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Yves Michaud defends one of his proposals at the Laurentian Bank annual meeting in Montreal in 1998. Mr. Michaud was a fierce Quebec nationalist whose career included being a journalist, a politician, a diplomat, a wine merchant and a shareholders’ rights activist.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Yves Michaud was a fiery Quebec nationalist whose eclectic career included being a journalist, a politician, a diplomat, a wine merchant and a shareholders’ rights activist.

In one guise or another, he was involved in events spanning half a century of contemporary Quebec history, often in contentious circumstances involving nationalism, sovereignty and the promotion of the French language.

Mr. Michaud died Tuesday evening at the age of 94, his son Luc said in a telephone interview.

“My father was a man of ideas. He was a polemicist. He was someone who, when he thought a cause was just, fought ferociously for it,” Luc Michaud said.

The elder Mr. Michaud was a close friend of one of Quebec’s most popular premiers, René Lévesque, and a sworn enemy of the Parti Québécois’ other great charismatic leader, Lucien Bouchard.

In 1977, Mr. Michaud had a cameo role the night Mr. Lévesque drove over a homeless man. In 1997, he won a landmark ruling for shareholders’ rights, having argued his own case in court. When Mr. Bouchard became premier, Mr. Michaud joined PQ dissidents seeking tougher language laws.

His time in the spotlight ended bitterly. In 2000, he commented on the lack of support for independence among minority voters, especially Jews. In a rare move, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion condemning his remarks.

Mr. Michaud spent years afterward saying he had been wrongly painted as an antisemite. The motion particularly stung because it had been supported by Mr. Bouchard and 65 other PQ members.

A number of politicians and pundits now feel that he was the victim of a political ambush by higher-ups in the PQ who wanted to shunt aside the outspoken maverick. “It’s the most venal, villainous thing ever orchestrated,” Mr. Michaud said in a 2014 television interview, “ … one of the worst injustices I ever saw or heard in Quebec public life.”

Ironically, decades earlier, when he was a rookie politician, Mr. Michaud was praised by the Canadian Jewish Congress after he criticized a cabinet minister for mentioning Jews while heckling in the National Assembly.

Mr. Michaud was a combative man, someone who, by his own account, had grown a thick skin to handle all the jabs against his uncompromising views, his cultivated way of speaking French, his short stature.

His rhetoric leaned to the hyperbolic. “I feel like an exile in my own city, an outcast in my own land!” he said, complaining about English signs. He called francophones who were conciliatory on language issues “weak-willed, timorous and pusillanimous.” He dismissed François Legault, the current Quebec premier, as “a stutterer of the French language.”

He was born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., on Feb. 13, 1930, the younger of the two sons of Robertha Robert and Jean-Baptiste Michaud, an insurance salesman.

The town was conservative but he came from a lineage of long-time Liberals. “In my family, it was almost part of the genetic code, it was our heritage, we were red,” he recalled in a National Assembly oral history.

Freelance journalism led him to the editorship of a local weekly, Le Clairon, where he penned biting criticisms of the Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis, calling it a “tuberculous regime.” In the pages of the pro-government Courier de Saint-Hyacinthe, he was mocked as “le petit Michaud” (little Michaud).

While at Le Clairon, Mr. Michaud befriended one of his contributors, Mr. Lévesque, who would become a provincial cabinet minister in the reform-minded Liberal government of Jean Lesage.

Mr. Lévesque then recruited Mr. Michaud to run as a Liberal candidate in 1966. However, the Union Nationale defeated the Liberals in that election so Mr. Michaud made his legislature debut from the opposition benches.

During a debate in the National Assembly in 1967, two Union Nationale ministers heckled the Liberal Claude Wagner, making an apparent reference to his German Jewish father. Gabriel Loubier shouted “How do you say that in Jewish?” while Jean-Noël Tremblay added “In German!”

Mr. Michaud complained to the speaker, asking if the ministers “fed themselves on xenophobia and racism.” The Canadian Jewish Congress praised him for having the “courage to raise the matter and ask the ministers for a retraction.”

Later that year, Mr. Lévesque quit the Liberals, on his way to forming the PQ. Mr. Michaud, meanwhile, sat as an independent Liberal because he disagreed with his party’ support of Bill 63, which gave parents the choice to send kids to English school.

Mr. Michaud still ran as a Liberal in the 1970 election but lost. His move to the sovereigntist side was cemented three years later when he ran unsuccessfully for the PQ.

Next, he managed the pro-sovereignty newspaper Le Jour, which turned into a money-losing headache that had to shut down in the summer of 1976. A few months later, the PQ took power. Mr. Michaud hadn’t been a candidate but Mr. Lévesque made him an adviser on international affairs.

