Jean Bazin, 1940-2019

L. Ian MacDonald

December 18, 2019

Former Senator Jean Bazin, a close adviser and friend of Brian Mulroney since their days at Laval law school, died last week in Montreal, aged 79.

Bazin practised labour law in Montreal since 1965 at the corporate law firm of Byers Casgrain, now Denton’s, where he was a counsel to the firm at the time of his passing at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

Though a lifelong leader in his own right, from president of the Canadian Union of Students in 1964-65 to the presidency of the Canadian Bar Association in 1987-88, it was as a Conservative activist and member of Mulroney’s Laval gang that Bazin made a lasting mark in politics.

“We were very close,” former Prime Minister Mulroney said Wednesday evening from his winter home in Palm Beach. “Then and for all the years since.”

They called him “Ti-Baz”, a name that stuck with him among friends for the rest of his days.

They were the law school gang that organized the famous Congrès des affaires Canadiennes in 1961, a seminal event in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.

Their leaders included Bazin, Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Roy, Michel Cogger, Peter White, Michael Meighen and Brian Mulroney. A quarter century later, three of them—Bazin, Cogger and Meighen—would be named to the Senate by Mulroney. As a senator from 1986 to 1989, Bazin served as vice chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

All of them would become Mulroney’s advisers, the Quebec heart of the team that carried him to the Progressive Conservative leadership in 1983, and from there to power as prime minister in the 1984 election that produced the biggest landslide in Canadian history.

There were lots of people around Mulroney on those nights but other than Mila Mulroney, none as close as Bazin, literally and figuratively.

When Mulroney won the PC leadership in Ottawa on June 11, 1983, it was Bazin who was in the room down the hall from his fifth floor suite at the Chateau Laurier, screening all the calls coming in that night. One of them was the boys from Baie Comeau, calling for the Boy from Comeau, and it was Bazin who put them through to their childhood friend.

Then on September 4, 1984, at the Manoir Baie Comeau — the landmark stone hotel perched above the St. Lawrence whose original structure was commissioned by Chicago Tribune owner Col. Robert McCormick, owner of the town’s paper mill — it was Bazin whom Mulroney sent out from his suite as his spokesperson on both English and French-language television.

A few months before the campaign, Bazin had gone to see Mulroney privately at Stornoway, the opposition leader’s residence to make the case for him to give up the safe Nova Scotia seat of Central Nova he’d won in a byelection the previous summer, and run instead in his hometown riding of Manicouagan on the Quebec North Shore.

“If you run in Quebec, we’re going to form a government,” Bazin told his friend of all the years since Laval. “If you have any doubt, forget it. It will be a sweep.”

And so it was, with the Conservatives winning 211 seats in the the-then 282 House of Commons, including 58 out of 75 from Quebec. La vague bleue.

Mulroney later said that Bazin had confirmed his own instinct to go home.

It’s the sort of story Mulroney might be inclined to tell in his eulogy for Bazin at his service at St.-Léon-de-Westmount Church on January 10.

Bazin is survived by his daughters from his first marriage to writer and communications consultant Michèle Bazin, Virginie and Frédérique, and their husbands, as well as his stepchildren Paul, Philippe and Anne-Marie Trudeau from his marriage to the late Denyse Boucher, his many grandchildren, and his recent companion, Nancy Brown. They all know the stories of a man who was also a gentle and genuine family leader.

He was a great Quebecer, and a great Canadian, a remarkable man of his generation, whose work in politics, public policy and the law has stood the test of time.

L. Ian MacDonald is editor and publisher of Policy Magazine.