Jean Pelletier R.I.P.

Written by  //  January 11, 2009  //  Absent Friends, Canada  //  No comments

Jean Pelletier a été élu maire de Québec en 1977. Il remplira trois mandats avant de quitter la vie municipale en 1989. Il avait remplacé son ami Gilles Lamontagne à la tête du Progrès civique. Ici, Jean Pelletier en novembre 1987.

«Mes plus belles années se sont passées à Québec»
Louis-Guy Lemieux
Le Soleil … En plus d’être maire de Québec, Jean Pelletier est membre du comité exécutif et du conseil de la Communauté urbaine de Québec, membre du conseil d’administration de l’Union des municipalités du Québec, membre du Conseil de développement économique du Québec et vice-président de la Fédération canadienne des municipalités.
En entrevue en 2005, il résumait ainsi ses débuts en politique municipale. «L’idée de départ était de remettre en marche une ville qui n’allait nulle part. Québec se faisait dévorer par ses banlieues. Nous n’avions plus de centre-ville digne de ce nom. Il fallait réagir.»
Le programme de son premier mandat était toujours valable par la suite : construire une ville moderne tout en respectant le patrimoine bâti, rendre la grande région responsable de sa ville-centre (ce qu’il appelle une région «équitable»), enfin, faire jouer à Québec son rôle de capitale.
«Dès mon premier mandat, dit-il, j’ai voulu rapprocher la haute ville et la basse ville et faire sauter ce clivage malsain entre les habitants du haut de la falaise et ceux du bas. Pour ce faire, il fallait installer à la basse ville des équipements majeurs.»
Ces équipements majeurs seront rien de moins que la bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy et le complexe Jacques-Cartier, le nouveau palais de justice, la gare intermodale et la restauration du Vieux-Port.
En 1985, tous les observateurs ont noté avec quel doigté il avait piloté l’inscription de l’arrondissement historique de Québec sur la Liste du patrimoine mondiale de l’UNESCO. Il aura donné une envergure internationale à la capitale du Québec.
Jean Chrétien perd un grand ami
Le Soleil: Dossier Jean Pelletier

Le calvaire de M. Pelletier
André Pratte
Jean Pelletier n’est plus. Homme droit, dévoué au service public, travailleur acharné, il ne méritait pas le calvaire qu’on lui a infligé au cours des cinq années qui ont précédé son décès.
L’ancien maire de Québec et chef de cabinet de Jean Chrétien avait de grandes qualités, comme l’illustrent les témoignages rendus depuis l’annonce de son décès. Il est vrai que certains le trouvaient trop direct, arrogant même. Cela faisait partie du personnage. Mais personne ne mettait en doute sa rigueur, son honnêteté, son abnégation.
… M. Pelletier est maintenant mort. Le gouvernement Harper, s’il est capable de quelque décence, devrait laisser tomber cet appel. Ainsi, la réputation de Jean Pelletier redeviendra ce qu’elle aurait toujours dû être : sans tache.

The Obituary that appeared in the Gazette is not worthy of our friend Alan Hustak – not only does it offer incomplete information about Jean Pelletier’s career and his many activities that benefited the community (especially theatre), but, aside from citations of those who worked with him and knew him well, there is a spirit of only grudging respect. Jean Pelletier deserved much better. On the other hand, the Globe & Mail’s Sandra Martin delivers a long, extremely sympathetic and human portrait.

Pelletier loses his battle with cancer at 73
Alan Hustak
Jean Pelletier was a former Quebec City mayor who, as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s chief of staff, had an otherwise sterling reputation tarnished when he became embroiled in the sponsorship scandal.  CBC offers a more complete biography

Jean Pelletier, 73
Sandra Martin
(Globe & Mail) QUEBEC — Loyalty ran like blood between Jean Chrétien and Jean Pelletier from the days when they slept side by side in the dormitory of a Catholic boarding school in Trois-Rivières, Que. For decades their careers took different routes, years in which Mr. Pelletier was Mayor of Quebec City and active in national and international mayoralty associations; but, in 1991, when Mr. Chrétien was floundering as the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition, he turned to his old friend and recruited him as his chief of staff.
