Lise Payette, Quebec author, journalist, feminist and politician, dead at 87
Former Parti Quebecois cabinet Minister Lise Payette, smiles as she enters a ceremony to receive the Prix du Quebec award at the National Assembly in Quebec City on November 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, September 6, 2018 9:50AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 6, 2018 6:25PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Lise Payette, a former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister who was responsible for creating the province's automobile insurance board and who ended up playing a key role in the 1980 referendum campaign, has died at the age of 87.
The popular Quebec feminist, author, journalist and television personality was surrounded by friends and relatives when she died Wednesday, her family said in a statement.
"Lise Ouimet Payette managed to take control of her destiny and advance Quebec society through her determination, courage and willingness to offer the generations that followed a better and more equal world," the statement said.
Quebec sovereignty and equality for women were the causes that marked Payette's life but she is perhaps best remembered in certain circles for unintentionally hurting the Yes campaign during the 1980 independence referendum campaign.
She compared the wife of then-Quebec Liberal leader Claude Ryan to "Yvette," a submissive young girl in a textbook and, although she apologized a few weeks later, the damage had been done.
The comments were denounced in the media and the federalist No side jumped on them, eventually organizing a rally at the Montreal Forum attended by about 15,000 people, mostly women.
Some people described the so-called "Yvette incident" as a crucial moment of the campaign and a direct cause of the Yes side's defeat by a margin of 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
Payette did not share that opinion but did acknowledge her remark had been clumsy.
Born in 1931 in the working-class Montreal neighbourhood of St-Henri, she started in journalism in the 1950s with stints at various Quebec radio stations before heading to Paris.
She later returned to Quebec and worked as a TV host on a popular show dubbed "Appelez-moi Lise" until 1975. The late-night concept, new to the province, broke ratings records despite its unconventional 11 p.m. broadcast time.
Payette then jumped into provincial politics, representing the now-defunct riding of Dorion for the PQ under Rene Levesque between 1976 and 1981, and immediately became the only female cabinet minister.
During her brief political career, Payette held multiple cabinet positions and accomplished numerous feats, including beefed-up provincial consumer protection rules.
She oversaw the revision of Quebec's Civil Code, no longer making it obligatory for women to assume their husband's family name upon marriage, as well as bringing in changes to allow children to carry the surnames of both parents.
Payette also extended access to daycare and was responsible for the creation of Quebec's automobile insurance board, ushering in the province's highly controversial no-fault insurance regime.
"For the first time in my life, I managed to have unanimity against me," Payette wrote in her memoirs.
She also updated the province's licence plate slogan in 1978 from "La Belle Province" to "Je me souviens," which is still in use today.
Premier Philippe Couillard, a staunch federalist who admittedly didn't share Payette's political views, paid tribute to her Thursday as he campaigned ahead of the Oct. 1 provincial election.
"(She was) a major TV personality who had a significant influence on Quebec society," the Liberal leader said. "But also, and mainly, a major figure of Quebec's feminist movement."
The province's Council on the Status of Women also expressed sadness at Payette's passing.
"Lise Payette was a great feminist, she made history in Quebec through her remarkable contribution to equality issues in our society," said president Louise Cordeau.
"She has inspired generations of Quebec women by demonstrating they are capable of anything."
Payette did not seek re-election in 1981 and returned to a successful TV writing career, penning Quebec soaps "Des dames de coeur," "La Bonne Aventure," "Un signe de feu" and "Marilyn," the first daily soap on Quebec television.
"At the heart of all these series is the reality of Quebec women and their quest for equality between them and men," her family said.
Payette also published several books and wrote regular newspaper columns for Le Journal de Montreal and Le Devoir between 2004 and 2016, commenting on the great challenges facing Quebec society.
The statement says Payette is survived by her children Daniel, Dominique and Sylvie, grandchildren Flavie and Louis and great-grandchild Philippe, along with their respective partners.
A spokesman says funeral arrangements have not been finalized.