The French defense: Marc Lalonde as grand master

JOHN GRAY January 1 1973


The French defense: Marc Lalonde as grand master

JOHN GRAY January 1 1973


The French defense: Marc Lalonde as grand master


Boulevard de Maisonneuve in Montreal, 10 days before the federal election. A kid ahead of me is whistling with the sweet abstracted joy and satisfaction that comes only to those in their late teens and early twenties. His hair is longish, and he’s wearing flared jeans and a denim jacket, on which he’s painted the jagged Q symbol of the Parti Québécois. A bit ostentatious; but then, in Montreal politics are worn boldly.

The odd thing about this young separatist is that he is whistling that infuriatingly catchy, nagging tune to which everybody in Quebec has been subjected for weeks:

Ensemble, ensemble,

Nous avons bati ensemble,

Un grand Canada, fait pour toi et moi,

Quatre ans pour tout cela.

Together, together we have built a great Canada, made for you and me, four years to do all that. Nobody who watched television or listened to the radio during September and October could escape it; it was the theme song of the Liberal Party in Quebec, a paean to the great work done in Ottawa for federalism and, by implication, against separatism.

There were two elections in Canada on October 30, and they produced absolutely different results. There was the election in Quebec, and the election in the rest of Canada. In the end the distinctions, and not the similarities, prevailed. In Quebec, the Liberals were elected. Beyond Quebec, they were defeated. So it was the differences that were important — to the election, and to the history of the country.

Seven years ago, Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced that they were entering politics in the service of the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec). Since that day, they and their allies have taken over the government of Canada; their energies have been focused on the thousand problems of running a country; but they have never allowed their attention to waver from an almost demonic struggle for the soul of Quebec. That was the core of both elec-

tions — and it was all distilled beautifully, with all the contradictions intact, in this separatist kid in his denim jacket, whistling the Liberal campaign song.

The main difference between the two elections was explicit. In the Liberal Party of Pierre Trudeau, the apostle of One Canada in which one province is just like any other, the Quebec election was seen and treated differently from the election in the rest of Canada. For English Canada, the campaign was planned from national headquarters in Ottawa, where they hoped that the land was strong. The Quebec campaign was planned in the svelte executive offices of the Liberal headquarters on St. Catherine Street West in Montreal, and it was a continuation of the crusade launched seven years before when Trudeau and his friends decided to save Quebec for Canada.

In Quebec, the Liberal campaign had just one message, diffused in 89 different television spots — the virtue of federalism for Quebec, the success of French Canadians in winning a role for themselves in Ottawa, Liberalism is Canadianism. That was the message that Trudeau delivered in the few times he visited the province during the campaign, and that was the message of the bizarre neo-Stalinist poster that showed a heroic Trudeau, his fist clenched high in the air, leading the cheering masses behind him. The campaign slogan was simply Ensemble, and it was, as a senior Liberal confided, beautifully ambiguous and absolutely unmistakable: together as Quebeckers in Canada, French and English Canadians together, the Liberal team together, the Quebec Liberal team together.

Two elections, then; and the Liberal campaign was the centre of the election in Quebec. That centre was manipulated by Jean Marchand, Marc Lalonde and Jean Richard.

Nobody who has watched Ottawa with even passing interest in the past four years could doubt the role of Quebeckers in the federal government. Certainly / continued on page 60

QUEBEC from page 25 nobody could mistake the role of Jean Marchand; but only careful watchers of Ottawa ever got a sense of the role of Marc Lalonde. As principal secretary to the Prime Minister, his strong hand was actually seen only by those in the inner circles of party and government, but it was felt by every member of parliament and understood by every branch of government. Aside from Trudeau himself, only Marc Lalonde had the authority to scold errant ministers like schoolchildren — and he did.

They make an odd pair, Marchand and Lalonde. They are united in their passionate commitment to federalism, but they are otherwise very different.

Marchand, the former trade union boss, short, with his strange pigeon-toed walk, his uncontrolled greying hair, a brilliant platform performer, emotional, volatile, and perhaps the best political alleyfighter in the business. Lalonde, tall and large and relaxed, almost bald, Oxford graduate, son of a farmer, professor, lawyer (commercial and corporation), former Conservative adviser, manipulator, always publicly self-contained and self-aware.

