All the premier’s men
René Lévesque is a known quantity, but what of the people around him? Among other things, they’re bright, well-versed in government, and more fluently bilingual than the federalist ministers they replaced
English Canadians tend to feel that they know René Lévesque. They know the raspy voice, the constant cigarette, the selfdeprecating shrugs and flashes of a smile, the hands that grip and seize and mold the air, and the words, the torrents of words that are built into those extraordinary sentences armed with hand grenade phrases of passion and anger. Since 1960. we've followed him, outraged or fascinated, as he provided much of the fire and energy of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, as he dramatically left the Liberal Party in 1967. as he formed the Parti Québécois a year later, and now. upon his return from the political wilderness as Premier of Quebec.
But while Lévesque has been known to English Canada for years, often admired, if not always liked, the men around him have generally been a mystery to those outside Quebec. The result is the familiar clichéd phrase: “I like René Lévesque, but what about the men behind him?” Those men were a key ingredient in Lévesque’s election victory of November 15, which reduced the Liberals from the 102 seats they collected in their 1973 sweep to a tattered group of 26, almost half from the Englishlanguage ridings of Montreal’s West Island. In bringing the PQ from a rump of six to a government of 71. Lévesque harvested the fruits of eight years work putting together a team that represents the best elements of Quebec society, a centre-left party of the mainstream of Quebec life, in which Lévesque is now comfortable, and of which he is now the unchallenged leader.
Lor some political leaders who. to their own surprise, suddenly form a government. there are often two immediate problems: the inexperience of the members newly elected, and the fact that, sometimes, the leader himself barely knows them. Lévesque faced neither of these problems. Lor not only has Lévesque worked closely with the major figures elected—12 of the 15 members of the party’s executive are now in the legislature—but many of the men in the new cabinet have had extensive previous experience in government.
This is just one of the many paradoxical elements of Quebec’s new government. Lor while it represents a unique break with the past—by being the first Quebec government since Confederation com-
mitted to opting out of Canada—it also has an unusual element of continuity. Lévesque, of course, is a former key cabinet minister from Premier Jean Lesage’s 1960s’ Liberal administrations; Claude Morin, the new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Linance Minister Jacques Parizeau both have served as senior civil servants. At least half a dozen other members of Lévesque’s new cabinet have had previous government experience.
Another paradox is the astonishing level of bilingualism in a government committed to the primacy of Lrench: many more ministers speak English fluently than in the cabinet of the ousted Liberal premier. Robert Bourassa. In addition to Lévesque. whose English is fluidly colloquial, many of the other key ministers were educated in English-speaking countries and speak the language flawlessly, among them Education Minister Jacques-Yvan Morin, who studied at Cambridge and Harvard, and Jacques Parizeau, who attended the London School of Economics. Robert Burns, the new House Leader, whose mother tongue is Lrench. had an Irish father who died when he was a young child, and speaks English almost perfectly. Claude Morin studied at New York's Columbia University, Denis Lazure, the Minister of Social Affairs, in Pennsylvania, and Minister of State for Cultural Development Camille Laurin in Boston. Most other members of the cabinet are functionally bilingual.
Altogether, it is a highly qualified, impressive and attractive team that Lévesque has assembled and, given the atmosphere of negativism and fear that the Bourassa Liberals tried to create during the election campaign, there can be no question that the people of Quebec chose to vote for something positive. But, as the fledgling Lévesque government has been at pains to point out. no one should be under any illusions about its intentions: the government’s goal is the independence of Quebec—nothing less.
Lévesque’s style as premier in the first flush of victory surprised some who remembered his reputation for ruffling feelings with harsh words, and functioning as a loner. Lor diplomacy, tact and teamwork characterized the formation of his cabinet. In fact, putting together his new government team may well have been an exercise
that Lévesque enjoyed. Back in 1969, Lévesque once waxed enthusiastic about being in government and was asked by a slightly surprised listener: “You like administration, don't you?” Replied Lévesque: “Yes, I do. I don’t really know the technical aspects of any given project—but I really like getting a good team together and coordinating it so it can get the job done.”
