IS THIS MAN ALREADY THE MOST DANGEROUS POLITICIAN IN CANADA?
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TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS ago, as a five-year-old waif with enormous eyes and even larger pantalons, he was photographed waving a Union Jack on the occasion of a royal visit to Quebec. On the last royal visit in 1964 he was the figure who, with the exception of H.M. Elizabeth II herself, commanded most frantic attention. I ruminated on this interesting and improbable fact as I climbed the steps of Ee Pavilion salle de danse in the farming tow n of Ea Sarre, in Quebec's remote northwest Abitibi, sprawling along the Ontario border.
His voice came rasping, booming down the stairs to greet me: "A man in his own country, who has to speak a foreign language to earn his living, that man is a slave. Et nous, that's exactly what we are'' — pause: the next two words were spat — “des esclaves."
In a low-ceilinged dance hall, muraled with antique waltzing couples, an audience of 60 sat listening to Pierre Bourgault. the 33-year-old firebrand chief of le Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale, the leading separatist party of Canada's most fractious province.
Who is this Bourgault? A former actor, journalist and bohemian who has developed into one of Canada's most interesting and possibly most dangerous politicians. A young man of extraordinary gifts and frightening drives — all of them now dedicated to severing his "country." Quebec, from "English rule." Yet he remains an unabashed anglophile, an avowed admirer ot Eondon, Shakespeare and Harold Wilson. Paradox or not. he's "the right man for the right place." insists a supporter. At the right time? "On verra."
The first RIN president to be reelected. Bourgault is now serving his third term. Eike most of the leaders of his party, he is socialist, nationalist, anticlerical, impassioned. Unlike the others, Bourgault. a bachelor, is otten accused of being in love with the party — a charge he angrily rejects. "Pierre likes to think of it as just a job." a close friend says, "but it's a lot deeper than that. You can't do just a job the w'ay he does, with 100 percent of his time."
Part of that time is spent holding press conferences, appearing on TV and opinionizing as a leading political figure in Quebec. A more important part is spent in the cities, towns and remote areas of the province where Bourgault is struggling to build a workable political party out ol timid amateurs. overboiled revolutionaries and a treasury too empty to pay the phone bill.
Watching the young man who they sav "is the RIN" sound off in the Ea Sarre dance hall, his chunky body moving to the cadence of his words, you would not think he had delivered this same basic speech several hundred times before. Formalities over, the local organizer apologized for the size of the crowd. "Ah. no." Bourgault reassured him. "For a first meeting like this onl\ half as many would be normal. And its twice the size ol the whole RIN six years ago. When we began in St. Jerome 1 took seven people with me, and we had an audience
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of two. But the second time we drew 250. That's the way it's going, all over Quebec."
(In the 1966 provincial election the RIN claimed 8,500 members; Bourgault says the total is now 1 1.000 and growing fast: "Up up up. There's no doubt at all of our ultimate success — it s irreversible now." Nonetheless, the total RIN seat count in the Quebec legislature to date is zero.)
With a small group in a restaurant, Bourgault checked his wallet, found seven dollars and decided to blow himself to a beer. Chain-smoking his Buckinghams, he flirted with the lovely voting waitress ("Pauline, don't you know' the most beautiful women in the world vole RIN?") and smothered his excellent steak in HP sauce ("The English cooking is so terrible, they have to make this magnificent sauce"). A young accountant interrupted to confess that he couldn't accept everything in the RIN program. "Fine," Bourgault declared. "Nobody accepts everything in the program. Even I don’t." A l iberal admirer at a nearby table sent over a bottle of Beaujolais, which Bourgault graciously accepted. “And the hall owner this afternoon not only didn't charge us. but donated live dollars himself. That happens pretty often."
An hour later he was delivering '1 he Speech for the fourth time that day. in the meeting hall of the dreary little company town of Normetal. Thirty miners ("Three times more than 1 expected") listened impassively, then asked intelligent questions ("What about the idea if you can't lick 'em. join 'em?“) while an electric vigil light glowed before a statue ot Christ on the hack wall. There was time for a last midnight coffee around the kitchen table of the 5 I-year-old miner who organized the meeting before the drive back to Rouyn-Noranda with Bernard Beauchamp, the RIN's genial 28-vear-old national organizer, who often accompanies Bourgault on his tours.
