Interview

Interview

With Jean Marchand

May 3 1976
Interview

Interview

With Jean Marchand

May 3 1976

Interview

With Jean Marchand

A former labor leader in Quebec and a veteran of the political wars in Ottawa, Jean Marchand has always been a street fighter. Perhaps the only time in his life he backed away from a brawl—certainly the only time since he, Pierre Trudeau and Gérard Pelletier, “the three wise men,” came to Ottawa in 1965—occurred last year when, with his health failing and his integrity under attack, he was relieved of his duties as Minister of Transport and made a minister without portfolio. Now, having recovered from high blood pressure and restored to full cabinet rank as Minister of the Environment, Marchand is ready to fight again. And just in time. There have been allegations by the Conservatives that as the Liberal party’s Quebec leader he was involved in the Sky Shops affair. Senator Louis Giguère, a former bagman for the party in Quebec, has denied he made a $95,000 profit on the sale of Sky Shops stock, but the RCMP has charged him—and four others, including National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell—under two sections of the Criminal Code. Marchand was interviewed by Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Lewis a short time before the charges were laid. Their conversation took place in Marchand’s office which, significantly, once was occupied by the late Guy Favreau, the former Justice Minister and Quebec Liberal leader. They talked about the life of a French-Canadian politician in Ottawa and, by extension, the politics of Quebec. In a cheerful and characteristically candid mood, Marchand admitted it was tough, claiming an anti-francophone atmosphere prevails in Ottawa.

Maclean’s: Do you feel that news stories coming out of Quebec in the English press suggest that Quebec has more political hanky-panky than the other provinces? Marchand: Yes. English Canadians

should understand that we are more sensitive to those things than they are. Minorities should have more rights than majorities, because they are weak and always fearful of being abused. When I look at what is going on in Ottawa, I know damn well that the English press has been repeatedly looking for wrongdoing by French Canadians and has publicized the wrongdoings—or what may seem to be wrongdoings—on the part of French Canadians. It’s partly a prejudice against French Canadians. It might also be political: if you want to destroy the Liberal party, if you don’t believe in it—and it’s your right not to believe in the party, of course—Que-

bec is where you have to hit. At the same time, the implication is that they hit us because we are French Canadians, not because we are Liberals.

Maclean’s: That presumes that the English press is out to defeat the government. Marchand: Well, it has generally been the role of the press to destroy the government. Many things are done in very good faith. Those are the rules of the game. They are

I KNOW DAMN WELL THE ENGLISH PRESS IS BIASED AGAINST FRENCH CANADIANS fighting the government and, of course, if they want to weaken the government they have to weaken it in Quebec and probably in Ontario. At the beginning the press was supporting Mr. Trudeau, but it was not very long before it started fighting him. I don’t say that he shouldn’t be fought against.

Maclean’s: Where specifically has this feeling in the press manifested itself to you? Marchand: One example was racism, to say the least. I was told by a newspaperman in Ottawa that I shouldn’t be in the cabinet because I’m not fluent enough in English. He was bigger than I was, because otherwise . . .

Maclean’s: You were unhappy particularly about the reporting of the so-called Sky

Shops affair, when there was a television camera outside your office door during an RCMP visit.

Marchand: Obviously. I know they went to see other ministers, and nobody heard about it. You know very well that from the simple fact that the RCMP comes to my office there is an assumption that something is wrong. If I was a newspaperman I would do the same thing, but it creates a prejudice that cannot be corrected at all.

Maclean’s: Were you involved at all in Sky Shops?

Marchand: I never received anything from Sky Shops, nothing at all. Did anybody in my office have anything to do with it? I don’t know. We’ll see. But even so ... I have made thousands of recommendations here—all kinds, for engineers and for contracts and so forth. This was my job. I was Quebec leader. That doesn’t mean the recommendations were all accepted, but I am the one through whom all the requests were channeled. So this could have been channeled from me. There is nothing wrong in principle, but the question is: did I receive favors? I never heard of this one [Sky Shops]. I heard of hundreds of others, even some concerning Mr. Giguère. If I did have something to do [with others], did he receive any advantages, did he influence unduly? During that period, I was not in Transport, I was in Regional Economic Expansion. Anyway, the question is, did he [Giguère] speak to the Minister or try to reach the Deputy Minister of Transport and so forth? This would have been wrong. As for a simple request, I got them from just about everybody in the House— and even in the Press Gallery, which I found quite normal.

