He was the most unlikely leader: straightforward, uninterested in personal wealth, unprepossessing. Yet his charisma affected even those who disliked his political aim to achieve independence for Quebec. René Lévesque was born into a Quebec dominated by the Catholic Church, rural values, and Anglophone control of business. He was part of the 1960s Quiet Revolution that saw the province become a secular society bent on economic success and, for some, political independence. A journalist, war reporter, and television host, Lévesque channelled his communication skills into a political career that encompassed the most tumultuous periods in Canadian history. As founder of the Parti Québecois, he held two close referenda in 1980 and 1995 that proved wrenching for Canadian unity and permanently altered the country's political landscape. Acclaimed novelist and translator Daniel Poliquin offers a unique portrait of Lévesque the man and politician, at once affectionate, critical, and incisive.
allows voters to find balance—as well as entertainment worthy of the best theatre. Not that every Canadian voter is an armchair strategist, thinking, I just voted for a Conservative in Halifax, who got elected, and now, to keep him honest, I am going to vote for a Liberal in Ottawa. Few people are that Machiavellian. The members of any federation, however united they may be by their common interest, remain natural rivals, especially in the domains of shared jurisdiction (environment and
Trudeau. Pertini was so furious that he publicly rebuked Lévesque and turned down an official invitation to Quebec. Then the premier went to the Vatican, and René Lévesque being René Lévesque, he did not even refrain from smoking in the presence of His Holiness. That is when the French-language press really got on his back—and stayed there. He was no better with foreign visitors. When Robert Mugabe came calling, Lévesque compared the departure of Anglo Quebecers to the exodus of whites in
that sad episode that he owed his Christian name: René, the born again. If your rank in the family has any bearing on your future, of René it can be safely said that he never acted like the classic first-born who sets high standards for the siblings and emulates the father in all his good deeds. Quite the opposite, René always acted like the son deprived of his birthright, bent on proving to the rest of the world that he was somebody, too. As if his phantom brother had never ceased to haunt him.
“Every confederation tends to become a federation: to wit, the United States and Canada.” In the end, the Québécois did not believe in independence, and still do not, and René Lévesque never found in him the strength to believe in a renewed Canada, whereas Trudeau did. Which explains why Lévesque’s failure became Trudeau’s success. OF ALL THE IMAGES of Lévesque departing, one stands out, again thanks to the very observant Don Macpherson of The Gazette, an image that the French-language press
mire (Focal Point), which propels him to stardom in Quebec. 1958 On December 29, Radio-Canada’s producers go on strike. Lévesque joins the ensuing protest movement. This event marks the birth of his political persona. 1959 The strike ends in March. His contract at Point de mire is not renewed. He moves to private radio. On September 7, Maurice Duplessis, leader of the Union Nationale and Quebec’s premier-for-life, dies. He had been in power for fifteen years. 1960 Lévesque joins the Quebec