Accordingly, in the days following the election, Lévesque disappeared into the Eastern Townships, where he rented a hotel in North Hatley for himself, a few aides and some of the prospective cabinet members who were summoned for discussions. The aides—who now form the key element in the premier’s office in Quebec City—were a group of three. Louis Bernard, who resigned as executive assistant to Claude Morin in intergovernmental affairs to work for the PQ caucus, is now the senior aide. His deputy is Michel Carpentier, 31, who once turned down a job with Ottawa’s external affairs department to work for the PQ research office. Until recently he was Lévesque’s executive assistant, and his principal campaign coordinator. Serving as special adviser is lawyer Jean-Roch Boivin. a defeated PQ candidate in 1973 who traveled with Levesque throughout the election campaign.
Ensconced in North Hatley, Lévesque and his team went to work. The result: a neatly balanced cabinet designed partly to give Lévesque a maximum of administrative skills and at the same time to give appropriate weight to the regions in Quebec and the various ideological elements in the party. Thus. Rodrigue Tremblay, a PQ conservative, was given the industry portfolio, while more progressive members were given jobs in the social arena: Denis Lazure in social affairs and Jacques Couture in labor.
Diplomacy and tact were also evident in the fact that every member who had been previously elected got a cabinet seat. One problem was sorted out in a way that still has observers speculating over who won. Lrom 1973 to 1976 the parliamentary wing of the party was plagued with tension between the leader of the opposition. Jacques-Yvan Morin, and the party house leader, Robert Burns. Lévesque had favored Morin as opposition leader in 1973 and has now given him the honorary title
of vice-premier. A superbly educated man, he was also given the demanding job of education minister, a high profile position with the thankless task of dealing with the problem of language in the schools. However. unlike Burns, he was not included in the group closest to Lévesque, the crucial priorities committee.
That committee, the senior level in a two-tier cabinet, is composed of five ministers of state who will be in charge of chairing cabinet committees and coordinating policies that involve more than one ministry, plus the two principal figures in the cabinet whom Lévesque relies
most for advice: Claude Morin and Jacques Parizeau. These, then, are the key men on Lévesque’s team—the men closest to him. and the ones who will set the priorities of the new government while seeking to lay the groundwork for independence:
Back in September, 1971. when Claude Morin quit his job as deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs under Robert Bourassa. he sent a memo to his staff' affirming his commitment to Quebec and declaring that “I am not leaving [the job], am absenting myself.” On the day recently
that he began work as minister of the department he had left, he sent out a second memo with a copy of the first note attached. saying: “This absence is now over.
I have returned.”
More than any other Quebec civil servant, Morin was a symbol of the province’s growing bargaining muscle in its dealings with Ottawa during the 1960s. Born in Montmorency, near Quebec City, and educated at Laval and Columbia universities, Morin taught social sciences at Laval and. in 1961, went to work as an economic adviser to Jean Lesage. In 1963, he was appointed deputy minister of federal-provincial affairs and became embroiled in bargaining with Ottawa over everything from student loans and the Canada Pension Plan tonational parks.Morin is still remembered vividlyand not always fondlyby those in Ottawa who dealt with him. Says a former aide to a federal minister: “I’ve been at bargaining sessions with Morin, and it was hard to keep your temper.” But as an adversary. Morin was greatly respected by federal negotiators—so much so that when the Lesage government was defeated in 1966, Morin received a 2 a.m., electionnight call from a federal minister who wanted to offer him a job.
That respect has not diminished with his return as a politician and minister. It was Claude Morin who made the opening remarks at the December finance ministers’ conference in Ottawa, declaring bluntly that the goal of his government was “a new political order ... that will take account of the need for economic interdependence and at the same time the natural aspirations of Québécois to be masters of their national destiny.” “It was impressive,” commented a federal civil servant who attended . “Mind you. it was scary. I had the feeling I was hearing history.”
