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Robert Bourassa

Robert Bourassa
22nd Premier of Quebec
In office
May 12, 1970 – November 25, 1976
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Hugues Lapointe
Preceded by Jean-Jacques Bertrand
Succeeded by René Lévesque
In office
December 12, 1985 – January 11, 1994
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Gilles Lamontagne
Martial Asselin
Preceded by Pierre-Marc Johnson
Succeeded by Daniel Johnson, Jr.
MNA for Saint-Laurent
In office
January 20, 1986 – January 11, 1994
Preceded by Germain Leduc
Succeeded by Normand Cherry
MNA for Mercier
In office
June 5, 1966 – November 25, 1976
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by Gérald Godin
Personal details
Born Jean-Robert Bourassa
(1933-07-14)July 14, 1933
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died October 2, 1996(1996-10-02) (aged 63)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Political party Quebec Liberal Party
Profession financial advisor, teacher, lawyer

Jean-Robert Bourassa,[1][2] GOQ (French pronunciation: ​; July 14, 1933 – October 2, 1996) was a politician in Quebec, Canada. He served as the 22nd Premier of Quebec in two different mandates, first from May 12, 1970, to November 25, 1976, and then from December 12, 1985, to January 11, 1994, serving a total of just under 15 years as Provincial Premier. The span between his two mandates is the longest of any Premier, Bourassa also has the longest span between his first and last day as a Quebec Premier.


  • Early years and education 1
  • Political life 2
    • First term as Premier 2.1
    • Second term as Premier 2.2
  • Final years 3
  • Quotations 4
  • Posthumous homage 5
  • Park Avenue controversy 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9
  • Election results (partial) 10

Early years and education

Bourassa was born to a working class family in Montreal, the son of Adrienne (née Courville) and Aubert Bourassa, a port authority worker.[3] Robert Bourassa graduated from the Université de Montréal law school in 1956 and was admitted to the Barreau du Québec the following year. On August 23, 1958, he married Andrée Simard, an heiress of the powerful shipbuilding Simard family of Sorel, Quebec. Later, he studied at the University of Oxford and also obtained a degree in political economy at Harvard University in 1960. On his return to Quebec, he was employed at the federal Department of National Revenue as a fiscal adviser. He also worked as a professor of public finance at Université de Montréal and Université Laval.

Political life

First term as Premier

Bourassa was first elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec (MLA) for the riding of Mercier in 1966, then won the Quebec Liberal Party leadership election on January 17, 1970. He positioned himself as a young, competent administrator. He chose "100 000 jobs" as his slogan, which emphasized that jobs creation would be his priority. Bourassa felt the extensive hydro-electric resources of Quebec were the most effective means of completing the modernization of Quebec and sustaining job creation. He successfully led his party into government in the 1970 election, defeating the conservative Union Nationale government[4] and becoming the youngest premier in Quebec history.

One of Bourassa's first crises as premier was the October Crisis of 1970, in which his labour minister, Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and murdered. Bourassa requested that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoke the War Measures Act.

Bourassa and Trudeau often clashed over issues of federal-provincial relations and Quebec nationalism, with Trudeau opposing what he saw as concessions to sovereignism. In 1971 he participated in an attempt at constitutional reform, the Victoria Charter, which quickly unravelled when Bourassa backed away from the proposed deal after it was strongly criticized by Quebec opinion leaders for not giving Quebec more powers.

During his time in power, Bourassa implemented policies aimed at protecting the status of the French language in Quebec. In 1974, he introduced Bill 22, which declared French to be the sole official language of the province. As a result, Quebec was no longer institutionally bilingual (English and French), though the rights of anglophones were still protected under the British North America Acts. Many businesses and professionals were unable to operate under such requirements. Bill 22 angered Anglophones while not going far enough for many Francophones; Bourassa was vilified by both groups.

Bourassa initiated the James Bay hydroelectric project in 1971 that led to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 with the Cree and Inuit inhabitants of the region. The Bourassa government also played a major role in rescuing the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal from huge cost overruns and construction delays. Bourassa's government became embroiled in corruption scandals.

Bourassa lost the 1976 provincial election to René Lévesque, leader of the separatist Parti Québécois, in a massive landslide brought on by the language controversy and the corruption scandals, among other things. Bourassa himself was heavily defeated in his own riding by PQ challenger Gérald Godin resigned as Liberal Party leader, and accepted teaching positions in Europe and the United States.[5] He remained in political exile until he returned to politics by winning the Quebec Liberal Party leadership election on October 15, 1983. On June 3, 1985, he won a by-election in Bertrand.