The campaign in Quebec lay in the hands of these two, linked by Jean Richard, a 36-year-old Quebec City lawyer and Liberal militant. Richard had first been summoned to Ottawa by Gordon

Robertson, clerk of the Privy Council, to be assistant secretary to the cabinet, and then dispatched to Montreal as executive director of the federal Liberals in Quebec. (The gentle slopping over from politics to government service to politics is intrinsic to the Liberal government.) Claude Frenette, a former Liberal Federation (Quebec) president, was placed in charge of Liberal communications and supervised the extraordinarily effective advertising and publicity.

Lalonde is many things, but certainly not yet a politician. When he was nominated by acclamation (what else?) in Montreal’s Outremont riding, almost every aspiring Liberal who could make

it was there to pay his respects. Yet Lalonde’s speech was a long and tedious defense of government policy for a middle-class, middle-aged audience which was bored arid already convinced. The posters and banners, the flags of every ethnic group in the riding that might vote, were convenient totems of the old politics, grafted onto the basement of the church of Notre Dame des Neiges to announce his arrival from the back rooms of the new politics.

Lalonde and Jean Richard were responsible for a partial dusting of the Liberal back benches. Long ago, as an outside critic, Trudeau had denounced the “shameful incompetence of the average Liberal MP from Quebec” and characterized them as trained donkeys useful only at the lowest level of political endeavor. Now, with Trudeau’s support, Lalonde and Richard set out to replace between 20 and 25 — more than a third — of the Quebec Liberal caucus in Ottawa. The move was both sensible and politically expedient. Some things had changed since a younger Trudeau took aim at the Liberals, but too many of his own MPs still sprang from the old politics where parties are machines whose cogs are oiled by patronage.

Richard was a senior figure in the Privy Council Office at the time of the FLQ crisis; he recalls the profound shock in Ottawa when everyone began to realize that federalism had very few adequate representatives in Quebec. The vieux routiers of federal Liberal politics were middle-aged, unaware, frequently uneducated, remote from their constituencies, and in full retreat into blindly reactionary and uncomprehending attitudes. As the ambassadors of Ottawa, they were sad. Richard and Lalonde would change all that.

The whole “renewal” operation was nearly derailed last February. The story broke that a third of the Quebec caucus would be eased out, forced out, or seduced with jobs in or out of the government. Richard is still resentful that his plan became public knowledge: “There was an uproar in Ottawa, naturally, and then all kinds of members, you know, started to think they were on the list of 20 and whatnot. It made things very difficult . . . We had identified ridings and members. You know, it was an intelligent operation and not a plot . . .”

In the end, only nine Liberal ridings opened up for new candidates. Some of the incumbents were leaving anyway, some got the message early, and some were told their time had come. Some were asked to leave and refused. Oldfashioned political considerations more than anything else were the frustration of Richard’s plan — “there’s no use bringing bright new talent and losing seats. You know, what’s the name of the

game? Twelve bright defeated candidates is no goddam good.”

On the platform in the Centre Durocher, in the dusty working-class area of Langelier in Lowertown Quebec, Lalonde the amateur may have been a bit envious of Jean Marchand. With the Kiwanis brass band, the girls in long white dresses and the red sashes over their tender young bosoms, the bad jokes of the warm-up speakers, Jean Marchand was right at home. He opened up with scorn and ridicule and anger and outrage — unmatched for sheer showmanship by anyone except, perhaps, Réal Caouette — and denounced newspaper reporters, television reporters, Claude Wagner, René Lévesque and, of course, with pleasure, Réal Caouette.

Marchand, of course, needs nobody to give turgid defenses of obscure economic policies. His monuments are all

around Quebec City, within five miles of the Centre Durocher. There is a forest of signboards throughout the old capital as testimony of the energy and imagination of the member from Langelier.

Not surprisingly, Marchandé spending practices have made his political opponents particularly bitter. A senior Conservative strategist in Montreal expressing his colleagues’ special dislike for Marchand remarked: “Imagine if he gets beaten in Langelier. It will mean the $500 million spent to get him elected will have gone right down the drain!” Marchand did not, of course, get beaten.

Marchand does not deny that there are electoral benefits in all this federal generosity. But he is not concerned because, as in everything else, there is always another side. The other side in this case is that all underdeveloped regions must be given a push toward prosperity, whether they are in Quebec or New Brunswick or Manitoba. Besides, the federal government has never been “present” in Quebec, and this is just another way of selling federalism.