Eloquently bilingual, tall, slim with silver hair and a courtly Charles Boyer formality, Mr. Pelletier had a reputation as “terrifying” and the “velvet executioner” because of his tough, but discreet administrative style. He ran Mr. Chrétien’s office from 1991 to 2001, through the recession of the early 1990s, the perilously close Quebec referendum in 1995 and three majority governments. Two qualities distinguish his tenure as chief of staff to the prime minister: longevity and lack of controversy and scandal. But he also inspired enormous affection, respect and loyalty from MPs and the hard-nosed team of advisers he worked with in the PMO.
“His role was critical to the success of the Chrétien administration. …When he left his post, he had established a reputation as having been one of the best chiefs of staff any Canadian prime minister ever had,” Eddie Goldenberg, Mr. Chrétien’s long time senior policy adviser, wrote in The Way it Works: Inside Ottawa. “He let you do your work, he gave you your head, but he made sure the trains ran on time. Everybody who worked in the PMO has only the highest regard and respect for him and consider him to be the pater familias of the family,” he said later in an interview.
“He was not a simple person; he was by no means a pushover,” said Chaviva Hosek, Mr. Chrétien’s director of policy and research and now CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “It is the essence of the job [as chief of Staff] that sometimes you have to say no to people. It goes with the territory,” she said.
He ran a very effective shop, very orderly, very well structured, but he also presided over an office which was a very collegial place, said Peter Donolo former director of communications for Mr. Chrétien and now a partner in The Strategic Counsel. “A lot of political staffers, their only authority is the reflected authority they have from their bosses, but he actually brought something to Mr. Chrétien. When he spoke on the PM’s behalf to Ministers and others, he had a real authority.”
And then, after Paul Martin succeeded Mr. Chrétien as Liberal prime minister in 2003, everything went sour for Mr. Pelletier. He was fired as chair of Via Rail for seemingly intemperate remarks he made about Olympic gold medalist Myriam Bédard and then he was implicated by Mr. Justice John Gomery in his inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.
In Hell or High Water: My Life In and Out of Politics, Mr. Martin argued that Mr. Pelletier “should not have commented on the personal life of an employee” and furthermore his remarks were “entirely inappropriate and a direct challenge to my whistleblower policy.” He justified his action by saying, “To leave Pelletier in place in the circumstances would have undermined our commitment to public servants that they should come forward without fear if they had allegations or concerns.”
“He was very hurt about being fired for saying something about Myriam Bédard without being asked for his side,” said Mr. Goldenberg. “The whole purpose [of firing him] had nothing to do with Ms. Bédard and everything to do with the fact that Mr. Martin didn’t like him because he had worked for Mr. Chrétien.”
As for the sponsorship scandal, Mr. Pelletier, “a man whose integrity had never been questioned,” found the Gomery Commission “very difficult in a personal sense because he knew he had done nothing wrong,” according to Mr. Goldenberg. “I don’t think, Mr. Gomery understood, or wanted to understand how the system actually works in Ottawa. Mr. Pelletier met with Mr. Guité [the federal civil servant in Public Works in charge of the sponsorship program], but he didn’t say to him why don’t you pay people for work they didn’t do. The PMO doesn’t work that way.”
Mr. Pelletier was devastated. “The minute you are suspected of being a possible thief, people cross the street to avoid you. I saw people avoid me. Still today there are people convinced that I filled my pockets and I have bank accounts all over the world. I can tell you I didn’t take a bloody cent,” he told a reporter for the CPAC network just before the Quebec election on March 26, 2007.
He fought back, winning damages that November from the government for the “cavalier and precipitous” way in which he had been fired from the VIA board. Seven months later, in June, 2008, Judge Max Teitlebaum of the Federal Court ruled that Mr. Gomery had shown “bias” against both Mr. Pelletier and Mr. Chrétien and declared “void” all sections of his report dealing with the former prime minister and his chief of staff. He also ordered the government to pay their legal costs. Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper’s government is appealing that decision.
