Despite his youth, Bourassa was chosen to succeed Jean LESAGE as leader of the Québec Liberal Party in January 1970 and became premier after the Liberal victory in April 1970. In 1968 he had been a prime instigator of the party's decision to reject the constitutional proposals of René LÉVESQUE. Immediately after becoming premier he was faced with the OCTOBER CRISIS and the FRONT DE LIBERATION DU QUÉBEC agitations. Although he was re-elected in 1973 with a majority of 102 of 110 seats, his second term saw a weakening of Québec's position within Confederation, caused in part by his refusal to sign the constitutional agreement reached in Victoria in 1971. By 1976 his government was in ruins, amid accusations of scandal and corruption. The party lost the 1976 election to the Parti Québécois; Bourassa himself was defeated.
After a long stay abroad, he returned to support the Non side during the 1980 QUEBEC REFERENDUM campaign. He was re-elected leader of the Liberals in the fall of 1983, replacing Claude RYAN. Although he personally failed to gain a seat in the riding of Bertrand in the provincial election of 2 December 1985, he led his party to a sweeping victory over the Parti Québécois. He was subsequently elected (Jan 20) in the riding of St Laurent. As premier, he was instrumental in negotiating the terms of the MEECH LAKE ACCORD (see MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT) and strongly supported Brian Mulroney's FREE TRADE deal with the US. The consensus on the Meech Lake Accord began to disintegrate in 1988, and with its failure, Separatist sentiments revived.
In the 1989 provincial election, the PQ made significant gains in public support, though only slight gains in seats. The emergence of the BLOC QUÉBÉCOIS at the federal level gave the independantists a new focus. In reponse, Bourassa refused to attend first ministers' conferences on constitutional issues. He promised to hold a referendum in Québec on sovereignty if acceptable constitutional proposals were not offered by the rest of Canada before the summer of 1992. He finally returned to a first ministers' meeting in early August 1992, and his decision to relent on the demands of some premiers for a reformed Senate, in return for a guarantee for Québec of 25% representation in the House of Commons, made the first ministers' agreement on the CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD possible (see CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT).
Nevertheless, the Accord failed to gain support in Québec during the 1992 National Referendum, but in this case Québec was not alone in its rejection. In early 1993 Bourassa underwent radical treatment for skin cancer and on September 14, 1993 he announced that he would resign after a leadership convention to be held in mid-January 1994.
Author DANIEL LATOUCHE
Links to Other Sites
Last Lunch with Trudeau
Pierre Elliott Trudeau reflects on the October Crisis and related issues in this article by William Tetley, McGill law professor. Click on links on the left side of the page for additional articles about the October Crisis.
The October Crisis: Civil Liberties Suspended
CBC radio and television news stories chronicle the major events of the 1970 October Crisis.