Chrétien and Bouchard, sitting in a (very expensive) tree



Remember the 1995 referendum? How could you forget. Separatists threaten to rip a province from the bosom of Canadian confederation! Skullduggery, political intrigue and uncertainty abound! A country teeters on the abyss!

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t that exciting, but still: October 1995 was a welcome blast of uncertainty in the often Camry-grey, pleasantly predictable machinations of Canadian politics—”one of the most intense moments in Canadian history,” as Breaking Point, the excellent CBC doc on the subject, puts it. Most people of a certain age can remember where they were (me: fourth floor, Harper Residence, Mount Allison University) and what they were doing (me: watching Peter Mansbridge, learning how to curse out Quebec in Acadian French) and how the night ended (me: blind drunkeness.) And much of that drama was provided thanks to arch-enemies Jean Chrétien and Lucien Bouchard, who spent the better part of thirty days bashing away at each other over the fate of the country.

Weird, then, to see the two all chummy-chummy together at a very swishy 2008 party hosted by Paul Desmarais, ardent federalist and noted rich and powerful type who lords over the aptly named Power Corporation. Video of the shindig, leaked by Anonymous, documents the decadent birthday party for Desmarais’s wife, Jacqueline. There are some seriously questionable bits (more on this later), but for political types none is more saddening than seeing these two supposed arch-enemies practically arm in arm and grinning like school children at recess.

Back in 1995, when the stakes were markedly higher than lobster or lamb as a main course, the tone of Chrétien and Bouchard’s exchanges were always heated, the language often salty—at least as far as these things go. Chrétien, for example, dismissed Bouchard’s sudden, enormous popularity as a sideshow stemming from having his leg amputated:

“He came close to died [sic] a few months before, and he was handicapped suddenly, and whatever,” Chrétien says in Breaking Point. “People thought he was the messiah. And, you know, people were asking him to bless the Quebec flag. Come on.” Bouchard, meanwhile, said of Chrétien: “He wants to crush us. He likes to crush people. That’s how he sees us.”

It invokes a certain cynicism, seeing the two of them together like this, in a setting like the Desmarais’s Saguenay-area palace. They were sworn enemies for so long, over something as crucial as the fate of an entire country. For what they put us through, they shouldn’t be in the same room without the fur flying, much less be photographed together wearing war-buddy smiles. Their convictions melted, and those smiles bloomed, for the sake of a garish birthday party of the wife of a very rich man.



And about that party.

The middle third the video is dedicated to the après-souper entertainment, in which oodles of musicians, entertainers and dancers paraded in front of Desmarais, his wife Jackie, and George H.W. Bush (!). Believe it or not, the most questionable number wasn’t when some poor schlub was made to rhyme off the names of the Desmarais-owned newspapers to the tune of Beat It. (“La Presse, Le Droit, et Le Soleil, La Tribune de Sherbrooke, Le Quotidien de Saguenay, Nouvelliste de Trois Rivière, La Voix de L’Est de Granby, just beat it.” I kid you not.)

A slight more pungent was the blackface. You see, in her youth Jackie Desmarais was a big Al Jolson fan. “That was the great era of Al Jolson,” Jackie says in a voiceover accompanied by a soothing tickle of the ivories. “And so we used to blacken our faces and come down on Sunday mornings and sing… all those songs.”

Jackie’s reverie is then recreated on stage by a woman singing Jolson’s “Swanee.” In blackface. In 2008.



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Chrétien and Bouchard, sitting in a (very expensive) tree

  1. Good piece MP. I share your distain for the politician that winds us up, and then we later learn they do lunch once a month. I’ve never really gotten over the revalation that Trudeau and Lesveque were old friends from way back.
    As for the lives of the rich and famous; it’s odd how often a glimpse behind the curtain reveals just how shallow and banal are their lives. Very often they’re simply not worth the envy lavished on them.

    • Quebec was a small place politically in the 50’s, especially if you were against the Duplessis government. I wouldn’t make too much of Trudeau and Levesque being “old friends”, since a lot of people Trudeau used to be friends with hated him once they believed they had seen his real intentions, which most Quebeckers (especially PQistes) thought to be power grabbing.

      • That’s a matter of opinion. Trudeau’s was that the quiet revolution had morphed into tribal politics and wanted no part of it. As for his unpopularity, check out the margin of his electoral victories within Quebec.

  2. Did you really think two grown men would be at daggers-drawn nearly 20 years later?

    Nope, don’t remember where I was….there is always some crisis or other. They pass, and life goes on.

  3. Another soul wakes up to the charade of tribal blackmail… Trudope, Leveseque, Chretin, Bouchard… comrades in arms… recipe… manufacture “crisis”… demand a ransom… impose your tribal will… repeat as necessary.

  4. Is it not possible to believe that two old men, who fought each other more than 15 years ago and who are now much closer to the ends of their lives could not find some commonality through their shared experience?

    As the leaders of the two opposing sides of that very bitter ’95 fight, despite having been against each other, they probably understand each other and the experience more than most other people understand them.

    Its like Best and Beckenbauer, or the veterans of the ’72 Summit series getting along years later.

    If the country had broken-up it undoubtedly would have been different. But I think it says something positive about the ultimate unity of Canada. Why would we want them to be enemies forever? That would be a pretty disappointing reflection of the country.

  5. As I said, they are all parasites. Take their food source away from them, they would all die. The only way they know how to live, is cheating other people. Their greed is disgusting and revolting. Decent people, do not behave as they do.

    Harper tries to pass himself off as a Christian. However, Harper is no Conservative, nor any Christian. He is a Neo-Nazi Reformer of his Northern Foundation Party, from 1989. The skinheads assisted to organize Harper’s party.

    Harper is trying to quash the robo-call investigation. What does that tell us? Over half of Canadians did not want Harper as P.M….he knew it, he cheated. Now over 2/3 and counting, Canadians don’t want Harper in any capacity. We would be overcome with joy, if Harper was kicked right off the planet.

    The Etioboke Center election was declared null and void by Supreme Court. Harper has appointed, two new Conservative judges. Moritz is appealing the Supreme Courts decision. Wonder if, one of Harper’s new Conservative judges, will preside over Moritz’ appeal? Harper is frantically, trying to stop to all the ridings, disputed by those who know, they should have won.

    All the other party’s are doing nothing about Harper. The next party, will just carry on with Harper’s corruption and greed. All of them are the one and the same government. Nothing ever changes. They still steal from the poor, to pay for the wealthy.

    Canadians citizens, are pretty much decent people. It is the politicians, that are the scum of the earth. That’s why the young people, don’t bother to vote. There is no point, it’s a fascist dictatorship, no matter how you look at it. Harper steals from the citizens, and gives billions of our tax dollars….to the wealthiest corporations in the world. All of the wealthy squeal at the trough, they don’t want to pay any taxes. Hitler made a law, there were no more political party’s permitted in Germany. Do you think Harper wouldn’t do the same? Damn right he would, in a New York minute.

    That disgusting birthday party expenses, was far more that ten average family’s have to live on, for a year. Nothing ever changes, the government thieving is endless.

    • you should get some help with your rage. very un-Canadian of you . 5 parties run in an election, no one gets a full majority – the losers always complain that way. carry on Harper’s corruption and greed – so PM Harper carrried on Cretien, Martin and Trudeau greed, is that how you see it, or did PM Harper start it?hmmm Comparing MP Harper or any Canadian PM to Hitler, you need your head read bubba take a vacation, it should help. Osta’

  6. Things change, people change. People can be friends and still be adversaries.

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