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Events, Issues and Concepts of Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

The Resignation of Jean-Louis Roux (November 1996)

Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College

On September 12, 1996, the Federal government of Jean Chrétien appointed Jean-Louis Roux as Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. Ordinarily, such appointments would go almost unnoticed, as the position of Lieutenant-Governor is largely symbolic. Little, if any, of the power and prestige once attached to the position remains today, and surveys show that many people are ignorant even of the name of the person that occupies the position. Yet, in law, if not really in practice any more, the Lieutenant-Governor heads the executive branch of the provincial government. Another peculiarity of the Canadian federal system is that the Lieutenant-Governor of a province is appointed by the central government. In times past, he was used to spy on unfriendly provincial governments, and could exercise key powers to keep provincial governments in line with the Federal government. Thus, the position has a long history of involvement in political controversies, although less so in the recent past.

The appointment of Jean-Louis Roux was a provocation, like a declaration of war by Jean Chrétien. While Roux was a well known and prominent actor, both on stage and on television, in English and in French, and deserving of such an appointment for his personal qualities and his long years of service in the Arts in Quebec, he particularly ingratiated himself with the federal authorities by speaking and campaigning on the No side during the referendum on sovereignty held in 1995. He went as far as to suggest the possibility that he might leave Quebec if the Yes side was to win. Such comments, especially when coming from a francophone, usually cause great consternation among the nationalists and are frowned upon even by non-nationalists.

Following the close results of the referendum, the federal government followed an aggressive course of action known as Plan B. With it, the Federal authorities intended to oppose the sovereignists on every front. There was a view, across English-speaking Canada, that the Chrétien government had been too soft on the "separatists", and that, because of this, the country had nearly been lost. In 1996, the federal authorities were determined to show that such was not the case, and to confront the separatists everywhere; thus, the appointment of Jean-Louis Roux in September of 1996. His appointment was like a slap in the face of the Parti Québécois government of Lucien Bouchard.

The occasion for revenge soon presented itself in the form of an article that appeared in the widely read L’Actualité magazine, dated November 15, 1996. This issue included an interview granted by Roux to journalist Luc Chartrand. In the course of the interview, Roux admitted that in 1942, while aged 19 and a student at the Université de Montreal, he had decorated his lab coat with a swastika. This was done at the time of the plebiscite on conscription, as a lark, in defiance of the Canadian authorities that were about to introduce conscription. Conscription was hugely opposed in Quebec, and by none more than by the youth of the province. The plebiscite was the occasion of much emotion and some reprehensible behaviour. Indeed, students sometimes misbehaved in an effort to have their point of view noticed and taken into consideration. Several eminent Quebecers took part in the anti-conscriptionist campaign, such as André Laurendeau, Jean Drapeau and Pierre Elliott Trudeau [see his satirical article "Plus rien n’importe, sauf la victoire" in Quartier Latin, November 11, 1942, p. 3], and showed various degrees of irreverence. They were not supporters of fascism and nazism. They were anti-imperialist and pro-Canada, and they were young. So was Jean-Louis Roux…

When the article appeared, the controversy immediately broke out. The Bouchard government saw in it a splendid occasion to trip the federal government, to score a point. Bouchard declared that this was a "serious matter", one that did "damage to the reputation of Quebec". To his credit, it should be remembered that nationalists are sometimes accused in Quebec of hiding their fascist past. Many anti-nationalists have tried to associate nationalism with fascism. Thus, the nationalists are rather prickly on the subject. The Canadian Jewish Congress demanded an apology, and both La Presse and Le Devoir demanded in editorial that he resign.

On November 5, Jean-Louis Roux resigned and presented his apology publicly the next day. In an emotional outburst, he declared: "I am not a war criminal". Indeed, he was not. He was a victim of the savage battle that was fought between sovereignists and federalists following the referendum of 1995. He fell in a war of ideals, and to political correctness.

On December 12 1996, Jean Chrétien announced the appointment of Lise Thibault, an ex-liberal campaigner and an advocate for the rights of the disabled. She declared that she would stay out of partisan politics. There was no opposition to her appointment.

© 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College