Parizeau's determination set him apart


Friday, September 12, 2003
The opening shot of journalist Francine Pelletier's documentary Monsieur encapsulates the perception many have of Jacques Parizeau. As he stands at the foot of a huge windmill, you can't help but feel the ghost of Don Quixote hovering about.
But what follows is a portrait that is a lot closer to reality than the mythical man of La Mancha. Through a series of interviews, Pelletier shows us a lucid man who always knows what he's doing and why he does it. Be it his decision to earn his PhD in England, his conclusion in 1967 Quebec must become a country or the gargantuan work of preparation for the 1995 referendum, the film shows his determination is not to be mistaken for careless day dreaming.
His daughter Isabelle reveals the foundation of it all: "For me, above all else, he is a man of duty. He can always look himself in the mirror and say I did what I had to do." In fact, modern Quebec produced only two leaders with such unshakable determination and convictions: Parizeau and Pierre Trudeau. But it was another, more ambiguous leader, René Lévesque, whom Trudeau faced in the 1980 referendum. Had it been Parizeau, Trudeau wouldn't have had it so easy.
Those who think Parizeau is racist will also learn it was his wife of 35 years, Alice, a Polish Jew, who taught him the real meaning of "belonging" to one's nation through her pride of her identity and country. Hence, the choice to take on the quest for independence.
It's because of this quest Parizeau spent most of his political life very much alone. Here, Pelletier's film shows his determination and clarity of thought were so strong he was alone even within the elites of his political family, who were mostly soft sovereignists.
Still, the man he is today is neither sad nor bitter. But he does appear conscious of the consequences the referendum loss and his ensuing resignation have had for sovereignists: The faltering of the movement or, more precisely, that of the leadership which followed Parizeau.
Which brings us to a subject the film doesn't explore but is central to understanding the Parizeau enigma: The profound mistrust his two successors feel toward him. At the root of what is aversion at times is a simple fact: Parizeau is what Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry are not.
First, they don't share his clear, independentist ideology. Second, they lack at least two of Parizeau's character traits that allowed him to keep up the fight all his life: Unyielding willpower and a disarming fearlessness in front of the powerful, especially influential businessmen who battled sovereignty from Day 1.
Because Parizeau is a "grand bourgeois" and comes from money, he is neither impressed nor envious of that world. He doesn't have to try to be one of the boys. He was born one. That made him much more resistant to the kind of pressure the business milieu always puts on PQ leaders. His successors, on the other hand, have kept much closer ties to the business world that fascinates them.
This mistrust also comes through in Jean-Claude Labrecque's film À hauteur d'homme. Although Landry puts up a front for the camera, calling Parizeau a great intellectual and all, the truth is spoken by his companion Chantal Renaud. After the Parizeau incident the night of the leaders' debate, she says to Landry: "We knew he was dangerous. We didn't stop saying it to each other." Oops.
Another fascinating part of Pelletier's film is an interview with former adviser Jean-François Lisée that is as revealing of him as Parizeau. As he recalls the result on referendum, night, Lisée tells about how he was trying to calm his boss, telling him with 49 per cent of the vote, at least "it's not the status quo."
"But he wasn't into that at all," he adds. That's probably because Parizeau, as opposed to Lisée, who later penned a book on renewed federalism as the "emergency exit" for sovereignists, was in it for independence, not for some "not-status-quo" solution.
Lisée's spontaneous reaction is a reflection of what many soft sovereignists were willing to settle for, using the referendum as a tool to strengthen what they call Quebec's "rapport de forces" with Ottawa. To them, it's independence if necessary but not necessarily independence.
As Parizeau so directly puts it in Pelletier's film: "All my life, I had against me both federalists and soft sovereignists. That's a lot of people!" Some were in his immediate entourage, and a much more famous one, Bouchard, would succeed him.
Monsieur battled his adversaries all his life. But it was probably some of his so-called allies who cost him and his option the most.
Monsieur will be shown Sept. 12-18 at the Ex-Centris Cinema, 3536 St. Laurent Blvd., phone (514) 847-2206.
It will also be shown on Télé-Québec, and the English version, Public Enemy Number One, will be shown on the CBC, both on dates yet to be scheduled.

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