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1996
Lucien Bouchard, illusionist
by Pierre Elliott Trudeau


Montreal Gazette, February 8, 1996

I accuse Lucien Bouchard of having betrayed the population of Quebec during last October's referendum campaign. By distorting the political history of his province and of his country, by spreading discord among its citizens with his demagogic rhetoric and by preaching contempt for those Canadians who did not share his views, Lucien Bouchard went beyond the limits of honest and democratic debate.

Truth must be restored in order to rehabilitate democracy in Quebec - this, I shall do by examining some of Mr. Bouchard's assertions between Oct. 14 and 27, 1995.

 

I - Failures and their causes

Mr. Bouchard's assertion: "Countless negotiations have been held between Quebec and the rest of Canada over the past 30 years. All have failed. ... Others have profited from our political weakness. ..." (Oct. 14, 1995 - Centre Communautaire de St. Justin, Rosemount)

The facts: In 1964, in 1971 and 1981, it was the government of Quebec that sabotaged the negotiations by going back on its word. The Meech Lake Accord, in 1990, is a different matter, and I shall address it later.

1. In 1962, Premier Jean Lesage, with the strong support of his minister René Lévesque, had negotiated and signed the Fulton-Favreau accord to patriate the Canadian constitution. In 1964, Mr. Lesage changed his mind and repudiated the accord.

2. In 1971, Premier Robert Bourassa negotiated a constitutional agreement giving Quebec a veto as well as several other linguistic and legal benefits. The Canadian government convinced the premiers of the other provinces to accept this agreement. When the time came to sign the "Victoria Charter," Mr. Bourassa announced to his colleagues that he had new requests to present and that he needed a brief delay for tactical purposes. A few days later, he announced that he no longer wished to sign the agreement that he, himself, had negotiated and proposed.

3. On April 16, 1981, Premier René Lévesque signed, with seven other provinces, a constitutional agreement recognizing that Quebec was a province like all others, and did not have a constitutional veto ("This amending formula . . . recognizes the constitutional equality of each of Canada's provinces"). The objective of this agreement was to force the Canadian government to resume negotiating with a solid bloc of eight provinces. This tactic would eventually constitute an almost insurmountable obstacle to the patriation of the constitution once the Supreme Court of Canada, in September 1981, declared that, as conventions dictated, the Canadian government could not patriate without a "substantial level of provincial consent."

The Gang of Eight's solidarity was broken on Nov. 4, 1981, when, during a negotiation meeting and without warning his colleagues, René Lévesque accepted a proposal from Canada's prime minister to resolve the constitutional stumbling block through a referendum. By going back on his word to his seven allies, Mr. Lévesque forced them to regroup in a common front without him.

 

II - Demands and their consequences

Mr. Bouchard's assertion: "For 30 years, the fundamental reason why ... we were never able to convince English Canada (to concede) even Quebec's smallest historical demands is not that we sent people who were not good negotiators. We had the best ones. We had René Lévesque." (Oct. 18, 1995 - St. Léonard)

The facts:
Let us first examine the question of demands and then, that of the negotiators.

1. The true "historical" demands of French Canadians consisted essentially of one thing: respect for the French fact in Canada, mainly in the areas of language at the federal level and of education in the provinces where francophones were a minority. Thus the first two demands of Premier Lesage, presented in July 1960 at the start of the Quiet Revolution, were: first, to reopen negotiations for patriating the constitution and its
amending formula, and second, to adopt, within the constitution, a charter of fundamental rights, including the linguistic and educational rights of French-speaking minorities outside Quebec. Despite Mr. Bouchard's assertion, the Fulton-Favreau formula satisfied the first requirement; the Victoria Charter satisfied the first one fully and the second one partially; and the Constitution Act of 1982 entirely satisfied both requirements. In the three cases, these traditional demands were abandoned by successive Quebec governments when they went back on their word.

