I’m actually writing this post during the middle of the night from about 40,000 feet, flying somewhere over the state of Wisconsin, I think. I have to make a quick trip to Nevada for work, and will meet up with some friends flying in from overseas, but I’ll try to find time to keep up with the daily posts.
Although this is the second post in the three-part mini blog series featuring Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Lise Payette, this post is a must-read for context, in order for the next post to make sense (the next post will be the summary of the actual audio recording of the coversation between Nadeau-Dubois and Payette).
Lise Payette (born in 1931) is a still-respected former, well-known politician (learning about her has even been incorporated into Québec’s school curriculum). She used to be a government minister within René Levesque’s Parti Québécois government. She has not been a politician since the early 1980s, but she certainly made her mark on the party, and on Québec. In more recent times (including today), she is a listed, and widely-read newspaper columnist (thus, her opinions still hold weight in certain circles).
Despite only being in government from 1976 to 1981, it’s notable just how well known she is – although younger generations (under 40’s – which I’m still part of) may not necessarily know her as well as those over 40. We under 40’s (especially Francophones, or those who have lived large parts of their lives between the French-English lines) have undoubtedly seen her in old film footage or documentaries, dozens and dozens of time. Probably most Anglophones in Canada have also seen her in Canadian history documentaries, very often standing beside René Levesque, but perhaps were not aware of who she was. However, for Anglophone Canadians, she likely is simply “that lady” they see standing on stage, beside René-Levesque, when seeing old footage of his speech upon losing the 1980 referendum, or of old footage of his other speeches. But now when you see documentaries or old footage on the History channel or other major networks, at least you’ll now know who she is.
If you’re over 40 and Francophone (or well acquainted with Francophone culture), you perhaps already know quite a bit about her. Likely two things would stand out in your mind :
- She was one of the first women in Canada to be a career cabinet minister. She held numerous cabinet positions in her short five years in politics – charting the way for other female politicians to hold senior government positions.
- She is forever associated with « L’affaire des Yvettes » (The “Yvettes Affair”).
So what is this « Affaire des Yvettes » (The “Yvettes Affair”)??
We all know about the infamous 1995 remarks Jacques Parizeau made when, upon losing the 1995 referendum, he declared it was lost because of “money and the ethinc vote”. But you may be surprised to learn that a similar referendum “oral gaff” scandal took place during the first 1980 referendum, caused by remarks made by Lise Payette.
You’ll need to understand a little bit of the background first. Not only was Lise Payette a successful and pioneering politician, but prior to her time in government she was also was a successful media personality. With several high-profile exceptions (such as Jeannette Bertrand), a woman of media prominence in Québec during the 1960s and 1970s was still relatively uncommon (and a multi-portfolio female cabinet minister was even less common). After having attained media prominence, and after being a government cabinet member for a few years, she was sensing that the 1980 referendum may be lost. But more importantly, she feared women may be the “loosing factor”, meaning she feared they would not vote for sovereignty. Payette therefore launched a controversial plea to women across Québec; to stop being “Yvettes”, and to take a chance and vote for sovereignty. By accusing women of Québec of being “Yvettes”, the “Yvette” she was referring to was a character from Québec textbooks who was a subservient, traditional and passive girl. Yvette, the character, fit the traditional role of what females had filled for hundreds of years. Basically, translated into a reference Anglophones can identify with, Lise Payette was calling Québec women “timid little June Cleavers” (for lack of a better way of putting it).
Payette’s exact words were (translation from French):
« Guy practices sports : swimming, tennis, boxing, and diving. He plans to be a
champion with many trophies. Yvette, his little sister, is happy and docile. She always finds a way to please her parents. Yesterday at supper, she sliced the bread, filled the tea pot with hot water… And after lunch, she’s more than happy to wash the dishes and sweep the floor. Yvette is quite a dainty girl, eager to please ».
This comment inflamed women across Québec. To add further insult to injury, Lise Payette took a cheap shot at the expense of the wife of Claude Ryan, the then head of the Liberal Party and leader of the federalist “No” campaign of the 1980 referendum. Of Claude Ryan’s wife, Payette she proclaimed (in French):
“He (Claude Ryan) is just the type of man who I hate… I’m sure that Québec is full of “Yvette’s”… after all, he (Claude Ryan) is married to one.”
Just as Jacques Parizeau’s 1995 post-referendum “money and ethnic vote” comment infuriated huge swaths of Québec society, and perhaps turned off segments of society from ever voting for sovereignty in any future hypothetical referendums, so too did Lise Payette’s remarks infuriate significant segments of women in Québec. The difference, however, was that Payette made her Yvette comments “before” the 1980 referendum (whereas Parizeau made his comment “after” the 1995 referendum was already lost).
Following Payette’s remarks, but prior to the 1980 referendum, women across Québec founded a grass roots movement called « Les Yvettes » (“The Yvettes”). They organized conventions and rallies to denounce Lise Payette, the Parti Québécois, and to thus vote against sovereignty. The first rally, organized by Claude Ryans’s wife herself, attracted 1700 women. Subsequent rallies took place, with the largest attracting 14,000 women. It’s estimated that over 40,000 participated in several rallies in just a few short weeks.
