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Jacques Parizeau, former PQ premier, remembered as 'formidable opponent'

06/02/2015 09:55 EDT | Updated 06/02/2016 05:59 EDT
Quebec's National Assembly has suspended work for the day and its flag is at half-mast, in remembrance of former premier Jacques Parizeau.

Parizeau, a polarizing force in Quebec and across Canada, was perhaps best known as the man who nearly led Quebec to independence in 1995.

He died at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, surrounded by loved ones. He was 84. 

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said today that Parizeau will receive a state funeral.

He also said the headquarters of Quebec's pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt, will be renamed in Parizeau's honour. 

Parizeau is hailed as one of Quebec's most respected economists and is credited with creating the foundations of the modern Quebec, including the province's pension fund and its hydroelectricity system.

Respected by allies and opponents

Reactions from sovereigntists and federalists alike flooded social media after news of Parizeau's death emerged.

Many of those who fought against him in the 1995 Quebec referendum remembered him as leader who earned their respect, despite their political differences.

Jean Charest, who faced off against Parizeau in the referendum, called him a "formidable opponent."

During an interview with CBC's Daybreak, Charest remembered Parizeau as "larger than life."

He said the "yes" side of the referendum would never have come so close if it wasn't for Parizeau's special talent — determination.

"He had all those talents, plus one ingredient, which makes a huge ingredient in the course of history — and that was determination," Charest said.

"M. Parizeau again demonstrated that he had that unique quality of determination that allows things to change, that makes things happen."

Popular Canadian political cartoonist Terry Mosher, also known as Aislin, shared his thoughts on Parizeau's life with CBC News.

"You may not agree with him, but you have to admire his dedication and his honesty," he said.

"He was an easy caricature to capture right from the get go." 

Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said Parizeau commanded the respect of those around him.

"He was …  a very rational person, and at the same time with a lot of passion."

The former premier, who had a penchant for three-piece suits, was called Monsieur Parizeau, even by some of his closest friends.

Duceppe said Parizeau had a British sense of humour, but spoke old-school French.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was among those who shared their condolences.

Current Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also shared his condolences on social media. 

He tweeted in French that Parizeau was a "talented man, respected and passionate."

What were Parizeau's true colours?

Parizeau will be remembered by many for the infamous speech he delivered following the yes side's narrow loss after the 1995 referendum.

He blamed the loss on "money and the ethnic vote."

But supporters say the statement was out of character.

"I think it would be very unfair to consider those words summarized his thoughts," said Jean Dorion, a former Bloc Québécois MP and the former president of the pro-sovereigntist St-Jean-Baptiste Society.

Dorion said Parizeau's true colours came through when he slammed Quebec's proposed Charter of Values two years ago, accusing Pauline Marois's government of reacting to a growing fear of Islam.

The new leader of the Parti Québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau, said if it weren't for Parizeau, he wouldn't be where he is today.

Péladeau said he met with Parizeau before deciding to jump into politics.

"He encouraged me to continue to reflect on it," Péladeau said.

A vigil has been planned in Parizeau's memory starting tonight at 8 p.m. ET outside Quebec's National Assembly.

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