Issues and Concepts of Quebec History
23 August 2000
Resignation of Jean-Louis Roux (November 1996)
Department of History,
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.
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.
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.
occasion for revenge soon presented itself in the form of an article that appeared
in the widely read LActualité 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 nimporte,
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
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.
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.
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