The evening of Feb. 5, 1977, Mr. Lévesque and his secretary and future wife, Corinne Côté, attended a dinner party hosted by Mr. Michaud. Driving home, the premier fatally struck a homeless man, Edgar Trottier.

The police didn’t give Mr. Lévesque a Breathalyzer test so Mr. Michaud had to tell investigators that the seven diners that night drank two bottles of a Bordeaux, Château Puyfromage. Police and a coroner concluded that it was an accident and that there were no grounds for criminal charges.

The PQ appointed Mr. Michaud as its delegate to Paris in 1979. When he returned to Quebec, he started a company exporting wine from France, selling vintages such as Château Puyfromage, and later Coteau de lʼÉlisette, the Languedoc red produced by another PQ premier, Jacques Parizeau, after he left politics.

In 1992, Mr. Michaud lost part of his savings when Montreal-based General Trustco made bad real-estate deals and could only repay 30 cents on the dollar to its debenture holders.

He began fighting for better corporate accountability. Representing himself in Superior Court, he won in 1997 a ruling that forced the Royal Bank and National Bank to put to a vote shareholders’ proposals on executive pay and governance rules.

He became a fixture at bank annual meetings, where he won few of the votes but claimed moral victories.

At the same time, he fought on another front after Mr. Bouchard had become Quebec premier and PQ leader. Mr. Michaud was part of a dissident wing that felt Mr. Bouchard was too soft on the language issue.

“I’m humiliated and insulted daily in what’s left of the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, scarred and disfigured by all the Second Cup, Liquor Store Cabaret, Wal-mart, Club Price and Winners signs,” Mr. Michaud said to thundering applause at the 1996 PQ convention.

During a Dec. 5, 2000, radio interview, he recalled how he ran into Liberal Senator Leo Kolber at a barbershop. “Are you still a separatist, Yves?” Mr. Kolber asked.

“Yes I’m a separatist, just like you are Jewish,” Mr. Michaud said he responded. “It took your people 2,000 years to have their own country in Israel. … As far as I’m concerned, whether it takes 10 years, 50 years or 100 more years, it can wait.”

Mr. Kolber replied it wasn’t the same thing, according to Mr. Michaud. “It’s never the same for them. The Armenians didn’t suffer. The Palestinians aren’t suffering. The Rwandans aren’t suffering. I said, ‘It’s always you people. You are the only people in the history of humankind to suffer.’ I was fed up.”

A week later, Mr. Michaud announced he would seek the nomination in the by-election for Mercier, a safe PQ riding. He said he wouldn’t hold back on expressing “dissenting views” if elected.

This prompted the Jewish organization B’nai Brith to urge Mr. Bouchard to veto the Michaud candidacy. The premier said he disagreed with Mr. Michaud but didn’t plan to intervene.

The following day, on Dec. 13, Mr. Michaud testified at a commission on the future of the French language in Quebec.

He mentioned the lack of support for independence in Côte Saint-Luc, a Montreal district with a large Jewish population. If immigrants and Côte Saint-Luc residents understood the French language and culture better, more would support sovereignty, Mr. Michaud said.

He also cited words by Lionel Groulx that urged Quebeckers to emulate the Jews in their spirit of solidarity and their will to retain their identity. The nationalist cleric, who died in 1967, was an influential Quebec thinker but also a controversial figure whose writings sometimes denigrated Jews and repeated stereotypes about them.

In his remarks, Mr. Michaud derided the idea that the Lionel-Groulx subway station should be renamed. He quipped that René Lévesque Boulevard might as well be renamed after the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon.

The next day, at the instigation of the Liberals, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion condemning him for making “unacceptable” remarks.

Mr. Michaud complained that MNAs had voted on the motion without checking what exactly he had said. He insisted that his comments actually praised Jews.

The issue was still raw a month later when Mr. Bouchard suddenly quit politics. Without explicitly mentioning Mr. Michaud, the premier said in his departing remarks that he was baffled how the debate on language turned into a discussion over whether Jews suffered more than others. “I affirm that Quebec citizens without distinction can exercise their right to vote for whoever they please without being accused of intolerance,” he said.

Three days later, Mr. Michaud withdrew from the nomination for Mercier. In a public letter, he blamed B’nai Brith and Mr. Bouchard’s “excommunication.”

As time went by, his remarks about the legislature motion turned increasingly acerbic. In 2011, he called it an “imbecilic vulgarity” and a “shameful circus.” In 2014, he said Mr. Bouchard “behaved like a scoundrel.”

He died however without seeing the legislature revoke the motion.

“He brought so much to the French language. We have to remember this giant figure,” Marie-Anne Alepin, president of the nationalist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, said in an interview.

Mr. Michaud leaves his wife, Monique Morrissette, and their children, Luc and Anne, and grandchildren Virginie, Clara, Eloïse and Gabriel. He was predeceased by granddaughter Delphine.

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