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Fraser, Graham.

Toronto, Macmillan, c 1984.450pp, paper, $12.35, ISBN 0-7715-9888-2. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by George Hoffman

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

With a few significant exceptions,journalists have not written first-rate books on Canadian politics. This excellent work on Réne Lévesque and the Parti Québecois by Graham Fraser, (the son of the late Blair Fraser), is one of the exceptions. Fraser's book begins with a brief but perceptive description of the nineteenth-century roots of French-Canadian nationalism. Réne Lévesque's early career is recalled down to his years in the Lesage cabinet and his stormy exit from the Liberal party in 1967. The formation of the Parti Québecois followed; at first it grew rapidly, but then came the October Crisis and a period of crisis and decline for the party, culminating in electoral disaster in 1973. However, as events showed, defeat was short-lived, and in 1976 a moderate, social-democratic PQ, promising good government and a referendum on sovereignty-association, swept to power.

About three-quarters of the book is devoted to Lévesque's years in power. Fraser emphasizes the critical importance of this period: the memorable confrontations between the PQ and the Trudeau government, the endless constitutional strife, and the drama of the referendum campaign. The "No" victory on the referendum marked the first major PQ set back. It set the stage for Quebec's isolation and defeat in the final negotiations on the new constitution in the fall of 1981. Ironically, as Fraser points out, the most nationalist of Quebec's premiers faced a constitutional dilemma that less nationalist-minded premiers (Maurice Duplessis, Jean Lesage, Daniel Johnson, and Robert Bourassa) had successfully resisted.

Fraser describes Lévesque's last years as a time of sadness, and even despair. Inevitably, the party Réne Lévesque built came apart, and the government he headed followed suit. The years 1984 and 1985 were marked by cabinet resignations, rumours of Levesque's retirement, and Robert Bourassa's political resurrection.

Fraser's book is not only a good historical account. It contains much that is relevant for the future that English Canadians need to understand. He emphasizes that Levesque and the PQ permanently changed Quebec and Canada. During the 1970s, a new Quebec was created, perhaps not the Quebec Réne Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau, and Camille Laurin originally envisioned, but a new Quebec nevertheless. As well, after much bitter infighting and threats, Lévesque prevented the radical separatists from winning control of the PQ. (Pierre Marc Johnson's victory in the leadership race is surely the final proof of this.) It would be ironic, but certainly possible, for future historians to see Levesque as one who, in his own way, served the cause of the Canadian nation by his successful struggle to have the PQ emphasize association over sovereignty.

George Hoffman, Weyburn C.S., Weyburn, Sask.
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