Parizeau, an economist who graduated with a doctorate from the London School of Economics in London, England, was one of the most important advisors to the provincial government during the 1960s, playing an important behind the scenes role in the Quiet Revolution. He was especially instrumental in the nationalization of Hydro-Quebec and in the creation of the Quebec Pension Plan.
Parizeau gradually became a strident sovereigntist and officially joined the Parti Québécois September 19, 1969. In the 1976 Quebec election when the sovereigntists under René Lévesque were elected to office Parizeau was made finance minister. Parizeau played an important role in the failed 1980 Quebec referendum. As Minister of Finance in Quebec, was responsible for a number of innovative economic proposals, including the Quebec Stock Savings Plan (QSSP).
Married to Alice Poznanska (1927-1990), a Polish Jew, Jacques Parizeau was criticized for supporting the Charter of the French Language, a law which limits access to English public schools to children whose parents received their education in English in Canada, while he himself used his wealth to educate his now fluently bilingual children in private schools. (Note that going to public French schools can also make you a speaker of French and English).
In 1984 he had a falling out with Lévesque. Lévesque moved away from pursuing sovereignty to focus on governing Quebec, Parizeau disagreed and resigned his position and temporarily retired from politics. Lévesque retired soon after and was replaced by Pierre-Marc Johnson, but in 1987 Johnson also left office. Parizeau, still a widely liked figure, was elected to replace him on March 19, 1988.
In Parizeau first election as leader in 1989 the PQ did not fare well, but five years later in 1994 they won a convincing majority government. Parizeau promised to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty within a year of his election and despite many objections he followed through on this promise. In the beginning sovereignty was sitting at only about 40% support in the polls, but as the campaign wore on the "Yes" side grew larger. This growth halted, however, and Parizeau came under pressure to hand more of the campaign over to Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard. Parizeau agreed, and as the campaign progressed lost his leadership role to Bouchard.
On the night of the referendum Quebec came within only a few thousands of votes of separation, but the Yes side still lost. In his concession speech he said sovereignty had been defeated by "money and the ethnic vote" and referred to the Francophones who voted Yes in the referendum as "nous" (us) when he said that this majority group was, for the first time, no longer afraid of political independence, as 60% of Quebec Francophones (who represent 80% of all Quebecers) voted Yes. However, the sovereigntist side accepted the results of the vote which they had initiated.
Because of the defeat and of his remarks, which he himself has characterized as unfortunate and as meriting the disapproval it received, the English language media associated Parizeau's resignation as Quebec premier the next day to that alone even though he had publicly stated that it was not the case. He was soon after replaced by Lucien Bouchard.
Parizeau retired to private life, but continued to make comments critical of Bouchard's new government and its failure to press the cause of Quebec independence. He owns an estate at his vineyard in France, a farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and a home in Montreal.
Daniel Johnson, Jr
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