File | Brian Mulroney (1939-2024) | Constitutional struggles: hopes and fractures (3 articles)

It is the story of the collision of tectonic plates: between Quebec and a good part of English Canada; between diehard sovereignists and supporters of a centralized Canada, inspired by Pierre Trudeau.

It is also that of a friendship, crushed by political ambition. “At my funeral, if Lucien Bouchard shows up at the church, take my coffin out from behind, I don’t want to meet him!” » Brian Mulroney, who loved to make people laugh, repeated this joke hundreds of times. Bouchard’s resignation from the Mulroney cabinet on May 22, 1990 sealed the fate of the Meech Lake agreement a few weeks later.

First of all, the state of affairs. Once at the head of the Conservatives, Brian Mulroney showed himself attentive to Quebec’s grievances. In the Commons, the Leader of the Opposition denounces Bill S-31 tabled by the Trudeau government, perceived in Quebec as an attempt to limit the weight of the Caisse de dépôt et placement in the shareholding of Canadian rail transport companies .

After Mulroney’s election, René Lévesque accepted the idea of ​​constitutional negotiations with Ottawa. It was “a risk, but a good risk,” he emphasized during a meeting of the national council of the Parti Québécois at the end of November 1984, which triggered the resignations of seven ministers from his government, including the influential Jacques Parizeau.


Meeting between Prime Ministers Robert Bourassa and Brian Mulroney in Montreal, December 1985

The PQ had contributed powerfully to the election of the Conservatives in September 1984. This alliance was recognized: many collaborators and ex-ministers of René Lévesque obtained federal appointments. Yves Duhaime finds himself at the Bank of Canada, Denis de Belleval and Jean-Roch Boivin at VIA Rail, Louise Beaudoin at Telefilm. Later, Mulroney’s proximity to Robert Bourassa would also ensure smooth relations between Quebec and Ottawa. “Robert Bourassa was my best and most reliable ally. He is also a faithful friend,” Mulroney wrote in his diary in June 1993.

Francophonie Summit

Mulroney also quickly removed the obstacles maintained by Pierre Trudeau, who opposed the holding of a Francophonie Summit. Quebec and New Brunswick were present at the table of heads of state in February 1986, a scenario that Trudeau refused to consider. In his memoirs, Mulroney recalls with emotion this exchange with François Mitterrand, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles: “Brian, look what we have accomplished. La Francophonie is now the equivalent of the Commonwealth. »


Press conference on the sidelines of the first Francophonie Summit, held in Versailles, near Paris, in 1986. From left to right: the President of France, François Mitterrand, the Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, and the Prime Minister from Quebec, Robert Bourassa.

Decorated as Commander of the Legion of Honor in December 2016, he praises Mitterrand’s determination and intelligence. Jokingly, he adds: “I also liked the way President Mitterrand pronounced my first name, which I heard as “Brillant”. It was a pronunciation that was not common in Canada! »

For Mulroney, “Mitterrand understood well that the renewal of Canada-France relations necessarily included the explicit recognition of the legitimacy of direct relations between the government of Quebec and that of France, within the Canadian constitutional framework.” The excellent relations between Ottawa and Paris were also the result of the work of Mulroney’s appointed ambassador, Lucien Bouchard, “probably Canada’s best ambassador to France in modern times,” Mulroney wrote in his memoirs. His assessment will evolve later.

English Canada observes with caution many of the Mulroney government’s decisions in favor of Quebec. Ottawa gives the green light to the creation of the FTQ Solidarity Fund. The privatizations of Canadair and Teleglobe benefit Quebec companies. A decision ignites Manitoba: the F-18 maintenance contract will go to Canadair, owned by Bombardier in Montreal, rather than Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg.


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