Robert
Bourassa

Birth

14 July 1933 in Montréal

Death

02 October 1996 in Montréal

Party leader

17 January 1970 to 14 December 1976

Prime minister

12 May 1970 to 25 November 1976

Party leader

15 October 1983 to 14 December 1993

Prime minister

12 December 1985 to 11 January 1994

Born in Montreal in 1933, Robert Bourassa was admitted to the Bar in 1957 before obtaining a Masters in Economics and Politics at Oxford University in England in 1959 as well as a subsequent Masters in Finance and Political Economy at Harvard University in 1960.

When he won the leadership race for the Quebec Liberals in 1970, Robert Bourassa became the youngest ever party leader and eventual Quebec Premier shortly thereafter. The Bourassa government adopted a variety of measures of social character such as health insurance in 1970 and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights in 1975. The Robert Bourassa government also consecrated French as the official language of the province in 1974.

In April 1971, while marking the celebration of the first anniversary of his election, Robert Bourassa unveiled the “project of the century,” the creation and construction of the greatest hydroelectric complex in the world: James Bay; a gigantic construction site that spread over 350,000 square kilometres, or two-thirds the area of France. It involved colossal challenges almost beyond belief, on the environmental, financial, technical and political levels. Robert Bourassa believed firmly in the potential clean and renewable energy the project would supply upon completion and never wavered as it moved forward. 

After his defeat to the hands of René Lévesque’s Parti québécois in November 1976, Bourassa turned to teaching at university. His return at the head of the Quebec Liberal party in 1983 was seen as the most amazing comeback in Quebec political history. Bourassa led his party to electoral victory in 1985. Faced with a sagging economy and an explosion of public debt and deficits, the second Bourassa government adopted a policy of budgetary austerity. He also plunged into the deep waters of constitutional negotiations on the status of Quebec within the Canadian federation, with the so-called notwithstanding clause and Quebec language legislation front and centre.

Health reasons drove Bourassa to resign as Quebec Premier and Quebec Liberal Party Liberal party leader in September, 1993. He died of cancer just more than three years later, on October 2, 1996, in Montreal.