"Polities is a long game." Bourgault sighed wearily. "Eook at that maudit roadhog ahead of us —from Ontario, of course."
The next day he taped a television interview, then delivered The Speech to some 300 students in the lounge at the Collège du Nord-ouest Québécois. who a week earlier had scuttled a Centennial hockey match by frosting the tink with rock salt. "Thev'vc been telling us for years be patient, we'll be a majority again. But we can't spend 24 hours a day in bed." he quipped, then urged: "Get interested in politics, do politics. Help find solutions, all of you."
Driving away. Bourgault commented on how few ol the college girls were wearing miniskirts. "You see them everyplace else in Quebec — especially around l ac St. Jean. Mon dieu, even the bank managers there wear flowered ties." Suddenly the reason lighted: "Ah. sure, its because they buy almost everything from Ontario here." He peered into his wallet. "Hey. Bernard. I’ve got 30 cents left. Not even enough for cigarettes. Ell have to bum off the kids.” Bernard counted out seven dollars — one of them / continued on page 44 in dimes. Bourgault groaned. “If the people knew how this chef de parti lived they wouldn't believe it.” That evening he unrolled The Speech in a brightly lit church basement for an audience of I 60 workers, students and priests, crying hoarsely, “We’ve never known responsible government. We were governed first by
continued from page 27
You travel, make speeches, “push all the time”
Paris, then by London — always as a colony. But now the time has come to assume our responsibilities, to become adult.” Finally, Bourgault had reached the end of his 10-day organizational tour in Abitibi, “tough because it was new terrain.” He celebrated with a midnight feast of wine and fondue bourguignonne. “We're go-
ing to eat like pigs,” he exulted, his laugh — an explosion not unlike a Canada Goose honk — filling the dining room. Yet by 2 a.m., as the party evolved into uncertain waltzing on the living-room rug, Bourgault was solemn again, hunched at the end of the table, talking politics.
Pierre Bourgault’s life today is one
long election campaign. He averages 130 public assemblies a year and often spends 18 hours a day wooing les Québécois, giving speeches, holding meetings, signing the town-hall Golden Books, tramping through mines, factories, sawmills — “whereever they work. You have to push all the time when there’s no election. There’s enthusiasm but no fever.”
The fevers raged quite effectively a year ago in Quebec's last provincial election — and Bourgault's first: “Fantastic fun,” he beamed. “It’s terrible, so hard. The last week you go on pills and shots.” The riding he chose to run in is the toughest in Quebec: Duplessis, a vast wilderness the size of France that runs from Sept Isles to Fort Chimo, along the fabled Côte Nord. Since there are almost no roads, he campaigned mostly by plane and boat. “It's good for the image, for the legend, when they see me on TV crossing the ice in a little boat.”
Still, he lost the election; yet what he won was probably more important: a general awareness throughout Quebec of Pierre Bourgault. Although the RIN failed to capture a single seat. “Pierre was really the vedette, the new dominant figure from that election.” one supporter says. Two weeks later Bourgault appeared at an RIN rally in Montreal that drew 3,000 people. “Ever since then it’s accelerated faster than ever,” he says. “Now I have to refuse half the invitations.”
“You learn to fight”
This Pied Piper of la révolution was one of five children born to “a very middle-class family” in the Eastern Townships, where his father worked as county registrar for the provincial government. Pierre recalls having “a very difficult childhood, like Marilyn Monroe. I never knew my family much.” At seven, because “there was no school there to satisfy my parents,” he was packed off to boarding school, which he hated: “It’s dangerous, completely squashing. But I’m very glad I had it because that’s where you learn to fight.”
