Jean Pelletier, O.C., O.Q., journalist and politician (born 21 January 1935 in Chicoutimi, Québec; died 10 January 2009 in Québec City). Jean Pelletier was mayor of Québec City from 1977 to 1989 and was Jean Chrétien’s chief of staff from 1991 to 2001.
Education and Early Career
Jean Pelletier studied at the Collège des Jésuites in Québec City and then at the Séminaire de Trois-Rivières, where he met his good friend and political ally Jean Chrétien. Pelletier went on to study law and social sciences at Université Laval.
However, he was drawn to politics, and he worked in the public service from 1959 to 1964. He served as press secretary to Maurice Duplessis, Paul Sauvé and Antonio Barrette. He was also appointed to the Commission des monuments historiques(a provincial commission on historical monuments); Québec City would later benefit from his time on this commission.
Pelletier left politics in 1964 and worked as a stockbroker until 1976, all the while serving as a member of the boards of several organizations and institutions. Politics were never far off, however, and he co-founded the municipal political party Progrès civique de Québec in 1962. In 1976, he was elected municipal councillor, and in November 1977, he was elected mayor of Québec City.
Pelletier served as mayor for 12 years. At the time, the city was in decline and was suffering from a population exodus, but then Pelletier established the Office municipal de développement and the Bureau des relations internationales, two initiatives that revitalized the capital.
In 1979, Pelletier and Jacques Chirac, who was mayor of Paris at the time, founded the Association internationale des maires francophones. Their friendship grew stronger during the years Chirac was president of France. As a result, Pelletier would serve as an intermediary between France and Canada, mainly at Francophonie and G8 summits.
During Pelletier’s time as mayor, UNESCO designated historic Old Québec a World Heritage Site (1985), giving it new life and greater international visibility. In 1984, Québec City hosted the world’s tall ships to mark the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. Pelletier’s other notable achievements include construction of the Bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood and the creation of the Québec City public library network. In 1989, Jean Pelletier resigned as mayor of Québec City.
On 19 June 1991, then-leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and leader of the Official Opposition Jean Chrétien appointed Pelletier his chief of staff. It was a very successful move, since it enabled Chrétien to increase the number of Québécois in his inner circle. In the fall 1993 federal election, Pelletier ran as the Liberal candidate in the riding of Québec but was defeated by Bloc Québécois candidate Christiane Gagnon. Chrétien, elected prime minister, quickly made Pelletier his chief of staff, a position he would hold until May 2001.
Public Life and Controversies
On 1 September 2001, Pelletier was appointed chairman of the board at Via Rail Canada. In 2004, at a press conference that was covered extensively by the media, Olympic gold medalist and Via Rail communications branch employee Myriam Bédard claimed that she was forced to resign because she refused to join Groupaction, an advertising agency at the heart of the sponsorship scandal. Pelletier made some unfortunate remarks about Bédard. There was a public outcry, Pelletier was eventually dismissed by Paul Martin, and a lengthy legal battle ensued. In November 2007, the Superior Court of Québec ordered the federal government and Via Rail to compensate Pelletier in the amount of $335,000 for his termination.
After returning to his position, he was again dismissed. This time, though, his dismissal and compensation were confirmed by the courts in January 2008. Meanwhile, Pelletier was dealing with the aftermath of the Gomery Inquiry, in which Justice John Gomery blamed him for his role in the sponsorship scandal. In June 2008, however, Federal Court judge Max Teitelbaum ruled that Gomery was biased against Chrétien and Pelletier during the inquiry. In September 2008, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government decided to appeal the Federal Court ruling. Those close to Pelletier were shocked: already diagnosed with cancer and coming to the end of his life, he was now caught in a legal deadlock.
He died 10 January 2009, without having had the opportunity to clear his name. In July 2014, the City of Québec renamed the square in front of the Gare du Palais train station Place Jean-Pelletier and erected a stele in his memory.
Honours and Awards
Officer of the Order of Canada (1985)
Officer of the ONQ (1990)
Commander of the Order of the Légion d’honneur, Government of France (1998)
Member of the Académie des Grands Québécois (2003)
Médaille Gloire de l’Escolle, Association des anciens diplômés de l’Université Laval (Alumni Association of Université Laval, 2003)
Médaille de la Ville de Québec (2008)