Denis Lessard has long been the “mister scoop” of Quebec political news. His primeurs often set the tone for one or more days of work on Parliament Hill. However, since his retirement, the journalist still finds a way to unearth little-known, even unpublished nuggets in the political history of Quebec.
How ? By going to immerse yourself in reading the minutes of the deliberations of the Councils of Ministers. Their content, except for the redacted passages, is made public after 25 years and posted on the website of the Ministère du Conseil exécutif (the Prime Minister’s department).
Denis Lessard cross-checks this information from primary sources with interviews with his countless sources and contacts among civil servants, political advisers and former politicians he has worked with over the years.
An example ? On October 30, in our pages, Mr. Lessard returned to the referendum on the Charlottetown accord held on October 26, 1992 and lost by the proponents of Yes to this federal-provincial agreement, an ersatz of the (failed) Meech Lake from 1990.
“We knew we were going to lose,” former Liberal minister Marc-Yvan Côté told him about Charlottetown. A review of the deliberations of the Council of Ministers also shows the concerns within it.
Retired since January 2020, Denis Lessard has published several historical-political reports on the history of Quebec over the past 100 years. These texts are gathered in a book, Beyond scandals – rivalries, crises and political reforms, published by Editions La Presse.
“These chronicles, this book, are like the highlights of the last 30, 50, 100 years, summarizes our colleague in an interview. The common thread is to see government leaders at work during crises. For example, how Robert Bourassa managed the Oka crisis (1990) or how René Lévesque and Jacques Parizeau were not of the same opinion when the government sought, in 1982, wage increases granted to state union members. before the referendum. A decision that caused a lot of uproar. »
By themes and events
The texts are grouped into three main themes: Emergence of modern Quebec, Serial crises (and misunderstandings) and Greatness and misery of politics. Each is divided into several chapters devoted to specific topics.
For example, the first theme deals with the creation of the Public Assistance Act, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. As an aside, Mr. Lessard signs several portraits of politicians and influential actors in modern Quebec history (Robert Bourassa, Bernard Landry, Roger Taillibert).
The usefulness of the minutes of the councils of ministers to write these texts is undeniable, assures the author.
We understand that the decisions that seem simple once made in the public square were the fruit, upstream, of many reflections, divisions, clashes between ministers.
Denis Lessard, journalist and author of Beyond the Scandals
Moreover, those who know the author know that he was one of the most fervent users of the telephone. And he does it again to add a human angle to what he’s telling. Especially, he says, that over the years, the interlocutors let their guard down.
“Several years later, they are more open and happy to talk about it,” he notes. Either because they are retired or because they are assigned to other files. This allows them to highlight their contribution. »
Mr. Lessard does not like the expression “in my time, it was better”, but he is forced to admit that the period 1990-2001 was of a “density and intensity never found since”. in the history of Quebec-Canada relations.
Between the sinking of Meech in June 1990 and the announcement of Lucien Bouchard’s departure in January 2001, the political wheel turned at breakneck speed with the Oka crisis, the Bélanger-Campeau commission, the creation of the Action Démocratique du Quebec by Mario Dumont, the passage of Jacques Parizeau, the referendums of 1992 and 1995, etc.
“Those who were there had the privilege of attending all these events in such a short period of time,” summarizes Mr. Lessard.
And if he could experience another era in our history, what would it be? “I would say that of Honoré Mercier, Henri Bourassa, Louis Riel and Wilfrid Laurier,” he replies. I have the impression that very important things happened at that time. These are founding moments of who we are today. »
Denis Lessard will be at the Salon du livre de Montréal on Saturday, November 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 27 from 1:30 to 3 p.m.