Robert Bourassa

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Robert Bourassa

Robert Bourassa01.jpg
22nd Premier of Quebec
In office
May 12, 1970 November 25, 1976
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Hugues Lapointe
Deputy Pierre Laporte (1970)
Preceded by Jean-Jacques Bertrand
Succeeded by René Lévesque
In office
December 12, 1985 January 11, 1994
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Gilles Lamontagne
Martial Asselin
Deputy Lise Bacon
Preceded by Pierre-Marc Johnson
Succeeded by Daniel Johnson Jr.
MNA for Saint-Laurent
In office
January 20, 1986 January 11, 1994
Preceded byGermain Leduc
Succeeded by Normand Cherry
MNA for Mercier
In office
June 5, 1966 November 25, 1976
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded by Gérald Godin
MNA for Bertrand
In office
June 3, 1985 December 2, 1985
Preceded by Denis Lazure
Succeeded by Jean-Guy Parent
Personal details
Jean-Robert Bourassa

(1933-07-14)July 14, 1933
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedOctober 2, 1996(1996-10-02) (aged 63)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Resting place Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery
Political party Quebec Liberal Party
Andrée Simard
(m. 1958)
Alma mater Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf
Université de Montréal
University of Oxford
Harvard University
Professionfinancial advisor, teacher, lawyer

Robert Bourassa, [1] [2] GOQ (French pronunciation:  [ʁɔbɛʁ buʁasa] ; July 14, 1933 October 2, 1996) was a Canadian politician from Quebec. He served as the 22nd premier of Quebec in two different mandates, first from May 12, 1970, to November 25, 1976, and then from December 12, 1985, to January 11, 1994, serving a total of just under 15 years as Provincial Premier.


Early years and education

Bourassa was born to a working class family in Montreal, the son of Adrienne (née Courville) (1897–1982) and Aubert Bourassa, a port authority worker. [3] Robert Bourassa graduated from the Université de Montréal law school in 1956 and was admitted to the Barreau du Québec the following year. On August 23, 1958, he married Andrée Simard, an heiress of the powerful shipbuilding Simard family of Sorel, Quebec. Later, he studied at Keble College, University of Oxford and also obtained a degree in political economy at Harvard University in 1960. On his return to Quebec, he was employed at the federal Department of National Revenue as a fiscal adviser. He also worked as a professor of public finance at Université de Montréal and Université Laval.

Political life

First term (1970-1973) and Second term (1973-1976) as Premier

Bourassa was first elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec (MLA) for the riding of Mercier in 1966, then won the Quebec Liberal Party leadership election on January 17, 1970. He positioned himself as a young, competent administrator. He chose "100 000 jobs" as his slogan, which emphasized that jobs creation would be his priority. Bourassa felt the extensive hydro-electric resources of Quebec were the most effective means of completing the modernization of Quebec and sustaining job creation. He successfully led his party into government in the 1970 election, defeating the conservative Union Nationale government [4] and becoming the youngest premier in Quebec history.

One of Bourassa's first crises as premier was the October Crisis of 1970, in which his deputy, Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and later murdered by members of the Front de libération du Quebec. Bourassa requested that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoke the War Measures Act , which allowed for search and arrest of anyone associated with, or thought to be associated with the FLQ. He further requested military assistance from the federal government, which resulted in the deployment of troops to guard vital points in Montreal and assist police. The army was withdrawn on 4 January 1971, and Paul Rose and some of his accomplices were found guilty of murder later that year.

Bourassa and Trudeau often clashed over issues of federal-provincial relations and Quebec nationalism, with Trudeau opposing what he saw as concessions to sovereignism. In June 1971 he participated in an attempt at constitutional reform, the Victoria Charter, [5] which quickly unravelled when Bourassa backed away from the proposed deal after it was strongly criticised by Quebec opinion leaders for not giving Quebec more powers. [6] [7] [8]

On 8 October 1971, Trudeau announced in the House of Commons that, after much deliberation, the policy of multiculturalism would be implemented in Canada. [9] Bourassa documented his strong opposition to Trudeau's policy in a letter which he released to the press on 17 November 1971, and stated he had "serious misgivings about the principle of the multicultural policy". The policy document tabled in the House "dissociates culture from language", which seemed to Bourassa "a questionable basis on which to found a policy". Bourassa declared that Quebec did not accept the federal government's approach to the principle of multiculturalism. [10]

During his time in power, Bourassa implemented policies aimed at protecting the status of the French language in Quebec. In 1974, he introduced Bill 22, which declared French to be the sole official language of the province. As a result, Quebec was no longer institutionally bilingual (French and English), though the rights of anglophones were still protected under the British North America Acts. Many businesses and professionals were unable to operate under such requirements. Bill 22 angered Anglophones while not going far enough for many Francophones; Bourassa was vilified by both groups.

