- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Viking (Sept. 22 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670069191
- ISBN-13: 978-0670069194
- Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 2.2 x 20.7 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #215,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Extraordinary Canadians Rene Levesque Hardcover – Sep 22 2009
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About the Author
DANIEL POLIQUIN is an award-winning author whose books include The Secret Between Us , nominated for the Giller Prize, and In the Name of the Father: An Essay on Quebec Nationalism . He worked as a simultaneous translator in the House of Commons and is a noted literary translator. A member of the Order of Canada, he lives in Ottawa.
Top customer reviews
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One of the books in the Extraordinary Canadian Series. His start from a war correspondent to Premier of Quebec. A life lived that only can be told with the intimacy of a book containing insights that seldom were reported by the media, it being a different time. I met him once the cigarette smoking, physically jockey sized person with a gigantic ego all adding to our Canadian history. The series is a detailed read through our history.
It certainly piqued my interest
Overall it did what it was supposed to do, provide a quick entry into the life of an extraordinary Canadian.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
René Lévesque, who with a small group of followers founded the Parti Québecois (PQ) in the late 1960s and led it to great heights, was born in Campbellton, New Brunswick. This is interesting since New Brunswick has a high Francophone population and is to this day the only province in Canada that has two official languages, English and French. René grew up in the province of Québec, in a town settled by United Empire Loyalists called New Carlisle in the Gaspe Peninsula. As fate would have it, during much of his childhood he had to attend school in English, and this meant that the leader of a separatist party actually spoke much better English than many mainstream Québec politicians such as the Liberals. After the death in September, 1959 of longtime premier and strong man, Maurice Duplessis, who had wielded patriarchal power under the Union Nationale banner (a right-wing party established in 1935), the provincial Liberals, to which Lévesque had first belonged, became the party to beat. Lévesque's new party, which rather than advocating outright secession espoused a sovereignty association, did not become a force overnight, but they made steady inroads and were finally elected in 1976.
This was quite a feat after the revolutionary Québec Liberation Front (FLQ) had inflicted violence and tragedy on prominent people as well as innocent bystanders. In the name of separatism, the FLQ kidnapped James Cross, British trade commissioner in Montreal, who was eventually released, and then the FLQ kidnapped Quebec Liberal Cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, who was not so lucky and died while in their hands. The year before,in 1969, the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange, killing a couple of people, and inflicted other apparently random deeds in the name of their somewhat unfocused goals. The FLQ had seen the success (after a long hard struggle) of the Algerians in achieving independence from France, and they chose to go down a similar road.
The leader of the PQ, himself a former Liberal Cabinet minister under Jean Lesage, who always felt he was a democrat first and foremost was bent on reform and not revolution. When his party was elected, Lévesque would provide a check on the more extreme elements of his party. And, in the beginning, the party was squeaky clean and became the model for fiscal accountability (especially in regard to electoral donations) as well as the public acquisition of Hydro Québec, the electric company, which turned out to be a great investment for the Québec taxpayer. In their enthusiasm to take over all the resources, the PQ were less fortunate with their stubborn acquisition of the asbestos industry. They had failed to see the writing on the wall about this soon-to-be banned product. But they paved the way for free public education up to and including high school (previously mainly only the English, who had their own school boards, had sent their children to the higher levels). Duplessis's regime had left education of the Catholic children (read French) up to the church, and the church was not swift to reform some of the feudal aspects of Québec society.
So when the PQ said they stood for good government, it was easy to believe, since most of their reforms, although costly, were welcome and overdue. But they had run on a mandate to hold a referendum on independence. They wrestled long and hard with the phrasing of the loaded question: did Quebecers want to separate from Canada (in a sovereignty association) or did they want to keep the status quo? The PQ were victims of their own success. The nervous electorate voted no. Things were better. They were definitely well on the way to becoming what they called maîtres chez nous (masters of our own house). Many Québecers, although horrified with the FLQ's excesses, sympathized with their goal of independence.
It had been a terrifying time for all Canadians, but especially Québec, and at the behest of the then-Liberal provincial government for federal help, Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, a severe action that is still controversial.
The rest of the book follows the gradual decline of Lévesque and his particular PQ government. Under Lévesque, the government had listened to immigrants, such as the Italians, who wanted their children educated in English. Now a new law, Bill 101, would impose what many English felt were draconian measures: new immigrants whose first language was not English would be educated in French. Signs in public places must be in French. There had been a huge exodus of English-speaking people and their money, starting a decade before. Stunned Anglophones would say, "We defeated them, after all." They referred to a closely contested battle 200 years before in Québec in which both the French and English leaders were mortally wounded. This battlefield victory was not going to erase what became known as "the French fact." The French had been in North America since the 1600s. But now the English-speaking Quebecers were getting a taste of their own medicine, whether deserved or not, and many were leaving. To maintain their gains, to keep Québec French, the government felt it had to make French education mandatory for foreign newcomers.
Contextually, Québec was doing what many parts of the world were doing. Call it self actualization. In the United States, an unpopular war led to the rise of the hippie movement, and young men were urging one another to burn their draft cards and to live for the cause of peace. In France there was a violent student riot. People everywhere were questioning the old ways.
Lévesque had resigned his party leadership in a huff, after a dispute with Pierre Trudeau about repatriating the constitution from Britain (purists said it is "patriating," since there was neither a constitution here nor in Britain in the first place). The departing head of the PQ began acting very childishly. He reverted to very public skirt-chasing, and sulking--not a happy denouement for his career, nor for his second marriage to a beautiful woman 20 years his junior. But he wrote his memoirs and achieved a degree of peace himself. He had never liked the provincial capital, Québec City, and he and his wife settled in Montreal, more or less contentedly. He bought a condo. Home ownership for the average Québecer had been another goal of the PQ, and Lévesque had heretofore been a renter.
Author Daniel Poliquin, himself a journalist of note, has written a gripping summary, all too brief, of this magnificent politician, but as Poliquin states, there are many other sources from which to read and learn about Lévesque. While brief, the text is not dry. Lévesque possessed tons of that overworked word, charisma. He was a bit of a slob--well, let us say, not a good dresser. He was a chain smoker, and Poliquin says a statue of him in his home town depicts him with his ubiquitous cigarette. (He had shocked onlookers by smoking during a private audience with the Pope.) Of course he liked adulation, but he was unimpressed by many if not most of the usual trappings of office.
When Lévesque died of a heart attack in the late 1980s, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney decreed flags would fly across the nation at half mast. Whatever else the PQ leader had been, he had achieved, and earned, respect.