After an exemplary public service career and recognition as an officer in both the Order of Canada and France’s Legion of Honour, vindication was cool solace for a man as proud as Mr. Pelletier. As a Liberal insider said: “From Mr. Chrétien on down, the anger and bitterness that we feel toward Mr. Martin has more to do with his treatment of Mr. Pelletier than anything else, anything else. A lot of other stuff we could forgive as part of the course of politics, Mr. Martin’s ambition, the bitterness of his feelings toward Mr. Chrétien and the deterioration of their relationship, but on the whole issue of his treatment of Mr. Pelletier, has left a bitter taste. This was revenge, kicking him on the way out the door.”
Mr. Pelletier was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec on Feb 21, 1935, the son of Burroughs and Marie (Desautels) Pelletier. He was educated at the College des Jesuits in Quebec City and the Séminaire de Trois-Rivières. He met Jean Chrétien, who is a year older, when he was about 15 and they were both boarding at the Catholic school in Trois-Rivières. They slept in adjacent and extra long beds in the dormitory because they were both tall for their ages.
“We both came from different colleges, I guess we had been a bit too lively, and I had quit Joliette to go to Trois Rivières and he had quit Quebec… and we spent a year together and we became very good friends,” Mr. Chrétien said in an interview. The two young men met up again at Laval University in the mid 1950s. Mr. Pelletier took social sciences and began working as a journalist with CFCM-TV in Quebec City in 1957. He later served as a press secretary for Paul Sauvé when he was Premier of Quebec. On June 3, 1961, he married Hélène Bherer. The couple eventually had two children.
Mr. Pelletier became involved in municipal politics as one of the founders of Quebec’s Parti du Progrès civique in 1962. In 1964, he became a securities dealer with Lévesque and Beaubien Ltd and six years later was vice-president of Dumont Express. From 1973 until 1977, he was director and vice-president of Action Sociale Ltée. He was elected as a municipal councillor in Quebec City in December 1976 and mayor the following year, a position he held for a dozen years and two more elections. During his tenure as mayor, from 1977-1989, he improved rail service into the city, was instrumental in reviving the Lower Town and in having it designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In June, 1990, Mr. Chrétien finally became leader of the Liberal Party after defeating Paul Martin at the convention following the resignation of John Turner. The victory tasted more like ashes than honey. Castigated in the Quebec media for his opposition to Meech Lake, buffeted by the defection from the Caucus of francophone MPs (and Paul Martin loyalists) Jean Lapierre and Gilles Rocheleau, he seemed indecisive in the stand-off between the Mohawk Nation’s barricade, the Sûreté du Québec and the town of Oka. Politically, he was sidelined because he didn’t have a seat in the House of Commons – it wasn’t until December, 1990 that he ran successfully in a by-election in the New Brunswick constituency of Beauséjour and was able to take his place in the Commons as Leader of the Official Opposition.
Hampered by the federal party’s disorganization, near bankruptcy and drop in the polls from 50 to 32 per cent, and his own awkwardness in using a teleprompter rather than his extemporaneous “le petit gars de Shawinigan” speaking style, Mr. Chrétien was doubting himself as leader. Besides everything else, he was lacking energy. A check-up found two nodules on his lung. After surgery, they were found to be benign, and Mr. Chrétien, the eternal joker, delighted in referring to the snipped nodules as Lapierre and Rocheleau–in reference to the francophone MPs who had quit the caucus when he became leader.
While recuperating in Florida that February, he discussed his leadership problems with his wife Aline, who advised him to stop seeking so much advice and to be himself. That’s when he decided to recruit Mr. Pelletier as his chief of staff. “I boxed him into accepting,” he admits in Straight From the Heart. “Some years ago,” I said, “you told me that if I ever needed you, you’d be with me. Well, now I need your help. But I know that you will be like everyone else. I know I’m still not very popular. I know it wouldn’t be fashionable for you to work with me. So I expect that you will say not.”
But, of course, Mr. Pelletier said yes. “… he is a man of his word, with a strong sense of public duty. He came, and he soon brought order to my office,” wrote Mr. Chrétien, in what one insider called an “act of loyalty given the way Mr. Chrétien was portrayed at the time in Quebec.” Besides Mr. Pelletier as chief of staff, Eddie Goldenberg continued as senior political adviser (although at the time he was said to have been angry and upset that the appointment had taken him by surprise). Chavia Hosek, a former Ontario cabinet minister, was already in place as director of the Liberal Research Bureau and senior policy adviser, as was Peter Donolo as director of communications.
