A psychiatric evaluation paints a troubling portrait of Quebec's controversial premier

Anthony Wilson-Smith September 1 1997


A psychiatric evaluation paints a troubling portrait of Quebec's controversial premier

Anthony Wilson-Smith September 1 1997




A psychiatric evaluation paints a troubling portrait of Quebec's controversial premier


To better understand what makes Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard tick, consider this: on Nov. 18, 1995, media reports said that former prime minister Brian Mulroney was being investigated by the justice department. The department believed—falsely, as it turned out—that Mulroney might have accepted bribes related to the awarding of contracts to purchase aircraft for Air Canada. At that time, it was more than five years since Bouchard and Mulroney had last spoken: their friendship was bitterly severed when Bouchard quit Mulroney’s cabinet and renounced federalism in 1990 in a dispute over the doomed Meech Lake constitutional accord. But at 3:30 p.m. that November afternoon, Luc Lavoie, a communications adviser to Mulroney and longtime confidant of both men, received a call on his cellular phone. It was Bouchard, who had just stepped off a flight from Miami and was still at the airport with his wife, Audrey Best. “I just saw this terrible story about Brian,” Bouchard told Lavoie. “There is simply no way that it can be true.” Over the next 14 months —until Mulroney received a formal apology from the federal government for the allegations— Bouchard called Lavoie regularly for informa-

tion, and publicly defended Mulroney's integrity.

The moral of that story depends on one’s perspective. To many Quebecers, who regard their premier as the most credible politician in Canada today, Bouchard’s concern for Mulroney serves as proof of his devotion and loyalty, even in difficult times. But friends of Mulroney, many of them still embittered by Bouchard’s defection, wonder how someone who professes to care so much could have betrayed his former friend so badly. For many English-Canadians, who regard Bouchard simply as a political pariah out to break up their country, it is another illustration that the only thing consistent about Bouchard is his inconsistency. And those sentiments were bound to be revived by the publication of a controversial psychiatric assessment—delivered to the office of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1996—that analyzes Bouchard’s personality (page 15).

The report by Dr. Vivian Rakoff, obtained by Maclean's, portrays Bouchard as a man who “becomes emotionally committed to the task at hand. He is like an actor who dedicates himself to a particular role, but leaves it behind when the curtain falls.” Rakoff, one of Canada’s best-known professionals in his field, also says that Bouchard's “various

disloyalties all come disguised as defence of principles,” and that he suffers from “a core sense of insecurity” and “great vanity.” Rakoff s report figures in a new biography of Bouchard, to be released next week, by Ottawa author and journalist Lawrence Martin. The book seems certain to fuel the debate over the enigmatic 58-year-old premier. Even the title invites controversy: The Antagonist—Lucien Bouchard and the Politics of Delusion. Martin, who published a highly praised biography of Chrétien in 1995, spent 20 months researching the book and conducted close to 200 interviews. trWhat you get from all this is the image of a politician who is both formidable and deeply flawed,” Martin said in an interview late last week. “Bouchard is driven, for the most part, by a sense of hubris and his bloodlines.”

Rakoff’s findings—and the circumstances behind them—are in themselves controversial. According to Rakoff, Bouchard’s personality may be partly determined by an “esthetic character disorder”—a term, he told Maclean’s, he uses to describe “someone who can give great passion to a relationship or cause, and yet next week move on to something else.” It can result in highly contradictory behavior, without the individual seeing any contradiction in his actions. A well-regarded psychiatrist who has studied in South Africa, England and at Montreal’s McGill University, the 69-year-old Rakoff wrote his assessment in 1996 at the request of an acquaintance, Toronto Liberal MP John Godfrey. Godfrey then passed on a copy of the report to Chrétien’s office, where it was read by senior advisers Eddie Goldenberg and Chaviva Hosek. But Rakoff, as he emphasized, has not met Bouchard, and based his findings largely on published speeches and written material about Bouchard’s life, including his autobiography. He describes the assessment as “a memorandum I wrote at the request of a friend.” And officials in Chrétien’s office were quick to emphasize that they neither asked for nor paid for the report—and would not comment on its contents. “This is something that was given to us unsolicited, and which the Prime Minister has not himself read,” said communications director Peter Donolo.

