Denis de Belleval

Denis de Belleval (born June 4, 1939) is a former politician and administrator in the Canadian province of Quebec. He was a Parti Québécois member of the National Assembly of Quebec from 1976 to 1982 and was a cabinet minister in the government of René Lévesque. He has also held several administrative positions, including a two-year tenure as the president of Via Rail.

Denis de Belleval
MNA for Charlesbourg
In office
Preceded byAndré Harvey
Succeeded byMarc-Yvan Côté
Personal details
Born (1939-06-04) June 4, 1939
Quebec City, Quebec
Political partyParti Québécois
ProfessionCivil Servant

Early life and career

De Belleval was born in Quebec City, Quebec. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy (1960) and a master's degree in the social sciences with a focus in public administration (1965), both from the Université Laval. He met future prime minister Brian Mulroney while attending university and remained friends with Mulroney for many years thereafter.[1] In 1964, De Belleval was a co-founder of the Union générale des étudiants du Québec (UGEQ).[2]

De Belleval took doctoral studies in political science at the London School of Economics from 1965 to 1967. After returning to Quebec, he served as executive assistant to the deputy minister of education from 1967 to 1969. He held other government positions related to development and planning from 1970 to 1974 and was the assistant deputy minister of transport from 1974 to 1976.[3]

Legislator and cabinet minister

Public service minister

De Belleval was elected to the Quebec legislature in the 1976 provincial election, defeating Liberal incumbent André Harvey in the Charlesbourg division in the Quebec City area. The Parti Québécois won a historic majority government in this election, and de Belleval was appointed to René Lévesque's first cabinet on November 26, 1976, as minister of the public service and vice-president of the treasury board.[3] The Lévesque cabinet included representatives from different sides of the political spectrum, and de Belleval was regarded as one of its more conservative members.[4]

On March 2, 1978, Lévesque shifted the vice-presidency of the treasury board from de Belleval to Jacques Léonard. He said that the change would allow de Belleval to better focus on upcoming negotiations with civil servants, nurses, and teachers.[5] De Belleval took part in difficult wage negotiations with the Syndicat des Fonctionnaires Provinciaux du Québec in mid-1979; at one stage, the civil servants took part in rotating walkouts, and de Belleval threatened to lock out entire government departments.[6]

De Belleval argued in April 1978 that Quebec's hiring laws should be modified to facilitate the entry of more anglophones into the civil service. He added that the anglophone community would need to be more active in engaging with the civil service than before.[7] In the winter of 1979–80, he said that the Quebec government would not object to civil servants taking part in the upcoming referendum campaign on sovereignty.[8]

Separate from his duties as the public service minister, de Belleval also proposed a reciprocity formula that allowed English Canadians moving to Quebec from other provinces to enroll their children in English-language schools in return for the other provinces making similar arrangements for their own minority language communities. The provincial cabinet had previously been divided on the issue of English-language education, and Lévesque agreed to de Belleval's formula as a compromise.[9]

Transport minister

De Belleval was named as transport minister after a cabinet shuffle on September 21, 1979.[3] In December of the same year, he issued a five-year transit plan for Montreal valued at just under one billion dollars. The plan called for expanded subway lines, the integration of commuter lines between Montreal and its suburbs, and a new electric train system on existing lines.[10] After some delays, the project was re-launched with assistance from the federal government in February 1981.[11] In the same period, de Belleval oversaw grants for three traffic projects in the Quebec City area and pledged $8.5 million to complete an expressway interchange for the city.[12]

In September 1980, de Belleval announced that the Quebec government had purchased an eleven per cent stake in the Nordair airline and was supporting efforts from a group led by Quebecair president Alfred Hamel to purchase Nordair from Air Canada.[13] The Canadian federal government questioned the legality of this purchase and subsequently announced an indefinite delay of the airline's sale.[14] De Belleval later issued an alternate proposal that Nordair purchase Quebecair in a "reverse takeover" that would lead to a merger.[15] The plans were ultimately unsuccessful, and the airlines were not merged.