Mr. Pelletier arrived the day after Canada Day, 1991. “I decided to meet every employee in camera,” he told Edward Greenspon and Anthony Wilson-Smith for their book Double Vision: The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power. “After two weeks I knew what was wrong.” Essentially he imposed order on chaos, beginning with a meeting with senior staff at 8:45 every morning in his office on the second floor of the Langevin Block and a meeting 45 minutes later with the prime minister and the clerk of the Privy Council, although he often talked with Mr. Chrétien more than that. He made organizational flow charts, insisted that matters for the PM were filed in red folders and issues related to Quebec in blue ones. He believed that Mr. Chrétien needed “order, control and stability around him” if he were to deliver a peak performance.
“He had a lot of personal authority,” said Mr. Chrétien. “He never raised his voice, but he inspired a lot of respect. There was no shouting around Mr. Pelletier. It was always extremely civilized, always very candid and straightforward and he never looked for publicity for himself.”
For more than two years in Opposition – years of incessant Constitutional wrangling including the negotiation and defeat of both the Charlottetown and Meech Lake accords – Mr. Pelletier was the behind the scenes fixer. For example, when Pierre Trudeau, Mr. Chrétien’s political hero and mentor, was preparing his denunciation of Charlottetown at the Maison Egg Roll in Montreal on Oct. 1, 1992, it was Mr. Pelletier who urged Mr. Chrétien to meet secretly with his predecessor at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto where the two men argued about the meaning of “distinct society” for more than two hours. They didn’t resolve their differences, but Mr. Trudeau did promise to “refrain from undermining my authority in public,” according to Mr. Chrétien’s memoirs.
In the 1993 federal election Mr. Pelletier ran for the Liberal Party in Quebec City, his mayoral stronghold, “out of loyalty,” Mr. Chrétien said. “He knew it was going to be very difficult, but we had to build back the party.” The campaign didn’t go well and Mr. Pelletier predicted – correctly – that he would lose to the Bloc Québècois candidate. Although Mr. Chrétien initially dismissed his friend’s pessimism, he finally arranged, if the worst came to the worst, to meet him at the airport in Trois-Rivières the morning after the election.
“He would have been a very senior cabinet minister,” Mr. Chrétien said. “He was a man of great experience and a well travelled, well-read person.” The day after the election, Mr. Chrétien, who won a massive majority –177 seats –but failed to deliver his native province, sought out Mr. Pelletier on the tarmac and asked him to return as chief of staff. “Your loss is my gain,” he told his old friend.
For the next eight years, Mr. Pelletier ran the PMO, through the enactment and implementation of NAFTA, the recession of the early 1990s, the second Quebec referendum, the Clarity Act, two more landslide Liberal election victories and the growing rivalry between Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin, his minister of finance and impatient heir apparent.
“Beneath his patrician manner and warm smile, Pelletier was extremely disciplined, well organized, and as hard as nails,” Mr. Chrétien wrote in My Years as Prime Minister. “He ran a very tight–and tight-lipped–ship…. As a result, we didn’t suffer from the public feuding, backbiting gossip, and anonymous leaks that had plagued other PMOs. Even those columnists and academics who were no fans of the Liberal Party had to concede that Pelletier’s operation was among the most efficient and harmonious in memory, despite having been reduced from 120 to 80 employees as a cost-saving measure.”
Jeffrey Simpson, national columnist for The Globe, agreed with that description: “Pelletier stayed away from the media. He seldom met with journalists, and when he did, he gave almost nothing away. He was courteous, refined, sometimes witty and usually non-informative.” Or as Peter Donolo pointed out, Mr. Pelletier had already had his fill of the public stuff, as the high-powered mayor of Quebec, so he didn’t need the ego boost. Instead of letting political staffers “swan” about in the media he liked to say: “we don’t cook in the living room.”
