English Canada’s greatest Canadians different from Quebec list
QUEBEC (CP) – While English-speaking Canada argues over the greatest Canadian, a survey suggests Quebecers believe their greatest ever citizen is Rene Levesque, the legendary premier who shaped the sovereignty movement for so many years.
Levesque’s top billing differs greatly from his No. 69 ranking in a list of greatest Canadians as compiled by people across the country – a position that puts him far below singer Shania Twain and actor William Shatner.
CBC-TV will reveal its greatest Canadian on Monday following a Sunday afternoon Newsworld marathon featuring the top 10 finalists and a debate Sunday evening on the main network.
While the CBC’s Greatest Canadian contest was promoted in English and French ads and a bilingual website, early plans to broadcast it in both languages were abandoned.
Former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is the only Quebecer who cracked the top 10 in the Greatest Canadian list, with others like NHL great Maurice (Rocket) Richard and singer Celine Dion coming in further down.
A Leger Marketing survey conducted Nov. 19-22 for TVA suggests Levesque, who helped co-found the Parti Quebecois in 1968 and was premier from 1976-85, is the most admired Quebecer ever.
The top five in Leger’s poll of 4,253 Quebecers was rounded out by veteran TV personality Janette Bertrand, paralympic athlete Chantal Petitclerc, Dion and Rev. Emmett Johns, who has been helping street kinds in Quebec for years.
Trudeau was in eighth position, while Richard was No.10 in the survey, which was released Thursday.
Levesque rose to power in the 1960s, giving a democratic expression to an emerging Quebec separatist movement just as it threatened to bring armed insurrection to Canada.
But Levesque’s appeal reaches far beyond the sovereignty movement in French-speaking Quebec, where his name pops first to mind among sovereigntists and federalists on the streets, in cafes or in the halls of government.
“It was more about restoring pride to our people, about giving us the confidence to take our proper place in the world,” Eric Tanguay, a 31-year-old former sovereignty supporter, said as he did some Christmas shopping recently in a Quebec City mall.
“Now ask me who was the worst Quebecer and Canadian, and I’ll tell you: Pierre Elliott Trudeau,” Tanguay said. “He had nothing but disdain for Quebecers. He had no respect for us.”
A native of Montreal who frequently clashed with Levesque over their competing visions of Quebec and Canada, Trudeau is as controversial in Quebec as he is in Western Canada, with a legion of admirers and critics.
It’s impossible to think of Trudeau without Levesque, according to Benoit Bouchard, a former Conservative cabinet minister and political enemy of both men.
“Since the beginning of Confederation, these are probably the two Quebecers who have made the greatest mark on Quebec and the country as well,” said Bouchard, who is retired in Saguenay, Que.
“It’s difficult to find people who have that many dimensions to them.”
Many other men and women who spring to Quebecers’ minds after Levesque did not make the Canadian top 100.
Playwright Michel Tremblay’s groundbreaking Les Belles Soeurs was translated into 20 languages and is performed with the classics at acting schools across Canada. He’s not on the list.
Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile, still the only means of winter transportation in vast tracts of northern Canada. He also created the Canadian transportation empire that still carries his name. He did not make the top 100.
Oscar-winning director Denys Arcand is arguably Canada’s most important filmmaker and he still lives and works in Canada, unlike a dozen other Canadian entertainers who made the top 100.
Even with Quebecers who made the preliminary list of 100, it’s easy to find controversy.
If Wayne Gretzky is top-10 material, why do Richard and Mario Lemieux, a player arguably as talented as the Great One, rank 23rd and 38th respectively?
In Quebec, Richard’s suspension from the 1955 Stanley Cup final was seen as a slap by the English-speaking masters of the NHL against a francophone hero.
“Richard was a great man, and a great man right to the end,” said retiree Nicole Gosselin.
“He played for not much salary, he played with great heart and through tremendous adversity. What better hero is there than him?”
Added Bouchard: “Lemieux was probably the best hockey player in terms of talent, in terms of genius, artistry, magic. Gretzky had what I would call national charisma. Gretzky remains a national image.”
Bouchard said language and cultural barriers prevent many great Quebecers from becoming great Canadians.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “That’s where we see that values, environment, culture, everything, is different.
“You have to be a Quebecer running a government in Ottawa to see just how deep the divisions go.”
While four women reached the top-10 Leger Marketing list, no women are on the top-10 Greatest Canadian list.
Dion, one of the best-selling singers of all time, has her supporters in her home province.
“If I had to pick one person, it would be her,” said Andree Boucher, a physical fitness consultant in Quebec City. “I would give anything to spend one day in her skin.”
Back on the political front, some people say former premier Jean Lesage, widely considered as the architect of the Quiet Revolution, should have been recognized.
Lesage took control of schools away from the Roman Catholic Church and made the first serious demands that Ottawa give more power to Quebec. He modernized Quebec through investment and education.
Gerald Larose, leader of the Conseil de la souverainete, said it’s difficult to find political leaders who would be considered great in Quebec and Canada.
“Unlike Trudeau, Brian Mulroney tried to reconcile Quebecers with Canadians when he was prime minister and he was hated for it,” said Larose.
The former labour leader said ex-premier Jacques Parizeau would get his vote for his part in the Quiet Revolution, just above Lesage and Levesque.
Most Quebecers who made the top 100 CBC list are known for international accomplishments.
Retired general Romeo Dallaire, admired for his stand against the Rwandan genocide, does not spring to mind as a great historical figure among many Quebecers.
Writer Mordecai Richler is resented by many francophones for his biting commentary.
English Canada’s greatest Canadians different from Quebec list