Come adolescence, he fought “everything, everything, in a terrible unorganized rebellion against parents, society, friends, church. I was probably looking unconsciously for a cause, a reason to be living.” He drifted into philosophy at the University of Montreal. kicked over a series of jobs — file clerk, army officer, television announcer. Meanwhile he had “a terrible religious crisis” from which he emerged agnostic. “I was quite sure I was a genius — this is off the record — but 1 didn't know what to do with it. So I became just a bum, a complete bum. going from job to job, sleeping anywhere. I played cards and craps all night on the Main, then went to work unshaved. I didn’t give a damn about my jobs. Most of them I quit.” When he complained one day about his job as CBC studio director, someone asked, "Why don't you quit?” Bourgault marched upstairs, resigned on the spot and spent the next six months in Europe, raising his bumming to the level of high art.
Back in Canada he acted for one year in a CBC soap opera, playing a conscription dodger. "He was still a rebel without a cause — lost, very lost," recalls a friend. One night someone took him to a meeting of a newly formed separatist party, the RIN. Finally. Bourgault found something that gripped him: he signed up on the spot. Says Jean Decarie, a town planner who roomed with Bourgault in those early party days. "Pierre had that force dynamique but it wasn't channeled yet. He wrote a big play, beautiful but dull. He read a lot. a lot, a lot. He was terribly insecure. He brooded; he had big. unsolved personal problems. We often thought he would suicide. Two or three times after he left the apartment, going to throw himself into the canal, we went looking for him in a car. The ones who have fierce problèmes d’existence, who reflect a lot on themselves — nothing satisfies them except I’enyapement total."
For the Queen’s visit: “A big bluff—and it succeeded”
To free his nights for political meetings Bourgault moved to La Presse as a feature reporter. His relationship with the RIN was then as stormy as everything else in his life: "I quit the party at least 10 times in five years." Sometime before he was first elected to the central council a resolution was passed requesting him to shave before meetings, leave his blue jeans home and clean up his language. Yet even then, says Jean Dccarie. “it was evident he was the only one with the stature of a real politician in the party."
His first political speech, delivered in his one suit and one "frightful red tie with red bugs on it." took him three weeks to write. In his second speech he floundered into a 20-minute analogy between the French Canadian and the frog. It took him “at least a year" to make a joke in public. But he became one of the most effective orators in Quebec: “It took 100
After three years at La Presse. "making $5,000 a year and living on $15.000,” Bourgault was elected president of the RIN and ordered by party leaders to move into the basement playroom of a separatist family and live on $40 a week. “To accept was very difficult — poverty, humility and having to live with other people,” Bourgault sighs. "Then I found out how wonderful it was to be completely free. 1 was on the top — which is very important — and then 1 had nothing to lose.”
Bourgault assumed party leadership just before the Queen's visit of 1964, which was to be the RIN's lirst critical test of power. After weeks of not-so-veiled menace — "Yes, I think it will be very dangerous for her to come" — Bourgault arrived to find Quebec "really a fortress, a citadel filled with soldiers and police,” plus some 800 foreign correspondents. The danger peaked at a meeting attended by 2,000 agitated RIN members and a roughly equal number of police and reporters. “You know, we had pumped them for two months. It was a very tense, very dangerous, very violent crowd. When a London reporter shouted ja rude expletive], they were ready to lynch him. I was very afraid at that time — of not being able to control them.” Persuaded after the meeting to call off a mass demonstra-
tion “because for them it would have been a massacre.” Bourgault climbed onto the roof of a car and asked his followers to go home. "Some were crying — they were so surprised — but it worked, they went." Did he still consider the RIN power play a success? Bourgault nods: "Sure. We put up a big bluff because we wanted
the world press to come, and it succeeded."
And for the current royal visit? Bourgault shrugs. “We had it one time, that's enough. As long as she is coming only to Expo, which is now international territory for six months, and not to Quebec, then we have our victory."
In the three years between visits Bourgault's inner furnace was set to firing a new character for himself. The blue jeans were banished to the closet; the white shirt and tie he wore so often "they've almost grown into my neck." Once lazy and usually late, he became obsessively punctual. He trained himself to skim newspapers in minutes, vacuuming random facts such as the longevity of Florida roads (30 years v.v. seven in Quebec) and continued on page 47 the miles of railroad in Ontario (10.000 vs. 5.000 in Quebec), and to plod through such books as Accelerated Grow th And Planning. He learned to curb his legendary wrath, to delegate details, to work on a team — "even." says a friend, "to admit he could be wrong."
