Canada

'HE IS LIKE AN ACTOR'

September 1 1997
Canada

'HE IS LIKE AN ACTOR'

September 1 1997

'HE IS LIKE AN ACTOR'

In early 1996, Vivian Rakoff, former director and psychiatristin-chief at Toronto's Clarke Institute, prepared a psychological portrait of Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard. The report, a copy of which was obtained by Maclean’s, was done at the request of Toronto Liberal MP John Godfrey, who passed it on to the Prime Minister’s Office. Rakoff, now professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, has never met Bouchard, and prepared his assessment on the basis of Bouchard’s 1992 autobiography and news accounts. Excerpts:

The true loyalty of Bouchard is not to external entities but to himself, to his “visage.” The dichotomy articulated in the brilliant and by now clichéd joke that René Lévesque is what Quebecers felt they were and that Pierre Trudeau is what they wanted to be is healed in Bouchard. His origins are humble, but his maturity is polished—seigneurial. Is it because the progress of Bouchard’s personal history runs in parallel with the changes in Quebec during the not so quiet revolution of the past 35 or so years?

Bouchard started his life in the countryside, the son of a poor truck driver, and he moved from a rural, ecclesiastically dominated society to a high sophisticated secularism, struggling to define itself in its own terms.

His career is certainly of this time, but there is an almost anachronistic flavor to his life progress. We have met him before in history.

He could have been one of those young non-aristocratic men who at the beginning of the enlightenment came to Paris to stoke the fires of a new age. He is not quite Julien Sorel [the hero of Stendhal’s 1830 novel The Red and the Black], although elements of the fictive character’s sexual adventurousness and worldly ambition are certainly there.

What were his personal instruments of self-transformation? Certainly the first of these is his considerable intellect. Then his capacity for hard work. More subtly, he has the great gift of investing what he must do, with passion. He becomes emotionally committed to the task at hand. He is like an actor who dedicates himself to a particular role, but leaves it behind when the curtain falls. This is not fraud, but a necessary talent. The visage at any moment seems absolutely convincing to the outside and, I suspect, subjectively, but it can be sloughed and changed.

It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of language as the vehicle of identity. It is in French and through French that Bouchard leaves Lac St-Jean to become a monsieur, an ambassador to Paris. His facility with language became his passport to the wider world of Frenchness. It is significant that he doesn’t learn English until he is 40. When you learn a language at 40, you are never totally at home in it. And not to have the full use of language in an encounter is to be diminished. English was not another language as Italian or Span-

ish may be, it is that language, as he puts it, of “the gentlemen’s club” from which he is forever excluded by virtue of his Frenchness. No, not his Frenchness—his identity as a Québécois.

There is the cumulative impression that what Bouchard wants is not Quebec with its distinct history, but Quebec as France. In his writing, he seems to fuse Quebec and France, as if he wants to heal the 200-year separation from the mother country. He doesn’t appear to be aware that at some level he is rejecting what is modern Quebec in favor of a romantic, tormenting and ultimately reactionary dream. Reactionary in the sense that it yearns for a fantasized past in which cultures would be separate and complete, where one could preserve pure lineage, where strangers would not intrude, where the claims of others need not be taken into account.

His political way out of the orphaned status is truly a fantasy in which he will take part in the creation of an organization that will be a compensatory analogue of the British Commonwealth. With

Francophonie as an international organization in place, Quebec will be able to survive its isolation in North America because it will have rejoined its patrimony. Perhaps the French word provincial carries the weight of this sense of inferiority. It resonates with the sense of being diminished. No matter how sovereign Quebec is within the context of a larger state, it cannot be its own centre. Francophonie in this dream will be a full linguistic-cultural entity. Because of its protection one will never again feel culturally isolated or inferior—to be perpetually a provincial.

What does this translate into when it comes to action? He will be unable to resist the temptation to lead Quebec to glory. He may be more concerned with symbol than fact, and he may stumble when it comes to the business of daily policy and decision-making. He is not just a windy dreamer, but he is easily wounded. And though he is devoted to his ambitions and, he believes, to his people, he is only too ready to justify himself under all circumstances, his various loyalties all come disguised as defence of principles.

Since he refers to himself at one point as Achilles, what is his Achilles heel? A core sense of insecurity, great vanity and one suspects private passions that expose him to indiscreet behavior, which the rural parts of his beloved province—still Catholic, still suspicious of the big city—may not tolerate. But the Achilles metaphor resonates beyond his intention. He has lost a limb, he speaks poetically, he has a lock of dark hair falling across his face. He has all the attributes of a hero in the most ancient sense: he is powerful, he survives dangers, he embodies the best vision the group has for itself—but then there is always the heel.