Jacques Nadeau archives Le Devoir The former MP was at the forefront of major reforms at the head of several ministries under the governments of René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard.
Member of Parliament for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve for 27 years, Louise Harel is known for her soft voice, but you should not let that fool you. Behind this velvet voice hides a woman of conviction, sometimes rebellious and expert in the art of strategy. This is the Louise Harel that Philippe Schnobb describes in a forthcoming biography.
“What interested me was to understand how this woman could be considered by some as a “great lady” and by others a “witch”,” explains Philippe Schnobb, author ofLouise Harel, in an interview. Without compromise, published by Éditions La Presse and sold in bookstores from October 12.
Former Radio-Canada journalist and former chairman of the board of directors of the Société de transport de Montréal, Philippe Schnobb had proposed from 2010 to Ms. Harel to write her biography. The project not having materialized, Philippe Schnobb returned to the charge in 2021. This time was the good one, even if Louise Harel told him from the outset that she did not like biographies and loathed hagiographies too complimentary.
Philippe Schnobb, for whom this is the first biography, set about the task, combing through the archives and carrying out interviews with the main interested party and more than 70 colleagues and relatives of the politician. “Everything is corroborated, even Louise Harel’s own memories. Sometimes I would tell him, “It can’t be.” »
From the Sainte-Thérèse seminary to her life as a member of parliament for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and her difficult time in municipal politics, through the tumultuous years at the General Union of Students of Quebec and the presidency of the Montreal-Centre region of the Parti Québécois, marked by sometimes conflicting relations with the first leader of the party, René Lévesque, the work traces the journey of this fighter who was not used to letting herself be gagged and who did not only have friends .
“She is a good tactician,” former Prime Minister Lucien Bouchard will say of her. She sets her milestones, a milestone here, another there, and in the end, you are surrounded by milestones. She is very clever, she is charming, she has an insinuating conviction. You don't realize it and she's convincing you. » Some will point out the almost Machiavellian strategies she used to achieve her ends. Philippe Schnobb indicates that several people did not want to grant him an interview, believing that they had nothing positive to say about Louise Harel.
A reformer< /h2>
The fact remains that the former MP was at the forefront of major reforms at the head of several ministries under René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. She will bring the issue of pay equity, social assistance reform, the creation of Emploi-Québec and municipal mergers to fruition.
For her, the creation of Emploi-Québec remains the most important in her eyes. And it is undoubtedly also because of her deep attachment to the riding that she represented for 27 years, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where she was elected for the first time in 1981. This was at the time when the major Industries such as Shops Angus, Vickers and Canadian Steel Foundries close their doors. “I saw this working-class neighborhood become a former working-class neighborhood. We lost 8,000 jobs in five years, says Louise Harel in an interview. I was able to support people in the tragedies they were experiencing. »
Throughout the pages of the biography, we learn that in 1996, she had sent a letter to Prime Minister Lucien Bouchard to offer her resignation as Minister of Employment and Solidarity, unable to resolve to reduce the budget allocated to low-income people by 8%. She will ultimately win her case, and other ministries will have to take on additional burdens, which is not without creating some tensions with colleagues.
Talking about Louise Harel also means taking stock of the place of women in politics. The former elected official particularly remembers the epic journey of the family heritage sharing file led by the liberal Monique Gagnon-Tremblay. Both in the Liberal Party and in the PQ opposition, women MPs had to work hard to convince their male colleagues to support the project. “It ended unanimously, but we don’t know all the mixing that took place before,” confides Louise Harel. “Women introduced transpartisanship into politics with support based on the merits of files. It’s refreshing,” she says.
In the October 2022 elections, 58 women were sent to the National Assembly, representing 46.4% of deputies. Louise Harel welcomes this, but maintains that mobilization is still necessary. More women than men leave their seats after a single mandate, she points out.
She accepted that Philippe Schnobb addresses his difficult time in municipal politics at the head of Vision Montréal, in particular marked by her catastrophic alliance with Benoit Labonté, which led to her defeat as mayor of Montreal against Gérald Tremblay in 2009. Beaten in 2013 by Valérie Plante in Ville-Marie, she then gave up her political life. “It’s certain that the municipal episode is more difficult. It’s the one where I was most emotionally moved,” she says.
Does she have any regrets? “I’ve often asked myself this question. But ultimately, I would have regretted not having done it. »