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New book by Guy Lachappelle examines René Lévesque’s world view

Concordia poli-sci prof calls him the ‘most international prime minister Québec never had’
September 27, 2018

More than 30 years after his death, René Lévesque remains a towering figure in Québec politics and history. The journalist-turned-politician-turned-premier’s legacy is evident in numerous aspects of Québec society. For many, Lévesque’s name is synonymous with Québec's political history.

But now a new book edited by Guy Lachapelle, a professor in Concordia's Department of Political Science, is examining the international side of Lévesque.

René Lévesque et le monde explores Lévesque’s post-WWII world view, and how it influenced his career in Québec politics and his commitment to sovereignty.

The book features a foreword by former premier Lucien Bouchard, and contributions from some of the people who were closest to Lévesque, including historians and former colleagues.

We caught up with Lachapelle to learn more about his latest publication.

Lévesque was fascinated by American society

Guy Lachapelle

Tell us about this new book.

Guy Lachapelle: The book is the outcome of a 2016 conference organized by the Fondation René-Lévesque (a non-partisan foundation), whose main goal is to study the intellectual and political contribution of René Lévesque throughout his career as a journalist, politician and Premier of Québec. It is about Lévesque’s quest to find answers to the paradoxes between interdependence (association) and self-determination (sovereignty) for all societies including Québec. Essentially this book analyzes Lévesque’s perception of Europe, the United States, Asia and major world issues.


What motivated you to start working on this project?

GL: I wanted to go back and analyze why René Lévesque brought up this idea of sovereignty-association for Québec, as part of a union with the rest of Canada. More importantly, I wanted to look at how René Lévesque perceived the world as a war correspondent during WWII for the American army, as a journalist at Radio-Canada and as politician. These experiences make him certainly the most international Prime Minister that Québec never had.

Tell us about the research involved.

GL: I searched archives from Radio-Canada, the Ministry of International Affairs and Lévesque’s personal files to find all his speeches, conferences and documents related to his perception of world crises.  An anthology of these findings will be published in the next year.

What will people learn about René Lévesque they might not have known before? What did you learn?

GL: Lévesque was certainly perceived as the most North-American Premier of Québec because he was fascinated by American society. He admired Roosevelt and his New Deal. He was truly an internationalist, in the vein of De Gaulle and Churchill. He was also critical of the USA when it came to issues like Vietnam, segregation and inequalities issues we still face today.

I learned more about his deep-rooted conviction that policies should respond to people’s needs. He was always concerned about the economic situation of minorities in the world.

Finally, what relevance do you think the lessons of René Lévesque’s life have to today’s political climate in Quebec?

GL: Problems are complex but there is always a way to find a solution if there is a clear dialogue with citizens. Lévesque did not have an elitist approach towards politics – although he was not populist, either. Rather, his attitude was that the right of the people to express themselves must be recognized. The Wilsonian concept of self-determination Lévesque embraced must be re-evaluated in the context of globalization.

Learn more or purchase the book online.

Visit Fondation René Lévesque.

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