Maclean’s: You mean members of the Press Gallery asked for favors?

Marchand: No. Well, they’d say, “I have a cousin, don’t you think you could find a job for him for the summer?” I’d say, “It’s not the proper procedure,” or “I can do it,” and so forth. But there is nothing criminal in that.

Maclean’s: Just improper?

Marchand: It’s not even improper, because we’re here for that. In my riding they ask for all kinds of things. Is it improper? It’s done everywhere in Canada. Maclean’s: Would you like to see more reporting from English Canada in Frenchlanguage papers in Quebec?

Marchand: Of course I would. Even in the worst circumstances in which I lived in Ottawa—there were a few times when I really wasn’t very happy—I always believed that this country had a sense that we should stick together. Even if one day I should decide “The hell with it,” I don’t think I’m going to become a separatist for any reason. The difficulty we have is that Canadians don’t know Canadians. They know their own regions, but they don’t know what is going on in the others. And it’s true not only of French Canadians; it’s true even of English-speaking Canadians. Maclean’s: How did the experiences which Guy Favreau, René Tremblay and Maurice Lamontagne had in Ottawa influence your conduct? They took an awful pounding when they were here.

Marchand: Of course, if Favreau, Lamontagne and Tremblay had stayed here,, probably we would never have come to Ottawa. We came because of this vacuum which was created by their departure. Maclean’s: Were they hounded out of Ottawa?

Marchand: They were killed in the House. They were destroyed by the machine. I knew all of them very well, because in 1963 I was supposed to run with Mr. Trudeau and Pelletier. We changed our minds because of Mr. Pearson’s policy concerning nuclear weapons. I was in the labor movement and I took a very strong stand against that. I could not just change my views because I wanted to go into politics. But Favreau decided to go along, and Lamontagne was already here as Mr. Pearson’s adviser, and he brought his friend Tremblay with him. But none of them were really prepared for this kind of fight in any context, whether they were English or French. Favreau was a good lawyer in Montreal, but I don’t know if he had held a public meeting in his life. Lamontagne was a professor at the university. The same for Tremblay. Of course they were not prepared for the job, except intellectually. Favreau was a very good lawyer and Lamontagne has a very good mind and so did Tremblay. But this is only one element of politics. Because if you don’t know how to fight it’s just too bad. It is not good enough to be intelligent. This is why you have some very successful but unintelligent politicians.

Maclean’s: Did you come to Ottawa with thefeeling that the same thing was not going to happen to you?

Marchand: Óf course, yes. For many years I did fight quite hard. Last year was a little bit difficult. I really was not well. But now it’s over. I know that anybody who comes here and doesn’t want to fight had better go. Of course there are some fights that I don’t like to engage in. Take what’s been reported about Sky Shops, without any kind of evidence at all—there cannot be any evidence. Each time I made a move after the Sky Shops affair came into the open, they said: “Jean Marchand, who was Minister of Transport and who was leader of Quebec when Mr. Giguère was there and Mr. Giguère, you remember, made $95,000 ...” They don’t accuse me of having made $95,000. I wouldn’t be here if I made that [laughter]. But you have no re-

course. You know very well that in the minds of the people it creates an impression, whether you want it to or not. Maclean’s: Is it true, as somebody once said, that to be a French-Canadian politician in Ottawa you have to be twice as good as everybody else?

Marchand: Well, it’s not only true for French Canadians, it’s true for all minorities in the world. In any kind of political hypothesis, it is more difficult to be a French Canadian than an English-speaking Canadian, even with all the laws to protect the culture. When you’re an elephant, of course, you’re heavier than when you’re a mouse.

