Régis Labeaume, mining executive, businessman, politician, 37th mayor of Quebec City (2007-2021), born 2 May 1956 in Roberval, QC). During his leadership of Quebec City, Labeaume attracted businesses and high-profile entertainers to his city, but he did not succeed in bringing back a coveted National Hockey League franchise.
Early Life and Career
Régis Labeaume was born in the town of Roberval, on the shore of Quebec’s Lac Saint-Jean. The son of Maurice Labeaume and Thérèse Bolduc, Régis studied sociology at Université Laval. After graduating in 1980, he worked as a political aide to Jean-François Bertrand, the then minister of communications in the provincial Parti Québécois government.
From 1985 to 1993, Labeaume was the founding president of the mining company Société minière Mazarin. He also co-authored a book on mining innovations in Quebec, Les Innovations Dans le Monde Minier au Québec. He sat on the boards of Société Asbestos and Mines d’Amiante Bell.
Labeaume also worked as an executive for several technology firms in the Quebec City area, and as a consultant for foreign firms wishing to establish in Quebec. He was president and general manager of the Fondation de l’entrepreneurship, which promotes a culture of entrepreneurship in the Quebec City region. He was also a member of the board of directors of Hydro-Québec, the Fondation de l’Université Laval and the summer festival Festival d’été de Québec.
Labeaume said that he voted "yes" in Quebec’s referendums on sovereignty in 1980 and 1995. He ran unsuccessfully to become a Parti Québécois candidate in the riding of Montmorency in 1998. He also made a failed bid in 2005 to become leader of the Quebec City municipal party Renouveau municipal de Québec.
In October 2007, the Quebec City mayor Andrée Boucher died two years into her mandate. Two months later, Labeaume announced his intention to succeed her as an independent mayoral candidate.
He told an interviewer that he decided to enter municipal politics after one of his daughters declared her desire to attend school in Montréal, because she feared young people had no future in Quebec City. Labeaume set out to change that perspective, with a campaign aimed at halting the exodus of youth. He also encouraged investment in major events, to rejuvenate the city. Labeaume rallied independent city councillors to his side and in a special election on 2 December 2007, won with 59 per cent of the vote. He was re-elected as mayor in 2009 with 80 per cent of the votes, in 2013 with 74 per cent and in 2017 with 55 per cent.
Mayor of Quebec
Throughout his first term as mayor, Régis Labeaume put the emphasis on making Quebec City a major tourism destination in Canada.
The celebration of the city’s 400th anniversary in 2008 garnered international media coverage and included concerts by musical stars Paul McCartney and Céline Dion. So successful Labeaume was on drawing attention, tourists and business to the region that in 2012, The City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank, named him the No. 4 mayor in the world.
Labeaume, often combative and colourful – he was mocked by critics as the "Napoleon of Quebec" – is known for having stirred controversy with his remarks. In November 2015, as Canada prepared to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, Labeaume said the city would favour Syrian orphans and families with two children. “Families are less frightening to people than frustrated, 20-year-old men,” he told reporters. He later backtracked on the comments, saying he shouldn’t have said them. (See Canadian Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.)
He has also backtracked quickly from plans to ban pitbulls from the city after making remarks that generated outrage.
Olympics and Hockey
Labeaume has had a long interest in attracting sports events to Quebec City. He entertained a plan to make a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, but was told in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee that the city was ineligible because the nearby mountains weren't high enough.
In 1995, the Québec Nordiques relocated to Denver, Colorado and became the Colorado Avalanche. Since that time, in Quebec City there had been tremendous nostalgia for hockey. Lebeaume spent much of his tenure pursuing his dream to acquire a National Hockey League (NHL) franchise for his city. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the city had to meet two conditions to have a chance of getting a franchise – a new arena that would replace the Colisée Pepsi, and strong ownership.
Two months before the December 2009 municipal election, Labeaume announced his intention to proceed with a new 18,000 seat arena, to be built besides the old Colisée Pepsi, as part of a plan that would bring back the Nordiques. The federal government turned down a request to finance the arena, but the Quebec government and Quebec City agreed to pay the costs, estimated at $370 million. Quebecor Inc was granted exclusive rights to operate the arena, in a contract that was not awarded through an open bidding process. The arena is named Centre Vidéotron, after the company’s cable and Internet subsidiary.
Inaugurated on 12 September 2015, the arena was used only occasionally during its first year in operation for concerts and minor league hockey games. As of 2016 it was running a financial deficit. The municipal government pledged in the agreement to split any arena losses with Quebecor. Despite the gleaming new arena, the NHL opted in June 2016 to defer a decision on expanding to Quebec City and announced that Las Vegas would be the site of its newest team.
End of Career as a Mayor
On 29 January 2017, a deadly attack on the Centre culturel islamique de Québec shocked the Muslim community of Quebec. (See Quebec City Mosque Shooting; Islamophobia in Canada.) Régis Labeaume responded by taking a more active stance against racism and emphasizing the importance of learning how to live together. Three years later, he acknowledged that systemic racism was still a major problem.
In November 2017, he was re-elected with 55 per cent of the votes. His priority was to create a strong public transit system, including a streetcar. However, his initiative was hampered by the lack of funding from the Quebec government. In 2018, the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard and Régis Labeaume reached an agreement on a streetcar project. Nevertheless, the project lagged behind due to the defeat of the Liberal Party and the election of the Coaltion Avenir Québec. It was only in 2021 that a streetcar project in Quebec City was allowed.
During his mandate as a mayor, Labeaume also worked to get the Quebec City finances in order. He was successful in reducing the city’s debt while increasing investments.
After 14 years as a city mayor, he announced he was not going to run as a candidate for the 2021 municipal elections. Labeaume was replaced by Bruno Marchand as mayor of Quebec City. (See City Politics)