2. Let us examine the question of negotiators where, as Mr. Bouchard said, "we had the best ones." More particularly, how can one explain that Mr. Lévesque, the master negotiator - who only had to hold his own for a few more hours to turn to his advantage the enormous enterprise of constitutional revision which had started in 1967 and was to end on Nov. 4, 1981 - could suddenly betray the Gang of Eight's accord to accept my
offer of a public consultation via a referendum? Though this question will doubtless never be answered, I offer the following hypothesis. Did he fear that I would capitulate to the Eight and that, in order to accomplish patriation, I would accept their proposal? Mr. Lévesque would then have been caught at his own game since, by signing this accord, he had supported a patriation formula which included neither a distinct-
society clause, nor a veto for his province. But then, how can we explain that he then reneged on my referendum proposal which he had accepted a few hours before? Was he negotiating in good faith, or rather, was he trying to sabotage any federal- provincial co-operation designed to solve the constitutional problem?

 

III - The Night of the Long Knives: sheer fabrication

Mr. Bouchard's assertion:
"Although there was an alliance with René Lévesque to reach a reasonable agreement, these seven English- speaking provinces ... abandoned him in the course of one night." (Oct. 23, 1995 - CEGEP de Limoilou)
It should first be noted that when Mr. Bouchard speaks of a "reasonable agreement" he does not know what he is talking about. This agreement explicitly rejected both the notion of distinct society and that of a veto, two items which Mr. Bouchard is constantly seeking for Quebec.

The facts:
The "night" in question is, of course, that of the so-called "long knives," a label shamelessly borrowed from Nazi history by separatists suffering from acute paranoia. What really happened?
When René Lévesque betrayed his allies of the Gang of Eight by accepting my referendum proposal, he lost his credibility with them. The seven English-speaking premiers were in disarray and the session was adjourned to the following day, Nov. 5.
But it should be underlined that the seven English provinces did not, as Mr. Bouchard says, abandon Mr. Lévesque. Rather, it is Mr. Lévesque who abandoned them. He plunged the knife into the heart of the very accord he had signed less than seven months earlier. And when Mr. Bouchard, in his Oct. 25 speech to the nation, says that (Mr. Lévesque's) "so-called allies ... went to meet Jean Chrétien in an Ottawa hotel room in the middle of the night," this is historical falsehood. Here is how the newspapers reported these events at that time: As soon as the meeting was adjourned, around noon on Nov. 4, Mr. Lévesque is quoted as saying: "For us, it (the Trudeau proposal) seems to be a respectable and extraordinarily interesting way of extricating ourselves from this imbroglio." To which Claude Charron, one of his ministers, added: "For us, it is the ideal solution." Le Devoir reported that "at that point, the Quebec delegation was jubilant and, at the risk of offending its partners of the Common Front, did not hesitate to climb on board with Ottawa." (Le Devoir, Nov. 5, 1981) The "risk of offending its partners" was not an imaginary one, the Quebec delegation finally realized in the afternoon of Nov. 4. This led René Lévesque to repudiate my referendum proposal without any explanation other than saying, "It is all Greek to me." Michel Vastel, a journalist then with Le Devoir, wrote: "By the end of the day, the bridges were burning between Lévesque and his former allies." He added that later, while everyone thought agreements were under discussion, "a senior Quebec official, who had been asked why he did not make a last-ditch effort to keep the provinces together, glumly answered: 'After what has happened this morning, we have lost all credibility.' '' (Le Devoir, Nov. 6, 1981)
For more details on the press commentaries, see Le Désaccord du Lac Meech in Max Nemni's book Le Québec et la Restructuration du Canada (pp. 177-179), and William Johnson's A Canadian Myth (pp. 180- 183).

 

IV - Language, education and the veto

Mr. Bouchard's assertion:
The Constitution Act of 1982 "reduced Quebec's powers in the fields of language and education ... René Lévesque refused it. Claude Ryan refused it. The National Assembly of Quebec refused it. (Oct. 25, 1995, 7 p.m., Radio-Canada television)

The facts:
1. In the areas of language and education, the Constitution Act of 1982 enshrined precisely the "traditional requests from Quebec." Here is what Claude Ryan had to say about it the day after Lucien Bouchard made the above comment: "The Constitution Act of 1982 that Mr. Trudeau passed is not as dreadful as some like to pretend. It is a very reasonable law: it gave a Charter of Rights to all Canadians, Quebecers and others alike, and it reinforced the protection of linguistic rights for francophones throughout Canada." And elsewhere: "I heard Mr. Bouchard last night saying that (the Constitution of 1982) had stripped Quebec of important rights in language and education. In my humble opinion, it's not true. It's just not true." While he disapproved of the "fact that the act had been enacted without Quebec's signature," Claude Ryan recognized that "objectively, the changes brought about by the act of 1982 were very good changes, except where the amending formula is concerned." (Oct. 26, 1995. Interview with Bernard Derome, Radio-Canada television and Château Frontenac, RDI).

