Ex-Separatist Quebec premier dead at 84

AP News
Posted: Jun 02, 2015 4:17 PM

MONTREAL (AP) — Jacques Parizeau, the blunt-talking former separatist Quebec premier who came close to taking the French-speaking province out of Canada, has died. He was 84.

Current Separatist Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau confirmed the death Tuesday and said the entire province is in mourning. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Parizeau will have a state funeral. Both Couillard and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed condolences.

The blustery, mustachioed Parizeau was premier during the 1995 provincial referendum when Quebecois voted against separation by a slim margin in a referendum.

In career-ending comments on referendum night, Parizeau blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for the loss and was roundly criticized to the point that he resigned as premier a day later.

"We are beaten, it is true," he said of the French in Quebec. "But by what, basically? By money and ethnic votes."

Many said the remarks were racist as he targeted and blamed immigrants and English speakers in Quebec for the loss. In an interview in October 2013, Parizeau insisted the infamous remark was not meant to target specific voters — just community organizations.

"The common front of the Italian, Greek and Jewish congresses was politically active in an extraordinary way in the No camp and had formidable success," Parizeau told a Montreal radio station. "It was very efficient."

Parizeau lacked the common touch so often attributed to former Parti Quebecois premier Rene Levesque.

Parizeau never denied it and it put him in the shadow of then federal separatist Bloc Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard during the referendum campaign. He eventually ceded the forefront of the Yes committee's leadership to Bouchard, who had gained near mythic status with Quebecers after surviving a bout with deadly flesh-eating disease.

The strategy worked well. Bouchard stirred Quebecers with his passionate oratory while Parizeau worked behind the scenes, making Quebec government agencies squirrel away billions to offset any financial shock from a separatist win.

And as Bouchard touted the importance of negotiating with the rest of Canada, Parizeau courted France to recognize a Quebec declaration of independence.

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"My sympathies to all of us," Peladeau said. "One of the great builders of the modern Quebec."

Parizeau hailed from a prominent family in the upscale Montreal suburb of Outremont. His father was a historian and author as well as the president of an insurance company. Parizeau studied at the Universite de Montreal's highly regarded business school as well as in Paris. He was also schooled at the prestigious London School of Economics in the 1950s.

The father of two children — Isabelle, a lawyer, and Bernard, a doctor — Parzeau was married to Polish-born novelist Alice Poznanska, who died in 1990. In 1992, he married Lisette Lapointe, a former aide who went on to forge her own political career as a member of the Quebec national assembly.

Couillard said Parizeau left behind specific details for his last rites. No date was announced.