Public Statement Made by Lucien Bouchard Upon his Resignation
[Note from the editor/translator: The document found below is my translation of the speech made by Lucien Bouchard, Premier of Quebec, upon the announcement of his resignation as Premier. This speech was made on January 11, 2001, in the Red room of the National Assembly, before the assembled press corps and many leading politicians of the province. The speech was also broadcasted live by radio and television. In his speech, he outlined the reasons for his resignation. However, he spent a considerable amount of time discussing the principles raised by the Michaud affair, while indicating that this had not contributed to his decision to resign. Nevertheless, that he raised the issue in such an important context, and at such length, indicates clearly the importance he ascribed to this issue.
The basis for the translation offered below is the text that was released by the Canadian Press. In its structure and rendition of the ideas of Mr. Bouchard, this text was not satisfactory. I have extensively revised it to convey more precisely and rigorously the ideas and feelings of the speaker. It appears that the Canadian Press used the rendition of the translator as Mr. Bouchard was speaking. This gave, in my judgement, an unsatisfactory result when put into print. Thus, I have extensively altered it.]
"Dear fellow citizens:
I used the holiday season to undertake an in-depth appraisal of my commitment to public life. This time of reflection especially enabled me to evaluate the effectiveness of my contribution to the promotion of sovereignty.
I decided to end my participation in public affairs and to resign my post as Prime Minister of Quebec.
It was with pride that I fulfilled this task over the last five years. In spite of the demands in terms of energy, open-mindedness and endurance that it required, I had a lot of satisfaction in filling the post. I have no intention today of drawing up a list of our achievements as a government. It is enough to note that my government reoriented the future of Quebec in terms of public finances, the economy, fiscal affairs, health, education, social progress and municipal organization. I trust it will be recognized that I never hesitated to tackle problems head-on, and that I always wanted to lead Quebec on the road to progress, with the constant preoccupation of being the Prime Minister of all Quebecers. I had said that I would be daring, and I think that I delivered on it as much as could be done.
For more than 10 years in elected functions, I have led the fight for sovereignty. In this respect, I must confess that the fruits of my actions are less than evident, successes having alternated with defeats. I assessed, without complacency, my contribution to the goal of bringing about the sovereignty of Quebec while the Parti Québécois was under my leadership. Aside from fulfilling the ordinary duties of Prime Minister of Quebec, a party leader is equally responsible for the political commitments that he shares with his party. In the case of the Parti Québécois, the first of these is to achieve the sovereignty of Quebec.
It was with the aim of contributing to building a sovereign Quebec, that I founded a party in the House of Commons where it eventually formed the Official Opposition. The same objective threw me, with all the persuasion and determination I could muster, into the 1995 referendum campaign at the side of Mr. Jacques Parizeau.
I gave myself the same goal when I took on the leadership of the party in 1996. We had just come out of a referendum campaign that had brought us to the very threshold of a new country. It is true that bitter disappointment on referendum night followed the exhilaration of the near-guarantee of victory we had earlier expected. But at least the sovereignist gains had been such that it justified the hope to reach the objective in a near future. I have still in mind the vision of those enthusiastic crowds that no room could contain during the last weeks of the campaign. I remember the solidarity displayed for change by the Parti Québécois, the Bloc Québécois, the ADQ [Action démocratique du Québec], and our other partners. I told myself that this magnificent movement that had brought the Quebec people so close to their goal would propel it again in the not distant future.
This is not the time for long analyses. But the fact remains that our hopes have been, until now, thwarted.
Without doubt, we were immediately called upon to solve pressing problems. No doubt, we managed to bring about the necessary consensus that enabled us to correct Quebec's chronic deficit, to propel the economy in Montreal and in the regions, and to create jobs which, among other things, enabled a large number of people on social assistance to re-enter the job market.
But, it has been noted, and rightly so, we still did not manage to increase the sovereignist fervour.
