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René Lévesque

René Lévesque (August 24, 1922 - November 1, 1987), a politician in Canada, was the founder of the Parti Québécois, and was the premier of the province of Quebec from 1976 to 1985.

The eldest of four children, René Lévesque was born in a hospital of Campbellton, New Brunswick. He was raised in New Carlisle, Quebec in the Gaspé peninsula, the son of Dominique Lévesque, an attorney, and Diane Dionne. Lévesque attended a classical college in Gaspé and at Saint-Charles-Garnier college in Quebec. He went on to study for a law degree at Université Laval in Quebec City. However, he did not finish, leaving the university in 1943.

War Correspondent

He started working as an announcer and news writer at the CHNC radio station in New Carlisle, then as a substitute announcer for CHRC during 1941-1942 and then at CBV in Quebec City. During 1944-1945, he served as liaison officer and war correspondent for the U.S. Army in Europe. He reported from London, England while under regular bombardment by the Luftwaffe, and advanced with the Allied troops as they swept back the nazis through France and Germany. Through the war, he made regular journalistic reports on the airwaves and by print. He was with one of the units which liberated one of the big concentration camps, and was profoundly touched by what he witnessed.

In 1947 he married Louise L'Heureux with whom he would have two sons and a daughter.

Lévesque worked as a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the international service. He once more served as a war correspondent with the CBC in the Korean war in 1952. After that, he was offered a career in journalism in the United-States, but decided to stay in Quebec.

Public Figure

From 1956 to 1959, Lévesque became famous in Quebec by hosting a weekly television news program at Radio-Canada called Point de Mire. While working for the public television network, he became involved in the 1958 strike, which lasted 68 tumultuous days. Supported by his then good friend and later bitter political rival, Pierre Trudeau, in 1959, Lévesque was arrested along with twenty-nine other strikers.

Involvement in Politics

In 1960 René Lévesque entered the political scene, elected to the Provincial Parliament as a Liberal Party member. In the government of Jean Lesage, he was appointed minister of Hydroelectric Resources and Public Works in 1960-1961 and then minister of Natural resources from 1961 to 1965. At that time, he played an important role in the nationalization of Hydro-Québec and other Quebec industries. Lévesque helped implement the important political reforms, which were later called the Quiet Revolution. He was then appointed Minister of Family and Welfare for 1965-1966 and was re-elected in the general election of June 5, 1966, where the Union Nationale returned to power, despite losing the popular vote.

Parti Québécois Leader

On October 14, 1967 Lévesque left the Liberal Party after its members refused to discuss the idea of a sovereign Quebec during its convention. He remained as the independent representative of the Montreal-Laurier riding until the 1970 elections. After leaving the Liberal Party he founded the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association which later merged with the Ralliement National of Gilles Grégoire to create the Parti Québécois in 1968. He remained leader of the Parti Québécois from 1968 until his resignation in 1985.

After losing the election in his riding in 1970 and 1973, he was elected to office in the county of Taillon, on November 15, 1976. His party assumed power with 41.1% of the popular vote and 71 provincial deputies out of 110; René Lévesque became premier of the province of Québec.

On February 6, 1977, Lévesque's car struck and killed Edgar Trottier, a homeless man who had been lying on the road. The incident gained extra notoriety when it was revealed that the female companion in the vehicle was not his wife, but a secretary named Corinne Côté. Lévesque’s marriage ended in divorce, and the following April, he married Corinne Côté.

On May 20 1980 the PQ held a referendum on its sovereignty-association project. The project would be rejected by 60% of voters. Lévesque conceded defeat in the referendum, but managed to lead the PQ to a re-election victory in the next year and even increasing the Parti Québécois's majority at the National Assembly.

Lévesque's political program contained many social-democratic goals in terms of social policies, yet some felt that the party did not manage to live up to the expectations of its voters.

Lévesque's laws on political party financing and public consultation banned corporate donations and limited individual contributions to political parties to 3000$. This key legislation, adopted by the Lévesque's government, ensured that the rich were unable to buy an election. His Parti Québécois government also passed the controversial Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) which made French the sole official language in the province and limited access to English schools to children whose parents had attended English school in Quebec. In its first enactment it banned any language except French on exterior commercial signs.

On June 20, 1985, René Lévesque resigned as leader of the Parti Québécois and on October 3 he resigned as premier of Québec.

A heavy smoker, he died of a massive heart attack in 1987. His state funeral and funeral procession was reportedly attended by 100 000 Quebecers. Two important business arteries now bear his name in Montreal and in Quebec City. On June 3, 1999, a monument in his honour was unveiled on the parliamentary hill of Quebec City on René-Lévesque boulevard.

Even today he remains an important figure of the Quebec nationalist movement and is considered sovereignty's spiritual father. He is remembered for the humanism he strove to bring to all aspects of public service. In every discussion concerning the application of laws, new and old he would insist that regulations and the practical control of operations take into account that civil servants were above all servants of the people. He used all his power as a provincial premier to ensure that every bureaucrat did his or her duty efficiently while respecting equally each individual who came into contact with the government.



Record note: Province of
New Brunswick birth certificate registered on August 30, 1922, #1922 03 066751.

Preceded by:
Robert Bourassa
List of Quebec premiers Succeeded by:
Pierre-Marc Johnson