Chretien, Mulroney share common nemesis: Bouchard
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2007 5:12PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 6:50PM EDT
OTTAWA - In the battle of the books between two ex-prime ministers, one common political nemesis is set to take a pummelling from both sides: Lucien Bouchard.
The former Quebec premier is depicted as a duplicitous back-stabber in Brian Mulroney's new autobiography.
He will again take his lumps when Jean Chretien's own memoirs are released next month, according to sources close to the Liberal prime minister.
Chretien will describe a face-to-face meeting that casts a new light on the former prime minister's own bitterness in the aftermath of the 1995 Quebec referendum.
"I will be very happy to work with him in the interest of all Quebecers,'' was what Chretien said publicly when Bouchard left federal politics to become premier in 1996.
But Chretien's forthcoming memoirs will reveal a testy private encounter he had with Bouchard at the time.
The prime minister invited the departing Bloc Quebecois leader to his office and expressed his disgust at having been demonized in the midst of the 1995 Quebec referendum campaign.
The meeting was heated and Chretien was unsparing in his fury, according to a source who has seen the manuscript.
Bouchard provided some of the most scorching oratory in Canada's recent political history when he took over the Yes campaign and nearly led it to victory in the final weeks of the referendum campaign.
He regularly ridiculed Chretien and depicted him as a traitor to the interests of his fellow Quebecois.
In one famous example Bouchard pulled out an old cover of the Journal de Montreal that implied Chretien and then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau were mocking Quebec.
Although the cover photo of them laughing had been taken earlier in a different context, it ran with a 1981 story announcing the patriation of the Constitution without Quebec's consent and the headline: "(Premier Rene) Levesque betrayed.''
Those days leading up to the Oct. 30, 1995 referendum were among the darkest of Chretien's prime ministership.
Less than a week before the vote, Chretien had to be consoled by his MPs as he broke down in tears before his Liberal caucus.
"I don't want to be the last prime minister of Canada,'' an emotionally drained Chretien told a group of federalist campaign workers at the time, according to his biographer Lawrence Martin.
Chretien had been warned by Quebec Liberals to steer clear of the campaign and, the few times he dared wading in, he was ridiculed by Bouchard.
The sovereigntist leader joked that support for independence grew whenever Chretien opened his mouth.
He charged that Chretien "brutally stuffed an entire constitution'' down Quebec's throat.
"Mr. Chretien,'' he told a TV audience as he brandished the 14-year-old Journal front page, "you won't pull the same trick on us twice.''
Resentment toward Bouchard is one point of commonality between the two prime ministerial memoirs.
Though they wore opposing political colours and ran their governments in starkly contrasting styles, the men shared an identical frustration over the near-Messianic status Bouchard held with Quebec nationalists.
Fresh from a near-death experience that required a leg amputation in 1994, Bouchard was greeted by adoring crowds who strained to touch him during electrifying rallies in favour of independence. He was compared to Moses and Mahatma Gandhi.
But in Mulroney's book, he is painted as a political Judas.
Mulroney's memoirs drip with bitterness as he describes how he helped build Bouchard's career only to be betrayed in the end by his friend of 30 years.
"I viewed him with the affection and trust a man usually has for his brother,'' Mulroney writes.
He describes how he found his old law-school buddy his first major job in the 1970s.
Then he recalls publicly defending Bouchard when he was a provincial negotiator in a labour dispute with public-sector unions in the early 1980s.
Once in power, Mulroney named Bouchard as Canada's ambassador to Paris despite his lack of diplomatic experience.
Mulroney writes that he then took an "inept'' rookie politician and gave him the safest possible landing in Ottawa: an instant cabinet seat.
He says he campaigned to help Bouchard win a seat in a byelection, made him the Tories' Quebec lieutenant, and elevated him to the sensitive environment portfolio.
But in a new CTV interview he now says of Bouchard: "He won't come to my funeral.''
Mulroney wrote that he grieved for weeks when Bouchard quit his cabinet to found the Bloc in 1990, and wondered whether he had done something wrong.
"As the years went by and Bouchard wrote and spoke of this historic matter, his version of events gained credence and acceptability,'' he writes.
"(But) the entire episode had been a complete hoax. He had fabricated every word of his story.''
Bouchard has always maintained that he left his friend's cabinet on a point of principle, distressed by the supposed watering-down of the Meech Lake accord.
But Mulroney says the constitutional deal was never watered down at all before it died in 1990.
He says his doubts about Bouchard were finally put to rest by a 2004 book that details how his friend secretly plotted a defection with sovereigntist leaders while publicly professing loyalty to his government.
"I was thunderstruck, unable to believe my eyes . . . (and) overcome with sadness and regret,'' Mulroney writes.
"I could clearly see for the first time how foolish I had been in placing such loyalty, trust and friendship in a man incapable of such feelings. It was my mistake.''
"I paid heavily for it. Unfortunately - and this is why I will never forgive myself - so did the country.''
As for Bouchard, he went on to become a popular premier and was elected to a second term in 1998, before abruptly retiring from politics in 2001.
He remains popular with Quebecers but is now viewed with suspicion in sovereigntist circles.
He now refuses to attend Parti Quebecois functions, and no longer espouses public support for independence.
Many in his old party blame his go-slow approach to independence for killing the momentum that existed in the sovereignty movement in the 1990s.
A phone call to his office requesting comment on Mulroney's book went unreturned.