Prominent Anglo Liberal Reed Scowen dies at 88

The Liberal MNA for NDG from 1978 to 1987, Reed Scowen became a close adviser to former premier Robert Bourassa, as a defender of the rights of Quebec anglophones.

Passionate supporter of anglophone rights in Quebec later argued it was time to let Quebec go it alone

Reed Scowen, an ardent defender of the rights of English Quebecers in the Robert Bourassa government of the early 1980s, died in Toronto on May 28 at the age of 88. (Submitted by Peter Scowen)

Reed Scowen, a longtime pillar of Quebec's anglophone community, died in Toronto on May 28, at the age of 88.

Scowen was a prominent Liberal who represented the provincial riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce from 1978 to 1987. He was known as an outspoken defender of the rights of English Quebecers at a time when they were under threat in the 1970s, after the rise of the Parti Québécois.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Christos Sirros got to know Scowen during the campaign leading up to the first referendum on Quebec sovereignty in May 1980.

"He had a passion about politics," Sirros said, "and we shared the notion that politics is a noble undertaking. It's not just about power, it's about shaping ideas."

Scowen became a close adviser to former premier Robert Bourassa in the 1980s, making it his job to defend the rights of Quebec anglophones.

Sirros says Scowen "made the effort to define the English community, not just as people who were of English descent, but also people who spoke English." That made the term "anglophone" more inclusive.

Scowen was never named to Bourassa's cabinet, which Sirros said was a great disappointment to him.

"He had very much wanted to be named minister in the government and play a more active role. He wasn't. When he realized that, Bourassa asked him to go to London."

Represented Quebec on the world stage

After resigning his seat in the National Assembly in 1987, Scowen became Quebec's delegate in London and then in New York City.

Back home in Quebec in the early 1990s, he briefly chaired the board of Alliance Quebec, which at the time was a moderate and respected voice for anglophone Quebecers. He also served as chair and president of the Tyndale St-Georges Foundation.

Scowen wrote three books about the place of the anglophone community within Quebec and of Quebec's role within Canada. The last, published in 2010, Time to Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada without Quebec, argued Canada would be even more successful without Quebec, but there was no incentive for Quebec to pull out of Confederation "as long as we continue to comply with its demands for privileged treatment."

"It is Canadians themselves who are perpetuating the Quebec crisis," Scowen wrote. The Montreal Gazette called him a "politically incorrect federalist" with a valuable message, and Maclean's called him "the smartest man on Quebec."

He was rooted in the province, however: perfectly bilingual at a time when many anglophone Quebecers never bothered to master French, he was involved with francophone culture, serving as the chair of the Marie Chouinard dance company in the late 1990s.

Roots in the Townships

Scowen was born in Sherbrooke, Que., in 1931, and was raised in the Eastern Townships.

He did his undergraduate studies in Lennoxville at Bishop's University. In 1956, he completed an MBA at Harvard University and later, after selling the paper-converting company he owned in Laval in 1972, studied for a year at the London School of Economics.

Upon returning to Quebec, Scowen became a senior policy adviser to Quebec's minister of industry and commerce. A year later, he became director general of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's anti-inflation board. He went on to serve as executive director of the Task Force on Canadian Unity, before running for political office in Quebec in 1978.

Scowen's family says he struggled in his final years with advanced Parkinson's disease but never complained.

Because of the pandemic, family members were not able to be in the hospital with him when he died.

They say there will be no funeral at this time; a graveside ceremony at Reedsville Cemetery in North Hatley will be organized at a later date.


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