History tells us that Lucien Bouchard quit Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government over a congratulatory letter Mr. Bouchard sent to the Parti Québécois. But Mr. Mulroney says history is wrong.
The former prime minister told author Peter C. Newman, who has written a book based on their private conversations, that he fired the man who went on to form the Bloc Québécois.
Mr. Bouchard sent a telegram to the PQ when it held an anniversary meeting in his riding in May of 1990. It said: "Réne Lévesque's memory will unite us all this weekend. He was the one who led the Québécois to realize they had the inalienable right to decide their own destiny."
The congratulatory tone was more than Mr. Mulroney could bear, he is heard telling Mr. Newman in a documentary, The Secret Mulroney Tapes, which is set to air on Nov. 21 as part of a CBC Passionate Eye special. The producers say the conversation is not included in Mr. Newman's printed version of their private telephone relationship, The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister.
"I find out about [the telegram]and he's back [to Ottawa]" Mr. Mulroney tells Mr. Newman. "I call him in and I fire him. He didn't quit, I fired him."
Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Bouchard reluctantly attended that meeting at 24 Sussex Dr. on May 21, 1990. "I said to him, 'I have no choice but to demand your resignation immediately which I am now doing. You are no longer a member of my government. I have no idea why you did this, one day we will know.' "
Mr. Mulroney said the Parti Québécois had told Mr. Bouchard that the Meech Lake accord, which was being negotiated at that time, would spell the end of the separatist party if were to succeed.
"He had to make a choice," Mr. Mulroney said. "Now this fellow has managed to portray to Quebeckers that he acted as an honourable man, that he quit on a question of principle because we were all going to betray Meech Lake. We weren't going to betray Meech Lake. He was betraying us and he was betraying us for an entirely different reason. Because Meech was going to succeed."
Neither Mr. Mulroney nor Mr. Bouchard, who is travelling abroad, could be reached for comment late yesterday when a transcript of the tape was made available to The Globe and Mail. Mr. Mulroney has publicly condemned Mr. Newman for making public the conversations that he says he believed were private.
In his 1994 biography, Off The Record, Mr. Bouchard says he knew that the former prime minister would try to portray the departure as a firing.
"I saw that he wanted to represent my departure as a disciplinary measure justified by my behaviour. I wasn't leaving, he was throwing me out," the former Bloc leader wrote.
Mr. Bouchard said he gave Mr. Mulroney a letter of resignation during their meeting but the prime minister suggested he wait until the next day and consider resigning his cabinet seat but stay in caucus. Mr. Bouchard said he told Mr. Mulroney he would think about it, but called the prime minister later that evening to say his decision was final. He sent a final draft of the resignation letter to Mr. Mulroney the following day.
Luc Lavoie, a former aide to Mr. Mulroney, said the former prime minister would be unlikely to comment on the taped conversation. Mr. Lavoie was at 24 Sussex Dr. that night, but he was unable to say whose version of the events rings true.
"I was there all along, every step of the way, except for one little moment, which is when they met," Mr. Lavoie said yesterday. "All I know is, when [Mr. Bouchard]came out of there, he was no longer a minister."
Mr. Newman, who was reached at his home in London, said the excerpt "rang a bell," but added he couldn't be certain without referring to the transcripts. Asked why the reference to a firing was not included in the book, Mr. Newman said, "I thought it was."
With a report from Michael Den Tandt