Politics

Parti Québécois calls on Ottawa to release documents on federal response to 1976 win

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is calling on the federal government to make public all documents related to how it handled the aftermath of the PQ's election in 1976. The call comes after CBC News revealed U.S. State Department documents that shed new light on that time.

Bloc MP says he's 'a bit scandalized but not really surprised' by U.S. State Department report

PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon says he wants Ottawa to make public all documents related to the aftermath of the PQ's election in 1976. (Radio-Canada)

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to make public all documents related to how his father handled the aftermath of the PQ's provincial election victory in 1976.

In an interview with CBC News, St-Pierre Plamondon said his party will table a motion in Quebec's National Assembly calling for the documents to be turned over.

"The demand we will make in the National Assembly through a motion will be specific to that event," he said.

St-Pierre Plamondon's call comes after CBC News revealed the existence of once-secret U.S. State Department documents that shed new light on how Pierre Trudeau's government responded to the sovereignist PQ's 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 Trudeau may be taking 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.

Power Corporation says 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.

Canadian federal cabinet minutes for the period have been made public — but it is not known how many other memos, letters, telegrams or other documents concerning that period remain behind closed doors.

Pierre Trudeau turned over extensive records to Library and Archives Canada but much of that collection remains closed, with access granted only to researchers who have the permission of his estate.

Assessments vary on how much weight to give the U.S. State Department documents.

Jean-François Lisée, who scoured thousands of U.S government documents for his book In the Eye of the Eagle — and who went on to lead the PQ — said the documents are a bombshell that reveal how far Pierre Trudeau was prepared to go to counter the sovereignist government.

Former Trudeau cabinet minister Marc Lalonde, meanwhile, said the ambassador's account of his conversation with Desmarais didn't agree with what the government was telling business leaders at the time, or with his own conversations with Desmarais.

The U.S. State Department documents say Paul Desmarais told the U.S. ambassador Pierre Trudeau had suggested he make things tough for the new PQ government in 1976. (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

Ted Johnson, a former Trudeau aide who went on to become an executive with Power Corporation, said he doesn't believe Trudeau would have suggested that Desmarais move jobs out of Quebec.

"The idea that Pierre would have been suggesting that people engage in that kind of subterfuge — keep your framework but move things out — I can't imagine him ever suggesting that," said Johnson, who serves as vice-chair of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

St-Pierre Plamondon, however, said he believes the telegram sent by Enders is an accurate account of what Desmarais said.

"The human brain, the memory is not designed to have accurate memories of facts that happened 40 years ago," said the PQ leader. "That's why documents are more useful."

Plamondon said the documents also cite specific unemployment figures.

"That doesn't look like something that has been cited out of context — especially when it comes to American diplomacy, because Americans had no interest in the promotion in the independence of Quebec," he said. "They had no interest in inventing information."

While some dismiss the documents as old history, St-Pierre Plamondon said they are typical of a political attitude toward Quebec that persists — a willingness to weaken Quebec's economy in the name of national unity.

"Fear was a determinant factor in how the (federalists) won the two referendums and that fear is induced by measures like moving jobs away from Quebec (or), threatening to do so," he said.

Bloc Québécois MP Stéphane Bergeron, who raised the issue in the House of Commons Tuesday, said he was "a bit scandalized but not really surprised" when he read the State Department documents.

"For a number of years we have had indicators that the federal government deliberately doesn't favour — even goes so far as to disadvantage Quebec's economy," he said, adding the documents offer proof.

Bergeron said the federal government's economic discrimination against Quebec has continued over the years in everything from shipbuilding to textiles, and in what he called Ottawa's failure to stand up strongly for the supply management system.

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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