Louis Bernard

​Louis Bernard, OQ, politician, businessman and senior public servant (born 27 July 1937 in Montréal, QC).
​Louis Bernard, OQ, politician, businessman and senior public servant (born 27 July 1937 in Montréal, QC).

Louis Bernard, OQ, politician, businessman and senior public servant (born 27 July 1937 in Montréal, QC). A thinker and power broker, most notably for the sovereigntist governments of the Parti Québécois, Louis Bernard has been a central figure in the development of the Québec state since the Quiet Revolution. He has held the positions of assistant deputy minister, principal private secretary and secretary general of the Executive Council, the highest level of the Québec public service, serving under eight premiers, from Jean Lesage to Bernard Landry.

Education and Career

Louis Bernard graduated with a law degree from Université de Montréal and earned a doctorate in administrative law from the London School of Economics and Political Science before joining the firm Stikeman & Elliott as a lawyer in 1960. From 1964 to 1970, he worked as a lawyer and then served as assistant deputy minister in the Department of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs.

In 1970, PremierRobert Bourassa approved his assignment as principal private secretary to the parliamentary leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ). After the PQ victory in the 1976 election, he was appointed to the strategic position of principal private secretary to Premier René Lévesque. He crafted a major operational reform in government by creating Minister of State positions, which was also instrumental in enhancing the role of ministerial committees and their secretariats in decision-making and the management of important reforms.

Bernard returned to the public service the following year, becoming secretary general for electoral and parliamentary reform. He also had a hand in drafting the Referendum Act (see Referendum). In 1978, he was appointed secretary general of the Executive Council — the highest position in the Québec public service — which he held during the 1980 referendum. In 1985, when the Parti Québécois ceded power to Robert Bourassa’s Liberals, he was seconded to the École nationale d’administration publique (Université du Québec) for a year. He took advantage of this time at the university to write a book, Réflexions sur l’art de se gouverner (1987), exploring the role of the state, parliamentary operation, and the relationships between politics and administration.

Bourassa subsequently assigned him to the Meech Lake Accord file and made him responsible for negotiating the immigration agreement (see Québec Immigration Policy). He also presided over a working group on how government contracts are awarded. However, he left the public service for the private sector in 1987, becoming vice-president (administration) of Laurentian Bank.

Bernard returned to government in 1994 and 1995, again as secretary general of the Executive Council, a position he held at the time of the 1995 referendum. He was therefore closely involved in the establishment of two referendum strategies.

Bernard returned to Laurentian Bank as executive vice-president in late 1995, remaining there until he retired in 1998. He subsequently worked as a consultant and negotiator for the Québec government. Among other things, he was appointed special negotiator on Innu issues and government representative on the issues of municipal reform in the Greater Montréal area and public-transit funding for the same region.

Bernard ran for the leadership of the Parti Québécois in 2005. He finished fourth in a field of nine candidates despite being largely unknown to the public. He believes that the PQ’s sole focus should be Québec’s independence and that “the exercise of power is not, in itself, conducive to advancing the cause of sovereignty.”

A collection of his memoirs, the result of interviews with Université de Montréal political scientist Michel Sarra-Bournet, was published in 2015.

Social Engagement and Honours

A socially engaged citizen, Louis Bernard has been both a member and chairman of the board of directors of the Montreal Heart Institute and served on the boards of the Société de la Place-des-Arts and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1992, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada awarded him the Vanier gold medal for his exceptional contribution to the development of the Québec public service, while the Institut d’administration publique du Québec presented him with its award of excellence. He was appointed an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec in 2000 and received an honorary doctorate from the École nationale d’administration publique in 2009.