Landry, Bernard

Landry, Bernard
▪ 2002

      Bernard Landry was sworn in as Quebec's 28th prime minister (premier) on March 8, 2001. Changes in the leadership of the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) following the defeat of the province's 1995 referendum on sovereignty had helped bring Landry to the head of the government. The new prime minister's goals for Quebec were clear and uncompromising: independence combined with an economic union with the rest of Canada. Landry asserted that Quebec was more than a “distinct society” within Canada; it was a nation that deserved to be recognized as a state. Only statehood, he believed, would allow Quebec to fulfill its destiny as a French-language community in North America.

      Landry was born on March 9, 1937, near Joliette, Que. He studied law and economics in Montreal and Paris. In the 1970s he joined the PQ, a movement committed to winning independence for Quebec. The PQ came to power in the province in 1976, and Landry was elected to the legislature. He rose rapidly through a number of cabinet posts to become Quebec's minister of finance.

      In 1985 the PQ—and Landry—lost office, but nine years later the party was returned to power, and Landry resumed his former position as minister of finance. He was also appointed deputy prime minister, a post that made him second in command of the provincial administration. He threw himself into the important task of reviving the Quebec economy, which had been weakened by years of political uncertainty. He also saw the need to restore a sound basis to Quebec's public finances. Both these tasks were essential, he argued, to give credibility to Quebec's claims of statehood. His efforts were crowned with success when he balanced the books of the provincial government in 1999 for the first time in many years.

      Observers expected Landry to face some tough challenges in his mission to secure an independent Quebec. In particular, he had to contend with the province's English-speaking residents and immigrants, who were strongly opposed to separation. Overall popular support for independence had been falling steadily since the 1995 referendum and by 2001 stood at about 40%. Landry had also developed a reputation for being short-tempered and outspoken. Whether he could placate his opponents and revive a flagging Quebec nationalism was open to question. Another referendum would have to be held in order to win the right to negotiate independence, and Landry made it clear that a vote would take place only when conditions were ripe for the referendum's success. By year's end it was still too early to assess whether Landry would become the first head of an independent Quebec.

David M.L. Farr

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

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