Should the assumption of our governmental duties inevitably delay the achievement of sovereignty? On the one hand, the public interest and the government responsibilities that were invested in us gave us the obligation of addressing Quebec's economic and financial situation. On the other hand, we knew that by putting the house in order, we would give more credibility to the construction of a sovereign Quebec. I believed, and I still believe, that one of the best ways of persuading Quebecers of their ability to govern themselves, with all their resources and powers, is through a concrete demonstration of their potential and of that of their state. By breaking a sequence of 40 years of deficits, by restoring the credibility of our financial management, by reducing unemployment to its lowest level in a quarter-century, by entering fully into the new economy and by emphasizing our social progress, have we not provided more solid foundations for the political future that Quebecers will choose?
All that being said, I recognize that my efforts to revive quickly the debate on the national question have been in vain. It hasn't been possible to call a referendum within the short timetable that we had hoped. Also, Quebecers remained astonishingly unmoved in the face of federal offensives like the social union, the millennium bursary program, the creation of university research chairs, the adoption of Law C-20, which aims at nothing less than limiting our capacity to choose our political future. In all these cases, if there was discontent, it certainly did not show up in the results of the last federal elections.
Yet, the stakes are more urgent than ever. It is absolutely necessary to shake the indifference that is shown towards the asphyxiation that is in store for us, due to the fiscal imbalance between the two levels of government. It is essential to show how precarious is the balance in our public finances. While Ottawa keeps storing up surpluses, our national state is bending under growing expenditures, and our revenues clearly cannot keep apace. Combined with countless brutal federal intrusions into our fields of jurisdiction, this phenomenon will inevitably push Quebec into being unable to finance its essential tasks, and this will make us even more vulnerable to the intrusions of a federal government determined to deny the existence of the Quebec people and to limit Quebec's field of action. This menace is imminent, hangs over us all, regardless of our allegiances.
I accept fully my share of responsibility for not having succeeded in reviving the flame and in making citizens sensitive to the seriousness of the situation. For myself, I draw the necessary conclusions.
The government still has a mandate for two or three years. I have resolved to open the possibility to the members of the Parti Québécois of giving themselves a leader who will know better than I how to build up militancy, intensify Quebecers' sense of identity and advance the cause of sovereignty, the only project that can offer a way to the future for Quebecers. This should be done through the revitalization of the sovereignty project, which can only be done in direct line with the heritage of René Lévesque, which means in a spirit of respect for democracy, generosity and openness to all, regardless of their ethnic and cultural origins. So I see my leaving as the opportunity for a fundamental debate, as many hoped for, and even a means of renewing the party.
I have confidence in the future of Quebecers because I know they are capable of great things, individually and collectively.
I would like to add, without it being a reason for my departing, that I have no taste for continuing any discussions whatsoever on the Holocaust and the vote of ethnic and cultural communities. I still don't understand how the linguistic debate could have turned into a comparative quantification of the suffering of the Jewish people, and the intolerance that some Quebec citizens would have displayed by not voting for Quebec sovereignty.
As was to be expected, statements to this effect hurt Quebec's reputation abroad. Even right here they certainly didn't improve the capacity of sovereignists to convince the people targeted. There may be outrage among members of the communities concerned, who have already shown openness, if not adherence to the sovereignty project. I am convinced that, without the intervention of the National Assembly, the damage would have been much worse.
That is why I was surprised by the protests following the unanimous adoption of the assembly's resolution, on the unacceptable nature of the talk that launched this strange and dangerous debate.
Several dozen personalities signed a public condemnation of the National Assembly resolution, and other people endorsed their action.
Some people are talking about negotiations. We are far beyond the management of episodic difficulties that a party leader must know how to resolve, through flexibility and the search for a middle ground. When issues are matters of principle, there is no room for negotiation. We touch here clearly at the heart of what is essential. First, I wish to affirm with absolutely no qualifications, that citizens of Quebec can exercise their right to vote, in which ever way they want, without being accused of intolerance. Secondly, that the Holocaust, this systematic elimination of a people, the negation of human conscience and dignity constitutes the ultimate crime. One cannot blame Jews to have been traumatised by it. This unspeakable tragedy cannot withstand comparisons.
