Bouchard, Lucien

Lucien Bouchard, lawyer, politician, premier of Québec from 1996 to 2001 (b at Saint-Coeur-de-Marie, Qué 22 Dec 1938). Born into a working-class family, Bouchard was educated at a collège classique at Jonquière and at Laval Law School, where he met Brian Mulroney. He joined the Parti Québécois in 1971 and campaigned openly for the local PQ candidate in 1973. He practised law briefly on his own before gaining public attention in 1974-75 as a member of the Cliche Commission of inquiry into violence and corruption in the construction industry.

Two years later, with the PQ in power, Bouchard became the government's chief negotiator with the province's 300 000 public servants. In 1980 he served as chair of the "oui" (pro-independentist) side in the referendum. Bouchard is generally credited with converting his friend Mulroney from a Trudeau-style (centralist) federalist to an advocate of decentralization.

Mulroney appointed Bouchard ambassador to France in 1988 and brought him into the federal Cabinet that year as secretary of state and later as minister of the environment (1988-90). However, Bouchard became increasingly angered by the growing resistance to the MEECH LAKE ACCORD (seeMEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT) and by what he perceived as the willingness of Mulroney to compromise the deal to secure its passage.

Formation of the Bloc Québécois

On 21 May 1990 he abruptly resigned from the Cabinet and the Conservative Party. Within weeks he gathered a cadre of like-minded Québec MPs and formed the BLOC QUÉBÉCOIS. In the atmosphere of betrayal and distrust that followed the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord, Bouchard was the most popular politician in Québec. In the 1993 federal election, Bouchard easily won in his riding of Lac-Saint-Jean, which he had won as a Conservative in 1988. He also led the Bloc to an extraordinary 49.3% of the popular vote in Québec and their 54 seats gave the Bloc the status of Official Opposition in Ottawa.

The Spectre of Independence

Bouchard promised to put Québec's immediate interests first in the new Parliament, but the future of his party and of its goal of sovereignty would await the forthcoming Québec provincial election and possible referendum. In the meantime Bouchard fought for jobs and economic recovery in Québec. The PQ victory in Québec in 1994 raised the spectre of independence, and Bouchard immediately led the Bloc on the attack against the federal government's position on the referendum. The independence campaign began to suffer badly and Bouchard, still riding an astonishing wave of popularity, was recruited to take command of the campaign from a faltering Jacques PARIZEAU. On 30 October 1995 the referendum was defeated in an agonizingly close vote. Parizeau resigned the next day and Bouchard took some time to decide whether his efforts were best suited in Québec City as premier or in Ottawa leading the Bloc.

Realigned Priorities

He opted for the premiership and resigned his seat in the House of Commons in January 1996. Acclaimed as leader of the PQ on 27 January 1996, he was sworn in as premier on 29 January 1996 and entered the assembly after winning a seat in a by-election in February. Bouchard set his priorities as economy first, independence second, a reversal of the priorities of the last several years that had left the Québec economy in a state of serious disrepair. Though cuts to health care and social spending were unpopular with some Québecers, the PQ's fiscal policies were somewhat successful in repairing Québec's fractured economy, and they won another term in 1998. Bouchard served another 3 years as premier, but despondent over the lack of success of the separatist cause in Quebec during his time as premier, he resigned in 2001.

Bouchard was succeeded as party leader and premier by his former finance minister, Bernard LANDRY, on 8 March 2001. His memoirs, À visage découvert, were published in 1992.