Editorial

The grassroots vision of Claude Ryan: fighting for unity from the ground up

Peter C. Newman March 19 1979
Editorial

The grassroots vision of Claude Ryan: fighting for unity from the ground up

Peter C. Newman March 19 1979

The grassroots vision of Claude Ryan: fighting for unity from the ground up

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

The intellectual searches for truth; the politician seeks power. Which is why so few great thinkers make good politicians, and vice versa. But occasionally circumstances throw up a rare individual who combines within himself both these contrary strains, and the most impressive example is Claude Ryan, the former editor of Le Devoir who was elected last year to lead Quebec’s Liberal party.

Ryanmania has yet to sweep the province, but at a time when Quebec’s pro-Canada organizations have collapsed (see page 18), he has not only nursed a battered and corrupt political organization back to vigorous health, but has won solid endorsement for his view of federalism. After a rocky start Ryan now runs party affairs from a nondescript beige office on the corner of a nondescript street in Montreal’s east end, exuding the incandescent Gallic wisdom that is his trademark. His nose, like some ancient compass needle, swings toward me, the hooded eyes probing hidden intentions; his cheeks are etched with fatigue lines, giving his face the topography of Quebec’s electoral map.

Instead of chronicling the news, he’s making history, and it isn’t easy. He has toured 85 ridings in the past six months and out of all those midnight rides has emerged a much tougher man. No one owns him. “I’m not trying to resolve any problems with pious invocations,” he says. “I feel optimistic because I have faith

in serious work. That’s the great difference that separates me from some of our friends both in the Parti Québécois and the press. They expected me to come out from on top as the guy who had a message to deliver from Mount Ararat. I said, ‘No, I’m going down to the ground where the people are, and from there we’ll see the seeds we plant prosper and bear fruit.’ I enjoy a greater margin of freedom than most political leaders because I’m in control of more information on party affairs.”

He plans little participation in the federal election campaign. “The results which would be least unsettling for the province,” he says, “would be a Liberal victory. But a Conservative win would not change our position very much.” Not really one of your burning Trudeau endorsements.

Itching to get into the national assembly through a byelection expected this spring, Ryan is meanwhile tightening his ideological grip over his followers. Choose Quebec and Canada, the 110-page policy guide he recently wrote, is an articulate and convincing reply to Lévesque’s sovereignty-association hypothesis. “If Quebec votes ‘No’ to the referendum, it is the Parti Québécois’ power to blackmail, not Quebec’s power to negotiate, which will be affected,” he insists.

There is an existential air about Claude Ryan’s every move and it’s easy to believe that his future is Canada’s future—that this unusual politician embodies the kind of cultural duality without which this country will not survive.