Second term as Premier

Bourassa led the PLQ to victory in the 1985 election. However, he lost his own seat to Parti Québécois candidate Jean-Guy Parent. On January 20, 1986, he was elected in a by-election in the Liberal stronghold of Saint-Laurent after the sitting Liberal MNA Germain Leduc resigned in his favour.

During his second term as premier, Bourassa invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that declared parts of the Charter of the French Language unconstitutional, causing some of his anglophone ministers to resign. A few years later, however, he introduced modifications to the language charter. These compromises reduced the controversy over language that had been a dominant feature of Quebec politics over the previous decades.

Bourassa also pushed for Quebec to be acknowledged in the Canadian constitution as a "distinct society", promising Quebec residents that their grievances could be resolved within Canada with a new constitutional deal. He worked closely with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and received many concessions from the federal government, culminating in the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. The Meech Lake Accord failed in June 1990 when two provinces, Manitoba and Newfoundland, refused to ratify the agreement their premiers had signed. That failure revived the Quebec separatist movement. The Charlottetown Accord was defeated in a nationwide plebiscite in 1992; it was heavily defeated even in Quebec, partly due to the perception that Bourassa had given away too much at the negotiations.

Final years

Bourassa retired from politics in 1994. He was replaced as Liberal leader and premier by Daniel Johnson, Jr., who lost an election to the sovereigntist Parti Québécois after only nine months.

In 1996, Bourassa died in Montreal of malignant melanoma[6] at the age of 63, and was interred at the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.


  • "No matter what anyone says and no matter what anyone does, Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and capable of assuming its destiny and development." (watch excerpts of original speech) (watch English dubbing) Meech Lake Accord.

Posthumous homage

Statue of Bourassa on the grounds of the Quebec legislature
  • A statue and a memorial of Bourassa was unveiled in front of the National Assembly on October 19, 2006.[7]
  • The City of Quebec renamed Highway Du Vallon, a major road in Quebec City, after Bourassa in late 2006.
  • In Montreal, the portion of Rue University from Bonaventure Expressway to Sherbrooke Street was renamed Boulevard Robert-Bourassa.[8]

Park Avenue controversy

On October 18, 2006, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced that Montreal's Park Avenue would be named after Bourassa.[7] On November 28 the Montreal city council voted in favour (40-22) of renaming Park Avenue after Bourassa.[9] If, as had been expected, Quebec's Toponymy Commission had approved the name change, all of Park Avenue and its continuation, Bleury, would have been renamed Robert Bourassa Avenue. This would have caused the newly named street to intersect René Lévesque Boulevard, named after a long time political rival to Bourassa. That boulevard, in turn, had been renamed from Dorchester Boulevard in 1987, in a decision that was also not without controversy.[10] This decision by the City of Montreal without any consultation with the people of the city caused an immediate controversy,[11] though many of those opposed to the change considered it a fait accompli.[12] The proposal spawned substantial grass-roots opposition, both because of the lack of prior citizen input and because Park is itself a meaningful street name, associated with the city's Mount Royal park.[13] In addition to protests and active opposition by a committee of Montreal residents and businesses opposed to the name change, an online petition garnered more than 18,000 virtual signatures against this renaming.[14] On February 5, 2007, Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay withdrew his proposal to rename Park Avenue.[15] However, there is a Robert Bourassa Blvd., located in the Duvernay district of Laval, Quebec.

In March 2015, a section of University Street (from Notre-Dame Street to Sherbrooke Street) in the downtown core of Montreal was renamed Robert-Bourassa Boulevard.

See also


  1. ^ "Quebec's New Premier". The New York Times. May 1, 1970. 
  2. ^ Martin, Douglas (December 4, 1985). "Man In The News: Jean Robert Bourassa; A Quebecer Back On Top". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Biography". Dictionnaire des parlementaires du Québec de 1792 à nos jours (in French).  
  4. ^ Downey, Donn. Former premier fought for Quebec, A14. The Globe & Mail, October 3, 1996.
  5. ^ Encyclopédie de L'Agora | Bourassa Robert
  6. ^ Came, Barry; Brenda Branswell (1996-10-14). "Bourassa, Robert (Obituary)".  
  7. ^ a b "Bourassa statue unveiled as street naming stirs controversy". CBC News. October 19, 2006. 
  8. ^ "Part of University Street renamed Robert-Bourassa Boulevard". CBC. March 18, 2015. 
  9. ^ Turn the page' on Park Avenue debate: mayor"'".  
  10. ^ "Montreal to rename Dorchester Blvd. after Levesque".  
  11. ^ "Bourassa handed Park's spot".  
  12. ^ "Tremblay's high-handed deletion of Park Ave.".  
  13. ^ "Ave du Parc, je me souviens".  
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Montreal mayor drops plan to rename Parc Avenue".  

