A fighter in the House

MICHAEL ROSE November 25 1985

A fighter in the House

MICHAEL ROSE November 25 1985

A fighter in the House


Hanging in a place of honor in Raymond Garneau’s cramped office on Parliament Hill, the photograph is one of the first things that visitors notice. It shows the Quebec MP in an earlier career: as a smiling and youthful minister of finance in the Quebec Liberal government of Robert Bourassa. Taken minutes before Garneau was to deliver the 1974 provincial budget, the picture is a graphic reminder that the 50-year-old Garneau is more than an Ottawa freshman MP, one of only 40 Liberals who survived the Tory tidal wave in the last federal election. He is also a veteran Québécois politician, a onetime provincial leadership contender and the respected former president of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. His current job as associate finance critic in the Liberal opposition could be termed the low point, rather than the summit, of his career.

Garneau himself acknowledges that he had an ambivalent reaction to his return to politics. “I felt terrible after the election,” he said. In order to accept John Turner’s call to run for the federal Liberals in Laval-des-Rapides riding last year, Garneau gave up an annual bank salary of more than $200,000, a dozen corporate directorships and a chauffeur-driven limousine. But Garneau’s early doubts appear to have subsided, and he is emerging as one of the most influential and articulate members of the opposition. Although his own intense sense of loyalty to Turner makes him reluctant to discuss the possibility, some Quebec MPs privately cite him as a possible future leader of the party.

Last spring Garneau attacked the government for measures that he accurately predicted would be in the May budget. In a speech delivered to a business group in the Bahamas eight days before the budget was made public, Garneau drew on careful research and his own experience as a finance minis! ter to predict accurately that Wilson would abandon attempts to reduce the deficit quickly and, instead, introduce painful measures with long-term, difficult-to-understand tactics such as pension and tax-bracket de-indexation. He was able to demonstrate the long-term effects of the Wilson budget on Canadian incomes, including the impact of de-indexing senior citizens’ pensions, which helped rally their campaign. On June 27 the Mulroney government cancelled that measure. Said Liberal fi-

nance critic Don Johnston: “Raymond has been a shot in the arm to this caucus.”

The banking crisis during the summer gave Garneau fresh ammunition for the fall sitting of Parliament. Almost daily he has questioned Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Minister of State for Finance Barbara McDougall and Finance Minister Michael Wilson over the collapse of two western banks.

Garneau is also using some of the tactics that he learned in the tough world of Quebec provincial politics. Said his legislative assistant, Francis McGuire: “He can get furious when people waste his time.” Garneau walked out of an Oct. 31 legislative finance committee hearing when the curator for the Northland Bank, James Morrison, refused to provide confidential figures on the bank’s debt.

Clearly, the nine-year veteran of the Quebec national assembly is increasingly at ease with the demands of his new life in Ottawa. Declared Pierre Bastien, a senior Quebec Liberal and longtime Garneau associate: “I would

be very surprised if Raymond decided to return to the private sector.”

Garneau’s family background presents a sharp contrast to his present prominence. He was born to a farming family in the small Quebec town of Plessisville, 150 km northeast of Montreal. A brilliant student, he won degrees in commerce and economics from Laval and the University of Geneva respectively. After he returned to Canada the Quebec Liberals quickly drafted him into service; he worked first as an employee of the Quebec Liberal party and then, in 1965, as assistant in the office of Liberal Premier Jean Lesage. In 1970 he was elected to the Quebec national assembly and that same year, at the age of 35, he was named Quebec’s finance minister. That meteoric rise later earned him the title in provincial political circles of “le Dauphin ” (the crown prince)—the man certain to replace then-Liberal leader Robert Bourassa, who resigned after the Parti Québécois election victory in 1976.

The only serious hint of discredit in Garneau’s background was his rumored involvement in a Quebec Liquor Corp. scandal, which first broke in 1975. Some politicians were allegedly taking political contributions in return for giving distillers and liquor distributors special favors. In a major police inquiry in 1977 Garneau was complete-

ly cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, the following year he lost to Claude Ryan in his attempt to win the leadership of the provincial Liberals.

There are striking parallels between Garneau’s bitter experience with the provincial wing of the party and Jean Chrétien’s later failure to beat John Turner for the federal Liberal leadership. Like Chrétien, Garneau was a popular politician and party man whom the party establishment shoved aside. In Garneau’s case, party insiders estimated that Ryan, the cerebral publisher of Montreal’s newspaper Le Devoir, stood a better chance of winning the 1980 referendum struggle and the election that would follow.

Garneau tallied only 807 votes against the party outsider’s 1,748 at the convention. Ryan then added to the injury by giving an ungracious victory speech in which he pointedly gave signals that Garneau’s participation was not wanted. Within eight months Garneau resigned as the MNA for Jean-Talon and, it appeared, from political life. Said Montreal Liberal insider, lawyer James Robb: “Garneau took a beating from Ryan’s people that he did not deserve.”

During his three-year tenure as president of the Montreal City & District Bank, the financial institution registered a strong increase in stock prices, and Garneau’s reputation in Montreal business circles rose proportionately. The new job also left him more time to devote to his family: his wife of 25 years, Pauline, his daughter, Véronique, now 21, and son Jean-François, now 24.

But friends and former colleagues viewed that shift from provincial politics into the corporate world as an aberration brought about only by the bitter leadership battle of 1978. Said Bastien: “He is a politician by nature, and I was not convinced when he left that it would be forever.” Indeed, in the early summer of 1984 Turner and other senior Liberals from Ottawa began pressing him to return to politics and run in the federal election. “At first I refused them all,” said Garneau, “because I was enjoying myself, and it is hard to quit a job like that.”

Those close to him also say that his wife was reluctant to see him become involved politically again. But Turner, who knew Garneau well from the days when he was the federal finance minister, finally prevailed. Said Garneau: “Turner convinced me that with so many senior people like Pierre Trudeau and Marc Lalonde leaving federal politics, it was my duty as a francophone to run.”

Garneau faced a tough fight for his Montreal area constituency against a star Tory candidate, Lawrence Hani-

gan, the former chairman of the Montreal Urban Community Transit Commission. Late in the summer campaign, when the Liberals appeared certain to lose badly, he attacked the Conservatives in a speech which Mulroney still reminds him of: he accused the Tories of being anti-Catholic, antiFrench “Orangemen” whom Quebecers could not trust.

Still, many of those who work closely with Garneau told Maclean’s that the speech was out of character: his personal style is usually cautious and precise. Said legislative assistant McGuire: “Garneau is extremely concerned with his personal credibility, inside the House and out.”

He acknowledges that he would prefer to be on the other side of the House —“answering the questions rather than asking them.” But for now he claims to be content with his 12-hour days as the MP for Laval, relaxing on weekday evenings in a small downtown Ottawa apartment with his pipe and some classical music and historical books. On weekends he drives to his home and family in Montreal. Said Bastien: “How unhappy can you be when you are in the business you prefer but for the moment do not have exactly the job you might want?”