A once-secret U.S. State Department document means that former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau may have asked considered one of Quebec’s prime business leaders to “make it as tough as possible” for the newly elected Parti Québécois authorities in 1976 and to quietly move jobs out of the province.
In a telegram dated Dec. 22, 1976 — little greater than a month after René Lévesque’s sovereignist Parti Québécois surprised the remainder of Canada by sweeping into energy — U.S. Ambassador Thomas Enders up to date the State Department on the talk behind the scenes inside Pierre Trudeau’s authorities. He stated Trudeau could be contemplating a extra aggressive method to coping with the fledgling PQ authorities.
“Despite what cabinet ministers say, Trudeau may still be emitting punitive signals on the Quebec economy,” Enders wrote in a telegram that was categorised “secret” and restricted to “exdis” or unique distribution.
“Paul Desmarais, Power Corporation chairman, Trudeau’s main business supporter and the Premier French Canadian businessman, tells me that Trudeau is suggesting that he ‘make it as tough as possible’ for Quebec,” the telegram continued.
“Desmarais, whose companies employ 48,000 in Quebec, thinks Trudeau wants him to leave organizational structures in the Province intact, but reprogram to the rest of Canada as many operations and investments as possible. Idea would be to set up spurt of provincial unemployment rate from current 10 per cent to 15 or even 20 next year.”
According to the telegram, Desmarais wasn’t the one businessman who talked with Enders.
“Canadian Pacific chairman Ian Sinclair, who is the country’s most influential businessman and who has also contacted Trudeau for guidance, tells me he didn’t get a pull-out signal but got no encouragement to hang in,” the telegram stated.
A month earlier, on Nov. 18, 1976, Enders sent a telegram to the State Department outlining a 40-minute speak he had with Trudeau about techniques within the wake of the Quebec provincial election. In it, Enders stated Trudeau advised him that whereas focusing the political debate on Ottawa would unite the PQ, financial points might divide it.
“If ever the Quebec government could be set up to make decisions on ownership of industry and resources, social benefits, employee and employer rights, it will come under severe internal tension,” Enders wrote.
“Trudeau noted that these effects of tension would be magnified by the need to come to terms with foreign investors. He agreed that investors should not take any precipitate action either to pull out of or invest in Quebec, but rather should adopt a waiting stance while making clear to the new government that they wish assurances about their future in the province.”
The telegrams are amongst a number of paperwork just lately republished by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian as a part of its Foreign Relations of the United States collection.
The paperwork had been declassified a number of years in the past.
Enders, a profession diplomat who served as ambassador to Canada from 1976 to 1979, died in 1996. Trudeau died in 2000 and Desmarais handed away in 2013.
Jean-François Lisée, a journalist and creator who went on to lead the PQ from 2016 to 2018, obtained 1000’s of U.S. authorities paperwork about Quebec’s sovereignty motion for his 1990 award-winning e book In the Eye of the Eagle (Dans l’oeil de l’Aigle). He describes the telegram from Enders as “a bombshell.”
“That’s major news. We never had any news of that,” stated Lisée, including that the telegrams agreed with different paperwork he obtained for his e book.
“It’s not clear how far that went and how effective it was, but this temptation of sabotaging part of the Quebec economy seemed to have been part of the strategy at the very outset,” he added.
“This is the first not only proof but direct testimony we have from a major player, Mr. Desmarais, to an unimpeachable source, Mr. Enders, that that was in play.”
Lisée stated the paperwork present that Pierre Trudeau was keen to go outdoors the traditional bounds of democratic debate to counter the sovereignist motion. He in contrast it to the RCMP spying on the Parti Québécois and party leader René Lévesque.
But Marc Lalonde — who was a key member of Trudeau’s cupboard on the time — referred to as into query Enders’ account of his dialog with Desmarais, saying it contradicted what cupboard members had been telling business leaders on the time.
WATCH: Marc Lalonde recollects how Pierre Trudeau take care of business leaders after PQ win
“The statement about Mr. Desmarais, I don’t think represents what his understanding was at the time,” stated Lalonde. “If he understood what the ambassador reports, then there has been a misunderstanding in the transmission of the information somehow, because I spoke to Mr. Desmarais myself repeatedly during this period.”
Lalonde stated there was “great concern in the Quebec business community and fear of investing” on the time and the federal government advised companies it will perceive in the event that they selected to make new investments outdoors Quebec.
“Our purpose was not to encourage disinvesting,” he stated.
Lalonde stated Quebec went by means of powerful financial instances after the 1970 October disaster. He stated the Trudeau authorities did not need one other financial disaster that might pressure it to spend massive quantities of cash to bolster the province’s economic system.
Stéphane Lemay, vice-president of Power Corporation, stated he could not touch upon the document and the reference to Desmarais “as it relates to an alleged conversation between two persons who have since passed away.”
Lemay stated Desmarais did not reduce jobs in Quebec throughout that interval.
“The actions of Mr. Desmarais and the Power Group of companies, during all the relevant years, do not at all support the theory which is put forward in the document,” he wrote in an e-mailed response to CBC News. “Power did not move jobs, operations or facilities out of Quebec during that period.
“In reality, following the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976, Mr. Desmarais was encouraging business leaders to preserve their actions in Montreal and the province of Quebec.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office declined to comment.
Graham Fraser is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa and author of PQ: René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois in Power. He said that while the passage related to Desmarais came as news to him, it dates from a time when Pierre Trudeau’s government — which had been caught off guard by the PQ win — was debating how to react.
“I believe there can be a recognition that [at] that specific second in time, December 1976, every kind of concepts had been flying round and the truth that this concept was thrown out — every kind of different concepts had been thrown out too,” Fraser said.
Fraser said he also was struck by one of the other documents recently published: a memorandum of a conversation between Pierre Trudeau and Enders during their first meeting in March 1976 that also was classified as secret.
Fraser said it was clear that the two men “hit it off.”
“It was a dialog during which they coated a complete vary of Canada-U.S. points during which they had been fairly undiplomatic in a method … going effectively past their respective mandates to speak fairly theoretically and hypothetically about what governments might do or ought to do or may do,” he stated.
That memo — which was marked “Nodis” for “no distribution” — paints a picture of a cozy relationship between Trudeau and Enders. After debating ideas, they agreed to continue to talk in the future and to “conceptualize” together, although Trudeau asked Enders not to share that with his cabinet ministers.
“For heaven’s sake, do not inform them that we have been conceptualizing collectively,” Trudeau says in the transcript.
A day later, Enders sent a telegram describing his impression of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau:
“Trudeau was as marketed: elegant, opposite, brittle, unable to resist intellectualizing, preoccupied with Galbraithian ideas that few in Canada share with him. He was additionally very pleasant.”
Elizabeth Thompson could be reached at [email protected]