MONTREAL — Hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects to former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau on Saturday at a building that will soon bear his name.
The first of two days of public visitations began in Montreal this morning at the Caisse de depots et placement du Quebec, the provincial pension fund manager that Parizeau helped create in the 1960s.
At times, the lineup extended well around the block as people waited patiently to visit Parizeau’s closed coffin, which was draped with a Quebec flag and accompanied by a photograph of the former premier, who died last Monday at the age of 84.
“I think people of all political stripes know what we owe Jacques Parizeau,” said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, the first of many elected officials to view the casket.
Couillard told assembled reporters that Parizeau was a “great builder” of modern Quebec “who served all his life, in his way, according to his convictions.”
He highlighted Parizeau’s role in the creation of the Caisse de Depots, and reiterated his decision to name the downtown building after him.
Many prominent political figures came to pay tribute to blunt-talking former premier, best-known for bringing Quebec to within a hair’s breadth of separating from Canada during the 1995 referendum.
These included Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau, who was loudly applauded by the waiting crowd.
Peladeau, accompanied by his young son, spoke quietly to reporters about the man he called a “source of inspiration” to him.
He acknowledged he was feeling sad. “I think all Quebecers are sad today because we lost a great man.”
Even those who disagreed with Parizeau’s separatist politics praised him as a man of dignity with great respect for others and for Quebec’s public institutions.
“He was a man who believed in debates that were based on reason, and he was always respectful of the institutions and of the people he debated with,” said John Parisella, former chief of staff for Liberal premier Robert Bourassa. “I would describe him as a fierce rival, but I would describe him as a man of honour as well.”
Coderre said that although he and Parizeau “weren’t from the same political family,” he recognized the former premier as one of the “fathers of modern Quebec” whose economic contribution was “extraordinary.”
Parizeau’s former justice minister Serge Menard described him as a man of justice.
“We used to call him ‘Monsieur,'” Menard said. “But that’s the way he called everyone: ‘Monsieur’ or madame. He always contacted people with respect.”
Parizeau’s coffin arrived at the building at around 9 a.m., carried by several uniformed provincial police officers and followed by Parizeau’s widow, Lisette Lapointe, and other family members. The simple display included three bouquets of white flowers from Parizeau’s favourite florist.
The line ups outside the building remained long for much of the afternoon. Some visitors dressed in sombre black, while others chose fleur-de-lis cowboy hats and waving flags. Many were visibly emotional as they left the building.
Visitor Susan Baldwin said she cried when she met Parizeau’s widow.
“He was such a great man, who did contribute a lot to the prosperity of Quebec,” she said. She plans to keep his memory alive “by talking to my children and grandchildren for what he did for the country, for Quebec.”
Parizeau is to lie in state for a second day on Sunday at the Quebec legislature. A state funeral will be held Tuesday in Montreal.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press