Long-time Quebec Liberal John Ciaccia, whose quarter century in provincial politics was marked by a stint as native affairs minister during the explosive Oka Crisis in 1990, has died.
Mr. Ciaccia passed away on Tuesday in Beaconsfield, Que., at the age of 85.
News of his death was first reported by Cittadino Canadese, an Italian-Canadian publication.
Premier Philippe Couillard took to Twitter on Wednesday to pay tribute to Mr. Ciaccia, who was first elected in 1973, in Mont-Royal and won the riding five more times before bowing out prior to the 1998 election.
“He greatly contributed to moving Quebec forward,” Mr. Couillard said.
The federalist politician was an influential minister under Liberal premiers Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson Jr., holding various portfolios over the years and actively campaigning on the “No” side in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums.
Giambattista Nicola Ciaccia was born in Jelsi in Italy on March 4, 1933, and arrived in Canada via Ellis Island when he was 4.
He studied at McGill University and was admitted to the Quebec bar in 1957. He practised law before becoming a senior federal civil servant in 1971, serving as Jean Chrétien’s deputy minister when the future prime minister headed the federal Indian Affairs Department in the early 1970s.
Not long after he was first elected to the Quebec National Assembly, Mr. Ciaccia was suspended from the Liberal caucus for nearly two months in 1974 – the year the Bourassa government passed Bill 22 enshrining French as the official language of Quebec.
In July of that year, Mr. Ciaccia and fellow Liberal George Springate joined the Opposition in voting against the bill, which passed by a 92-10 margin.
Mr. Ciaccia was known for his involvement in native affairs: in 1975, he was Mr. Bourassa’s representative in the negotiations for what would become known as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which was signed with the Cree and the Inuit.
Later, he found himself at the centre of the storm during the Oka Crisis in 1990 when, on July 11, gunfire between provincial police and natives defending a small stand of pine trees resulted in the death of officer Marcel Lemay and sparked a 78-day showdown.
Mr. Ciaccia was at odds with his own government and provincial police as he scrambled to broker a deal and prevent further bloodshed. That breakthrough would come in September, at the end of a tense summer with the Canadian Forces also involved.
Mr. Ciaccia was shuffled out of his portfolio the following month.
A decade after the Oka Crisis, Mr. Ciaccia published a personal memoir called The Oka Crisis: A Mirror of the Soul.
”The Oka Crisis was probably the most difficult moment that I went through, and the referendum of 1995 was a close call,” he recalled upon announcing his retirement in 1998, as the longest-tenured National Assembly member at the time.
In 2015, he published a memoir describing what drew him into politics: Call Me Giambattista: A Personal and Political Journey.