Marchand: “The only problem is that when you are in an election period these things take on a special flavor. It changes the nature of the thing, because when I started that of course it was not in relation to the election at all. Just be-

cause I wanted to convince Quebeckers that Ottawa is doing things for them, things that we can see. But in an electoral period of course the opponents say, well, he’s doing that in order to win the election.”

Since he and his two friends began the campaign, Jean Marchand has grown older. He is undoubtedly both weary and bitter. He is tormented by those who refuse to recognize and support his mission. He does not worry, he insists, about those who attack his politics — but there again, as in everything else, his mission and his politics are inextricably intertwined. It is the old Liberal habit of confusing themselves with the country.

Quebec separatism Marchand understands. But his voice takes on a despairing tone when he talks about the reaction of English Canada to him and to his government’s policies and priorities.

“They saw it in purely electoral tactics, which is not true, and I thought they would understand a little bit more what we are trying to do here. And if we don’t do it, who the hell is going to do that? The Conservatives are not present at all, and the NDP is not, and Social Credit is a regional affair. So we have to do that kind of job.” Th emission again; keeping the country together, saving Quebec, saving Canada.

Party headquarters give you an idea of who is where in the province of Quebec. The Liberals are ensconced in a smooth executive office building close to the English borders of Westmount. For the campaign, they have rented part of the tenth floor to complement their permanent offices on the fifth. After October 30, that carpeted suite will remain open and good coffee will be served, as always, in handsome china mugs.

The Conservatives have rented what appears to be a refurbished warehouse in a depressed and depressing area east of St. Lawrence. On the day Stanfield and Wagner make their joint visit, the music supply store next door is blaring Clockwork Orange Beethoven into the grubby street. By the end of the campaign, the Tories will have decamped, leaving a litter of styrofoam cups.

Quebec federalism is Liberal; now, and for the past 10 years of the Quiet Revolution. When Trudeau rose to his most demagogic heights during the FLQ crisis, demanding to know whether there were any French Canadians in parliament who disagreed with his actions, there were no dissenting voices because most of the French Canadians were Liberals. The NDP chose to differ, but they had never elected an MP from Quebec. The Créditistes agreed so enthusiastically with the Prime Minister that Gérard Pelletier publicly regretted the tone of their support. In the official Opposition, the Conservatives, there were only continued on page 62

QUEBEC continued four Quebec MPs: Théogène Ricard was weary and preparing to retire; Martial Asselin was afflicted with a family disaster, and was in any case to be elevated to the Senate by Trudeau, in a cynical and unsuccessful attempt to grab his seat for a Liberal; Georges Valade was seldom there; and Roch LaSalle was preparing to desert the Tories.

The Conservatives had resolved in the 1960s to approach the problems of Quebec on an intellectual level. (It was easy to do; the policy was formed in the absence of power, and had the elegance of a theory that didn’t have to work.) They evolved the theory of “two nations” to satisfy Quebec’s manifestly separate identity within Canada, and they chose a brilliant but obtuse financier, Marcel Faribault, to lead them out of the unhappy past. But against Trudeau’s simple and beguiling vision of One Canada, the Tories did not stand a chance in Quebec or English Canada. Faribault himself was defeated.

After the 1968 election, Stanfield entrusted the organization in Quebec to an impressive triumvirate: Claude Dupras, Brian Mulroney, and Claude Nolin. Dupras was a longtime bleu who began his career in politics making speeches for Maurice Duplessis (whom he still regards as “a great guy”); Mulroney, an engaging and politically wise young lawyer, has been the Quebec confidant of both John Diefenbaker and Stanfield; Nolin is a widely respected and capable lawyer.


Slowly and painfully they began reconstructing the pieces of the party organization after the 1968 defeat. By last June, they figured they had, on paper at least, a functioning organization of 3,000 which covered every constituency across the province. “We were building a pretty nice car,” explains Mulroney, “but we needed a motor. And that’s why we went after the judge.”

The judge, Joseph Napoléon Claude Wagner, variously lawyer, prosecutor, judge and justice minister in the Lesage Liberal government, had been courted by many. He had sought and failed to win the provincial Liberal leadership, and he may well be right when he claims he was the choice of the people of the party if not the party establishment. But he was a man who seemed to be above conventional party ties. He dallied with the idea of leading the Union Nationale, and then the provincial Creditistes; some wanted him as mayor of Montreal, others suggested he should join the federal Liberals. But, finally, Wagner joined the Conservatives.

