Jean Lapierre, Quebec political commentator, dead at 59

As politician and pundit, Jean Lapierre stood at the centre of Quebec politics for more than a generation.

Lapierre's opinion on Quebec politics heard daily by thousands

As politician and pundit, Jean Lapierre stood at the centre of Quebec politics for more than a generation.

He died Tuesday in a plane crash, along with his wife, Nicole Beaulieu, and three siblings as they made their way to the funeral for Lapierre's father, Raymond, on the Magdalen Islands.

The funeral for all six deceased family members has been set for Friday, April 8 in Bassin, on Amherst Island – the most southerly of the Magdalen Islands, where Raymond Lapierre raised his family.

A commemorative mass will take place in Montreal the following week, on Saturday, April 16 at 11 a.m. at St-Viateur d'Outremont Church. 

Lapierre, 59, had a near ubiquitous presence in Quebec media in recent years. He was a go-to political commentator on radio and television in both official languages.

On any given day, his opinions and reporting about federal and provincial politics were heard by hundreds of thousands of Quebecers.

Lapierre and the rat-pack 

But before joining the fourth estate, Lapierre was known as a masterful if chameleon-like political operative.

He spent the first decade of his elected career as a Liberal MP for Shefford, Que., serving as the deputy House leader in 1984.

In Opposition, he developed a reputation for his acerbic questions and was part of the so-called "rat pack," a group of young hotshot Liberal MPs that included Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin and Don Boudria.

"We were part of a group that was trying to save the party after the big 1984 defeat," Copps said Tuesday, after learning of Lapierre's death. "We worked together every day."

But when the Meech Lake accord was torpedoed, with the help of several prominent Liberals, he questioned the direction of his party.

At the 1990 Liberal convention, Lapierre campaigned against Meech Lake opponent Jean Chrétien, openly calling him a "sell-out" and wearing a black arm-band to mark the accord's failure. 

"As a federalist from Quebec, I feel let down," Lapierre told a CBC reporter covering the convention. "It's pretty sad for the country and for Quebec."

Jean Lapierre reacts to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord

6 years ago
Duration 1:08
Quebec MP Jean Lapierre expresses disappointment after the death of the Meech Lake Accord in June 1990.

Later, Lapierre would stun his Liberal colleagues when he joined Lucien Bouchard and dozens of other disaffected Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPs to form the Bloc Québecois.

That bold move helped launch a sea-change in federal politics, as the Bloc would spend the better part of the next 20 years as the dominant Quebec party.

He stepped away from politics in 1992, becoming a media commentator.

Return to the Liberals

But Lapierre changed his colours again, back to Liberal red, to help rescue the party amid the sponsorship scandal.

​Paul Martin turned to Lapierre's Rolodex and charismatic personality ahead of the 2004 election, making him his Quebec lieutenant.

"I never saw myself as a separatist," Lapierre said at the time. "I saw myself as somebody who wanted to bring about a level playing field for Quebec."

In spite of the sponsorship scandal, Lapierre helped the Liberals win enough seats in Quebec to salvage a minority government for Martin. He was rewarded by being named transport minister.

Even Lapierre, though, could do little to stem the desire for a change prompted by the revelations at the sponsorship scandal inquiry led by Justice John Gomery.

He was one of the few Liberal MPs who kept their seat after the Grits were turfed from power in 2006.

But he resigned from politics shortly thereafter, joining the French-language TVA network to co-host a popular political program with Paul Larocque.

"Paul Martin became prime minister and then got hit by a big truck called Gomery," Lapierre said while announcing his retirement. 

"After that, it was very difficult. People didn't trust any more politicians in general and Liberals in particular. In those murky waters, it was difficult for anyone to swim and stay afloat."

'Someone who loved politics'

Lapierre was born in Bassin, Que., in 1956. Childhood friends and teachers recalled a brilliant and curious student.

He asked so many questions in class that his high school history teacher, Urbain Renaud, had to tell him "Give a chance to the others, Jean."

Lapierre was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979, the same year he graduated from the University of Ottawa law school. 

"I think he'll be remembered as a person who absolutely loved politics, who loved communicating it," said Bernard St-Laurent, who spent years covering Lapierre as CBC's chief political correspondent for Quebec. 

"There are a lot of people who can be quite cynical of politics.… but Jean was one of the people who saw that politics was more than that and because of his passion for it, was able to communicate it."


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