Le Prince : faire souffrir le Québec
28 février 2021
Published October 27, 2005
(extraits qui font la lumière sur son influence sur des politiciens au Québec, y inclus Lucien Bouchard ! )
In 1967, the year before he gained Power, Desmarais, who was only 40, realized another personal ambition. He became a media baron by buying La Presse, then Montreal's largest-circulation French-language daily. He wasted no time exercising his authority over the paper's content. Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson Sr.'s Union Nationale government had been elected in 1966 on the slogan "Égalité ou indépendance" (Equality or Independence), threatening to take the province out of Canada unless it got more constitutional powers. Shortly after taking over La Presse, Desmarais flew with a reporter to Hawaii, where Johnson was recovering from illness, in order to extract a clarification. Johnson conceded that he wanted renewed federalism and not the erection of a "Great Wall of China" around Quebec. Talk about a scoop!
Desmarais' unabashedly federalist views, and evidence that he has used his wealth and newspapers to promote them, have made him an unloved figure in most of francophone Quebec. Still, Desmarais does not as a rule discriminate among politicians, courting federalists and sovereigntists, federal Liberals and Conservatives alike. He was one of the first business leaders to recognize the legitimacy of the Parti Québécois government's mandate in 1976, participating in René Lévesque's business-labour summits. He and Lévesque had a begrudging but respectful friendship for years. Desmarais befriended Lucien Bouchard when the latter was still a federalist and serving as Canada's ambassador in Paris, a post to which he was appointed by Desmarais' closest political soulmate, Brian Mulroney. But Desmarais remained pals with Bouchard even after he betrayed Mulroney, founded the Bloc Québécois and almost won the 1995 referendum. Desmarais always doubted Bouchard was a true separatist, and many see his influence in Bouchard's decision to throw in the towel in 2001. Similarly, Desmarais is said to have played a role in persuading Daniel Johnson Jr., whom he employed between 1973 and 1981, to step down as Quebec Liberal leader in favour of Jean Charest in 1998.
If Desmarais befriends most politicians, he does not hold them all in equally high regard. He has much more admiration for Mulroney, Bouchard and Trudeau, for instance, than for Chrétien or Paul Martin, the former Power exec to whom he sold Canada Steamship. It must go back to that "strong personalities" thing. Desmarais never expected much from Jean Charest and, hence, has not been surprised by his so far lacklustre performance as premier. He supported his recruitment as Liberal leader because it looked like the only way to foil the separatists, then led by a man for whom Desmarais has infinitely more time, Bouchard. The speculation these days is that Desmarais sees PQ hopeful André Boisclair as a leader in Bouchard's image-a moderate (hence, acceptable) sovereigntist with a pro-economy bent. That has led Boisclair's detractors in the PQ to label him "the man from Gesca."
Given all of the above, it goes without saying that political savvy is a job requirement at Power. Those without it need not apply. You may have a degree from Harvard Business School and crunch numbers better than a computer, but unless you know how public policy is made, how to navigate the political process or how bureaucrats think, you're of no interest to the House of Desmarais. This explains why so many members of the Power brain trust have worked in government and politics. (...)