Besides his administrative skills, his stature in Quebec, his Canadian network from his years both as a member and president of the federation of Canadian Municipalities, he also had sterling international connections. As mayor of Quebec City he had met and become friends with Jacques Chirac when he was Mayor of Paris (1977{minus}1995), a link that was strengthened by working together during the decade that Mr. Pelletier also served as vice-president of the Association of Francophone Mayors (1979-89). For example, it was Mr. Pelletier who persuaded Mr. Chirac to keep mum publicly during the 1980 Quebec referendum. even though, like General de Gaulle before him, Mr. Chirac had a distinct empathy for an independent Quebec.
Mr. Chrétien charged Mr. Pelletier with converting Mr. Chirac from a Séparatiste into a federalist – and persuading him to say so publicly. Mr. Pelletier made secret visits to France twice a year to meet with Mr. Chirac, or “to water my plants” as he liked to describe these trips and he convinced a reluctant Mr. Chrétien to meet Mr. Chirac at the Paris city hall in June 1994, despite the prime minister’s disdain for consorting with a man he considered a “right-wing Gaullist,” and about whom he had said publicly, “There’s no more chance of him winning the presidential election than of the separatists winning the referendum.” He was certainly wrong on the first prediction–Mr. Chirac was elected president of France, succeeding Francois Mitterand in May, 1995 – and perilously close to losing the second one.
Mr. Pelletier’s quiet diplomacy crashed into a shoal, a week before the Referendum in October, 1995 when Mr. Chirac said on the Larry King show on CNN that if the Quebec referendum supported separation, France should be one of the first countries to recognize the new state. Mr. Chrétien was furious and had it out with Mr. Chirac at the Francophonie summit in Benin a few weeks later, much to the discomfort of his chief of staff. (By then the referendum, which took place in Quebec on October 30, 1995, had decided against separation by a razor-thin margin: 50.58 per cent “No” to 49.42 per cent “Yes”.)
The blow-up between Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Chirac was actually the beginning of a deep friendship between the two leaders. Mr. Chirac held a state dinner in Paris in Mr. Chrétien’s honour as the prime minister was stepping down from public office in 2003, a dinner at which Mr. Chirac referred to him as “mon cher Jean” and stated that relations between the two countries (both of whom had opposed sending troops to Iraq as part of the U.S. led coalition of the willing that spring) had never been better. It was a public compliment to Mr. Pelletier’s discreet diplomatic skills as well. In Hell or High Water, Mr. Martin reports that at his first meeting as Prime Minister with Mr. Chirac, the French President rebuked him for his treatment of Mr. Pelletier. “I told Chirac that I appreciated their relationship but that I was prime minister of Canada and would make my own decisions.”
Mr. Pelletier was a peace maker at home as well as abroad. For example, he and Mr. Goldenberg met weekly with senior members of Daniel Johnson’s staff in a vain attempt to help the Quebec Premier win the 1994 provincial election. When Mr. Chrétien was thinking of appointing Romeo Leblanc, a former Cabinet Minister and Speaker of the House, Governor-General in the mid-1990s, he asked Mr. Pelletier to deliver the message that Mr. Leblanc should marry his long time companion, Diana Fowler, if he wished to be considered. He did and he was, in Jan. 1995, becoming the first Governor General of Acadian descent. When Adrienne Clarkson’s name was being bruited about as Mr. Leblanc’s successor in 1999, she “casually let [Mr.]Pelletier know that she had recently married [her partner] John Ralston Saul,” according to Mr. Chrétien in My Years as Prime Minister.
About the time Mr. Pelletier turned 65 in February, 2000, he told his boss that he wanted to retire. Mr. Chrétien persuaded him to stay on for a few more months to see him through the Summit of the Americas, scheduled for Quebec City in April 2001. Mr. Pelletier complied. A grateful Mr. Chrétien paid tribute to Mr. Pelletier, as the man “who has never let me down,” when his chief of staff finally departed the PMO on May 4, 2001. “I believe his performance has set the standard against which senior aides in politics and government will be measured for years to come.” It is certainly true that ten years in the post is a long time compared to the survival rate of subsequent chiefs of staff.
