Péquiste with a Canadian soul - Macleans.ca

Péquiste with a Canadian soul

Flawed yet romantic, “Extraordinary Canadian” René Lévesque embodied our bedrock values


Péquiste with a Canadian soulRené Lévesque an “extraordinary Canadian”? Even the suggestion will make many in this country, not to mention legions of purs et durs Quebecers, cringe. Yet throughout his political career—and, indeed, even in his attempts to make Quebec a sovereign state—Lévesque demonstrated what are considered bedrock Canadian values: honesty, centrism, a commitment to democracy and non-violence. With groundbreaking transparency and anti-corruption legislation, Lévesque’s Parti Québécois effectively put an end to a political environment long dominated by graft, favouritism and barely concealed fraud; it has since been mimicked, to varying degrees, in several other provinces and at the federal level. Bill 101, the PQ’s landmark language law that Lévesque’s government ushered into existence in 1977, met with near-unanimous condemnation across the country. Today, language tensions exist largely in the minds of the fringes on both sides, and the wide-scale acceptance of Quebec’s French fact has shown, perversely, how Quebec can assert its will within Canada’s borders.

Lévesque the human being was much like Lévesque the politician: flawed, endearing, hopelessly romantic. He consumed everything—liquor, tobacco, women—with abandon; political strategy was more likely hashed out over all-night games of five-card stud than behind the walls of the National Assembly. Quebecers, even his political enemies, admired him as much for his canny political sense as his distinct lack of pretense. In an excerpt from René Lévesque—in this week’s Maclean’s—Daniel Poliquin, a leading Canadian francophone author, traces the origin of Quebec’s love affair with this frumpy little man with red eyes who trailed smoke and a hangover wherever he went.

To read an excerpt from Extraordinary Canadians: René Lévesque by Daniel Poliquin, click here.


Péquiste with a Canadian soul

  1. He (and to a certain extent Pierre Trudeau) were what politics should be about. Levesque had many opponents who rejected his political views but few if any ennemies who attacked him at a personal level. I have always opposed the notion that a sovereign Quebec would be better off than one that continues to belong to the Canadian family. My opposition to his ideas does not mean that I considered him in any way my ennemy. He had a fundamental honesty that all could admire and which is very much lacking in today's political discourse.

  2. Centrism is a bedrock Canadian value? The middle 50% of Canadians on any issue are more Canadian than the two quartiles on either end?

    I think that's an insult to Canada, myself.

    • Centrism isn't "the middle 50%," it's a commitment to creating policy that satisfies everyone but those who cannot be satisfied on principle.

      • Do you seriously believe you can create a policy that satisfies everyone? It is a known maxim in business that the more people you have in the room, the less likely you can make a deal. It is impossible to satisfy everyone, that is why we have democracy, so that we can move on regardless of the fact that you cannot satisfy everyone.

        • I should have added that most people are trying to compromise, because democracy is not about trying to squeeze as much for yourself out of the body politic as you can. Politics is not a business meeting.

  3. i agree with the realist … in modern times in particular people try to vilify people who have opposing views to their own ..like witness how Bush was treated by so called progressives and now Obama is being attacked quite personally by the extreme right ….when you think of it people's opinions and behaviour are linked to their genetics and socialization and experiences…if you had the same you would be them

  4. He was an amazing guy. Whenever he spoke, he used so much body language that quoting him was a tad difficult.

  5. Right. And yet he still wanted to break up our country. I can't help but not feel all lovey dovey

    • Fine, but can you feel respectful of his opposing viewpoint? Can you respect his commitment?

  6. one of the long-term problems with Quebec and Canada is that so many of the pro-business, federalist elements in the province have been, and continue to be, crony-capitalist or outright corrupt. From Montreal's city hall to a province as a whole and to the Bloc Quebecois, the separatists/left have owned the clean-government and personal-freedom territory. Boogeyman Parizeau was a hell of a finance minister and Levesque brought in the first campaign finance reforms in the country, i believe.

    • This is an interesting observation that goes back to long before Confederation. If you look at what went on then, with your 'now' eyes and perceptions, the bulk of the English Canada forebears were the corrupt "bad" force and the bulk of the French Canada forebears were the ones with the principle and honesty. I can't really look at what goes on now with the same perspective–I'm too close yet not close enough, and I feel too deeply about my country's unity, but I can accept that it is very possible that One Canada supporters haven't exactly been doing us any favours there. Who among us wants to stay in an alliance that exists solely to take from us to put into the hands of the "entitled" few? I believe the Family Compact and Chateau Clique is as alive and well as ever, just more subtle and interconnected. And I think we've established that we don't particularly care for it, no matter what side of the language "divide" we're on. If this entitled vs. not entitled separation can also be seen to be along language lines, well, I guess I can understand at least partially why the Sovereigntists want their sovereignty.

      • good points. And in the end it is about access to the wealth of the country. look at the Health Care fight which is coming to a cusp south of the 49th. These days I long for substance of the Constitutional debate albeit circus theatre; but is it any better than what is going on now?

  7. Only love can keep a nation together.

    I worry far more about the anti-Israeli movement , which is breaking out in Ontario, and being fueled in particular by one political party ( not at the top level. And the media apologists for this party are keeping the issues alive and well. What are they trying to achieve? Why are they doing this? And where will it all lead?

    The human mind can only stand so much and if the agitators keep pumping up our "ancient adversaries", we just might transfer some of the nonsense from Gaza to Toronto.

  8. Levesque was actually a classless guy. There is a video interview in a coffee shop during the October Crisis where he blames Trudeau for the kidnappings, not the kidnappers, going along with that discraceful idea that if we don't give in to terrorists, we only have ourselves to blame when they do bad thigns. After all, they gave us a chance to be blackmailed! Levesque had no respect for democracy, by flirting with the idea that culpability was even slightly shared between the people who had ideas, backed by popular support, that one side didn't like, and the side that used violence and coercion. And the coercion of the state ain't the same so don't even try. NO ONE elected the FLQ.

    Shame on him and his memory. He h