An influential figure of “French Power” in Ottawa in the late 1960s and considered one of the tenors of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Liberal government during the following decade, former minister Marc Lalonde died Sunday at the age of 93. years.
Testimonies of affection and admiration from those who knew him during his long career in Ottawa poured in within hours of his death being confirmed.
“He was one of the best ministers I’ve ever known,” exclaimed former Clerk of the Privy Council Paul Tellier, who also worked under Marc Lalonde during his nearly 10-year career. 15 years as a deputy minister in the federal government.
Born in 1929 in L’Île-Perrot and trained as a lawyer, Marc Lalonde headed several important departments within the Trudeau Sr. government – Federal-Provincial Relations, Health and Social Welfare, Justice, Finance as well as Energy, Mines and Resources. He was also at the forefront of a turbulent period on the Canadian unity front in the 1970s, particularly following the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976, which was followed by the referendum on sovereignty in 1980 and the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.
His influence within the Liberal Party of Canada was undeniable. His intellectual strength was greatly respected. He marked many elected officials in the federal capital, having been Pierre Trudeau’s political lieutenant in Quebec when the Liberals held 74 of the 75 seats there.
“He had a vision for Canada. He believed that we, French-speaking Quebecers, had kept our language because we were part of Canada and that it was the best option to be part of a larger whole, which stretched from coast to coast. testified former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who knew Marc Lalonde when he was special adviser to former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1967.
“It was nice talking to him because he knew what he was talking about. He was not a fart of brew, as they say, ”added Mr. Chrétien, who was a colleague of Marc Lalonde in the cabinet for 12 years in the Trudeau government.
Before running for office in 1972 in the riding of Outremont, Marc Lalonde earned a reputation as a fine mandarin in the federal capital. After being recruited as a special adviser to Lester B. Pearson in 1967, the latter’s successor, Pierre Trudeau, asked him to act as principal secretary during his first term, from 1968 to 1972.
During the October Crisis of 1970, he was Pierre Trudeau’s main adviser when the federal government invoked the War Measures Act and deployed the army on the streets of Montreal. Several years later, Marc Lalonde revealed that he had never believed in the possibility of an insurrection led by the FLQ or that a parallel government could take power in Quebec.
According to former minister and Liberal senator Francis Fox, Marc Lalonde had an immediate impact on the party during those four years. “He had renewed the quality and strength of the Quebec Liberal caucus because he saw that there would be a fight with the separatists,” he explained.
It was not the first time he had acted behind the scenes of power. For a little over a year, in 1959 and 1960, he had interrupted his legal and academic career in Montreal to become special adviser to Davie Fulton, who was then Minister of Justice in the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker.
But his years in the cabinet of Prime Ministers Pearson and Trudeau later convinced him to jump into the political arena by running for office in Outremont.
“We knew that if Lalonde went to Health or Energy, those were the departments that would have Trudeau’s priorities in the next two or three years,” argued Francis Fox.
Former Senator Dennis Dawson, who was Liberal MP for Louis-Hébert, in the Quebec City region, from 1977 to 1984, knew Marc Lalonde well. He was president of the Quebec Liberal caucus, which then had 74 members, while Marc Lalonde was a political lieutenant.
“We had many dialogues, him and I! Marc Lalonde is by far the best lieutenant that Quebec premiers have had to defend Quebec. He represented the interests of Quebec to the chief,” he testified.
“Intellectually and ideologically, he was very close to Pierre Trudeau. Together, they had experienced the great progress of the 1960s for Francophones. They worked on the Official Languages Act. The notion of having boxes of Corn Flakes in both languages may seem trivial in 2023, but when it was debated in the 1960s, it was a big fight. Mr. Lalonde was already in this battle,” Mr. Dawson said.
“He was part of ‘French Power’ and ‘Quebec Power’ in Ottawa, along with André Ouellet, Monique Bégin, Francis Fox and Warren Allmand. Half of the ministers came from Quebec. And they weren’t junior ministers. »
Paul Tellier, who had a long career as a deputy minister in the public service and Clerk of the Privy Council, praised Mr. Lalonde’s contribution.
“Of all the ministers I met during my 15-year career as Deputy Minister, Mr. Lalonde was one of the best ministers I have known in the Canadian government. He was exceptionally thorough. He was one of the few individuals I saw on duty who reacted the same way at 8:00 a.m. or 8:00 p.m. And that is very rare. When I was working on the Canadian unity file with him, the level of stress was not higher for him or for me,” he said, while noting his “exceptional integrity”.
Mr. Tellier had remained in contact with Mr. Lalonde. They saw each other once or twice a year.
Former PQ minister Claude Morin, who crossed swords several times with Marc Lalonde during the years of strong constitutional tensions between Quebec and Ottawa, described Marc Lalonde as “an intelligent adversary”.
“I knew him as an opponent of Quebec in the constitutional negotiations we had with the federal government. He was an excellent spokesperson for Trudeau Sr. He was a smart man. But he was not, in my opinion, favorable to the Quebec nation. He had another conception of Canada. He was not an enemy. He was an adversary. »
Marc Lalonde left politics in 1984, having chosen not to seek a new mandate. In 1989, he was admitted as a Member of the Order of Canada.