Government backbencher

De Belleval was re-elected without difficulty in the 1981 provincial election as the Parti Québécois won a second majority government across the province. He was dropped from cabinet on April 30, 1981, and afterwards served as a government backbencher; the journalist Graham Fraser has suggested that his demotion was prompted by an intense argument with Lévesque at a cabinet meeting in late 1980.[16] It was rumoured that he might return to cabinet in 1982 after he submitted a twenty-page policy paper proposing a "solitary fund" for development to be administered jointly by business, labour, and the state. He was not promoted, however, and he resigned his seat in the legislature on December 7, 1982, to accept a job in the private sector.[3]


De Belleval served as vice-president of Lavalin International from 1983 to 1985, working in Algiers.[3][17] He returned to Quebec in 1985 when the government of Canada appointed him as president and chief executive officer of Ports Canada. Some critics described the appointment as patronage, citing de Belleval's longtime friendship with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. De Belleval rejected that charge.[18]

De Belleval oversaw federally owned harbour land in Montreal and Quebec City during his time as president of Ports Canada. The crown corporation posted a $52 million profit for 1985, $6 million lower than the previous year; de Belleval blamed a fall in grain shipments for the discrepancy.[19]

Via Rail

The Mulroney government subsequently appointed de Belleval as president and chief executive officer of Via Rail, with a term starting on July 1, 1987.[1] Following his appointment, de Belleval pursued an expansion strategy for Via's services and said that he wanted to "[build] a modern railway for the 21st century."[20] In September 1989, he announced the opening of a maintenance centre in Montreal valued at $139 million.[21] During the same period, he acknowledged that Via had often ignored the needs of Western Canada and pledged to correct this in the future.[22] He was able to announce that Via had increased its ridership by ten per cent in 1988, following years of decline.[23]

Rumours circulated in early 1989 that the Mulroney government was planning significant cuts to passenger rail. De Belleval responded with a forceful appeal in defense of the sector that argued that rail service was vital to Canada's transport needs and rejected suggestions that public money would be better spent on road construction or upgrades to air travel.[24] Promoting long-term strategies such as a high-speed link between Montreal and Toronto and increased tourist travel, de Belleval urged the Mulroney government to maintain its existing levels of support.[25] He also launched a cross-Canada tour in support of passenger rail, before being ordered to stop by Mulroney.[26]

De Belleval's efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the Mulroney government announced in April 1989 that it would cut Via's subsidy by five hundred million dollars over the next four years.[27] De Belleval resigned his position a week later at the request of federal transport minister Benoît Bouchard. At a press conference, de Belleval said that the Mulroney government's funding cuts were incompatible with his plans for the company.[28] Via later made massive cuts to its passenger service lines across the country.[29]

1990 to present

De Belleval was appointed as director general of Quebec City, the top administrative position in the city, in May 1990.[30] He served in this position until 1995. He was then the province of Quebec's delegate-general in Brussels from 1996 to 1999, before returning to serve another term as director general of Quebec City from 2001 to 2006.[3][31]

A longtime friend of prominent Quebec politician Lucien Bouchard, de Belleval was present when Bouchard was hospitalized in late 1994 to receive treatment for a life-threatening battle with necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease.[32]

In the fall of 2007, De Belleval began work on a Ph.D. in public administration from the Université du Québec.[3]

De Belleval strongly criticized a 2011 deal between Quebec City and Quebecor to oversee a future amphitheatre in the city. He described the city's deal with Quebecor with a phrase translating as "worthy of a banana republic" and announced in April 2011 that he would seek to nullify it via a court challenge.[33]

Electoral record

1981 Quebec general election: Charlesbourg
Party Candidate Votes%±%
Parti QuébécoisDenis de Belleval19,88457.32
LiberalVéronique Guimont Barry13,88640.03
Union NationaleJacques Morin7622.20
Marxist–LeninistLynda Forgues1550.45
Total valid votes 34,687 100.00
Rejected and declined votes 374
Turnout 35,061 85.98
Electors on the lists 40,780
1976 Quebec general election: Charlesbourg
Party Candidate Votes%±%
Parti QuébécoisDenis de Belleval19,98548.92
LiberalAndré Harvey15,20037.21
Union NationaleHenriot Gingras4,0789.98
Ralliement créditisteSandor Tarçali1,3013.18
Parti national populaireCarmen Payne Lafleur2850.70
Total valid votes 40,849 100.00
Rejected and declined votes 690
Turnout 41,539 89.20
Electors on the lists 46,567