External links

  • The Trickster: Robert Bourassa and Quebeckers 1990–1992 JF Lisée book on Bourassa available online on Google Print.
  • CBC Digital Archives: Robert Bourassa: Political Survivor
  • Robert Bourassa, by Daniel Latouche

Election results (partial)

Quebec provincial by-election, January 20, 1986: Saint-Laurent
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Robert Bourassa 16,020 82.70 +8.48
New Democratic Sid Ingerman 1,701 8.78 +5.36
Parti indépendantiste Gilles Rhéaume 778 4.02
Green Jacques Plante 278 1.44
Humanist Anne Farrell 202 1.04
Independent Vincent Trudel 177 0.91
Independent Martin Lavoie 70 0.36
United Social Credit Léopold Milton 66 0.34
Non-affiliated Patricia Métivier 49 0.25
Independent Jay Lawrence Taylor 31 0.16
Total valid votes 19,372 98.65
Total rejected ballots 266 1.35
Turnout 19,638 46.19 −26.22
Electors on the lists 42,514
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
Quebec general election, 1976: Mercier
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Parti Québécois Gérald Godin 13,450 51.38 +9.57
Liberal Robert Bourassa (incumbent) 9,714 37.11 −15.76
Union Nationale Giuseppe Anzini 1,975 7.55 +5.97
Ralliement créditiste Robert Roy 647 2.47 −0.64
     NDP - RMS coalition Henri-François Gautrin 139 0.53 -
Communist Guy Desautels 116 0.44 -
     Workers Gaston Morin 77 0.30 -
     No designation Louise Ouimet 58 0.22 -
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
Quebec general election, 1973: Mercier
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Robert Bourassa 13,757 52.87 +6.22
Parti Québécois Louis O'Neill 10,877 41.81 +4.47
Ralliement créditiste Georges Brault 809 3.11 +0.03
Union Nationale Jean-Louis Décarie 411 1.58 −11.03
Marxist–Leninist Robert-A. Cruise 70 0.27 -
     Independent Guy Robillard 53 0.20 -
     No designation Jeannette Pratte Walsh 23 0.09 -
     No designation Guy Robitaille 18 0.07 -
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
Quebec general election, 1970: Mercier
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Robert Bourassa 15,337 46.65 +2.38
Parti Québécois Pierre Bourgault 12,276 37.34 -
Union Nationale Conrad Touchette 4,145 12.61 −29.71
Ralliement créditiste Clément Patry 1,011 3.08 -
     Independent Paul Ouellet 106 0.32 -
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
Quebec general election, 1966: Mercier
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Robert Bourassa 11,759 44.27 −9.80
Union Nationale Conrad Touchette 11,241 42.32 −1.18
     RIN André Dagenais 3,115 11.73 -
     Ralliement national Roger Smith 335 1.26 -
     Independent Lucien-Jacques Cossette 112 0.42 -
Source: Official Results, Le Directeur général des élections du Québec.
National Assembly of Quebec
Preceded by
Jean-Baptiste Crépeau (Liberal)
MNA, District of Mercier
Succeeded by
Gérald Godin (Parti Québécois)
Preceded by
Denis Lazure (Parti Québécois)
MNA, District of Bertrand
Succeeded by
Jean-Guy Parent (Parti Québécois)
Preceded by
Germain Leduc (Liberal)
MNA, District of Saint-Laurent
Succeeded by
Normand Cherry (Liberal)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jean Lesage
Leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec
Succeeded by
Gérard D. Levesque
Preceded by
Gérard D. Levesque
Leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec
Succeeded by
Daniel Johnson, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Jean-Jacques Bertrand (Union Nationale)
Premier of Quebec
Succeeded by
René Lévesque (Parti Québécois)
Preceded by
Pierre Marc Johnson (Parti Québécois)
Premier of Quebec
Succeeded by
Daniel Johnson, Jr. (Liberal)
Preceded by
Gérard D. Levesque (Liberal)
Leader of the Opposition in Quebec
Succeeded by
Pierre-Marc Johnson (Parti Québécois)
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