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Are you a separatist or not, Mr. Lévesque?

The Story

A regular interviewer challenges the savvy René Lévesque on this episode of This Hour Has Seven Days: "How far do you want Quebec to slide out of Confederation?" The interviewer's name is Pierre Elliott Trudeau and he's a rare intellectual match for Lévesque, the adroit Liberal minister. Along with CBC reporter Larry Zolf, Trudeau fires bold questions at Lévesque, one of Quebec's most skilled politicians. During the interview Lévesque tells Zolf that he's not a separatist even though rumour has it the minister favours an independent Quebec. In a typical passionate outburst, Lévesque raises his voice to defend separatists. He accuses the media of lumping them all together as extremists. But Trudeau insists that Canada should be worried about the movement's radicals. Trudeau predicts a violent backlash to what is seen as anglophone oppression, oddly prescient of the October Crisis that would erupt six years later.

Medium: Television
Program: This Hour has Seven Days
Broadcast Date: Dec. 6, 1964
Guests: René Lévesque
Interviewer: Pierre Trudeau, Larry Zolf
Duration: 9:29

Did You know?

• At the time of this clip Lévesque was Natural Resources Minister for the Quebec government. As one of Premier Jean Lesage's ministers, he had considerable influence. A crafty politician, Lesage took Quebec's electricity out of private hands -- a move Quebecers saw as essential to gaining self-determination.
• Lévesque began his career as a journalist in 1943, and took a job in 1944 reporting overseas for the army.

• But Lévesque refused to work for English Canadian army bosses. Instead, he covered stories for the American army.
• In 1946 Levesque moved on to a job with the CBC. In 1952, he became head of news for Radio-Canada International. He also hosted Point de Mire, a popular political program that brought him considerable notoriety.
• Lévesque's shift from journalism to politics was aided by an event at the CBC.

• After a CBC production strike in 1959, in which Lévesque was a vocal participant, the Quebec Liberal party approached him about entering political life. His participation in the strike was highly publicized -- he was arrested and it was shown on television.
• Pierre Elliott Trudeau would move on from lawyer-pundit to justice minister (1967) and then prime minister (1968).
• While Trudeau was prime minister, a radical separatist group kidnapped a British diplomat and a Quebec minister.

• The Front de Libération du Québec used violence to make a point about what they called "anglophone oppression" -- the claim that francophones were discriminated against by English Canadians.
• Trudeau turned Canada into a military state by declaring the controversial War Measures Act in order to save the kidnapped politicians.


René Lévesque's Separatist Fight more