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1996
Bouchard had no answer
by Pierre Elliott Trudeau


Montreal Gazette, February 17, 1996

So I have written a whole page in The Gazette accusing Lucien Bouchard of having, on many occasions, "betrayed the population of Quebec during last October's referendum campaign." And the current premier of Quebec has filled a whole page in the same newspaper without refuting even one of my accusations.

True, Mr. Bouchard dug up a few of my old pearls of wisdom. True also, he vilified Jean Chrétien and praised Brian Mulroney. He certainly wrote at length on Quebec's indivisibility and neglected to mention Canada's divisibility. And he placed the responsibility for invoking the War Measures Act squarely on my shoulders without recalling that this was done at the express and written request of both the premier of Quebec and the mayor of Montreal. In short, he has hidden behind historical relativism to avoid having to reply to my accusations. He wrote: "There will never be a single, definitive reading of the history of relations between Quebec and Canada over the past 30 years." It doubtless follows that he does not have to correct the historical falsehoods of which he has been guilty.

This relativism sometimes leads to strange conclusions. In one instance he describes as "Quebec's historical claims" the three contradictory programs of the three political parties existing in Quebec in 1969: "equality or independence," the "distinct status" and "sovereignty-association." It is not surprising that the refrain "What does Quebec want" was uttered so frequently in those days.

Elsewhere, to avoid having to reply to a precise accusation, Mr. Bouchard distorts it. About the events of Nov. 4, 1981, I wrote that "René Lévesque had betrayed his allies of the Gang of Eight by accepting my proposal for a referendum," a fact which was confirmed by the newspapers of the day. Mr. Bouchard turns this into "Here is what René Lévesque is being accused of: wanting for Canadians and Quebecers to express themselves through a referendum."

Toward the end, Mr. Bouchard waxes lyrical: "In Quebec, leaders such as Jean Lesage and René Lévesque, Daniel Johnson senior and junior, Jacques Parizeau, Claude Ryan and Brian Mulroney . . . all of them, at one time or another, have been repudiated, scorned, accused by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. ... I have been admitted into that club of democrats. With them, and with all Quebecers, I plead guilty."

Mr. Bouchard, you misread me - I never accused you of being a democrat. What you must understand, however, is that all those people you named, and with whom you identify, were political adversaries in one way or another, and that words can sometimes be harsh between political adversaries.

I say "adversaries in one way or another," but I should explain: I have the nerve to possess a deeper confidence than these adversaries in the strength and the abilities of French Canadians from Quebec and elsewhere.

That is why I have always opposed the notions of special status and distinct society. With the Quiet Revolution, Quebec became an adult and its inhabitants have no need of favors or privileges to face life's challenges and to take their rightful place within Canada and in the world at large.

They should not look for their "identity" and their "distinctness" in the constitution but rather in their confidence in themselves and in the full exercise of their rights as citizens equal to all other citizens of Canada.

I do not doubt for one instant that they would be capable of making Quebec an independent country. But I have always believed that they have the stature to face a more difficult and nobler challenge - that of participating in the construction of a Canadian nation founded on democratic pluralism, institutional bilingualism and the sense of sharing.

In the era of the global village, the very notion of sovereignty is becoming obsolete, and it is to protect what is left of it that large-scale amalgamations are being formed.

But Canada already occupies half a continent. To weaken it by dividing it would be a historic blunder of infinite proportion. We must not rend the fabric of this still-young country, we must give it the chance to grow and to prosper.

This, premier, is what I had to tell you. I still have sufficient respect for political involvement to recognize that, in your own way, you believe that you are working for the good of Quebec. Because I do not believe your way to be the right one, I do not wish you success. But I say to you, all the same, "God bless."



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