André Arthur, polemicist even in death

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of French-speaking radio in North America, The duty explores this medium in transformation.

Also once gone, the subversive André continues to divide Arthur. Described by some as a hideous creature and by others as Robin Hood, the former king of Quebec radio who prided himself on speaking on behalf of the common people was undoubtedly one of the finest communicators of his generation. A talent that will even take him to the House of Commons after spending most of his media career berating politicians. Portrait of a man with paradoxical positions who understood long before Trump that the populism card could pay off.

In the economic gloom of the 1970s through the early 1990s, the Quebec City region was fertile ground for André Arthur, who took malicious pleasure in pitting the interests of honest consumers against the corrupt elites. At his mic, politicians took it for their coldness, but also intellectuals, high officials, police officers, certain businessmen… The state capital felt at the time that it was being downgraded in favor of Montreal and found in André Arthur the voice it needed, to do yourself justice.

“He wasn’t the trigger of that anger, he was the mirror. There were many humiliations in Quebec during his radio years, like the failure of Quebec 84 or the Olympics. Since then there has been a very strong skepticism about the elites, about people who claim to want our good. Arthur, he hated all the establishments while trusting the intelligence of the listeners, ”says Myriam Ségal, who was a researcher for the polemicist who died on Sunday at the age of 78.

“King Arthur,” as he was known, took her under his wing. Then became a radio star in Saguenay, Myriam Ségal had fallen out with her mentor with an outdated character in recent years.

But other than that, Myriam Ségal still praises his undeniable professional qualities. “That was Formula 1 for communicators. The Montreal people wanted to limit him to his controversial statements, but he was much more than that. Also, he was never fired by the auditors. It was the bosses who fired him,” notes the now-retired radio host, who is also known for her strong right-wing views.

The best and the worst

The radio man Claude Thibodeau, who lay shoulder to shoulder with André Arthur during his career, paints a completely different picture. For him, the polemicist embodied “intellectual dishonesty” like no other, even if it meant taking certain liberties with the truth in the air in the name of untouchable ratings.

“He was far from a fool. He was very cultured, he had a phenomenal memory. You’re not going where he went without being extremely smart. That’s why I don’t forgive him his excesses, ”says Claude Thibodeau, who always detected a certain hypocrisy in André Arthur, this son of a bourgeois turned destroyer of the elites of the upper town.

Also, the mathematician Jean-Marie De Koninck, who knew the legendary presenter well when Operation Red Nose was launched, points to several contradictions between the radio character and the private individual. “At the time he had an aversion to Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier. It was not nice! But one day I was talking to him privately about Jean-Paul L’Allier and he told me he was a smart guy. I could tell that to many! It was full of contradictions,” says the founding president of Opération Nez rouge.

The fact is: Without the flair of André Arthur, the popular driving service would never have seen the light of day in 1984. At the height of his fame, the charismatic presenter had such an impact on his audience that he was able to mobilize crowds for A Good Reason. Thirty years before the #MeToo movement, he will have been one of the first to publicly denounce sexual assaults committed under the aegis of the Catholic Church, another Turkish leader.

However, André Arthur was also capable of the worst. With his flowery, often dirty language, he could go after public figures until they were victims of the plague. MNA Catherine Dorion took to social media on Monday to recall that her father, lawyer Louis Dorion, had to be exiled from Quebec after suffering the host’s wrath. During his tenure as Prime Minister, René Lévesque went so far as to call André Arthur a “social termite”.

Caught up by time

King Arthur will finally beat his Waterloo in the mid-1990s when the courts began to privilege the right to dignity at the expense of absolute freedom of expression. A long decline followed until his election as an independent MP for Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier in 2006. After politics, he attempted to return to the airwaves but lost his last microphone in 2018 when he used the phrase “Boulevard Sida”. to refer to an area where the few gay bars in Quebec City are concentrated.

“He never evolved. It was very hello police, and that’s why I don’t think he made the breakthrough in Montreal. Even if he was very cultured, he insisted on speaking only to the lumpenproletariat. He never managed to expand his audience. That’s probably why he ended up running out of a mic and I still have one,” says Gilles Proulx, who is not disputed.

A passionate independent, Gilles Proulx has long been at war with his great rival in Quebec, a staunch opponent of the sovereignist project. He even goes so far as to attribute part of the defeat in the 1995 referendum to André Arthur, given weaker support for the “yes” in the outskirts of Quebec than in the other French-speaking regions.

This shows the influence attributed to André Arthur. “He had great qualities and great weaknesses,” concluded hostess Marie-Claude Savard, to whom he also gave his first chance.

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