After leaving the civil service in 1971. Morin returned to teaching full-time—he had also been a part-time teacher throughout his career in government—and wrote two books about the years of negotiation between Quebec and Ottawa. He says now that it was the experience of analyzing and writing about those years that led him to the Parti Québécois, but only after discussing the details of economic association with the rest of Canada with Lévesque and noting that he (Morin) was “not a separatist in the old sense of the word." He signed on with the PQ, ran and lost in the 1973 election, and then, after the overwhelming victory of the Liberals on the issue of separation, drew up the referendum clause accepted by the party in 1975. which promised that any future PQ government would not declare independence before putting the issue to a referendum. This time, run-
ning in Louis Hebert.aQuebec City suburb where he lives and where he had lost by only 777 votes three years before, Morin decisively defeated Jean Marchand, the former federal cabinet minister and confidant of Pierre Trudeau.
It can be argued that by providing a way for the PQ to campaign without running on the issue of independence, Morin’s referendum clause made the November 15 victory possible. But he also stirred up considerable mistrust in the party. As one member says, “I thought that once he got power, he might put in so many stages towards independence that we’d never get there. But I’m astonished . He’s been one of the most rigorous on the point.” Indeed, shortly after he took office. Morin called in his senior staff and told them that the goal of the government was Quebec sovereignty. Those who felt that their consciences would not allow them to work toward that should think about it. he said, and perhaps ask to be transferred to another department where the question would be less central.
In the fall of 1968 Jacques Parizeau had been invited to give a speech at Banff on Canadian federalism. He decided that he would take Canadian Pacific's transcontinental train and spend the three-day trip relaxing with his wife away from the telephone, and writing his text. “When I left Windsor Station. I was a federalist. When I arrived in Banff I was a separatist. ”
Lest anyone blame The Canadian’s dining car or a flawed wine list for that conversion, Parizeau insists that it was the process of thinking through the relations between Quebec and Ottawa that led him to this conclusion. He decided that the powers that Quebec had won for itself during the Sixties had created a situation in which, instead of there being a senior gov-
ernment and a junior government. Quebec had two governments. “It was,” he says, “as if we had a piece of paper, tom half way. Either you patch it back together with scotch tape, or you keep on tearing.” Portly, witty and genial. Parizeau was born in Montreal in 1930. the son of wellto-do parents (says a fellow PQ member, a trifle sourly: “Most of us are only two generations from being habitants. Parizeau boasts of having been in Outremont for seven generations.”). Parizeau was educated at L'ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montreal, studied in Paris, and earned his doctorate at the London School of Economics. He was greatly influenced by the French economist Francois Perroux.aspecialist in the field of economic development and an advocate of the development of “poles of growth.” (This theory, which argues for the grouping of government services in one or two regional centers to help depressed areas, wasa source of tensionbetween Ottawa and Quebec during the Sixties, with Quebec City arguing for a poles of growth approach rather than Ottawa’s “designated regions” policy.) Returning to Montreal in 1955, Parizeau began teaching at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montreal, with which he has maintained a connection ever since, going on unpaid leaves to be an economic adviser to Jean Lesage, a researcher for the Bank of Can-
ada, a member of various economic task forces—including the Porter Commission on the Federal Bank Act—and now as a politician and cabinet minister.
It was Parizeau who carried out a study of the financial implications of nationalizing Quebec’s hydro-electric companies in 1962. a plan that René Lévesque carried out inthesame year.However.Pariseaulost favor with Lesage when he attacked the bond syndicates—the system under which Quebec governments always use the same banks and brokerage houses to sell their bonds and securities. (In the case of the Quebec government, it was the Bank of Montreal and A. E. Ames Ltd.)Later.when the reform-minded Eric Kierans. former president of the Montreal Stock Exchange, entered the Lesage government as revenue minister, he made the same point as Parizeau and saw to it that the syndicate was widened. Partly as a result of that Parizeau returned to the Lesage government as an adviser and was largely responsible for the creation of the Caisse de Dépôt, the Quebec Pension Fund made possible by Quebec’s opting out of the Canadian Pension Plan in favor of its own, funded plan.