Maclean’s: Is there a bias against French Canadians in the Ottawa environment? Marchand: Well, no. People were not ac-

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THOSE WHO CANT BE BILINGUAL, KILL THEM? I CANT ACCEPT THAT customed to French Canadians insisting on a better environment in Canada. When I arrived here, for example, it was impossible to have our children brought up in French because there were no French schools at all. Even today government is an English institution. I don’t blame anybody for that. In fact, if I was still a union leader I would defend many English-speaking Canadians in Ottawa. When you go to a man who is 50 or 55 and you say, “Now you know if you want to have your last promotion you will have to know French,” well, I think that’s almost criminal. I’m very ready to compromise and to say, “Let’s take into account the rights of individuals who were not notified in due time and who have made their lives and who are not ready to

quit Ottawa in order to live in their language because they cannot learn the other one.” My first deputy minister, who was one of the most intelligent men I met in Ottawa, was Tom Kent. Öne summer he went to St. Pierre-Miquelon, vowing, “Well Jean, I’m going to learn French.” When he came back he could hardly say “yes” and “no” in French, just because he could not learn it. What do you do, kill those men, say: “You’re out of the service”? This I can’t áccept.

Maclean’s: Are you suggesting that the government go more slowly in implementing the language policy?

Marchand: Not necessarily more slowly, but it depends when you go fast, at which level. I think that for all the newcomers we can be more stringent and say, “This is part of the job. If you want to be an ambassador, for example, well you will have to leam a number of languages.”

Maclean’s: A minor anniversary was marked in April: the eighth year of the Trudeau team in government. Have you been able to establish the French-Canadian presence in Ottawa, as you hoped to do? Marchand: It has been partly established. It’s a problem of generations. If you look in the House, you will see about 10 young Liberal MPS who are very active and very intelligent and fighting.

Maclean’s: And maybe a little restless on the back bench.

Marchand: There would be something wrong with them if they weren’t that way. They are taking part in politics, and they are fighting in Quebec. It might take two or three generations, maybe not as long as that.

Maclean’s: Is it now irreversible, even after all of you retire, as you will some day? Marchand: Surely something will have been changed. Just look out the window at Hull. If you remember what Hull was in 1965, all the French Canadians lived there in the slums. Now, of course, they are complaining because too many English speakers are going to work in Hull. The main problem we have is in Montreal, which used to be the Canadian metropolis. It’s losing ground. The economic growth of Montreal is much less than the economic growth of Toronto. Now, most of the immigrants are going to Toronto, or Ontario—and for obvious reasons. I don’t blame them, because if I was an immigrant I would move to Ontario, not Quebec, because of economics. The European, who suffered wars or revolutions on ideological, racist or religious grounds, doesn’t like the atmosphere of Quebec at this moment, even if it’s not as serious as it looks. What worries me more than companies leaving Quebec are those which don’t go to Quebec. It’s happening, there is no doubt about that. Now Quebec might be maintaining an economic growth that is as good as the rest of Canada, but it’s due to the James Bay Project, to the Olympics and Mirabel. This will come to an end shortly, and then you will see the true situation of Quebec.

Maclean’s: Is this a result of Mayor Drapeau ’s desire for prestige projects, at the cost of developing a strong manufacturing base in the city?

Marchand: It’s partly the role of a mayor to try to put his town on the map. It’s more for the provincial and the federal governments to see that some other more important projects are being developed. Maclean’s: How strong is Premier Robert Bourassa right now?

Marchand: If there was an election tomorrow the Liberals would be weakened, but they would still win the game. But there will be people who are dissatisfied with many aspects of Bourassa’s government who have nowhere to go. There are no alternatives. The argument that the Parti Québécois is using now—“Vote for us and we’ll have a referendum on separatism after that”—is a joke.

Maclean’s: Are y ou fearful of negative fallout after the Olympics are over because of contracts that were awarded without tender? Marchand: Yes, we will have this kind of stuff. Particularly in Quebec, where it’s always sensitive. You’ll have a lot of reporters going to Mirabel to see if I had a parent or a friend who bought a piece of land there. It can happen with Sky Shops or other things. But what is more important is: What is going to happen after the OlympicGames?What is going to maintain the economy?

Maclean’s: Is Bourassa an effective leader in Quebec right now?

Marchand: He is an effective leader in his way. Of course, he’s not the same type of a man as Mr. Trudeau. To convince the Prime Minister of something you have to be intellectually right. He may be wrong, but if he thinks that you’re not intellectually right, well don’t try anything: you’re not going to get it. Even if you cite political reasons, he’s not going to take that into consideration.

Maclean’s: Surely political reasons must enter his mind sometimes?

