Marc Laurendeau, a Cynic at the Heart of the Quiet Revolution

Comedian, then journalist, Marc Laurendeau will have been a privileged witness of the Quiet Revolution, whose heritage he claims loud and clear. An abundant period both in Quebec and abroad that he recounts in a fascinating biography published this week: Marc Laurendeau. From cynical laughter to journalistic gaze. Without exacerbating nostalgia, the author takes a critical look, imbued with a glimmer of hope, on the world of today. Like what the old Cynic is not totally.

“I’m not a reactionary,” says Marc Laurendeau, who firmly believes that the Quiet Revolution transformed Quebec for the better. And this is what he dwells on demonstrating during a good part of this work, which is intended to be a response to those, more and more numerous, who rehabilitate the reign of Duplessis and the Great Darkness.

“Perhaps we can find points here and there, but on the merits, we cannot rehabilitate Duplessis. The repression of Asbestos strike, it’s not a myth! The reality is that we were behind on everything. Some will say that he managed to get tax points. But in truth, these are trifles compared to what Lesage obtained, ”slice Marc Laurendeau, who quickly ignites as soon as he dwells on his memories of the Duplessis era.

The 83-year-old journalist is mainly targeting the few historians and other intellectuals tempted by revisionism. However, even Prime Minister Legault has already had good words for Duplessis. But we should not think that the head of the CAQ is the reincarnation of the “boss”, explains Marc Laurendeau, all in nuance. “There are parallels to be drawn when you see the personalization of power and paternalism, especially during the pandemic. But Legault is still much more modern, especially in education. He is a democrat, who is a supporter of freedom of expression, who speaks to journalists, unlike Duplessis, who expelled journalists who did not suit him from his press conferences. »

Elite infancy

Like many figures of the Quiet Revolution attached to a secular school, Marc Laurendeau is nevertheless a pure product of the classical course and an education in holy water. Raised in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district, he grew up in a bourgeois family – of the petty bourgeoisie, he insists on specifying – at a time when most French Canadians were confined to the working class. Several members of his line belong in the history books today. Starting with André Laurendeau, his father’s cousin, an illustrious nationalist politician, who was also a journalist. His first cousin is none other than the pharmacist Jean Coutu; his sister is the late actress Amulette Garneau, to whom Marc Laurendeau also pays a heartfelt tribute in his biography.

“We weren’t in the upper middle class, with the luxury houses and all that. My grandfather had been a millionaire, but he had lost everything during the Depression. We were penniless, and I didn’t feel like I was part of the elite. It was at school, with the encounters I had, that I had the feeling for the first time of being privileged,” he underlines modestly.

These significant encounters are scattered throughout this book, written in collaboration with Pierre Huet. From his classical course at Sainte-Marie College at the University of Montreal, where he will study law, Marc Laurendeau will befriend several fellows who will prove to be leading actors in the Quiet Revolution which has just sprung up. initiate, from the composer François Cousineau to Denys Arcand, via Bernard Landry. He will even have Pierre Elliott Trudeau as a teacher.

It was also during his studies that he met Serge Grenier, Marcel Saint-Germain and André Dubois, with whom he formed the political humor group Les Cyniques. Their Turkish heads: the right-wing politicians, the clergy, the vacuity of the stars of Télé-Métropole. Rock et Belles Oreilles didn’t invent anything.

“The 1960s were the best time to be comedians. There was great freedom. We took advantage of the socio-political situation a lot with the style of humor that we did, ”he observes with hindsight, even if he never felt the need to get back on the boards.

A Bye Bye and a film later, his career as a comedian ended in 1972 with the amicable separation of the Cynics. Marc Laurendeau will therefore begin a career as a “serious” journalist. The transition will be difficult at first, especially for the public who had only known his stage character until then, but he will end up imposing himself.

Over the years, Marc Laurendeau has been a headliner for Radio-Québec, TVA, then Radio-Canada radio. He will have written for Montreal-Morning, The Press and interviewed almost all the architects of the Quiet Revolution: Robert Bourassa, Rene Levesque or even Jean Drapeau, three great characters of whom he paints a glowing portrait in this book, without complacency however, as a seasoned journalist.

The 60s were the best time to be comedians. There was great freedom. We took full advantage of the socio-political situation with our style of humor.

During his prolific career in the media, Marc Laurendeau was also at the forefront of the great geopolitical upheavals of the XXe century. While reporting in China in the 1980s, he witnessed the economic liberalization of the Middle Kingdom after the death of Mao. In the USSR, in Russia, he was called upon to cover the great upheavals which preceded and followed the collapse of the communist regime. Marc Laurendeau will have visited the homeland of Chekhov six times, for work, as for pleasure. A great Russophile, he really believed in the advent of democracy in this country.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, there was great hope among foreign correspondents after the fall of Marcos, Duvalier, Pinochet, with the end of apartheid… Today, it is clear that this optimism is at half-mast. Democracy is retreating almost everywhere. Russia under Putin has again become a very bloody dictatorship. China under Xi Jinping is even more authoritarian than under Deng Xiaoping. Even in established democracies, like Italy and the United States, there is a setback with the rise of populism,” he said. Marc Laurendeau hopes for “a return of the pendulum”, and calls on journalists to carry the torch in these darker times.

On a Quebec scale, Marc Laurendeau also has his disappointments. The Quiet Revolution was to lead to a special status for Quebec, whether independence or greater autonomy within Canada, he believes. Which makes him say that “the Quiet Revolution is an unfinished work”.

It’s up to the youngest now to bring about the revolution.

Marc Laurendeau. From a cynical gaze to a journalistic gaze

Marc Laurendeau and Pierre Huet, Les Éditions La Presse, Montreal, 2022368 pages

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Marc Laurendeau, a Cynic at the Heart of the Quiet Revolution

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