulroney sent Bouchard to Paris as Canadian ambassador to France.
But in March, 1988, Mulroney summoned Bouchard back to Canada as an unelected secretary of state in order to help resurrect the Tories’ slumping popularity in Quebec after a series of scandals. In June of that year, Bou-
chard won a byelection in Lac-Saint-Jean, aided by a flood of federal spending in the riding, and held the riding in the November, 1988, election. Shortly after, he acquired the sensitive job of environment minister.
Credit: But Mulroney’s crony grew increasingly restive in the public spotlight. Critics noted that the self-admitted political neophyte, unaccustomed to the tactics of federal political life, was prone to treat many cabinet meetings as distasteful obligations rather than as opportunities to forge alliances with other ministers. As well, he railed against any criticism of Quebec, suggesting in April that Canada might have to choose between Quebec and Newfoundland in order to break the Meech Lake deadlock. On issues involving the constitution, even friends concede that Bouchard was unable, or unwilling, to adopt a national perspective. Said Meighen: “My one criticism of Lucien is that he refuses to give credit to all those allies ^ in English-speaking Canada who are hanging tough in favor of Meech Lake.”
And in the end, while Bouchard spoke movingly of his support for the Meech Lake accord, it was a cause that his departure from Ottawa clearly put at risk. As Bouchard read his resignation speech to the House of Commons last week, Mulroney sat, drawn and tired, toying with his eyeglasses in his lap without looking up. Just six seats away, the member for LacSaint-Jean gave every indication that he, at last, was happy to be freed from the constraints of government—and the Tory party.
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