Marchand: Sometimes. It’s not his nature. It doesn’t come spontaneously when he looks at problems; his view is to try to solve them rationally. This is not the way Bourassa proceeds. He looks first at the political problems and then he tries to rationalize all this. So this is why they don’t work very well together. They are not on the same wavelength at all. I don’t make any judgment who is best.

Maclean’s: Do you think the Prime Minister will stay on to fight another election or will he step down?

Marchand: My assumption is that he will stay on unless everybody in English Canada says, “We’re fed up with you and all those who are surrounding you.” You know, politics is a world of wolves. That means if somebody weakens, the others jump on. This is part of the game. If this happens I don’t think that the Prime Minister is going to resist and say, “Well okay, I’m going to stay there even if everybody is opposed.” He is not a Diefenbaker type.

Maclean’s: Do you think you’d win an election tomorrow?

Marchand: Well, I don’t think that any other party can win an election. Some workers are not satisfied with the anti-inflation measures. Wives are not satisfied with prices in the stores. There is a lot of dissatisfaction. And here in Ottawa they are still dissatisfied with this bilingual policy. It is a difficult moment, but it’s difficult for everybody and nobody ... I look at the kind of proposals that are put forward by the opposition, and I see none that are acceptable. What do they propose? Maclean’s: Well, Joe Clark says that he’s now going to make it clear what the Conservative Party stands for.

Marchand: Well, it’s about time. This is what I’m looking for. What do they propose in the field of labor relations? What

POLITICS IS A WORLD OF WOLVES. IF SOMEBODY WEAKENS, THE OTHERS JUMP ON HIM do they propose to do about inflation? They have 1,000 good reasons to give the government hell, and if I was on the other side of the House probably I would find a few others.

Maclean’s: How do you assess Clark’s performance so far?

Marchand: He hasn’t been there long enough. He was lucky to have this “judges affair.” It looked as though he was the one who discovered it all. In politics you have to take the good things and the bad things. What often shocks me in politics is that you’re praised for the things you’re not responsible for and you’re given hell for things you’re not reponsible for either. So I don’t blame him for playing politics with that. That’s fair.

Maclean’s: Speaking of judges, Justice Minister Basford recently cautioned judges about approaching ministers.

Marchand: If he wants a list... [laughter]. It’s hard to be in politics. If you don’t like it, of course, you can always do something else. But it’s a very difficult job, where you have no security at all unless you have enough sidelines to give you security. But if you don’t have that, and you fight like hell, and it’s hard on your health, and after all of that you are considered like a nobody at all; then somebody else whom you nominated yourself becomes the great man and he’s pure and cannot be talked to and so forth; there should be some kind of balance. I don’t say that we shouldn’t respect the judiciary. On the contrary, I think it should be respected. But I think that there are some other institutions that deserve to be respected.

Maclean’s: You sound like Rodney Dangerfield: you don’t get any respect. Marchand: Well, I don’t give a damn, because if somebody gives me hell, I can do the same thing. I have no complex about this. I learned in life how to fight, and I can fight back any time. It is very important to protect the institution [the judiciary]. But a government is a very important institution, too. If I knew that something would be done here in Ottawa tomorrow that would provoke a revolution in Rhodesia, I would say to External Affairs, wait a minute, something is going on there and will you please intervene—not in the judgment, not in the decision, but this is a political problem. You know political problems are not all narrow. They are very serious problems, because politics creates the law, politics creates the judges.

Maclean’s: To clear some of the air, why not have public hearings of people before they are named judges?

Marchand: It’s not practical. The one who is going to get it is the one who has the best organization. I don’t say that the selection procedure cannot be improved. It’s wrong just to pick somebody because he’s been a Liberal or a Conservative. Today we have a real problem. We put forward some very good nominations of judges, but they are not interested. They are making too much money. You have lawyers making well over $100,000—take this man Holden who charges $1,000 a day for his services—and he’s not the best lawyer in Canada. I would like to be able to charge $1,000, and, of course, I’m only a minister, not a lawyer. We have nominated many judges, Conservative judges, even a Conservative senator, Martial Asselin in 1972.1 was the one who recommended that.

Maclean’s: But the Liberal party now holds his old Commons seat.

Marchand: Yes, but Gilles Caouette won it in 1972 [after Asselin was appointed]. And it’s only the next time, in 1974, that the Liberals won. If there was somebody in Quebec who could have predicted that in the second election we could get it, of course I would have hired this man. fip