Within Quebec, early reaction was muted—largely because the province’s

For many Canadians, the only thing consistent about Bouchard is his inconsistency

French-language newspapers were late in printing stories of the report. But some nationalists dismissed the report as a gimmick orchestrated by the federal government—and aimed at discrediting Bouchard. Friends of the premier were predictably critical. Montreal radio host Jean Lapierre, a close Bouchard friend who is well-connected on both the federalist and sovereigntist side, called Rakoff’s assessment “farfetched.” In an interview with Maclean’s, Lapierre argued that all politicians routinely make statements they are later forced to contradict. “Contradictions,” said Lapierre, a onetime federal Liberal junior cabinet minister, “are a part of political life because sometimes the perspective changes. I don’t see that as a personal trait of Lucien Bouchard.”

But the question is important because Bouchard, arguably more than any other Canadian, holds the future of the country in his hands. And the latest controversy comes at a time when the unity issue—which had cooled since the June 2 federal election—is showing signs of heating up. At the annual premiers’ conference in New Brunswick last month, the other nine premiers agreed to discuss the issue at a special meeting in Alberta this month. But Bouchard, who clashed publicly with New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna over the unity question, refused to attend, and appeared startled by the fact that the other nine premiers appear divided over how to react to the prospect of Quebec secession. One participant in the meetings said it appeared to be the : first time Bouchard recognized the deep divisions in the rest of the ¡ country on the issue. «

But when it comes to Bouchard’s relations with English Canada, each side clearly views the other with a mixture of incom£ prehension, frustration and suspicion. “It makes me crazy to l hear and read these depictions of Lucien in English Canada as | some kind of crazy man, or evil traitor,” complains Lavoie, a self-

described “devout federalist” who nonetheless is one of Bouchard’s closest friends. “It does no service to the cause of federalism to talk like that, and it ignores the fact he is a brilliant and decent man.” And for many Quebecers, Bouchard’s frequent and much-discussed political conversions—he was a New Democratic Party sympathizer in his youth, a Trudeau-era Liberal, then a sovereigntist follower of René Lévesque before becoming a born-again federalist and, finally, a reborn sovereigntist—simply mirror the path they have followed themselves. “For people in Quebec, even federalists, his political career appears utterly consistent,” says Gilbert Lavoie, a onetime press secretary to Mulroney who is now editor-in-chief of Quebec City’s Le Soleil newspaper. “He is regarded as entirely credible in his actions.”

But Bouchard himself is no stranger to overheated rhetoric. At various times, he has referred to other premiers as “morons” and “idiots,” accused pro-federalist business people in Quebec of “spitting on Quebec,” and called Chrétien a “traitor” to his home province. In Bouchard’s most regular forum, Quebec’s national assembly, opposition Liberals shrug wearily and say they have grown accustomed to such outbursts. “He loves these flights of rhetoric that are in fact great exaggerations,” says Liberal MNA Thomas Mulcair, who describes Bouchard’s speaking manner as “the scolding intonation of an old parish priest.” Adds Mulcair: “One of the things that is most surprising is the rapid mood swings—in the course of one 45-minute question period, he can go from attempting to be charming, to being bullying, to screaming utter nonsense.”

The irony is that while Bouchard is regarded in the rest of Canada, in Lawrence Martin’s words, as “potentially the biggest danger to the country’s future in this century,” many people in Quebec, led by hardline sovereigntists, are suspicious of his convictions. Some in the Parti Québécois bitterly describe him as a “closet federalist.” In fact, one of the favorite parlor games among members of Quebec’s chattering class is to decide what the future political face of the province would be if it was up to Bouchard alone. “He is definitely not a hardline separatist in the way Jacques Parizeau was,”

says Lavoie. “More to the point, I would call him a sovereigntist by default.” And Conservative Senator Michael Meighen, a Laval University classmate of Bouchard who has remained in touch with him, says: “Lucien spends as much time talking about the need for association with the rest of Canada as he does about the need for independence.” Another who thought that Bouchard lacked the heart and soul of a true separatist was the late Robert Bourassa. In a private three-hour discussion in early 1996, the former Liberal premier spent more than half an hour reciting instances in Bouchard’s public and private behavior that, he said, illustrated his belief that Bouchard feared the potential divisive consequences of a narrow Yes win in the 1995 referendum. Among the examples Bourassa gave was that Bouchard cut back on his speaking schedule—and the force of his rhetoric—in the final 10 days of the campaign, when victory seemed within reach.