2. I, myself, shared Mr. Ryan's reservations with regard to the amending formula. But it should be remembered that the formula used in the constitution of 1982 was based on the one proposed by Mr. Lévesque and the seven other provinces that formed the Gang of Eight. This formula gave no veto to Quebec while the one proposed by my government included a veto. Thus, on Dec. 2, 1981, Le Devoir published my reply to a letter from Premier Lévesque dated Nov. 25, 1981, requesting a veto for Quebec. I said, in part: "Between 1971 and Nov. 5, 1981, every government I headed put forth an amending formula which would have given Quebec a veto. We only abandoned the principle after
you had done so yourself" by signing the Accord of the Eight and after "you had once again proposed (this accord) during our sessions of Nov. 2, 3, 4 and 5."

3. Furthermore, failing that veto, the accord of the Eight gave the provinces a right to opt out which was enshrined in section 38 (3) of the Constitution Act of 1982. This right allows each province to refuse any constitutional change that would diminish its "legislative jurisdiction" or its "rights and privileges." Consequently, Mr. Bouchard is showing that he knows nothing about the 1982 constitution when he alleges that the Chrétien government - after a No vote - will want "to perpetuate the current situation which gives the federal apparatus and the English-speaking provinces ... the power to impose anything they want on Quebec." (Oct. 17, 1995, 7:25 p.m., Westin Hotel, Montreal) Such stupid allegations - and they were legion - flow more from hallucination than from the science of politics.

 

V - The 1982 patriation

Mr. Bouchard's assertion:
"In 1982, the constitution was patriated against our will . . . because the interests of English Canada impelled them to act in this fashion." (Oct. 27, 1995 - Radio-Canada TV)

The facts:
Mr. Bouchard certainly has a strange way of interpreting our constitutional history! Wasn't it rather the French Canadians who had traditionally striven to free themselves from colonial ties with Great Britain by patriating the Canadian constitution from London? As for "interests," those of the predominantly English provinces were generally the same as Quebec's: to exchange their consent to patriation for increased provincial powers. Since 1927, every Canadian government, from that of Mackenzie King to that of Bennett, St. Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson, had tried in vain to persuade the provinces to end this vestige of colonialism. All had failed and Canada was the only country in the world to have as its constitution a law located in another country which could be amended, for the most part, only by that other country. In 1982, we were emerging from an extensive constitutional debate begun in 1967 by the provinces. Canadian citizens had had enough of it and the matter needed to be laid to rest - 115 years after becoming a country, Canada still depended upon London's consent to amend its constitution. Could Canada face yet another defeat when the only opposition to patriation came from a provincial government set upon destroying the country? Would the project have to grind to a halt because of an adversary who wanted sovereignty for his province, but who refused it for our country? Three provinces, including Quebec, had asked the Supreme Court of Canada to define the rules of the constitutional game. The ruling was that patriation could happen only in the presence of a "substantial level of provincial consent." This requirement was amply satisfied with nine provinces out of 10 giving their consent. Quebec's premier was opposed to patriation but, as the rules of the above-mentioned game stated, he had no veto. In any case, he had explicitly waived this veto upon signing the accord of the Eight. It was clear that his government wanted nothing to do with a project that could be advantageous to the Canadian federation. Moreover, 70 of the 75 members elected to the federal Parliament by Quebec had voted for patriating the constitution while, in Quebec's National Assembly, 38 members - led by Mr. Ryan - out of 108 had voted on Dec. 1, 1981, against a resolution which, for all practical purposes, slammed the door on the current efforts to seek compromises. Thus, less than 40 per cent of all elected representatives of Quebec were adamantly opposed to the constitutional agreement. One may dispute this arithmetic analysis by arguing that Quebec's government is the only body allowed to speak for Quebecers, but this claim is the very essence of separatism.

If one believes in Canada, one must equally believe that, in matters constitutional, Quebec members elected to the Canadian Parliament represented Quebec's electorate just as much as the members of the Quebec National Assembly did. Furthermore, polls have shown that patriation of the constitution was not being rejected by the people. In March 1982, a CROP poll indicated that 48 per cent of Quebecers blamed Mr. Lévesque's government for refusing to sign the accord, while only 32 per cent agreed with it. In June of the same year, a Gallup poll found that 49 per cent of Quebecers approved of the Constitution Act and only 16 per cent disapproved.

