244 pages,
ISBN: 0771591489

Post Your Opinion
More Quebecois than Thou
by Sheldon Gordon

MICHEL VASTEL has dedicated his portrait of Quebec's premier to "Robert Bourassa, a Quebecois'' no mere statement of fact but rather an accolade. Because even though Rene Levesque once said that everyone who lives in Quebec and pays his taxes is a Quebecois, Vastel seems rather more selective. Un vrai quebecois is not, in his view, a Montreal anglophone who can barely babble in the province's official language. Why, it's not even that descendant of a FrenchScottish marriage, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Vastel, after all, wrote a previous bio - The Outsider - purporting to show Trudeau's confusion over his own identity. On one occasion he even shouted to Trudeau to "Parlez francais!" when the latter appeared before a parliamentary committee.

Clearly, it's important to Vastel to identify who is, and who is not, a true Quebecois. An amateur psychologist might wonder if this has to do with Vastel's background: he was born, raised, and educated in France, not emigrating to Quebec until he was 30 years old. Having absorbed the spirit of Quebecois nationalism, Vastel now aspires to be more Catholic than the pope or at least not less. And it is his constant recitation of the Quebecois catechism, so acceptable to mainstream francophone opinion, that ultimately makes this translated version of his text so irritating to an anglophone reader.

Vastel worships Bourassa as the prototypical Quebecois, a leader who tries valiantly to reconcile his people's yearning for the material bounty of Confederation with their resentment of English Canada's affronts to Quebec's pride and dignity. Of course, if you don't happen to believe that Canada is inimical to Quebecois fulfilment and self-determination, you just might reproach Bourassa as a federalist of convenience whose opportunism has done much to rend the fabric of the Canadian state.

Vastel does admit - it would be hard to deny - that Bourassa showed more vacillation than leadership in the way he handled the language-of-signs issue in Quebec. But he is loath to link Bourassa's retreat from his campaign promise to Quebec anglophones (to permit bilingual signs) with the subsequent loss of support for the Meech Lake Accord in English Canada. Vastel finds plenty of bad faith in the collapse of Meech, but he finds it all beyond the borders of Quebec.

The early chapters, tracing Bou-Bou's pre-Meech political career, offer few disclosures other than the debunking of the legend that Pierre Trudeau dismissed Bourassa as a "hot-dog eater." (Trudeau merely observed, on seeing a newspaper photo of the premier, that "he seems to like hot dogs.") Later chapters on Bourassa's relations with the English Canadian premiers during the Meech discussions yield more interesting insights into how his counterparts viewed him, and even fault Bourassa for leaving the defence of the accord outside Quebec entirely to Brian Mulroney.

This slender volume may give anglo readers a reality check on the mood of Quebec, but it won't inspire a sudden respect for Bourassa. He emerges short of stature -either to strike a historic bargain with the rest of Canada or to lead his people to their "liberation."


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