It has been a constant theme of Parizeau’s economic thinking that the Quebec government should use all the economic tools at its disposal. Thus he has been a firm advocate of a buy-Quebec purchasing policy for the government, and of other ways of using Quebec’s financial assets to strengthen the province’s economy. One idea that he threw out in a newspaper column four and a half years ago was that Quebec might sell shares in publicly owned Hydro-Quebec on the stock market. and use the money to move into forestry . “A simple example,” he wrote, “which would jolt both left and right."
During his first few weeks in office, Parizeau was immersed in the files of the finance department, and. aside from a dozen private meetings with leaders in business and industry to clarify the government’s plans, he was relatively quiet. His first job. and his greatest challenge, he said in an interview, will be to change Quebec’s priorities without raising taxes.
Perhaps more than any of the men close to Lévesque. Parizeau has kept in touch with English Canada over the years. He has visited Toronto regularly, has many friends in Ottawa, and once applied for a senior post with the Bank of Canada.
Though he is not unhappy today about the PQ'S commitment to a referendum on independence, Parizeau in the past defended the idea that a Parti Québécois government would have an automatic mandate to push for independence. “I was always struck by the fact that in 1866-67. a whole series of French-Canadian MPS asked for a referendum on Confederation,” he says. “It was systematically refused. Twelve requests—always refused with the same argument: Parliament has all the rights. It strikes me as paradoxical that to enter (Confederation) we couldn’t
have a referendum—and to leave we have to have one.” Still, he is optimistic about the progress of the idea of independence in Quebec. “Do you remember the 1970 election slogan of the Parti Québécois? It was ‘oui.’ This year, Bourassa’s slogan was ‘non’ [aux séparatistes]. In 1970, ‘oui’ was beaten. In 1976, ‘non’ was beaten.”
For all of his prestige, Parizeau is under particular pressure now—not only because being finance minister in the present economy is an enormous challenge in any government, but also because of his record in the PQ he will be watched closely and suspiciously from inside the party. He was the author of the PQ’S disastrous, hypothetical budget for an independent Quebec, which Bourassa picked to pieces during the 1973 election campaign, and was the scapegoat for the defeat. More recently, he was the chairman of the board of directors of Le Jour, the PQ paperthat folded this summer in a burst of intra-party acrimony. “Le Jowrclosed its doors on August 23,” shrugs Parizeau. “We won the election on November 15. You can rebound in politics.”
At 40, after a career as one of the leading parliamentarians in the Quebec National Assembly, and 10 years in the Quebec labor movement as a union lawyer, Robert Burns still has the grin, the gestures and the informality of a much younger man. Parliamentary leader since 1973, and now house leader. Burns acquired a reputation as a powerful debater and crusader against the scandals that dogged the Bourassa government. “He’s a great parliamentary fighter,” says a cabinet member admiringly. “The Liberals used to tremble when he came into the chamber with a dossier”— to the point that Bourassa once publicly offered Burns a cabinet post in the hope of turning down the heat. Besides being named house leader, Burns under Lévesque also was made minister of state for parliamentary reform, and a member of the key priorities committee.
Burns’ dual appointments are a measure of his clout within the party—and of the way in which intra-party tensions are being resolved. Over the last few years, disagreements and conflicts often flared between the party’s parliamentary wing in Quebec City and the national office in Montreal, particularly when Camille Laurin, a skilled mediator, was defeated in 1973 and replaced by Burns as parliamentary leader. These disputes tended to arise between Lévesque on the one hand, and Burns and Claude Charron ,30—the onetime firebrand who is now Minister of Youth, Leisure and Sport—on the other. But, as one party insider put it, Lévesque and Burns are both “strong personalities, and those were generally not conflicts over content but rather over attitude or strategy. For instance, during the 1971 strike at (the Montreal newspaper) La Presse, Burns wanted the party to march with the strikers. Lévesque didn’t.”
