Canada: Robert Bourassa left an enduring legacy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Oct 26 12:45:55 UTC 2006

Robert Bourassa left an enduring legacy

By Jacques Chagnon

Last Thursday, several thousand people converged on Quebec City in order
to honour the former Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa.  Two lieutenant
governors, three former premiers, all current members of the National
Assembly, several dozen former ministers and members of the National
Assembly, and the mayors of Quebec City, Montreal and Laval all were in
Quebec City to take part in the unveiling of the statue of Robert
Bourassa, who was Premier of Quebec for 14 years. Robert Bourassa has
taken his place among former Premiers Jean Lesage and Ren Lvesque on the
grounds in front of the National Assembly, while on the other side of the
building we find the statue of Maurice Duplessis, which was rehabilitated
under Ren Lvesque (the statue was hidden away in a warehouse for 20
years), and that of Adlard Godbout, premier from 1940 to 1944.

Robert Bourassa is therefore the sixth premier to be immortalized by a
statue on the grounds since Premier Honor Mercier was immortalized this
way in the 1920s. Robert Bourassa was elected for the first time in 1966,
as a member of the opposition. In January 1970, he became the leader of
the opposition and on April 29 of the same year, became the provinces
youngest premier ever. I knew him and supported him when he ran for
leader, and after he became leader and then premier, I had the opportunity
to talk with him at least 100 times during the six years he held the
position. I was a member of the first youth commission and was chair of
this commission from 1971 to 1975, after which I was secretary of the
political commission. Over these years, we discussed many topics, from
hydro-electric development to language policy.

The quality of the legislation over these years was marked by the adoption
of the health insurance policy, the charter of rights and freedoms,
consumer protection, the recognition of French as Quebecs official
language, legal aid and small claims court, among others. With regard to
economic policy, he frequently declared that we must produce our own
wealth if we want to distribute it. Guided by this maxim, he launched work
on the James Bay hydroelectric project, thereby allowing Quebecers to be
more confident regarding our economic future. He was instrumental in
securing our own energy sources for the future, which today allows
Hydro-Qubec to show substantial profits.

Robert Bourassa experienced some very difficult moments during those first
years. The October Crisis and the years of labour relation crises both
come to mind. And then there was the imprisonment of the union leaders, as
well as the problems revolving around the Montreal Olympics, among others.
Yes, these were troubled years, but Robert Bourassa carried on. He was
phlegmatic, calm, and he kept things simple. He was a man who left a deep
mark on Quebec society. His was a vision of economic development leading
to both improved social policy instruments and what he referred to as
cultural sovereignty. Robert Bourassa was an enigma for several members of
the Anglophone community. Many did not appreciate his efforts to make
French the province's official language but he was right. Today we know
that the linguistic security of Quebec francophones helped avoid hasty
political actions, which is most clearly shown in the results of the 1980
and 1995 referendums.

Several of my constituents have often thought that Robert Bourassa was a
sovereignist, but he was a committed federalist. He was well aware of the
developments within the European Community and had a remarkable knowledge
of international politics. His mentor was Jean Monet, the father of modern
Europe, who saw the role of Quebec a little like a confederated European
state among the then nine-member European Community which today is the
European Union comprised of 25 member states. Robert Bourassa believed
that Quebec should hold a more important place within Canada. And he was

 Jacques Chagnon is the Liberal MNA for WestmountSt. Louis.

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