As a parting gift, Mr. Chrétien made Mr. Pelletier chair of VIA Rail in September 2001. It was not an unlikely patronage appointment. As mayor of Quebec City, Mr. Pelletier had improved passenger rail service into the city and he had served on a Quebec-Ontario committee investigating a high speed rail link between Windsor and Quebec City in 1990 – a project he revived and tried hard to push forward after he was appointed as chair of the Via board. But, early in 2004, Mr. Martin, who had succeeded Mr. Chrétien as leader of the party and as prime minister four months earlier, fired Mr. Pelletier in what Mr. Chrétien would later call “an act of petty political revenge.” There were two precipitating incidents, but both involved the sponsorship scandal.
Nobody completely understands the connection between stress and illness, but many believe that the combined effect of VIA and the Gomery Inquiry precipitated Mr. Pelletier’s wife’s severe complications from diabetes and his own diagnosis of colon cancer. Late last spring he stopped chemotherapy because it was making him ill while doing little to stop the progress of the disease.
Fearing the end was near, Mr. Chrétien and about 15 of his former staffers, including Mr. Goldberg, Ms. Hosek and Mr. Donolo moved a planned reunion dinner (to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Mr. Chrétien’s election as prime minister in 1993) from Ottawa to the Quebec Garrison Club on Nov. 15, 2008 so it would be easier for a frail-looking Mr. Pelletier to attend. Instead of a celebration, the evening had an elegiac mood.
On New Year’s Eve, 2008, he was admitted to Saint-Sacrement Hospital in Quebec City and later transferred to the Maison Michel-Sarrazin hospice, where he spoke on the phone and was visited by a number of old friends including Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume and Mr. Chrétien. “He is a very brave man, very courageous and he is facing death with the serenity of a man who has done his job while he was a citizen,” said Mr. Chrétien. “And I said that to him: ‘You can be proud of yourself.’”
Jean Pelletier, O.C. was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec on Feb 21, 1935. He died of complications from colon cancer in hospital in Quebec City early in the morning on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009. He was 73. Mr. Pelletier is survived by his wife Hélène, his two children Jean and Marie and his extended family.  

Tributes for Pelletier
“Quebecers, and particularly the residents of the capital region, today have lost a man of stature who devoted the major part of his life to public service. … Jean Pelletier made an exceptional contribution to the influence of the capital.” – Premier Jean Charest
“The memory I have is of a man who deeply loved his city. He often said it was the most beautiful city in the world.” -PQ leader Pauline Marois
“During his fruitful career as a politician, Mr. Pelletier was driven by a constant passion to serve citizens well.” – Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne
“By devoting more than 10 years of his life to Quebec City, Jean Pelletier showed how much he cared for the destiny of his city. A man of vision, in 1979 he founded, with Jacques Chirac, the Association internationale des maires francophone … an important legacy for all of French-speaking society.” – Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay

Former Quebec City mayor Jean Pelletier dies of cancer
CBC’s story prompted a large number of comments, many of them extremely vicious. In contrast, Jeremy Kinsman’s generous words deserve repeating:
A propos of the writer who laments the absence of positive references in this news report, permit me to say I am very saddened by the loss of a hugely effective, and benevolent, public servant of real integrity, which is why the recent years of controversy and accusation were devastating for him. In fact, they killed him. As a public servant, I knew him, worked with him, and respected him more than anyone I knew in government — and there were many like me, trust me. His subsequent downfall was heartbreaking, especially for those of us disgusted by revelations of a low-life scandal of petty corruption which did not bear the hand of Jean Pelletier, who never took a dime in decades of high office. Blogs and comment boxes permit people to vent anger, prejudice, and frankly real dumbness, but in this case please read them with a sense of regret at the human toll our divisive and scandal-raking political culture is taking. Pelletier was a hugely fine man, unfailingly courteous and generous — please dig a little deeper in our shared Canadian-ness and show him and his family a respect recent years had sadly obscured. Sincerely, Jeremy Kinsman
Statement by Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Official Opposition, on the death of Jean Pelletier
It is with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of Jean Pelletier, who lost his battle with cancer early this morning.
As a journalist, former mayor of Quebec City, and lifetime Liberal, Mr. Pelletier dedicated his life to public service. As chief of staff to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, he helped the Liberal government get Canada’s economy back on track and played a major role in keeping Canada united in the aftermath of the 1995 Quebec referendum.

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