The Tories were convinced they had a winner. They held a poll which seemed to suggest that Wagner was even more popular in Quebec than Pierre Trudeau. Dupras was eloquent on the harmony between Wagner and the people: “They see in Wagner qualities. They don’t see faults. They see in Wagner sincerity, honesty, integrity, a guy who can do things, a guy who’s true, a guy who won’t fool people, who won’t con

people. He’s never conned them in anything he did. He was straightforward all the time. That’s why our slogan is ‘Wagner, c’est vrai.’ He’s a true man. There’s no mistake with Wagner.”

Wagner brought with him to the Conservatives the impression that he was a fearless crusader for law and order.

But the Conservatives at fir$t played down that side of their star candidate; it was to be a conservative and Stanfield election platform. The judge, as he was known in the party organization, stuck hard to pensions and unemployment and Liberal arrogance, but he was most impressive and most credible on various law and order issues, in his personal campaign against Solicitor General Jean-Pierre Goyer, and in his evocation of “the soul of Quebec, respectful of tradition, respectful of authority.”

Disaster. Wagner only managed to get himself and one other Tory elected. (At that, the other, Heward Grafftey, studiously ignored the Wagner campaign and virtually dissociated himself from it.) Wagner could not escape the label of turncoat. For every voter who regarded him as a hero and even “a second Duplessis,” as one man said admiringly, five others said his new allegiance was the result of sour grapes, or looked at his checkered career and pronounced that “he moves around a lot.”

The Liberals had been terrified of Wagner. Some veteran organizers estimated that he might cost them up to 30 seats in Quebec and the momentum for a sweep elsewhere. Everyone overestimated the Quebec strength of the Conservatives — and everyone, as usual, forgot about Réal Caouette.

Nobody ever remembers the large constituency of the dispossessed and the fearful in Quebec; nobody ever remembers that they have their own hero. Nobody in the big cities where election campaigns are planned ever watches the television stations en province where Réal Caouette comes on the screen for 15 weeks during the six months of the year when the farmers are not in their fields. When Caouette led that 26-man contingent of rural MPs into the Commons in 1962, they said it would never happen again, and they were right. They said the Créditistes were dying out, and they were wrong.

Caouette’s target was the system that runs in its own interests and not in the interests of the people. If there were a war, the government would find money to give every man a job. Ottawa gives billions in interest-free loans to foreign lands, but provinces and municipalities go broke trying to pay interest charges on borrowed money. The government would rather break up a family than give a woman welfare; the government would rather give welfare than give a

man a job. The government gives money to homosexuals in Toronto “for a cultural centre — subsidizing fairies across the country.” The government legalizes abortion, but if there had been abortion before half the people in the hall here tonight wouldn’t be here. The government subsidizes the Pill, but everyone knows that the best pill in the world is the Aspirin — “just put it between your knees, and don’t let go!”

There may never again be a 1962 when 26 Créditistes went to Ottawa. But in 1972, long after Réal Caouette was supposed to have been buried by the smart city guys, he got half as many votes as the Liberals and he left Wagner and Stanfield far behind.

In the end, the Liberals were fairly accurate in their assessment of their own strength in Quebec. Halfway through the campaign, when they saw Wagner was sweeping nobody and Caouette was holding his own, they calculated that they should get about 60 seats. As far as they could tell from the reports in the rest of the country, everything was looking good for a majority.

Toward the end of the campaign, organizers in the rest of Canada began to feel that the record of the Trudeau government was no longer as convincing as they had hoped. On the eve of the election, Marc Lalonde estimated 60 seats or better in Quebec — and added a bit mysteriously that he would exchange 10 of them for 10 seats in Ontario.

A week before the vote, Jean Marchand was bitter about the reaction beyond Quebec to French power; “This is very awful because the purpose was to convince French Canadians that they should accept to play the game, and that if they fight and if they have good leadership, well, they have no reason to be frustrated. This is good for all those who believe in Canada. It’s not something we necessarily attributed to the Liberal Party . . .

“This part in English Canada I thought they would understand. But they are using that against our candidates in English Canada. This is so mean. If ever they were successful on this they would destroy more than they think. I don’t see anyone to start all over again the fight that we made.”

Just four and a half years ago, the salvation of federalism and Trudeaumania had been enough for the Liberals to sweep into Ottawa with the first majority government since the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. The only clear mandate they had was One Canada, and it was perhaps the only clear success they had between 1968 and 1972.

Quebec was satisfied with the completion of that mandate. But west of the Ottawa River and east of the Baie des Chaleurs that was no longer enough. ■