Jean C. Lapierre, lawyer, politician, co-founder of the Bloc Québécois, and media commentator (born 7 May 1956 in the Magdalen Islands, QC; died there 29 March 2016).
Jean C. Lapierre, lawyer, politician, co-founder of the Bloc Québécois, and media commentator (born 7 May 1956 in the Magdalen Islands, QC; died there 29 March 2016). A consummate insider whose career spanned both the upper echelon of Canadian politics and the media world that covered it, Lapierre was Québec's most prominent political commentator of his time. His daily doses on TV and radio were musts for anyone wishing to understand what motivated, frustrated and enthralled his native province.
Education and Early Career
The eldest of five children born to Raymond Lapierre and Lucie Cormier, Lapierre left the far flung Magdalen Islands for Québec's mainland after high school. He went to CEGEP, Québec’s system of finishing schools, about 90 km east of Montréal in the town of Granby. He was elected president of the local Liberal Youth wing, and organized a political rally for the party that caught the eye of federal Liberal cabinet minister André Ouellet. “There were supposed to be 50 people, and there were 500,” Ouellet told the TVA news outlet in 2016. “I asked who put it together, and it was young Lapierre.”
Lapierre worked in Ouellet’s office while pursuing a law degree at the University of Ottawa. He was called to the Bar in 1979, but pursued federal politics instead, getting elected in the Québec riding of Shefford that same year. In 1984, Prime Minister John Turner named him minister of state for Youth and for Fitness and Amateur Sport. At 28, Lapierre became the then-youngest cabinet minister in the country’s history.
His loyalty to the party (and some would say the country) had its limits. After less than three months in office, Turner lost the 1984 election to Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives. Marooned in opposition, an internecine war engulfed the Liberals, pitting Turner and then Paul Martin against longtime foil Jean Chrétien. In 1990, Chrétien became leader. Lapierre bolted the Liberal caucus, angered at Chrétien’s opposition to the Meech Lake Accord, which would have granted Québec special constitutional powers.
Lapierre left Ottawa for Montréal in 1992, becoming a political commentator on Montréal’s CKAC radio station and, eventually, on the TQS television station. Lapierre’s substance — a dishy mix of political gossip and unfettered opinion — was matched only by his delivery, which tended to swing from bonhomie to indignation. And he did it in French and English, over the air and in print. In between media hits, he would chat with members of Québec’s political and business classes, a swath of people that included sovereignists, federalists, opinion makers and captains of industry. He was a populist, his accent too rough and his language too salty for the rarefied airwaves of Radio-Canada.
He further spun his political knowledge and media experience into a lucrative consulting career for companies looking to make inroads into Québec’s francophone economy and society. He was unapologetic about crossing the line from journalism into business advocacy. “I’m not a journalist and I never will be,” he told L’actualité magazine in 2002.
Return to Liberals
In 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin compelled his old friend Lapierre back into politics. Martin had taken over leadership of the Liberal Party following the departure of Chrétien. He gave Lapierre a safe Liberal seat in the Montréal riding of Outremont, a job as minister of Transport, and the task of protecting the Liberal brand in Québec. It had suffered the fallout from the Sponsorship Scandal, in which often grossly inflated government contracts for programs promoting federalism in Québec were given to Liberal-friendly companies.
The Liberals lost the 2006 election, thanks in part to a poor showing in Québec. Lapierre resigned after less than a year in opposition, returning to Québec and new-found media glory in 2007.
Radio and Television
Lapierre’s commentary hits on 98.5 FM, with morning man Paul Arcand, were required listening for politicos and media types alike, and his chosen subjects often set the day’s agenda in Québec City. He also co-hosted, with Paul Larocque, a political talk show on TVA, the province’s most popular television station. Thanks to his frequent ‘Lapierreismes’ — “Integrity is like virginity, it’s really hard to get it back!” — he managed to get onto Radio-Canada, in satirical form, on the network’s animated show Et Dieu créa… Laflaque.
In 2014, he helped write The Morning After: The Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was with political analyst Chantal Hébert. The pair started with a simple premise: what would have happened had Quebecers voted to leave the country in the 1995 referendum? Through interviews with nearly two dozen key political figures of the time, Hébert and Lapierre showed a near-total lack of preparation for such an outcome among both Québec sovereignists and Canadian federalists alike — as though neither side really believed it would actually happen. The book won numerous awards and was a finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
On 28 March 2016, Lapierre took to Twitter to announce the death of his father, felled by Parkinson’s Disease at 83. The following day he and several members of his family departed St. Hubert Airport near Montréal for his father’s funeral in the Magdalen Islands. The small plane crashed while approaching the Magdalen runway, killing everyone on board including Lapierre, his wife Nicole Beaulieu, his sister Martine and two brothers, Marc and Louis. Pilots Pascal Gosselin and Fabrice Labourel were also killed.
Lapierre's own funeral resembled his rolodex — attended by media personalities, cabinet ministers, former and current heads of state, businessmen and politicians of every stripe.
Chantal Hebert with Jean Lapierre, The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day That Almost Was (2014).