Burns shrugs off his reputation as a muckraker, but is nonetheless clearly quite content in his role as Lévesque’s street fighter. During the election campaign, Lévesque, during a radio debate, refused to respond to Bourassa’s challenge to “name meonecase”of government corruption. In declining to do so, says Burns, Lévesque “showed himself to be a statesman. A statesman shouldn’t do that kind of muckraking. That should be done by hatchet men. I consider myself one of those hatchet men.”
Often identified as the leader of the PQ left, Burns shies away from the label—and indeed disputes that any kind of formal, left-right division exists within the party. Solidly pro-union and a convinced democratic socialist himself. Burns insists that “there is no Waffle in the Parti Québécois”—a reference to the federal New Democratic Party’s now-disbanded leftwing “Waffle” faction. Not all péquistes agree with Burns’ assertion. “He’s lying,” says another labor movement activist who was elected as a PQ member November 15. Burns’ executive assistant, Andre Larocque, explains that what his boss means “by saying that there is no Waffle is that there is no structure, no secretariat of the left wing, no office, nothing like that—not even any meetings. Certainly there are some (party members) who are farther to
the left than others. But the left in the PQ is involved much more in making the structure of the party democratic than in traditional left-wing programs. For example, Burns is not particularly fervent about nationalization. Burns is viewed as being on the left because he is very pro-union.”
For all of these reasons, Lévesque’s choice of Burns for house leader and to preside over parliamentary reform was a brilliant move. Burns is passionately interested in reforming the National Assembly and in setting up regulations to ensure clean party financing, the elimination of voting frauds, and the drafting of a new electoral map. Burns calls his post “the ministry of democracy,” and the issues closest to Burns’ heart are especially important for a party preparing for a crucial referendum. Burns, too, will draw up the referendum bill itself. In sum, it will be Burns’job to research the legislative model for the new state and, in appointing him to the task, notes Larocque, “what Lévesque has done is put legislative power in the hands of the left.”
In addition to Burns, Lévesque named four other ministers of state: Camille Laurin (cultural development); Jacques Leonard (planning); Bernard Landry (economic development) and Pierre Marois (social development). In the past, ministers of state have been junior ministers with minor responsibilities. Now, Lévesque has vastly upgraded the title by appointing all five state ministers to the inner priorities committee. The other four fellow ministers of state have much in common. All have shared Lévesque’s experience of political defeat and the sense of exile from Quebec City. All have worked closely with Lévesque on the PQ executive, and all have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with their leader few others can match.
Laurin, a 54-year-old whose jet black
hair bears only an occasional hint of gray, is an articulate, soft-spoken psychiatrist with a reputation for soaking up all kinds of information. Elected to the National Assembly in 1970, he served as the PQ’S parliamentary leader until 1973. During his time in the house, a Liberal cabinet minister once came up to him and said: “Camille, I like listening to you in the Assembly. You’re intelligent, calm, rational. But then, when I read what you’ve said in the transcript—my God, you’re an awful socialist.”
Laurin explains that he became an independentiste partly through his experience with Canadian medical groups and associations, in which, over the years, he felt less and less as though he belonged. “1 wasn’t part of the club,” he says. Moreover, he had begun to feel too many Quebeckers suffered from a chronic sense of insecurity and lack of self-confidence as a group, while those who had opted for separatism already felt freer, more self-confident. In his cabinet post, Laurin will be responsible for Bill 22—the controversial language act introduced by the Bourassa government in 1974. Laurin says that the emphasis of the bill under the PQ will switch from education to making Lrench the language of work in Quebec.