Bourassa initiated the James Bay hydroelectric project in 1971 that led to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 with the Cree and Inuit inhabitants of the region. The Bourassa government also played a major role in rescuing the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal from huge cost overruns and construction delays. Bourassa's government became embroiled in corruption scandals.

On 21 March 1974, workers belonging to the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec union working on the LG-2 construction site of the James Bay project rioted using their bulldozers to destroy the site they were working on while other workers set buildings afire. [11] The riot caused $35 million in damage, and was part of an extortion attempt on the part of the union boss André "Dédé" Desjardins, who was known in Quebec as the "King of Construction". In response to the violence at the LG-2 site, which confirmed long-standing rumors about thuggish practices on the part of construction unions, Bourassa appointed a commission consisting of a well respected judge Robert Cliche, a prominent Montreal labour lawyer Brian Mulroney and Guy Chevrette, the vice-president of the Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec, whose legal counsel was another prominent lawyer Lucien Bouchard to investigate corruption in the construction industry in Quebec. [11] The Cliche commission as it became known held 68 days of hearings on live TV, interviewing 279 people from the construction industry, who testified to widespread corruption and violence in the construction industry, and to the close ties between the Bourassa cabinet, the Mafia and corrupt construction union bosses. [11] Bouchard had wanted to have Bourassa testify before the commission, but Mulroney prevented this, saying that having the Premier of Quebec testify before the commission would be a violation of "executive privilege". Nonetheless, the Cliche commission established the Quebec construction industry was dominated by a casual brutality with thuggish union bosses teaching union organizers how best to break legs. [11] Workers who complained about corruption on the part of their bosses had their dogs murdered and their teenage children beaten up. [11]

When the Cliche commission presented its report in May 1975, the document was described as an exposé of "an organized system of corruption without parallel in North America" as the commission noted that it was political corruption that had enabled the corruption in the construction industry. [11] In an editorial, the Montreal Gazette wrote about the Cliche commission report: "A devastating document. For some four years, the Bourassa government worked hand in glove with gangster union leadership in the province's construction industry." [11] The Cliche commission had little impact on the problem of corruption in the Quebec construction industry, but turned public opinion against Bourassa, whose special adviser had asked the corrupt construction unions to help the Liberals win a by-election in exchange for giving firms that employed workers in the corrupt unions exclusive contracts to work on the James Bay project. [11]

Bourassa lost the 1976 provincial election to René Lévesque, leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, in a massive landslide brought on by the language controversy and the corruption scandals, among other things. Bourassa himself was heavily defeated in his own riding by PQ challenger Gérald Godin. He resigned as Liberal Party leader and accepted teaching positions in Europe and the United States. [12] He remained in political exile until he returned to politics by winning the Quebec Liberal Party leadership election on October 15, 1983. On June 3, 1985, he won a by-election in Bertrand.

Third (1985–1989) and fourth terms (1989–1994) as Premier

Bourassa led the PLQ to victory in the 1985 election. However, he lost his own seat to Parti Québécois candidate Jean-Guy Parent. On January 20, 1986, he was elected in a by-election in the Liberal stronghold of Saint-Laurent after the sitting Liberal MNA Germain Leduc resigned in his favour.

During his second term as premier, Bourassa invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that declared parts of the Charter of the French Language unconstitutional, causing some of his anglophone ministers to resign. A few years later, however, he introduced modifications to the language charter. These compromises reduced the controversy over language that had been a dominant feature of Quebec politics over the previous decades.

Bourassa also pushed for Quebec to be acknowledged in the Canadian constitution as a "distinct society", promising Quebec residents that their grievances could be resolved within Canada with a new constitutional deal. He worked closely with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and received many concessions from the federal government, culminating in the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. The Meech Lake Accord failed in June 1990 when two provinces, Manitoba and Newfoundland, refused to ratify the agreement their premiers had signed. That failure revived the Quebec separatist movement. The Charlottetown Accord was defeated in a nationwide plebiscite in 1992; it was heavily defeated even in Quebec, partly due to the perception that Bourassa had given away too much at the negotiations.

Final years

Bourassa's funeral monument in Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery. Robert Bourassa tombe.jpg
Bourassa's funeral monument in Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery.

Bourassa retired from politics in 1994. He was replaced as Liberal leader and premier by Daniel Johnson Jr., who lost an election to the sovereigntist Parti Québécois after only nine months.

