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Michèle Marcadier

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

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Last Updated: 2020-09-14