With this task, he will need all his psychiatrist’s skills of calm reassurance for he will be dealing with themost highlycharged emotional issue facing the government.
Jacques Leonard is the great unknown among the members of the new cabinet. In presenting him, Lévesque went out of his way to refer to his modesty; party members stress the care and meticulousness he showed as comptroller for the party. A 40year-old accountant, Leonard taught accountingand administration in the African nation of Rwanda before going to the University of Montreal as an administrator. As minister of state for planning, he will be in
charge of coordinating land-use planning and environmental questions in the ministries of the environment, natural resources and agriculture.
Landry, 39, is a former University of Montreal student leader who helped to found L’Union Générale des Etudiants de Québec—an organization that was formed after Quebec University students broke away from the Canadian Union of Students during the Sixties. He went on to join Lévesque’s personal staff while Lévesque was a minister under Lesage, then spent several years working in the provincial government before resigning to join the Parti Québécois and practise law. Personable and outgoing, Landry insists that he is interested in improving contacts with the English community, both in Quebec and outside. “In Quebec,” he says, “the English community has always been hostage to front men. I’m hoping we can have much better contacts with the English community and all the minorities in Quebec.”
Perhaps the cabinet member closest of all to Lévesque is Pierre Marois. Three years younger than Landry, he had a similar career as a campus leader and went to work as an aide to Liberal Education Minister Paul Gerin-Lajoie after finishing his law studies at Laval. Later, he worked as a Quebec civil servant, spent two years studying in Europe, and eventually went to
work as the lawyer for a Quebec consumer organization. He successfully represented Quebec parents against the manufacturers of thalidomide, workingjointly with an associate of Ralph Nader. Though it infuriates him, because of the suggestion it carries of favoritism, Marois, because of his close friendship with Lévesque, is jokingly referred to as “the Dauphin.”
Multi-faceted and packed with talent though the cabinet may be, its nembers nonetheless all stand in the shade of a single overriding presence—that of Lévesque himself. The ministers’ feelings toward him range from fascination to a respect bordering on awe. Many are sharply aware, too, of Lévesque’s intuitive approach to politics and government. “What surprised me,” says Andre Larocque, “is that he has kept his attachment to the party. I’ve always defined Lévesque as a guy with a horror of all political parties, who doesn’t like them at all. He doesn’t like party structures, committees, that sort of thing. When he has a good idea—that’s it, he doesn’t want it going off to a committee for a report, where people can question him on it.” During the past six years, says Larocque, “we watched him, and felt ‘he doesn’t look happy in the party.’ He looked nervous, tense. Now it’s the reverse—I’ve never seen him so relaxed, or so at ease with party policy.”
“Lor me, he personifies Quebec,” says Pierre Marois. “He is from the Gaspé but at the same time an extraordinarily urban person. He is intelligent, he reads an incredible amount—but he has to feel something here, in his gut. That is the key for him. I’ve heard him many, many times, in meetings, listening to a proposal and finally saying ‘It sounds good, but I don’t feel it.’ ”
So far, Lévesque’s mixture of rationality and intuitiveness have put together an impressive and complex cabinet that is riding high on a post-election wave of excitement and popularity. But as the country watches how the cabinet performs, so will the PQparticularly the elected members who were overlooked by Lévesque when he made his cabinet choices. As one observer reflected, looking at the possibility of dissension in the government ranks, “the real tensions will not be ideological or nationalistic. The real division will come between the ministers and the deputies who think they should have been chosen instead. The ministers are going to be watched very closely.”
The result is certain to make for exciting government. But the very excitement and dynamism of the new Quebec administration poses a dilemma for English Canadians and for Quebec federalists. The Bourassa government had become too high a price to pay for the status quo, and few wept for its defeat. Now it isdifficult to wish the new government ill without harming Quebec, or to wish it well without the companying fear of its ultimate goal coming closer. Ç/