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CAMIL SAMSON, 77

Obituary: Firebrand populist was an emblem of rural Catholic Quebec Add to ...

“Within a month he became a political phenomenon, one of those people who spoke words of fire,” recalled former MNA Bernard Dumont. “Sure, he was fodder for editorial cartoonists everywhere, but he was much more than a caricature. He was, at the time, a force to be reckoned with.”

Within three years, however, he lost the confidence of his caucus, and the party he had created imploded. Although removed as leader, he was undeterred, returning with two loyalists to the legislature as the newly registered Ralliement créditiste du Québec which, through political infighting, evolved into the Parti Créditiste.

In one hilarious exchange in the National Assembly, Samson complained that “fluoridation destroys the brain.” Another MNA promptly quipped that that might account for Samson’s buffoonery, given that the water supply in Rouyn-Noranda had been fluoridated for 25 years.

By 1976 Samson was the lone member of the Créditiste movement to withstand René Lévesque’s victory. Sporting a gold crucifix around his neck, he was regarded as the last gasp of a rural Catholic Quebec that saw its traditional homespun values slipping away. He campaigned against pornography, against divorce, against prostitution and for the return of capital punishment.

In one rather convoluted appearance before a legislative committee hearing, he managed to denounce abortionist Henry Morgentaler as an ingrate. Samson told the committee that Quebec soldiers fought to save people from the crematoriums, and that, instead of being grateful, “among the artisans of abortion at home, we find people of the same nationality we were trying to rescue.”

On another occasion he said he admired Hitler’s “economic approach” as the solution to Canada’s problems, but also pointed out in his party’s publication, La Planche de Salut (Our Salvation), that the Fuhrer’s “hysteric decisions” destroyed his regime’s economic prowess.

In 1978, while he was still an MNA, Samson joined forces with former federal Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Sévigny in an attempt to get a new party, Les Democrats, off the ground. It went nowhere. He then joined Claude Ryan’s Liberals in a failed bid to save his seat in the 1981 provincial election.

He found work as a radio talk-show host, first at CKVC then at CHRC, both in Quebec City. He attempted a comeback, again as a federal Liberal, in the 1993 election that brought Chrétien to power, but lost to the Bloc. For his loyalty, he was named an adviser to the federal minister responsible for Quebec City.

Samson was no fan of her party, but in a statement issued this week, Premier Pauline Marois acknowledged his unique contributions to the political process.

“He didn’t leave anyone indifferent. His colourful language and the images he used to express his ideas made political history in Quebec. Many people appreciated his straight-shooting oratory, which put him in a class of his own. He was incomparable.”

He leaves his wife of 56 years, Gisèle Tardif, and their three children, Louise, Daniel and Mario.

When Camil Samson, leader and sole member of the Democrate-Creditistes, comes on stage at rallies of the No side, he sounds like a fundamentalist preacher who has no low gear.

He stands there, face red under his modified pompadour, voice booming from lots of practice speaking in halls without microphones, delivering some of the better folk humour in Quebec.

To Mr. Samson, the Parti Québécois’ referendum question is like a bear trap: Just a little negotiation, come on, put one foot in, it won’t hurt. And if you decide after a year you don’t like it you can refuse to put the other foot in.

He gets a good five minutes out of that one, turning to beckon an invisible bear in a quavery voice like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. “Come on, my little kitten. It won’t hurt. Just one little paw.” Then he talks about how the question is so twisted it makes an auger look straight. “Tortuous, sinuous,” he begins, launching into a patented list of synonyms.

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