René Lévesque, Memoirs,
McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1986, 368 p.
The publication of reminiscences by
politicians stirs public curiosity about what parliaments and political parties
do. René Lévesque's Memoirs opens with recent history: his departure from
public life, the internal crisis and defeat of the Parti québécois. He
describes the atmosphere of a government approaching defeat, and the reader can
detect the wounds he suffered, even though he does not try to settle scores or
wallow in indiscretion. He brings to bear his earlier experience as a talented
journalist, knowing how to praise and how to pass judgement. Memoirs are
traditionally expected to contain both a wealth of personal recollection and a
smattering of impressions of an era. The author of these Memoirs is an
exceptionally well-placed witness and he analyses with intensity the microcosm
that is Quebec society.
As a politician, René Lévesque
played an influential role in that society. His memoirs are an invaluable
record. Over and above the personal destiny of one man, the interest of this
book lies in the author's depiction of Quebec history, his account of a society
shaking off the straitjacket of its traditions to join, almost overnight, the
modern world. The Quiet Revolution was the break that finally allowed Quebec to
open up to the twentieth century. For Lévesque, the emergence of the idea of
sovereignty-association, and the creation of the Parti québecois, both resulted
from the impetus that galvanised the politically aware during the 1960s. The
importance of that time and its profound significance lie in the sense of
something being painfully shattered is represented for Lévesque by his split
with the Liberal Party which rejected his views. He then endured a similar
sense of rejection when the people of Quebec voted No in his referendum.
Lévesque's attachment to the ideals
of the Quiet Revolution explain why he had such difficulty with the
synthesising of different currents within the Parti québecois: hardliners vs
compromisers, caribous vs étapistes . In the Memoirs he discusses the plans of
action defined by the Parti, the gambles it took and the successes it achieved.
He argues for the major policies his government introduced. The reader
discovers a pragmatist who can describe the controversial Bill 101 as a
legislative crutch while insisting that
was it was nonetheless absolutely necessary. He defends his position on federal-provincial
relations and goes into detail on the patriation of the Constitution. René
Lévesque's Memoirs are not just a record of crisis, victory, and defeat: they
blaze with true political commitment.
Michèle Marcadier, Political Advisor, AIPLF, Paris