From where I sit On The Kowch, I paused upon hearing the news that former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau died at the age of 84. As an anglophone Quebecer, I’m supposed to hate the man who almost succeeded breaking up Canada on October 30, 1995 when the Yes side in Quebec’s second referendum received 49.6% support from voters. You can’t get any closer than that … he lost the referendum by less than a half share point and blamed “the ethnics and money” for the defeat. The next day he quit as premier.
I raised my two daughters, Melissa and Layla, that “hate” is too strong a word to be used carelessly. So I find it difficult to have hate on my mind upon hearing the news of his death. Instead, what came to my mind was the first time I met Parizeau and how our encounter made front page news.
It was on my first day as CJAD Radio’s Quebec National Assembly Bureau Chief that I first met Parizeau in November of 1984. That’s the day he quit the Parti Quebecois and politics all together because he was upset about how sovereignty was being shelved by his leader and then premier, Rene Levesque. I suspect in the TV video recap of his career, you’ll see a shot of Parizeau walking into an elevator to leave the Quebec National Assembly and there was my CJAD Radio News mic flash almost being caught in the closing of the elevator doors.
But that’s not why my first encounter with Parizeau who was Quebec’s Finance Minister at the time, made headlines in the Quebec media.
I wrote about our first meeting in my book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media. The story is at the end of Chapter 9. The story of our encounter is Example #81 of 99 points on how having the right attitude can make a difference in beating the competition.
Excerpt from Making It BIG In Media:
“It was quite a start to my career as a political reporter. Half the government’s cabinet ministers quit on my first day. Quebec Finance Minister Jacques Parizeau was rumoured to be thinking of quitting too.
“I spotted Parizeau having lunch with his wife in the Quebec National Assembly restaurant. The entire press corps was standing outside the restaurant watching him have lunch. No one made a move to interview him at the table.
“Being the new kid in town I wanted the story. Are you leaving or are you staying? So I decided to approach Parizeau and interrupt his lunch. The other reporters just looked on. The finance minister was not impressed with my actions.
“He lectured me on the tradition of never approaching a cabinet minister at his table when there was still food on his plate and wine in his glass. I explained that I wasn’t aware of the tradition because it was my first day on the job. Parizeau said all the more reason to set me straight as I started my career of covering politics! It was a good-natured scolding that ended when he pointed to what exit he would be leaving the restaurant from and invited me to speak to him there.
“When I returned to the rest of the reporters they were laughing at my failed attempt to get the interview. But a Gazette reporter recognized there might be a story to my interrupting Parizeau’s lunch. So he pulled me aside and interviewed me about my scolding by the finance minister. The next morning you could imagine my surprise that the story about me interrupting Parizeau’s lunch was front page news!
“It was as if I had hired a PR company to let the politicians know I was the new reporter at the Quebec National Assembly. The story detailed who I was, how it was my first day on the job, and how I interrupted Parizeau’s lunch and got a scolding before he announced his departure from politics.
“Sometimes you get to stand above the crowd just for trying to do your job as a reporter when everyone else just stands around watching. I’m sure if another reporter had approached Parizeau they would have made the front page of The Gazette. I was never good at just standing around watching other people try to beat me.”
From where I sit On The Kowch, when I learned that Parizeau died, I was sad because the reaction to his death in Quebec and in English Canada made it obvious that there continues to be a disconnect in this country of ours. Twenty years after federalist forces won (albeit by a razor thin margin) the second referendum that kept Canada whole, Quebecers will line up for hours to witness his state funeral, applaud and tearfully shout Merci Monsieur when the coffin arrives and leaves the church. At the same time, English Canadians will watch in amazement and not understand how so many loved the man they despise.
You just have to look at what is being posted on social media in English Canada about Parizeau’s death. The French media in Quebec are outraged by what the Journal de Montreal calls “disgraceful” comments by anglos on social media. The Journal’s website is full of English tweets and Facebook postings:
Here are some examples:
For me, Parizeau’s death, is yet another reminder that the Two Solitudes I experienced growing up as the only Anglo on my street in east end Montreal, still exists in Canada today. And that is what makes me sad about the death of the man Quebecers affectionately refer to as “Monsieur”.
Steve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He was National Director of NewsTalk Radio Programming for Astral Media. He was a professor at two of Toronto’s leading broadcast schools and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media Today Steve is Canada’s leading media coach at kowchmedia helping emerging radio talent chase their dream to become great broadcasters.
Contact Steve at 647-521-6397 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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