He joined the PARTI QUÉBÉCOIS in 1968 and was finance minister from 1976 until his resignation in 1984, when he repudiated René LÉVESQUE's decision to shelve the PQ's commitment to separatism. Despite his break with Lévesque, Parizeau remained personally popular in the ranks of the PQ; and when Pierre-Marc JOHNSON unexpectedly resigned the party leadership in November 1987, Parizeau seemed the obvious choice to succeed him. His return to politics coincided with a rise in separatist sentiment in Québec.
In the 1989 provincial election, the Parizeau-led PQ won only 29 seats but garnered 40% of the popular vote. Although he worked hard to advance his party during the constitutional confusion, the formation of the federal Bloc Québécois under the leadership of the immensely popular Lucien BOUCHARD created competition for nationalist support in the province. Parizeau moved the PQ away from Lévesque's policy of sovereignty-association toward full independence for Québec and publicly promised another separation referendum within one year of his taking office.
Liberal premier Bourassa's failure to achieve a constitutional agreement with Ottawa and the other provinces through 2 rounds of negotiations and a national referendum galvanized separatist support within the province. Bourassa's departure from politics left the Liberals with little credibility, and his successor, Daniel JOHNSON, could not regain lost support. Parizeau and the PQ took 77 of the 125 seats in the 1994 election with only a 5% increase in popular support. Parizeau made good on his promise of a referendum, setting a date of 30 October 1995. The federalist forces under Johnson gradually began to gain strength, largely due to the failure of Parizeau to define what independence would mean for Québec.
Parizeau's campaign began to falter badly and he eventually allowed Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard to take the reins of the campaign for independence. Bouchard's popularity was not enough to regain the support lost by Parizeau's often controversial remarks and lack of vision. Parizeau took responsibility for the defeat of the independence forces, but not before blaming the defeat on money and the "ethnic vote." He resigned as leader of the PQ and premier the day after the referendum, less than one year after assuming office.
Author STANLEY GORDON