Bouchard seems to make increasing efforts to parade his sovereigntist colors. “I’m becoming more of a sovereigntist every day,” he said in June at the end of the national assembly’s spring session. And in a much-publicized remark during a visit to Washington, while he was still leader of the Bloc Québécois, he described himself as a “separatist.” Moreover, some friends say that regular exposure to hardliners since taking over the PQ early last year has hardened Bouchard’s political views. “He’s grown into sovereignty,” says

Lapierre. “Now, it’s his personal project—and he’ll carry it as far as he can.” And, Lapierre adds, “he’s working everyday with PQ members and it has become his political family.”

Perhaps so, but as with any family there are always tensions. When it comes to his adopted party, Bouchard, in the words of Michel C. Auger, political columnist at Le Journal de Montréal, “has an easier time governing Quebec than running the PQ.” There is a good reason for that: the party Bouchard now leads has historically been social-democratic by nature in its spending policies, and hardline in its promotion of the French language at the expense of other languages. Bouchard, by contrast, is a fiscal conservative who has made balancing the budget his priority. On the other hand, on language issues he appears torn between his personal liberal views and conflicting pressures from within his party. He has spoken in favor of allowing bilingual public signs, but has allowed the return of Quebec’s so-called language police, who strictly enforce all aspects of the province’s French Language Charter to the immense annoyance of anglophones. On language issues, says Montreal lawyer Eric Maldoff, a longtime English-rights activist, “there is a general sense that Bouchard is trying to be all things to all people—but when push comes

Bouchard has referred to other premiers as ‘morons’

to shove, he finds it difficult to rein in the hardliners within his party.”

Bouchard’s behavior in his home life is enough to raise the ire of any selfrespecting Quebec nationalist. He has confessed that he speaks English more often than French to his American wife, Audrey, and the couple’s two children, Alexandre, 7, and Simon, 5. Although Bouchard did not learn English until age 40—and had never been west of Toronto until age 46— he is now remarkably fluent, due to hours spent reading and practising in private. His parliamentary secretary is David Payne, the only anglophone member of the PQ caucus—and, says Payne, “the premier always insists on speaking English with me.” Similarly, Bouchard, a voracious reader, now reads, according to one friend’s estimate, “probably more books in English than French.” Although his fondness for classics is well-known, his taste in English books ranges from political biographies, often of American politicians, to the spy novels of John le Carré and Len Deighton and the pulp thrillers of Robert Ludlum.

That, in turn, illustrates one of the problems of conducting an analysis of a subject from afar, as Rakoff has done with Bouchard. Some of the information upon which he bases his conclusions is incomplete or incorrect— which in turn affects the entire thesis. Much of Rakoff s report is based on

the presumption that Bouchard is obsessed with the language of French and Quebec’s historic links with France—to the exclusion of all else. But Bouchard’s willingness to live much of his life in English belies that—to the point that he was criticized in the Quebec media last week for his habit of spending two months every summer in California with his in-laws. And his passion for Quebec politics is matched by a deep interest in the nuances of the American political system. As one friend, a political strategist with extensive international experience, says of Bouchard: “I can think of no one— and I include Americans in this—who knows more about past and present political life in the United States.”

Almost from the day he entered elected politics in a 1988 byelection and became a Conservative minister, Bouchard has talked about leaving public life. He thought long and hard about accepting the leadership of the PQ and the premier’s job in early 1995— though it was virtually given to him—and still makes it clear that he is not happy in the post. Such complaints are politically pragmatic: the implicit threat of resignation is a useful tool for a party leader whose members know they need him, but do not always agree with him. But there is no doubt that Bouchard is sincere when he talks about the strains on his family life and the difficulties of long days away from his children.

