On Dec. 20, 1988, then Quebec Liberal cabinet minister Clifford Lincoln made an impassioned speech about rights and freedoms in the National Assembly.
Pundits consider his “rights are rights are rights” speech the defining moment of his political career.
In his memoir Toward New Horizons (Shoreline Press), Lincoln writes about how he scribbled the broad strokes of that speech down on a yellow legal pad, last minute, during his ride to the National Assembly.
That December, in 1988, Lincoln resigned from Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s cabinet, along with fellow anglophones Richard French and Herbert Marx, rather than support Bill 178, government legislation banning languages other than French from commercial signs.
Fast forward to Dec. 5, 2012, when the Parti Québécois introduced Bill 14, the follow-up to its election promise to produce a new language bill — a “new Bill 101.”
Lincoln, who retired from politics in 2004, listened to media reports of the details of the new bill, which critics are saying infringes on minority rights, and his outraged was reawakened.
“I was brought up an internationalist,” Lincoln said. “My parents and siblings always saw the world as bigger than the place you live. What’s happening now is so regressive — it’s like trying to live in a fortress protected by a moat. It goes against everything I stand for. A government can keep on building higher and thicker walls, but, ultimately, it won’t work.”
1988 was a terrible time for Lincoln. In the book he calls it his “own Annus Horribilis.”
In June of that year, he and his wife of 33 years, Lise Margéot, visited Rome. Her brother Jean was being named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Two days before the ceremony, she was killed by a speeding car following a family gathering on the outskirts of the city.
Two months later, Lincoln, who was environment minister at the time, was faced with an environmental disaster.
A deranged individual set a warehouse on fire in St-Basile-le-Grand. The fire ignited barrels of highly toxic PCBs. The complexities of dealing with the cleanup challenged Lincoln at every turn and resulted in some members of the media calling for his resignation.
It was the retired politician’s granddaughter Shannon who encouraged him to write the book. She wanted to know more about grandpa’s work and the life lessons he’d learned along the way. The 84-year-old dedicates the book to his 11 grandchildren.
Lincoln has six children. His youngest son, Peter, died in 2009. Peter Lincoln had a severe intellectual disability. Lincoln had not planned to write about life with Peter — the book was to primarily be about his life in politics — but after the first draft was completed, he decided to add a final chapter about his son.
“I included it because I think the positive way Peter lived his life is a good life lesson for us all,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln writes in detail about his work as Quebec Liberal minister of the environment (1985-88) and the 10 years, eight months and three days he spent in federal politics.
But Towards New Horizons is not a book about backroom scandal or government secrets.
“I grew up in an environment free of vindictiveness and I functioned the same way in my professional life,” Lincoln said. “What good does it do to be bitter? I could be critical, it’s always easy to be critical, but what does that do? It just makes someone else unhappy and bitter. I prefer a positive outlook.”
Lincoln was born and raised on the tiny tropical island of Mauritius and immigrated to Canada with his late wife in 1958 when he was 29 years old.
It was this life-changing move that inspired the book’s title.
Lincoln spends winters in Mauritius with Jocelyn, his wife of 15 years, but the West Island is his home.
“I like to live in English and French,” he said. “And I have access to a bustling city with special flair. I will end my days here.”
The book launch for Towards New Horizons is at the Pointe-Claire City Hall, 451. St. Jean Blvd., on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m.