Did this female backlash influence the result of the referendum? Perhaps it did somewhat. But did it result in the referendum being lost by a 20 point spread? Despite some people claiming it did, we will never truly know for sure what the effect was on the results, or by how much it influenced the result (opinion-polling was not a major part of the process in 1980, but I cannot see how it could have influenced the vote by a full 20 point spread – but that’s just my own guess).
What’s interesting is that both the 1980 and 1995 referendums came with major verbal gaffs from the highest ranks of the PQ leadership (I suppose whenever people are involved in something so critical and so emotional, human error will always have the potential to become an unpredictable wild-card).
Verbal gaffs are as old as the hill, and regrettable human gaffs will likely always be a part of politics.
Speaking of verbal gaffs, as a somewhat related aside (and something we may see escalate further in the next few weeks), the following recent account of verbal gaffs gives a good idea about how quickly they can snow-ball in Québec politics:
We recently saw a similar episode of a few verbal faux-pas in Québec politics. The first week of November, 2014, François Legault, the party leader of the (recently rebranded “federalist”) provincial party “Coalition Avenir Québec -CAQ” (Québec’s 3rd place party out of the four parties with seats in the National Assembly), took a verbal jab at both Pierre Karl Péladeau, PKP, (the aspiring leader-to-be of the Parti Québécois), and his politically engaged “media super-star”and activist wife, Julie Snyder. In French, Legault made off-the-cuff remarks which he likely thought would highlight that Snyder and PKP come as an activist pair, but that he felt the two as a pair shouldn’t be given disproportionate attention. Instead of referring to either of them by name, he referred to them as (translation): “that guy and the wife of that other”.
In response, Julie Snyder publicly proclaimed that Legault’s remarks should be interpreted as him having “no respect for the public, and no respect for women in general”. Her husband, Pierre Karl Péladeau said that Legault should have more respect for his wife, considering “she is the creator of the most successful television and entertainment programs in the history of Québec”. (their words, not mine).
Aspects of the media in Montréal, many of which have professional ties with, and are historically friendly to Julie Snyder, launched a barrage of accusations against Legault, with some accusing him of being a “misogynist” (dictionary definition of a “misogynist”: someone who hates or dislikes women or girls, and which can include sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and the sexual objectification of women).
Legault apologized, saying it was just an off-the-cuff comment meant to be humourous, and that his remarks had no association with a stance regarding women. But Legault obviously was quite bitter about the way Snyder drew massive public media attention to his remarks, owing to her celebrity status, and the way that this can create a sour mix when media-meets-politics.
A few weeks later, on December 18, Legault upped the ante and bore out his frustrations live on the “Show du matin” (The Morning Show) of one of Québec’s most listened to radio stations, Radio X (which is the most popular radio program in Québec City and Eastern Québec). I was actually listening to the program live, as I was getting ready for work, when François Legault sought to even the score with Julie Snyder.
Legault ranted that Julie Snyder is (quote – his words, not mine) “more dangerous than her husband” and “(she is) dangerous in the sense that she allowed inferences to go on that I am a misogynist, she allowed inferences to go on that my wife doesn’t have the right to speak… Do you know anyone who is able to, in one fell swoop, appear on (Québec’s most popular morning TV show) ‘Salut Bonjour’ (on TVA), who can appear in every show on TVA, and can appear on all radio stations? Do you know anyone else like that? She is dangerous in the sense that she can have an impact on public opinion, which has nothing at all to do with reality.”
This latter statement garnered attention in the Québec City / Eastern Québec regions (the web lit up – check it out), but strangely enough, did not receive much coverage in Montréal, where Québecor/TVA/Newspapers (owned by Pierre Karl Péladeau), Productions J (owned by Julie Snyder) and their media “acquaintances” are physically based.
I’m still waiting to hear what response Péladeau or Snyder will give. They have not yet responded, but my guess is there will be some pointed comment launched at Legault sometime in the coming weeks, bringing all this squarely back into the public arena. After all, it appears the duo is now are trying out a new tool in their war-chest… That of trying to find ways to make labels stick to their opponents the way people managed to brand Lise Payette in 1980 on gender-based issues. But apart from a ranting few and some TVA personalities (all in Snyder’s court by default), the public didn’t bite. The question is, will they try this stunt again? And who will be their next target? Stay tuned…
My advice? Now, now,
Children, Kings, Queens!! Grown ups!! Settle down a bit and behave! (Aren’t politics so much fun?!?!).
But enough about the Snyder/PKP-Legault gong show (regardless of how entertaining it has become), and lets get back to Lise Payette.
The next post will wrap up this 3-part mini blog series which brings Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (part 1) and Lise Payette (part 2) together. The next post will give you a summary of their first meeting together over which they share a meal and conversation. I find it quite interesting. You will have the controversial 24 year old, aspiring-world-changer activist share a meal with the 84 year old formerly controversial aspiring-world-changer activist of yesteryear. What will they talk about? What advice with Payette give to Nadeau-Dubois? Will he agree with her? Will either of them make controversial statements? Will they be two peas in a pod, or will they disagree like oil and vinegar? In anticipation of the next post, I will say this upfront; they won’t be throwing their food at each other.
But stay tuned – and we’ll find out tomorrow.
P.S. Gee, I wonder if I too will be given any labels by Julie for referring to Lise Payette in one of the sentences above as “that lady” standing beside René Levesque! (
Score! Ooops!, my bad)
MINI “EAVESDROPPING” SERIES