 

VI - Who said No to Meech?

Mr. Bouchard's assertion:
"They (English Canada) rejected the hand offered by Quebec in 1990. ... No one came to Montreal to demonstrate and claim 'We love you.' They simply said No to Meech." (Oct. 27, 1995, 7:30 p.m. Radio- Canada TV)

The facts:
Two days before the referendum, separatists would, of course, have preferred that a few English extremists trample the Quebec flag. But to mock the tens of thousands Canadians who came to Quebec from other provinces on Oct. 27, 1995, to express their support and their hope to the people of Quebec is, at the very least, inelegant. And, in fact, who had said No to Meech?

1. On June 3, 1987, the Canadian government and the nine English-speaking provinces said Yes to Meech and signed the Meech Lake Accord. Throughout Canada, the English press was generally in favor of it. In Quebec, the English press and Alliance Quebec, standard-bearer of anglo-Quebecers, had said Yes to it from the outset.

2. In Quebec, French opinion-leaders generally said No to Meech. Only 18 per cent of the experts who spoke to the parliamentary commission set up by the Bourassa government in April 1987 said Yes to Meech - 70 per cent were against it. As for groups and associations, 19 per cent were in favor of Meech and 81 per cent were against it. And all these groups saying No to Meech were essentially French-speaking organizations
such as the three largest labor federations (CSN, FTQ, CEQ) a teachers' group (l'Alliance des Professeurs de Montréal), an artists' group (l'Union des Artistes), a writers' group (l'Union des Ecrivains), a farmers' union (l'Union des Producteurs Agricoles). (See Nemni, op. cit.)

3. As for Quebec's political groups, the Parti Québécois and the NDP were firmly against the Meech Lake Accord. Then, surprisingly, Premier Bourassa, while saying he had to sign the accord, went on the record to say he had reservations. In fact, as early as May 12, 1987, even before the accord was adopted, he had declared to the National Assembly that his government had taken "another step toward a temporary solution to the constitutional problem. ... There would be other requests and other discussions later, or a second series, or other series of constitutional reform." On June 18, 1987, Mr. Bourassa felt impelled to speak to the National Assembly about Quebec's "right of self-determination" and to recall that it was included "in the constitutional program of the Liberal Party." Finally, on June 23, 1987, he concluded the debate in the National Assembly with the following words: "The leader of the opposition (Mr. Pierre-Marc Johnson) constantly refers to constitutional matters which have yet to be settled. Does he forget that there will be a second round of discussions?"

4. But Mr. Bourassa himself did not forget: in February 1990, more than four months before the deadline for the final ratification of the Meech Lake accord, his party adopted a resolution to "set up a constitutional committee (the Allaire committee) which would prepare the political content of the second round of negotiations which would start after the accord was ratified." It also contained a veiled threat: the committee would also examine scenarios "to prepare for a possible failure of the Meech Lake Accord."

Mr. Bourassa had dusted off his Victoria tactic from 1971: to negotiate an agreement but, even before its signature, announce that it does not satisfy Quebec and that other requests will follow. (He would again do the same with the Charlottetown accord in 1992 when he compared the referendum to a lottery.)

5. One might assume that such actions would disillusion the good people of Canada who thought that acceptance of Meech would satisfy Quebec and bring constitutional peace to the country. But no! Astonishingly, on Jan. 23, 1990, after such inflammatory remarks and equivocal posturing coming from Quebec, including the use of the notwithstanding clause to ban English signs, seven English-speaking provinces and the Canadian government still supported Meech. Two provinces had yet to take a definitive stand, because of the hesitancy of one premier and the opposition of one native member of the Manitoba legislature. How can one seriously conclude, as Lucien Bouchard does, that it is "English Canada" who "rejected the hand offered by Quebec in 1990" and who "simply said No to Meech"?

 

VII - I accuse Lucien Bouchard

By calling upon fallacies and untruths to advance the cause of hateful demagoguery, Lucien Bouchard misled the electors during last October's referendum. By his actions, he tarnished Quebec's good reputation as a democratic society and he does not deserve the trust of the people of this province.



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