In 1996, Bourassa, who had spent much of his vacation time in hot climates, died in Montreal of malignant melanoma [13] at the age of 63, and was interred at the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal. [14]



Statue of Bourassa on the grounds of the Quebec legislature Bourassa National Assembly.jpg
Statue of Bourassa on the grounds of the Quebec legislature

Park Avenue controversy

On October 18, 2006, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced that Montreal's Park Avenue would be named after Bourassa. [15] On November 28 the Montreal city council voted in favour (40–22) of renaming Park Avenue after Bourassa. [17] If, as had been expected, Quebec's Toponymy Commission had approved the name change, all of Park Avenue and its continuation, Bleury, would have been renamed Robert Bourassa Avenue. This would have caused the newly named street to intersect René Lévesque Boulevard, named after a long time political rival to Bourassa. That boulevard, in turn, had been renamed from Dorchester Boulevard in 1987, in a decision that was also not without controversy. [18] This decision by the City of Montreal without any consultation with the people of the city caused an immediate controversy, [19] though many of those opposed to the change considered it a fait accompli . [20] The proposal spawned substantial grass-roots opposition, both because of the lack of prior citizen input and because Park is itself a meaningful street name, associated with the city's Mount Royal park. [21] In addition to protests and active opposition by a committee of Montreal residents and businesses opposed to the name change, an online petition garnered more than 18,000 virtual signatures against this renaming. [22] On February 5, 2007, Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay withdrew his proposal to rename Park Avenue. [23] However, there is a Robert Bourassa Blvd., located in the Duvernay district of Laval, Quebec.

In March 2015, a section of University Street (from Notre-Dame Street to Sherbrooke Street) in the downtown core of Montreal was renamed Robert-Bourassa Boulevard.

Election results (partial)

1989 Quebec general election
Liberal Robert Bourassa15,49352.1330.57
Equality Ciro Paul Scotti7,10123.89
Parti Québécois Marie-France Charbonneau5,55918.70
Green François Leduc8642.91+1.47
New Democratic Daniel Sabbah2480.837.95
Communist Thomas Hudson1580.53
Lemon Marcel Provost1500.50
Workers Jean Bilodeau1470.49
Total valid votes29,720 98.41
Total rejected ballots479 1.59
Turnout30,199 74.12 +27.93
Electors on the lists40,745
Quebec provincial by-election, January 20, 1986: Saint-Laurent
Liberal Robert Bourassa 16,02082.70+8.48
New Democratic Sid Ingerman1,7018.78+5.36
Parti indépendantiste Gilles Rhéaume 7784.02
Green Jacques Plante2781.44
Humanist Anne Farrell 2021.04
Independent Vincent Trudel1770.91
Independent Martin Lavoie700.36
United Social Credit Léopold Milton660.34
Non-affiliatedPatricia Métivier490.25
Independent Jay Lawrence Taylor310.16
Total valid votes19,372 98.65
Total rejected ballots266 1.35
Turnout19,638 46.19 −26.22
Electors on the lists42,514
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
1976 Quebec general election : Mercier
Parti Québécois Gérald Godin 13,45051.38+9.57
Liberal Robert Bourassa (incumbent)9,71437.11−15.76
Union Nationale Giuseppe Anzini1,9757.55+5.97
Ralliement créditiste Robert Roy6472.47−0.64
  NDP - RMS coalitionHenri-François Gautrin1390.53-
Communist Guy Desautels1160.44-
  Workers Gaston Morin770.30-
 No designationLouise Ouimet580.22-
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
Parti Québécois gain from Liberal Swing +12.67
1973 Quebec general election : Mercier
Liberal Robert Bourassa 13,75752.87+6.22
Parti Québécois Louis O'Neill10,87741.81+4.47
Ralliement créditiste Georges Brault8093.11+0.03
Union Nationale Jean-Louis Décarie4111.58−11.03
Marxist–Leninist Robert-A. Cruise700.27-
  Independent Guy Robillard530.20-
 No designationJeannette Pratte Walsh230.09-
 No designationGuy Robitaille180.07-
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
1970 Quebec general election : Mercier
Liberal Robert Bourassa 15,33746.65+2.38
Parti Québécois Pierre Bourgault 12,27637.34-
Union Nationale Conrad Touchette4,14512.61-29.71
Ralliement créditiste Clément Patry1,0113.08-
Independent Paul Ouellet1060.32-
Total valid votes32,875100.0
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
1966 Quebec general election : Mercier
Liberal Robert Bourassa 11,75944.279.80
Union Nationale Conrad Touchette11,24142.321.18
  RIN André Dagenais3,11511.73-
  Ralliement national Roger Smith3351.26-
  Independent Lucien-Jacques Cossette1120.42-
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.

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