René Lévesque was a reporter, an actor, a minister of the government of Quebec, founder of the Parti Québécois and the 23rd Premier of Quebec. He was born on August 24, 1922 at Hôtel Dieu Hospital in Campbellton.
Lévesque attended the Séminaire de Gaspé and the Saint-Charles-Garnier College in Quebec City, both of which were run by the Jesuits. He studied for a law degree at Université Laval in Quebec City, but left the university in 1943 without having completed the degree. He worked as an announcer and news writer at the radio station CHNC in New Carlisle, as a substitute announcer for CHRC during 1941 and 1942, and then at CBV in Quebec City.
During 1944–1945, he served as a liaison officer and war correspondent for the U.S. Army in Europe. He reported from London while it was under regular bombardment by the Luftwaffe, and advanced with the Allied troops as they pushed back the German army through France and Germany. Throughout the war, he made regular journalistic reports on the airwaves and in print. He was with the first unit of Americans to reach Dachau concentration camp.
In 1947, he married Louise L’Heureux, with whom he would have two sons and a daughter. Lévesque worked as a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French Language section in the international service. He again served as a war correspondent for CBC in the Korean War in 1952. After that, he was offered a career in journalism in the United States, but decided to stay in Quebec.
From 1956 to 1959, Lévesque became famous in Quebec for hosting a weekly television news program on Radio-Canada called Point de Mire.
Lévesque covered international events and major labour struggles between workers and corporations that dogged the Union Nationale government of premier Maurice Duplessis culminating with a great strike in 1957 at the Gaspé Copper Mine in Murdochville. The Murdochville strike was a milestone for organized labour in Quebec as it resulted in changes to the province’s labour laws.
While working for the public television network, he became personally involved in the broadcasters’ strike that lasted 68 tumultuous days beginning in late 1958. Lévesque was arrested during a demonstration in 1959.
In 1960, Lévesque entered politics as a star candidate and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in the 1960 election as a Liberal Party member in the riding of Montréal-Laurier. In a surprise, the Liberals lost the 1966 election to the Union Nationale but Lévesque retained his own seat of Laurier. Believing that the Canadian federation was doomed to failure, Lévesque started to openly champion separation from Canada as part of the Liberal platform at the upcoming party conference. The resolution was handily defeated, and Lévesque walked out with his followers.
After leaving the Liberal Party, he founded the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association. The party eschewed direct action and protest and attempted instead to appeal to the broader electorate, whom Lévesque would call “normal people”. The main contention in the first party conference was the proposed policy toward Quebec’s Anglophone minority; Lévesque faced down heavy opposition to his insistence that English schools and language rights be protected. The Parti Québécois in 1968.
Lévesque and his party won a landslide victory at the 1976 election and became Premier of Quebec ten days later.
René Lévesque died November 1, 1987 and was buried in the cemetery of Saint-Michel parish in Sillery (Quebec City).
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