Politics

Bloc calls on PM to apologize after report suggests his father wanted jobs pulled out of Quebec

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for the actions of his father, saying former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau asked one of Quebec's leading business people to harm Quebec's economy and six million Quebecers.

Trudeau says his job is to focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, not historical debates

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says Pierre Trudeau tried to harm Quebec's economy. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for the alleged actions of his father, claiming former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau asked one of Quebec's leading businesspeople to harm Quebec's economy and six million Quebecers.

"If there was a moment when a head of state should apologize in the name of another who preceded him, it is now," said Blanchet in a video tweeted by the Bloc Québécois.

"I clearly call for the prime minister to apologize for such actions and I ask above all for us to respect democracy and the interests that Quebecers choose for themselves."

Trudeau dismissed both the Bloc's call for an apology and an attack by Bloc MP Stéphane Bergeron during question period today, dismissing it as a debate over history.

Quebec Premier Rene Levesque (R) shrugs his shoulders and walks away from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (L) after a chat prior to the beginning of the second day of the Constitution Conference on Sept 9, 1980. (Drew Gragg/Canadian Press)

"Today I'm not going to begin a historical debate with the Bloc Québécois MP," Trudeau said. "What preoccupies me these days is the protection of citizens, it is the fight against COVID-19, it is the strong return of the Quebec and Canadian economy and that is what I am going to continue to concentrate on."

Blanchet's call came in response to a CBC News report about once-secret U.S. State Department documents discussing how Pierre Trudeau's government responded to the sovereignist Parti Québécois' surprise rise to power in 1976.

In a telegram dated Dec. 22, 1976, little more than a month after René Lévesque became premier, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Enders said Pierre Trudeau might take a more aggressive approach to dealing with the fledgling PQ government.

Enders said Paul Desmarais, head of Power Corporation and one of Quebec's top business leaders, told him Trudeau had suggested that Desmarais "make it as tough as possible" for the PQ government by transferring jobs out of Quebec and increasing unemployment.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it's up to Justin Trudeau to decide whether to apologize. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Power Corporation said it didn't move jobs out of Quebec at the time.

The State Department records were declassified several years ago and recently republished as part of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States series.

While the documents are 44 years old, they have sparked debate across Quebec. While some have described them as a bombshell, those close to Trudeau at the time, such as former cabinet minister Marc Lalonde, have questioned their accuracy, saying it was at odds with the message the government was sending nervous business leaders at the time.

Premier François Legault waded into the question Wednesday.

"It has to be verified. It is very worrying," Legault told reporters in Quebec City. "It is very serious if it is true."

In Ottawa, asked about Blanchet's call for an apology, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said the choice is up to Trudeau.

"I think it is deplorable. The idea of putting a lot of Quebecers into a difficult position, not having work, is completely inexcusable," Singh told reporters during a news conference.

"But for the work of the prime minister, I think he should focus on one sole priority which should be getting enough vaccine and making sure everyone is vaccinated. Getting people the help they need in this pandemic should be his sole focus right now."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during question period in the House of Commons on November 23, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre also raised the subject during question period, drawing parallels with job losses during the pandemic.

"The first Trudeau killed jobs in the West, and now we learn intentionally in Quebec," he told the House of Commons. "This prime minister, by contrast, spreads job losses around equally — in fact, 850,000 of them, the highest unemployment in the G7 and the worse economic growth per capita since the Great Depression."

Trudeau defended his government's performance on the economy, saying that 71 per cent of pre-pandemic jobs have returned in Canada, versus 56 per cent in the United States.

"We have been, from the very beginning, there to invest in Canadians, to support small businesses through this historic pandemic, and working with families and workers to support them as we make it through this," Trudeau said.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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