Perhaps a basically hardened political player will be pardoned for allowing himself to be personally touched, on hearing his motives for backing the National Assembly resolution described as Duplessis-like and mean.
Beyond the emotional level, I still believe that the members of the National Assembly a democratic forum par excellence did nothing more than exercise their most basic right of free political expression, in dissociating themselves from the comments made and in declaring them unacceptable. This was not a matter of censorship. The members of the Assembly acted in the most legitimate way in distancing themselves from comments which, in an irresponsible way, put into question the fundamental values of democracy. Members of the governing party had to take that much more of a stand because it is their side that the initiator of this controversy wishes to join.
I have a hard time understanding how some people can recognize the unacceptable nature of such talk for a self-declared Parti Québécois candidate, and in the same breath deplore the National Assemblys resolution. If the declarations aren't acceptable to members of the Parti Québécois, they couldn't be acceptable to members of the National Assembly.
I have no doubt that, if the author of the declarations should follow through with his intentions, Parti Québécois members will close the door to his candidacy in Mercier riding.
I want to express my deep gratitude to my fellow citizens for the confidence they have shown, in giving me the privilege of serving them.
Heartfelt thanks to the voters and party members of Jonquière riding who welcomed me with open arms. It is with sadness that I give up the mandate they conferred on me. I extend my sincere thanks to all Parti Québécois members. I will keep the memory of their admirable involvement and their genuine unselfishness.
I must also underline the work and efforts of members of the National Assembly in serving their constituents. The Speaker and member for Borduas, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, always fulfilled his duties in the respect of our institutions, and I thank him for it.
To my colleagues of the caucus, I reiterate my affection and my acknowledgment for the solid, affectionate support they always showed me all along the route we shared. Without them, nothing that the government accomplished would have been possible. From them, I never ceased finding wise advice and the most stimulating encouragement.
I do not know how to express what I owe to my cabinet colleagues. It is only with deep emotion that I can consider the countess hours we spent together, searching for the answers to so many prickly problems. In all circumstances, they gave me their unfailing support and demonstrated a generosity that I shall not forget. They have my deepest friendship.
The moment has come to conclude. I will be leaving my functions as Prime Minister of Quebec and as member for Jonquière. In response to the request that caucus members have just made, these resignations will become effective only at the time when the Parti Québécois has filled the vacancy in the leadership of the party. Thus, I will remain in the period of transition. Consequently, today I am leaving the leadership of the Parti Quebécois so that it can set into motion the procedures for my replacement.
[In English in the text] At this point, I wish to express my gratitude to my fellow citizens for the confidence they placed in me and for having given me the opportunity to represent and serve them these past years. It is now time for my involvement in politics to come to an end. I will leave my duties as Prime Minister of Quebec and as MNA for Jonquiere. At the request of the caucus, both these resignations will become effective when a new president has been selected by the party. Therefore, in order to allow our party to set into motion the process of electing his new leader, I'm resigning today as president of the Parti Québécois.
[Back to speaking in French] I have been in active politics for nearly 13 years. These years gave given me a lot of rewards, but they have also come at a cost. I only regret not to have been able to do better and more, and especially not having been able to realize my dream for our collective future, to achieve the new Quebec nation. To this end, I dedicated all my energy and all my emotions. If it happens that I hurt an opponent or anyone else, I sincerely apologize and assure everyone that it wasn't done through meanness or lack of respect.
I thank Providence for my excellent health, but I reached my 62nd birthday while reflecting on my future. We do not live forever and I have a young family that is all the more precious because it came to me late in my life. Audrey has given me more than I will ever be able to return. I also want to live fully the marvellous adventure of educating my boys who are 11 and nine years old. Alexandre and Simon need me. I need to get back to them, and henceforth to devote the best of my time and energy to them all.
© For the translation, 2001 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College