Mr. Speaker, it was with great sadness that I learned this morning of the death of Quebec's former premier, Robert Bourassa.
I would like, first of all, to mention the exemplary courage he demonstrated during his long battle with the illness that finally claimed his life.
He met this ultimate test, as he met all the other tests in his life, quietly and with determination.
I extend my sincerest condolences, of course, to his wife Andrée, with whom I had the opportunity to speak earlier this morning, and to his children and grandchildren, as well as his former colleagues and friends.
In Robert Bourassa, our country has lost a great Canadian, who always worked to improve the lot of his fellow Canadians.
I first met him in the early 1960s, when he was a tax advisor with the Department of National Revenue, here in Ottawa. He went on to teach at the universities of Ottawa, Laval and Montreal, and took up a position as director of research with the Bélanger commission on taxation.
He began his political career in 1966, when he was elected MNA for Mercier. Four years later, at the age of 36, he became the youngest premier in the history of Quebec.
His first term of office will be remembered primarily for the contribution he made to the modernization of Quebec through the massive James Bay hydroelectric project. In launching this project and introducing social programs, such as health insurance, Robert Bourassa showed his keen long term vision in trying to equip Quebec with the economic and social tools it needed to meet the challenges of the future.
After his defeat in 1976, he withdrew from active political life to teach and reflect on the future of Canada. He was again elected leader of the provincial Liberal party in 1982 and resumed the position of premier of Quebec from 1985 to 1993.
The memory I will carry of his long career in politics is the following: Robert Bourassa was at once a proud Quebecer and a proud Canadian. He was always an ardent federalist, who defended Quebec's interests within Canada. He remained convinced that, despite the challenges and complexities of Canadian federalism, Quebec's place was with Canada. He sought the cultural and linguistic development of French Canadians, while holding firmly to the belief that Canada would continue to serve Quebecers well in this regard.
Robert Bourassa served Quebecers well during his time as premier. He was always a voice of moderation and reason. He was convinced that Quebec's future prosperity lay within Canada and Canada's with Quebec.
Mr. Bourassa devoted himself to public service for more than 30 years. I know, today, all Canadians will wish to express their appreciation for his life and work.
I pay tribute to the memory of Robert Bourassa, who gave his life in the service of his fellow citizens. On behalf of the government of Canada, of members in this House, and of all Canadians, I share the pain felt by Mrs. Bourassa, his family and all Quebecers. On behalf of all of them, I say to Mr. Bourassa: We thank you.