René Lévesque, journalist, premier of Québec 1976-85 (b at Campbellton, N.B. 24 Aug 1922; d at Montréal 1 Nov 1987).
René Lévesque, journalist, premier of Québec 1976-85 (b at Campbellton, N.B. 24 Aug 1922; d at Montréal 1 Nov 1987). A minister on Jean Lesage's Liberal team, he resigned in 1968 and founded the parti québecois, whose main objective became Québec sovereignty and the creation of a new form of association with Canada.
A liaison officer and European war correspondent for the American armed forces in WWII, Lévesque joined Radio-Canada International in 1946 and became head of the radio-television news service in 1952. From 1956 he hosted the TV series "Point de Mire" and became one of Québec's most influential TV commentators. After taking part in the 1959 CBC producers' strike, he joined the Québec Liberal Party and was elected MNA for Montréal-Laurier in 1960. He was minister of water resources and of public works 1960-61, minister of natural resources 1961-66 and then minister of family and social welfare. One of the most popular and energetic members of the Lesage government, he was responsible for that government's decision to nationalize private electric utilities and for its efforts at cleaning up political mores.
Increasingly critical of his party's stand on constitutional issues and of its relations with the federal government, Lévesque sat as an independent MNA in 1967 and quit the party for good in November 1967 to found the Mouvement souveraineté-association, which in October 1968 became the Parti Québécois. Having managed to unite the various groups promoting independence and a new political status for Québec, Lévesque's party won 23.2% of the vote in the 1970 elections. In 1973 the PQ became the official Opposition. Lévesque was twice defeated (1970 and 1973) in Laurier and Dorion, but on 15 November 1976 he won in Taillon. Campaigning successfully in this election against the unpopular Liberal government of Robert Bourassa, the PQ promised a referendum on Sovereignty-Association. The PQ won a majority of 71 seats, a result that dismayed the rest of Canada.
During its first term the new government passed several progressive measures concerning automobile insurance, rezoning of agricultural lands and the abolition of secret electoral funding. One of the most important pieces of legislation was Bill 101, which formalized the status of French as the official language of Québec. On 20 May 1980 the long-awaited referendum took place after an emotional campaign led on the Non side by Liberal Opposition leader Claude Ryan and federal Cabinet minister Jean Chrétien (with key support from PM Pierre Trudeau) and on the Oui, by Lévesque and his ministers. Lévesque suffered a major personal defeat when the sovereignty-association proposal won only 40 percent of the vote. Against all expectations the PQ was re-elected in 1981 but it suffered another defeat during the 1981-82 constitutional negotiations (seePatriation of the Constitution), when the other 9 provinces accepted terms rejected by all parties in the Québec National Assembly. In 1982 and 1983 Lévesque's government met with considerable opposition and public disapproval when it attempted to reduce public spending to solve its grave financial problems.
In November 1984 a serious crisis affected the PQ government when Lévesque announced his intention of not fighting the next election on the issue of independence while maintaining sovereignty-association as the party's official raison d'être. Several ministers resigned in protest but the party reaffirmed Lévesque's leadership at a special convention in Jan 1985. In June 1985 he resigned and resumed a broadcasting and journalism career. His Memoirs have sold more than 250 000 copies.
P. Desbarats, René: A Canadian in Search of a Country (1976); G. Fraser, P.Q.: René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois in Power (1984); R. Lévesque, Memoirs (1986).