In the typical political obituary, the successful completion of prestigious projects is trotted out as proof of the deceased’s abilities.
Boucher’s political resumé was the polar opposite of the stereotype. Prestige for its own sake didn’t interest her. She campaigned against the building of a new hockey arena for the Quebec Nordiques before they left town to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. And she opposed the 2002 Winter Olympics bid, which went to Salt Lake City and became mired in a bribery scandal before finally turning a profit.
Boucher’s legacy is in the realm of the spirit. Everyone from the citizens who elected her to political leaders like Premier Jean Charest and France’s External Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner reacted to her sudden death by praising her honesty, her verve. Kouchner described her as a “woman of conviction and engagement.” Charest called her an “exceptional woman.”
Being true to who you are and letting other people see the real you should not be an extraordinary thing in a politician. But it is. Our prime minister is seen as “controlling” and “partisan,” a man few Canadians have warmed up to.
Boucher, on the other hand, raised strong emotions. Many voters adored her. When she invited them into her home to talk about issues, they went. When she refused in 2005 to spend more than $5,000 running for the mayoralty, they were all the happier to vote for her, making her the first female mayor of Quebec City. They liked her authenticity, her frankness, her take-me-or-leave-me personality.
A teacher by training, Boucher first began attending Ste. Foy council meetings as an ordinary citizen in the late 1960s, a time when a male councillor felt free to say to her, “Go home to your pots and pans, you’re better off there.”
In a radio interview last year on Radio-Canada, Boucher said no man would dare say such a thing today. In the interview, done two days before International Women’s Day, Boucher said it had become politically correct for political parties to field female candidates. But, to her, the presence of women as candidates was not enough. “What is important” for women, she said, “is to reach the top, where you are the boss, you call the shots.”
Boucher said even though women still are blocked by a glass ceiling, she believed eventually women would accede to the highest political posts, including the premiership of Quebec and the prime ministry Canada.
The approach that worked for her, Boucher told interviewer Marie-France Bazzo, was to appeal to the intelligence of the voters. “It’s the best tactic,” she said, adding when voters are convinced of the rightness of a position, they will get on board “because they find that it’s in their interests to do that.”
The loss of Boucher comes at a low ebb in the fortunes of women in politics in Canada. In a survey this year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities found 86 per cent of municipal councils in the country had more men than women on council and 14 per cent had no women on council.
The federation wants to correct the situation and will hold a series of workshops to encourage women’s participation in municipal politics. Its aim is to to reach 30 per cent female representation on municipal councils by 2026, up from the current 21.7 per cent.
How much easier that goal would be with a woman like Andrée Boucher still in power, with her Yves St. Laurent dresses, red lipstick and white, punk hair.
Instead of a new hockey arena, she left behind a far more precious legacy: An example of what it is like to live free. And succeed.
She will be missed.
The Gazette declares Boucher, ‘An exceptional woman’ and indeed they are right on target. Andree Boucher was the mayor of Ste. Foy from 1985-2001 and later the mayor of Quebec City. This icon died last Friday at age 70 from a heart attack. She will be sorely missed. For those of you who do not know her legacy in Canadian politics, please read the article below. She was a trailblazer in municipal politics in Quebec. She will be missed.