  1. "Former PQ minister to head Via," Globe and Mail, 23 June 1987, A4.
  2. Graham Fraser, "Quebec's fertile political breeding ground," Toronto Star, 6 May 2000, p. 1.
  3. "Biography". Dictionnaire des parlementaires du Québec de 1792 à nos jours (in French). National Assembly of Quebec.
  4. Graham Fraser, PQ: René Lévesque & the Parti Québécois in Power, (Toronto: MacMillan of Canada), 1984, p. 82.
  5. "Leonard selected as vice-president of Quebec's Treasury Board," Globe and Mail, 3 March 1978, p. 9.
  6. "Minister threatens lockout," Globe and Mail, 30 June 1979, p. 11.
  7. "Problem in Quebec civil service:too few anglophones," Globe and Mail, 18 April 1978, p. 10.
  8. "PCs given hot potato: Can federal employees campaign in Quebec?", Globe and Mail, 24 October 1979, p. 50.
  9. Fraser, PQ, p. 108.
  10. "PQ pumps near billion into transit," Globe and Mail, 18 December 1979, p. 3.
  11. "$800 million to go to transit for Montreal," Globe and Mail, 6 February 1981, p. 3; Charles Lazarus, "Expansion of Montreal's metro system helps construction, real estate sectors," Globe and Mail, 30 March 1981, B13.
  12. "Roadpaving grants presage a PQ call for election in fall," Globe and Mail, 21 August 1980, p. 10.
  13. Robert Gibbens, "Quebec purchases interest in Nordair," 4 September 1980, B4.
  14. "Buy into Nordair is possibly illegal," Globe and Mail, 5 September 1980, B6; "Nordair sale," Globe and Mail, 8 October 1980, B4.
  15. Wendie Kerr, "Merger was planned for 2 airlines," Globe and Mail, 16 March 1983, B3.
  16. Fraser, PQ, p. 279. Fraser does not indicate what the argument was about.
  17. Margot Gibb-Clark, "PQ loses three by-elections," Globe and Mail, 21 June 1983, p. 1.
  18. Hugh Winsor, "Patronage reaction makes Tories cautious on CN jobs," Globe and Mail, 1 May 1985, p. 10; Joe O'Donnell, "Brian Mulroney's long patronage trail," Toronto Star, 25 January 1987, p. 2; Graham Fraser, "Time to take stock," Globe and Mail, 21 February 1987, A1.
  19. "Ports Canada profit declines by $6 million," Globe and Mail, 14 May 1986, B9.
  20. Patrick Doyle, "Putting the brakes on Via," Toronto Star, 17 May 1989, A26.
  21. "Via opens centre," Globe and Mail, 28 September 1987, B9.
  22. "Via Rail promises to start listening to western concerns," Toronto Star, 2 October 1987, B6.
  23. "More riders on Via Rail reverse years of decline," Toronto Star, 17 January 1989, D4.
  25. Harvey Enchin, "Via pushing to derail Ottawa budget cuts," Globe and Mail, 23 February 1989, B3; Cecil Foster, "Via Rail struggles to stay on track amid budget cuts," Globe and Mail, 20 March 1989, B1.
  26. Cecil Foster, "Nielsen asks Via Rail to explain campaign," Globe and Mail, 7 April 1989, B4.
  27. "Cuts send Via 'down drain' supporters say," Toronto Star, 27 April 1989, A10.
  28. "Via Rail president fired in fight over spending cut," Toronto Star, 3 May 1989, A1.
  29. Patrick Doyle, "How Bouchard lost his Via Rail bluff," Toronto Star, 8 July 1989, A1; Peter Howell, "Tory axe kills Sir John A.'s transcontinental train," Toronto Star, 13 January 1990, D1.
  30. "Former Via Rail chief named to Quebec City post," Globe and Mail, 29 May 1990, A9.
  31. "Ex-PQ minister gets Brussels post," Montreal Gazette, 20 July 1996, A5.
  32. "Bouchard fights for life," Hamilton Spectator, 2 December 1994, A1.
  33. "Amphithéâtre à Québec: Denis de Belleval dénonce l'entente avec Quebecor; de Belleval dénonce l'entente avec Quebecor," La Presse Canadienne, 28 April 2011; "Contestation de l'entente conclue entre Québec et Quebecor sur l'amphithéâtre; Amphithéâtre: une requête serait déposée," La Presse Canadienne, 28 April 2011. The former article indicates that de Belleval is also opposed to the proposed return of a professional ice hockey team to Quebec City; he argues arguing that it would severely damage the local economy.
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