CANADA

Quebec’s First Lady

BARRY CAME December 5 1994
CANADA

Quebec’s First Lady

BARRY CAME December 5 1994

Quebec’s First Lady

As symbols go, the house at 1080 Rue des Braves in Quebec City is imposing enough. It is a handsome home, an $800,000 mock Tudor mansion, and it sits in a choice location just steps from the Plains of Abraham. But it has been the source of controversy almost from the moment that Premier Jacques Parizeau moved into it early in November. It was a gift from the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and Parizeau has been roundly criticized for ac-

cepting it, accused of everything from poor political judgment to selling out to the local business community. The most telling blow of all, however, came from another, more oblique direction. For the premier’s new official residence has suddenly acquired a nickname. Much to Parizeau’s chagrin, the house on Rue des Braves is now universally known as the Elysette, a play on the name of the opulent presidential residence in France, the Elysée Palace, and the first name of Parizeau’s elegant, high-profile wife, Lisette Lapointe.

It is a barbed compliment, given the acrimony that continues to surround the issue of the premier’s mansion. But it is also a re-

minder of the influence that the 51-year-old Lapointe wields at the highest levels of political power in Quebec. Since they married two years ago, Lapointe has rarely been far from the Parti Québécois leader’s side. During last summer’s election campaign, she oversaw the make-over of Parizeau’s once staid image and helped to devise electoral strategy. And when the PQ took power last September, Parizeau promptly confirmed his wife’s status by giving her an

office not far from his own and even a title as special adviser on community groups and volunteer organizations. The job carries no salary, but it has considerable weight. “Lisette’s a woman of strong opinions and she’s not afraid to express them,” confided one disgruntled Péquiste. “She’s always on the telephone, calling ministers directly, offering advice, sometimes on dossiers that are only marginally related to her own duties.”

She also does not appear to be above exercising her influence in pursuit of entirely personal goals. Although no ranking Péquiste will admit it Lapointe is believed to have been largely responsible for blocking the appointment of Serge Ménard as justice minister. Ménard, a leading Montreal criminal lawyer, defended the drunken driver of a tractor who severely injured Lapointe’s son, then 14, in a road accident in 1989. When the PQ first recruited Ménard to run for office, it was widely assumed that he would take on the justice portfolio in a Parizeau government In the end,

he was forced to settle for the far less glamorous job of public security minister. Lapointe’s activist role has led many in Quebec to compare her

to Hillary Clinton. Like the wife of the U.S. President, she had a track record in politics long before she married the man who is now premier. She was, in fact, Parizeau’s press secretary in the 1976 election campaign. And she served for six years as director of communications on the staff of Social Affairs Minister Pierre Marois in René Lévesque’s first PQ government. “Marriage does not annul her right to be politically active,” argues Concordia University’s Kim Sawchuck, a professor of media and gender. “She is setting new precedents as she reformulates the once-traditional role of a premier’s wife.” For the mistress of the house they now call the Elysette, that much is certainly true.

BARRY CAME in Montreal