MONTREAL – Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, a sharp-tongued soldier for the independence movement and longtime Parti Quebecois stalwart, died Tuesday at the age of 81.
Landry, premier between 2001 and 2003, dedicated decades of his life to the sovereigntist cause and was part of every significant political battle fought by the PQ since its inception in 1968.
His health had been failing in recent months, and in mid-October he began receiving visits from old friends and political allies at his home in Vercheres, Que.
Landry was at home alongside his family when he died of complications from a pulmonary disease, his personal assistant, Odette Morin, told The Canadian Press.
Political leaders said Landry will be remembered for his strong political convictions, his economic vision for the province and his love of Quebec.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, a minister in Landry’s government, said he gained insight into the former premier’s character during a 2002 cabinet shuffle. Landry informed him he was being moved from education to health, a move Legault did not relish.
“He said: ‘Francois, it’s your duty!’ ” he recalled. “For him, duty was important.”
Legault said Landry should be remembered as a giant of Quebec politics, on the same stage as former premiers Rene Levesque and Jacques Parizeau.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Landry will also be remembered for his vision of Montreal as a technological powerhouse.
As finance minister in the late 1990s under Lucien Bouchard, Landry created a tax credit for the video-game sector, which helped the industry flourish in Quebec. He also gave tax credits to tech companies to encourage them to move into a neglected section of Old Montreal that has since become one of the hottest real estate markets in the city and a symbol of Montreal’s creativity.
Landry “had Quebec tattooed on his heart,” Plante said. “I’d like to highlight the vision he had for the creative industry, the IT sector, which let Montreal take flight, which helped it stand out internationally.”
Another major accomplishment for Landry was the 2002 landmark deal between the Quebec government and the Crees, known as the Peace of the Brave. The 50-year economic and political agreement was signed to develop part of the province’s James Bay territory in concert with the Cree community.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Landry without mentioning his commitment to sovereignty. “Mr. Landry was a dedicated leader who played a central role in a defining chapter of Quebec’s history,” Trudeau said in a statement. “He devoted much of his life to making a difference in the lives of Quebecers.”
Landry was born March 9, 1937 in the town of St-Jacques, northeast of Montreal.
He practised law and worked for the Quebec government before taking the plunge into politics.
Landry’s dream of sovereignty first became clear when he was among the original members of the Parti Quebecois to run in the 1970 provincial election — two years after the party was founded by Levesque in 1968.
He was defeated as PQ candidate in 1970 and again in 1973 before finally being elected in 1976 when the party came to power for the first time.
Landry held many prominent government posts with the PQ, including deputy premier and finance minister.
After Bouchard resigned as premier in January 2001, Landry replaced him as party leader and premier. He would serve two years before being defeated in the April 2003 election by Jean Charest’s Liberals.
Charest remembered Landry Tuesday as a tough but respectful adversary who knew the economy like the back of his hand. “He did a number of things that were important for Quebec, and he gave the sovereigntist movement in Quebec credibility on economic issues,” Charest told The Canadian Press.
Landry was seen as a cantankerous figure whose cheeks would occasionally flush with anger while he lashed out at his adversaries.
It was at a news conference in January 2001, before he took over as premier, that the rest of Canada became familiar with his abrasive style.
Landry blasted Ottawa for insisting an offer of $18 million in renovation funding for a Quebec City zoo was conditional on the inclusion of English signs and the Canadian flag. Quebec declined the handout, opting to fund the renovations itself.
“We’re not for sale,” Landry told reporters at a Parti Quebecois caucus meeting. “We have no intention of selling ourselves on the street for bits of red rag or any other reason.”
He later sought out reporters to tell them he was merely using colourful imagery to compare federalist offences to matadors’ practice of using red cloth to provoke bulls.
“Bilingualism is provocation — hence the red cloth in front of the bull,” Landry said. “When I spoke of the red rag, I was not speaking of the Canadian flag. I meant the red cloth used in front of a bull to make it charge.”
In November 2001, Landry again shocked Canadians when he linked the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to Quebec sovereignty.
“The freedom of peoples and nations and their character is an indispensable condition for global equilibrium,” he told delegates to a Parti Quebecois convention. “Otherwise we will go from dominant imperialism and disappointment to deep bitterness.
“Since the events of Sept. 11, if there is one conclusion to draw in relation to the project of Quebec sovereignty and the sovereignty and liberty of all people, that is it.”
After leaving politics, Landry returned to teaching and political commentary, as well a working as a strategic counsellor for a law firm.
He appeared frail in May when he appeared at an event to mark Patriots’ Day, the holiday he himself renamed in 2002 to replace what had previously been known as Dollard-des-Ormeaux Day or Victoria Day.
His death is the latest blow for the sovereignty movement’s original generation of leaders, following Parizeau’s in 2015 and former PQ minister Lise Payette’s in September 2018.
Landry’s first wife Lorraine Laporte-Landry died of cancer in 1999. He leaves behind his second wife, former pop star Chantal Renaud, as well as three children, Julie, Philippe and Pascale.
Legault said Landry will receive a state funeral. A date has not been set.