Memorandum from P.M.P. [Article by Dominique Clift in Montreal Star, January 16, 1975, on Mr. Bourassa] to Mr. Robertson (3 February 1975)

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Date: 1975-02-03
By: P.M.P.
Citation: Memorandum from P.M.P. to Mr. Robertson (3 February 1975).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


February 3, 1975.


Article by Dominique Clift in Montreal Star,
January 16, 1975, on Mr. Bourassa

Pierre O’Neil brought to the Prime Minister’s attention at
staff meeting on Friday the attached article by Dominique Clift.
As you may know, Pierre is of the view that Premier Bourassa feels
deeply challenged by the federal government’s plans with respect to
constitutional amendment. You might find it useful to have a word
with Pierre. He has discussed all this with Dominique Clift,
whom he knows well.


Office of
The Prime Minister

Cabinet du
Premier ministre


Name of Publication Montreal Star Nom de la publication
Date JAN 16 1975 Date

Independence theme
Bourassa’s borrowed clothes


GREAT and divisive issues some-
times have a way of petering
out without any of their underlying
reasons being effectively resolved.
Political perceptions are subject to
change and after a while perople are
suprised at the intensity of their for-
mer feelings. This is what happened,
for example, to the great anti-Com-
munist crusades of the 1950s with
their climate of hostility and suspi-
cion. Today it is hard to imagine
what was so frightening about the
Communist party of 20 years ago.

Could the same thing be happening
to the idea of Quebec independence?
Its political edges are certainly not
as sharp as they used to be, and it
does not generate the same degree of
anxiety as it seemed to do a few
years ago. Very often politicians will
actively and consciously contribute to
changes in public attitudes, leaving
everyone to wonder about their mo-
tives and intentions.

There is no doubt that Premier
Bourassa has been doing just that on
the issue of independence. Cultural
sovereignty and language are themes
to which he has been giving increas-
ing importance for a year or two.
The shift has been almost impercepti-
ble. But recently he has taken a
bolder and more obvious step for-
ward, even if it is only in the realm
of words.

A novel view

“A French state within the Cana-
dian Common Market” is the title of
an article which recently appeared
under the premier’s own name in a
Paris publications, Le Monde Diploma-

It is indeed a way of looking at
Quebec’s present status in Confedera-
tion. The article itself is fairly innoc-
uous and does not measure up to the
expectations raised by the title. There
is an insistence on using words like
country and nation for Quebec. How-
ever, the premier writes that its citi-
zens are very eager “to maintain
their full participation in the Cana-
dian experience.”

Premier Bourassa has never been
above using semantic tricks to con-
fuse or defuse an issue. And a per-
fectly normal reaction might be to
wonder whether such a fanciful de-
scription of Canadian federalism mat-
ters at all as long as words remain
powerless to alter anything that is

Nevertheless, the real question has
to do with the premier’s reasons for
using a phrase which is an essential
aspect of the Parti Québécois pro-
gram and to which separatists attrib-
ute a different meaning altogether.
The premier has already stolen “so-
cial democracy” and other slogans
from his political opponents. Some of
them he had to explain to worried
bankers during his recent European
trip. But now, as an incurable shop-
lifter, he seems to be getting bolder
all the time, indifferent to the conse-
quences or to the ridicule.

The idea of a politically independ-
ent Quebec associated with the rest
of Canada in a monetary and cus-
toms union was first developed by
René Lévesque in 1968 after he had
bolted the Liberal party. It was pre-
sented by the Mouvement Souverai-
neté-Association as a safe brand of
separatism, one that would do away
with the possible dangers of an eco-
nomic collapse.

As they say, truth is stranger than
fiction. One of the people who helped
Lévesque work out this political and
economic program was Robert Bou-
rassa himself. At that time he was
financial critic for the Liberal opposi-
tion in the national assembly and had
still-to-be-fulfilled leadership ambi-
tions. But he was not averse to ex-
ploring unorthodox ideas and his
basement at home was available for
Lévesque and his friends. So was his
expertise in fiscal and financial mat-

This sort of situation may help
explain the somewhat confusing na-
ture of Quebec politics. At any rate,
as Bourassa began his conquest of
the Liberal party in 1969 he turned
his back on the political program
which he had certainly helped put
together with Lévesque.

Several years later, after two
overwhelming victories at the polls,
Premier Bourassa has this irresistible
compulsion to appropriate certain as-
pects of the Parti Québécois pro-
gram. What he takes has to do more
with words than with substance, but
it nevertheless shows an uncommon
and bizarre preoccupation with the
program of a party which is, after all,
the Opposition.

Motives obscure

The premiers motives are cer-
tainly obscure. At first sight there
would seem to be little political ad-
vantage to be gained by blurring or
even downgrading the issue of
Quebec independence. All it does it to
reassure people about the Parti
Québécois and break down whatever
inhibitions they might have had about
supporting René Lévesque. Because
of the low public esteem in which it
is held, the Liberal party can hardly
afford this.

On the other hand it is difficult to
imagine that Premier Bourassa could
believe shifts in public opinion might
be forestalled by draping himself in
borrowed clothes. He is merely giving
greater credibility to the central pro-
posal in the opposition’s political pro-

The most plausible explanation —
apart from mere flippancy and fun-
making–might well be that Premier
Bourassa is eager to realign his
sights because he doubts the ability
of the present federal system to sur-
vive the economic and social tensions
that are currently taking shapre and
do not originate exclusively from
Quebec. In that case, Lévesque’s
ideas would assume much greater
importance than they had before, in
view of the possibility of a new con-
stitutional order that would separate
political and cultural decisions from
purely economic ones.

But whatever Premier Bourassa’s
concept of the future or his reasons
for playing with words, his renewed
preoccupation with separatist slogans
and ideas might be indicative of
changes in Quebec’s political scene.
But the premier may be a long time
in formulating clearly what was in the
back of his mind.

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