“The problem Is you don’t know who you are after a while”
Yet occasional I y the black moods still come over him. "Something will happen, maybe some toute petite chose, and he'll close himself in for three days like an icicle." says Thérèse Desrosiers in whose basement Bourgault lived for two years. "You II talk to him and he'll answer yes or no. as if he had lockjaw." Yet even at his blackest, these moods never show in his public appearances.
The difference between the private Bourgault — wild, introspective, funloving. doubting — and the public Bourgault — dynamic, articulate, definite — yawns wider all the time. The gap troubles him, and for balance he turns to a small, closed group from earlv RIN days: "My fantastic friends, who know me to the roots. They laugh at me. they're brutal, they're the most important thing in my lile." Yet Jean Decarie's wife Marie-Josée admits. "The Pierre who jokes with us. who lets himself go —that's not the real Pierre any more. For him the political side has become more and more his second nature, his whole life."
“The image takes over”
How much of this political Pierre is image and how much real? Not even Bourgault is sure any more: "The problem is you don't know' who you are after a while. The image takes over. Sometimes it's hard when you see yourself alone and naked in your bed and say. mon dieu, what am I — nothing." In one speech he pointed to the blown-up photograph behind him: “Look, the image is bigger than the man."
The fact remains that in this imageconscious age the one Bourgault hammered out for himself is possibly revolutionary lor Canada, but markettested elsewhere: he became, “enfin, un cool type." says I.aval University's Le Carabin, comparing him to France's Fecanuet and the late John Kennedy. The image was polished on the television tube, which projects him more handsomely and forcefully than his own flesh. Although he had never heard of Toronto's pop-media wizard Marshall McFuhan. he articulated McFuhan's theories on the cool medium: “You can't make a
speech on TV — and the old politicians don't understand that yet." Then how does Bourgault? He shrugs. “Instinct and reason. You feel these things first, then figure them out." Concedes one Montrealer, "it's quite fantastic how he reaches the people."
Bourgault's appeal is especially strong with the under-25-year-olds who make up half of Quebec's population. He is probably the onh politician in the province who actually believes "we've finally gotten a younger generation that's 100 percent better than their elders — and when they're 30 thev'll be better yet. He calls the kids “so extraordinary, so sure, so much more mature than adults. I'm always much more challenged with the kids." (The RINs publicity is equally youth-oriented. One flyer shows a voting man smiling at a longhaired girl: "A good way to start up a conversation — wear your RIN button." )
Part of Bourgault's charisma comes from sheer skill. "Most politicians in Quebec can't even say a complete sentence." explains one reporter. "But Bourgault learned his metier. He's lucid, effective, precise, honest, direct. We're not used to seeing that here. I have the impression that he forces admiration and sympatln even from people who don't agree with him."
And part comes from a simpler phenomenon: sex. In a country where the idea of a sexy politician has been Pierre Sévigny. Bourgault's dynamism bursts like a star shell. Take it apart, and it's nothing to put Steve McQueen out of business: white eyebrow-s. greying hair (usualK askew), pigeon-toed feet, stubby hands stained with nicotine (from four packs a da\ ). chunky build, a face scarred from pimples and hockev skates, muscles tense as bedsprings. Bul pul it back together and you sense an immediate motion, an electricity. “Watch the women with the big eyes around him,” says one pretty friend. “They see him as one they'd like to have an adventure with, not live with. But Pierre has no time for either.”
“Women call me and say, ‘I want to go to bed with you’”
The phenomenon still baffles Bourgault. who is in private so moral and upright — “really very square” — that he could hardly choke down the wild rice some friends shoplifted from a supermarket one night. “They call me at night and say, 'I want to go to bed with you.’ ” He blinks. “I’ve had some very obscene phone calls. Others, after meetings, try to whisper in my ear.” Atroné mass election rally, after which La Presse likened him to a Beatle, ardent admirers tried to tear his clothes off.
How does all this strike him? “At the beginning I was so surprised, so embarrassed, I blushed. It's something I never thought about and don’t know how to play on. But you get used to it.” He's also gotten used to “finding pictures of myself in bedrooms all over Quebec — mostly next to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In some rallies all kinds of pictures of me were stolen. It’s awful, you know.”
