Jean Lapierre is a bridge over divisive politics
Pundit a voice of reason for francophones and anglophones
Former politician Jean Lapierre makes his opinions known not just in the francophone media, but on CTV and CJAD as well. “I say exactly the same thing in French as I do in English. I make sure of that,” says Lapierre, who believes “the sovereignty debate is over.”
Photograph by: Dave Sidaway, THE GAZETTE
MONTREAL - He is the francophone to whom scores of Montreal anglophones turn for an explanation of which way the ever-volatile political winds are blowing in this province. Think of Jean Lapierre as the bridge over often troubled waters.
As popular a pundit as he may be with francophones on French radio and TV, Lapierre, the man with a million political connections, has become an oracle of sorts to anglos due to his regular appearances on CJAD and CTV. He is also one of the most in-demand speakers in town — on the anglo circuit, not just the franco circuit.
Anglos here may not be too familiar with chanteuse Marie-Mai, but they know Lapierre. Outside of RDS’s Habs broadcaster Pierre Houde, he likely has more clout and cred among anglos than any other franco media personality in the province. No matter that Lapierre, between stints as a federal Liberal, was a founding member of the Bloc Québécois; he is now viewed parmi les anglais as a calming voice of reason.
It’s not for nothing that Lapierre has this exalted status. He doesn’t sit back and deliver sermons from the mountain or from the comfort of his living room. He works it — tirelessly. He hits all the political rodeos. He spent 35 days during the Quebec election campaign on his own bus — provided by TVA — touring all regions of the province, talking to regular people and politicos alike. He foresaw a Parti Québécois minority, the growing popularity of Coalition Avenir Québec and, oh yeah, the non-collapse of the Liberals — as opposed to what pollsters were predicting.
Between radio and TV gigs, the diminutive Lapierre, 56, is sending out e-missives on his iPad, fielding calls and preparing research for his next broadcast. He’s sitting in the deserted lobby bar of — how’s this for symbolism? — the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where he often retreats for some quiet time.
Lapierre — the former MNA for Shefford and Outremont, federal minister of transport and Quebec’s Liberal lieutenant during Paul Martin’s reign — couldn’t be more delighted to be out of politics and back into broadcasting. He left politics for punditry for good in January 2007.
“The beauty of it all is that I have total freedom to say what I want with no strings attached, whether it be on TVA, CTV, 98.5 or CJAD,” says the flawlessly bilingual Lapierre. “I see it as a privilege to have access to CTV and CJAD, but the good thing about it is that I say exactly the same thing in French as I do in English. I make sure of that, too.”
Be it in French or English, Lapierre is a reassuring voice to concerned anglos and allophones. His views are perceived to be in stark contrast to those of some of our political overlords.
“I happen to believe that we are blessed in this city, in this province and in this country. We’ve got both cultures, but we don’t have enough people out there to (bring them together). That’s sad, because a lot of people are trying to put up a wall between us. In the city, we should have common goals. I see it as a lack of leadership. The problem with (Mayor Gérald) Tremblay is that he’s got 49 priorities.”
What will come as even more reassuring to many is Lapierre’s post-election assessment: “I think the sovereignty debate is over.”
As for his decision to help found the Bloc Québécois in 1990 alongside Lucien Bouchard and others, Lapierre notes that he did so after the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord because he wanted “a level playing field for Quebec.” He also points out that he was the “red in the (Bloc) rainbow” and was never a separatist. Indeed, he fought for the federal cause alongside Pierre Trudeau in the 1980 referendum.
“Try as some did, especially when I came back to politics later, they could never find one quote from me advocating separation,” insists Lapierre, who quit the Bloc and retired from politics in 1992, before returning a decade later. “I never felt that way. I just felt we had to have a new relationship. But now I think we’re at the end of this debate, and that’s what I liked about this election.
“A third, a third, a third (the vote for the three main parties) — that means Quebec is at a crossroads to go to a new debate, to a new level. The young people now are citizens of the world. They see things differently. Before, 80 to 85 per cent of the young supported sovereignty. The last CROP poll said only 28 per cent (from all demographics) supported it. It’s a big drop. Now the goal is to find common challenges — although we won’t get it from this (PQ) bunch in Quebec City; they’ll try to keep the old debate going.”
Lapierre believes that many of the young are singing a different tune from their franco elders for a valid reason: “They have no score to settle. When I speak to young people here, they don’t have any inferiority complex. It’s over. They feel they are part of a great society and want to make it work.
“I’m just trying to bring some common sense to these debates, because extremists are taking the lead in the media — in both camps. That creates friction. But the real people are in the middle, and they are more numerous.”
Echoing the words of wisdom uttered by René Lévesque in the classic Aislin cartoon when the PQ first came to power, Lapierre feels that “everyone should take a Valium.”
“There is no need to panic. Sure, there are some in the PQ who are going to try to create chaos with Ottawa. Hopefully, people of reason in Ottawa are not going to bite into that.
“A lot of the things that are going to be tabled — like the new Bill 101 — won’t go through. I can’t see the Liberals and the CAQ agreeing that our kids will be stuck in a ghetto and won’t be able to go to English CEGEPs. Mme. Marois has to realize that she is handcuffed. Her government may not live for long. Especially with more spending, less revenues.”
Lapierre isn’t a one-trick pundit. He also has sharp opinions on the municipal and federal scenes. He thinks Justin Trudeau has the “nostalgic” edge to become the Liberal leader, but he also feels the Liberals and NDP will eventually have to merge — “otherwise the Tories are going to be in power forever.”
And despite the myriad woes — from corruption to crumbling infrastructure — Lapierre believes quality of life trumps all in Montreal.
“My favourite walk is down St. Laurent Blvd. I just adore the diversity of it, and of so much of the city as well. I smell it. I feel it. I love it. It’s still a place where people’s dreams can come true.”
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