Former premier dead at 81

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, a sharp-tongued soldier for the independence movement and longtime Parti Quebecois stalwart, died Tuesday at the age of 81.

Landry, who once outraged Canadians by referring to the Maple Leaf as "bits of red rag," died without seeing his vision of an independent Quebec fulfilled.

His health had been failing in recent months, and he died at home in Vercheres, Que. of complications from pulmonary disease, his personal assistant, Odette Morin, told The Canadian Press.

Before becoming premier, he held many prominent government posts with the Parti Quebecois, including deputy premier and finance minister.

After Lucien Bouchard resigned as premier in January 2001, Landry replaced him as PQ leader and premier. He would serve two years before being defeated in the April 2003 election by Jean Charest's Liberals.

One his major accomplishments was the 2002 landmark deal between the Quebec government and the Crees, known as the Peace of the Brave.

The 50-year economic and political agreement was signed to develop part of the province's James Bay territory in concert with the Cree community.

As a minister under Bouchard, Landry created a tax credit for the video-game sector, which helped the industry flourish in Quebec.

Landry was born March 9, 1937 in the town of St-Jacques, in the Joliette region northeast of Montreal.

He practised law and worked for the Quebec government before taking the plunge into politics.

Landry was seen as a cantankerous figure whose cheeks would occasionally flush with anger while he lashed out at his adversaries.

It was at a news conference in January 2001, before he took over as premier, that the rest of Canada became familiar with his abrasive style.

Landry blasted Ottawa for insisting an offer of $18 million in renovation funding for a Quebec City zoo was conditional on the inclusion of English signs and the Canadian flag. Quebec declined the handout, opting to fund the renovations itself.

"We're not for sale," Landry told reporters at a Parti Quebecois caucus meeting. "We have no intention of selling ourselves on the street for bits of red rag or any other reason."

He later sought out reporters to tell them he was merely using colourful imagery to compare federalist offences to matadors' practice of using red cloth to provoke bulls.

"Bilingualism is provocation — hence the red cloth in front of the bull," Landry said. "When I spoke of the red rag, I was not speaking of the Canadian flag. I meant the red cloth used in front of a bull to make it charge."

Landry's dream of sovereignty first became clear when he was among the original members of the Parti Quebecois to run in the 1970 provincial election — two years after the party was founded by Rene Levesque in 1968.

He was defeated as PQ candidate in 1970 and again in 1973 before finally being elected in 1976 when the party came to power for the first time.

During his political career, Landry held a number of portfolios, beginning with minister of state for economic development. He also served as finance minister, minister of external trade and international relations.

After he was defeated in the 1985 election, Landry taught at a Montreal university and hosted a public affairs show between 1986 and 1987.

Landry served as Parti Quebecois vice-president from 1989 until 1994, when the party returned to power.

He was named deputy premier in September 1994 by then-premier Jacques Parizeau and also served as a "super minister" holding down several posts including minister of international affairs, immigration and cultural communities.

After the 1995 referendum defeat, Parizeau stepped down and was replaced by Lucien Bouchard who kept Landry on as deputy premier and also made him minister of finance, revenue, industry, commerce as well as science and technology.

Landry was re-elected in 1998, and after Bouchard left he became Parti Quebecois leader and then premier on March 8, 2001.

After leaving politics, Landry returned to teaching and political commentary, as well a working as a strategic counsellor for a law firm.

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