Bourgault is always open to new insights on the total image. He got one a few months ago when Radio-Canada telecast a documentary on him. “On that show I was very lovable, very human, talking about my mother and father. It had a tremendous impact on people. Everybody loved that thing except the RIN members. Then someone told me, 'They’re looking not for a cause to convince them, but for someone to love.’ ” Now his cool, analytical mind has programmed that nugget of insight into his total attack. “But the people must also feel that you love them back.” For this loner man, too obsessed with the possibilities of power to let himself be bruised by personal intimacy, this remote electronic love may be the only kind he really feels — or needs.
Bourgault seems to be winning the image game. His face is one of the most widely recognized in Quebec. On his rare nights off, in a discothèque, at a party, even at the movies, people “jump on him to talk politics.” Bourgault shudders. “I hate that. I thought I would like it and now when it happens, I hate it.” One great pleasure used to be walking alone down Montreal's lively St. Catherine Street. “The last time I did it, on a beautiful night, I was stopped 10 times, so that’s finished, too.”
Increasingly, he is driven to the solitude of his own apartment, a $190a-month sanctuary which he acquired last fall in a towering new Pine Street building with indoor swimming pool, nine-loot Venus de Milo in the lobby and a million-dollar view of glittering new Montreal. Typically, Bourgault lives on the ground floor, overlooking a fusty red-brick Victorian mansion. Half his rent is paid by a well-heeled RIN friend, half by his own $100-aweek salary. From antique chairs to a 40-piece art collection, much of the apartment is furnished with gifts from separatist admirers. “I'm very spoiled by the members,” beams Bourgault, who currently has “all my women" out looking for a 90-inch blue tablecloth. (With no time to sand down his French-Canadian pine antiques, he hides them under tablecloths or paints them bright yellow.) “An apartment like this to me is something precious, a benediction. Now I never go out. 1 come here, swim in the pool, look at silly shows on TV. My life is so serious that I only want to watch Batman.”
In fact, he’s rarely home for Batman. Seventy percent of the time he’s in the boondocks of Quebec, sleeping in a kid’s bedroom or on the living-room couch of a local member — “very embarrassing, but we have no money to pay for hotels.” His “twoweek” vacations usually last only four days. He likes to claim that when he gets really exhausted he takes two days off to “do nothing but sleep and make love and wash my windows.” His friends worry over the fact that he actually lives “a little like a priest, a monk” — austere, dedicated, fairly celibate. “But I love to be alone!” Bourgault exclaims. “I hate to think that people pity me. I live exactly the way I want, which is fantastic at 33. I wanted to be a terrible bum or a terrible saint — now I’m both at the same time.”
Yet he denies he is a True Believer: “I believe in what I do, but there’s always a fundamental doubt. I believe in independence enough to do this very honestly, but I don't know independence is good.” Yet he has found, “In public you have to look firm even when you’re not. This is part of the métier and for me it was very difficult to acquire.”
He has acquired it well enough to admit to what others have seen in him: occasional traces of the demagogue. He boasts of having “not one flatterer around me,” but friends confirm that the criticism is considerably louder behind his back than to his face: “They’re all afraid of that temper.” Even some within the RIN, like Bernard Desrosiers, see dangerous possibilities in that direction: “The French Canadians are always waiting for a savior, for a Messiah; it's part of the mentality the clergy imposed on a people. The idea could spring up around Pierre that he’s the savior of the race — and at that time it would be very easy for him to become a dictator.” Desrosiers points out that Bourgault is now “preparing to take the head of a government in the democratic way, by the popular vote of the majority. Yet he’s lighting little fires all over the province and they could all burst into a conflagration. It's unpredictable. But with things moving so fast many unpredictable things could happen now in Quebec.”
One image persists from Quebec’s 1966 election: of the glowing young chief of the RIN taking a 10-minute ovation from a screaming, near-record throng of 10,000 people. “But first,” Pierre Bourgault points out, “you reach them one by one.” The way he’s doing now. ★