Audrey Best Bouchard, meanwhile, has never tried to hide her discomfort with public life—and her wish that her husband would leave it. In addition, family friends say that while she is not hostile to the sovereignty movement, she simply does not understand the passion behind it. Bouchard, in fact, confessed as much to a friend in a frank discussion in Quebec City over dinner about a year ago. “The problem,” he said, “is not only that Audrey does not like politics—in particular, she does not like my politics.”

And there is the often-forgotten physical hardship of functioning with a prosthetic leg, following his amputation and close brush with death during a bout of necrotizing myositis—or socalled flesh-eating disease—in 1994.

Although Bouchard’s limp is barely perceptible, and he has responded remarkably well to treatment, medical experts say that walking with an artificial leg consumes an enormous amount of energy. Leg amputees have to relearn, in effect, how to walk. And because of the strains of his job, which often includes 18-hour days at the office, Bouchard has complained to friends that he seldom gets the regular exercise that his therapists insist is necessary.

Another continuing source of strain is the lost relationship with Mulroney, his friend of more than three decades. The former prime minister was so angry at Bouchard’s defection that friends have said he told his wife, Mila, that if Bouchard were to come to his funeral, she should order him out of the church. Bouchard, in a previous interview with Maclean’s, recounted how he had been in a Montreal delicatessen after the break when Mulroney walked in. The two men sat at opposite ends of the restaurant, ignoring each other. As prime minister, Mulroney would not use Bouchard’s name, even when asked direct questions about him; Bouchard, in turn, referred curtly to “the prime minister.”

They still do not speak, but there has been a softening. Mulroney let it be known, through intermediaries, that he appreciated Bouchard’s support during the Airbus affair. In turn, the Mulroneys sent a get-well message to Bouchard when he became ill in late

1994, and he sent back a message of appreciation. In recent years, he has been reaching out to old, mutual friends from university days, such as Meighen and Liberal Senator Pierre de Bane. Meighen, who was invited to Bouchard’s inauguration as premier, but could not attend, says: “It seems very clear to me that he would be happy if there could be a reconciliation.”

That possibility remains in the air—as does his political future. Some Péquistes privately fear that Bouchard will leave politics before another referendum. For that to even happen, he would have to fight and win a provincial election, which must take place by the fall of 1999. And no sovereigntist wants another referendum unless the Yes side has enjoyed a clear and sustained lead in the polls. “We must be very, very sure of our circumstances when we call such a vote,” says the PQ’s David Payne, “and we must be very sure not to tip our hands when we are going to do so.” That could mean that a referendum, in theory, might not take place until the year 2004, by which time Bouchard would be 65 years old.

There is another date, well before that, that seems likely to attract Bouchard’s interest—and cause some anguish. The fall of 1998 will mark the 35th anniversary of the graduation of Bouchard’s law class. Some of the members, along with Bouchard, Mulroney, Meighen and de Bane, were businessman Peter White, Senator Michel Cogger and prominent Montreal lawyers Michel Roy and Jean Bazin. The last reunion was in 1988, when both Bouchard and Mulroney attended. Already, some alumni are beginning to plan another reunion—and thinking, specifically, of its implications for Bouchard and Mulroney. “It would be hard to imagine either one missing it,” says a friend of both men. “And if they both show up—well, I wouldn’t imagine them talking for three hours straight—but they might say hello, and finally break the ice.”

Would either man want to revisit the painful part of their past? In his autobiography, On the Record, Bouchard’s concluding line dealt with his break with Mulroney, and his “dream that just as one door closed on part of my past one evening in May, 1990, so another and better door will soon be opening for the future of my nation.” After the triumph and tragedy, confusion and controversy of Bouchard’s recent years in politics, questions about his true intentions run as deep as ever. And cynics on both sides of the unity debate still seem to wonder if those doors to his past are really closed—and which nation he really means.