André Arthur, polemicist even in death

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of French-language radio in North America, The duty explores this medium in transformation.

Even once he’s gone, the subversive André Arthur continues to divide. Described by some as an abominable creature and by others as a Robin Hood, the former king of Quebec radio, who took pride in speaking on behalf of commoners, was without a doubt one of the best communicators of his generation. A talent that will even lead him to the House of Commons, after berating politicians for most of his media career. Portrait of a man with paradoxical views who understood long before Trump that the populism map could pay off.

In the economic slump that spanned the 1970s through the early 1990s, the Quebec City region was fertile ground for André Arthur, who took a malicious pleasure in pitting the interests of honest consumers against those of corrupt elites. . At his microphone, politicians took it for granted, but also intellectuals, high officials, police officers, certain businessmen… At the time, the national capital felt that it had been degraded in favor of Montreal and André Arthur found the voice it needed to do himself justice.

“He was not the catalyst of this anger, he was the mirror. There were many humiliations in Quebec in his radio years, such as the failure of Quebec 84 or the Olympics. Since then, there has been a very strong skepticism towards the elites, towards people who claim to want our well-being. Arthur, he hated all establishments, relying on the intelligence of the listeners,” said Myriam Ségal, the researcher of the polemicist who died on Sunday at the age of 78.

“King Arthur”, as he was nicknamed, took her under his wing. Myriam Ségal went on to become a radio star in Saguenay and had been arguing with her untimely character mentor in recent years.

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

The best and the worst

The radio operator Claude Thibodeau, who rubbed shoulders with André Arthur during his career, paints a completely different picture. To him, the polemic embodied “intellectual dishonesty” better than anyone, even if it meant taking certain liberties with the truth in the air in the name of the sacred ratings.

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

The mathematician Jean-Marie De Koninck, who knew the legendary presenter well when Operation Red Nose was launched, also underlines several contradictions between the radio character and the private man. “At the time, he hated Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier. It wasn’t pretty! But one day I spoke to him privately about Jean-Paul L’Allier and he told me he was a smart boy. So I could tell many! It was full of contradictions,” said the founding president of Opération Nez rouge.

The fact remains that without André Arthur’s flair, the popular 1984 ride-hailing service would never have seen the light of day. At the height of his glory, the charismatic presenter had such an impact on his audience that he managed to mobilize crowds for a good cause. Thirty years before the #MeToo movement, he would have been one of the first to publicly denounce sexual violence committed under the auspices of the Catholic Church, another of its Turkish heads.

André Arthur, however, was also capable of the worst. With his flowery, often filthy language, he could chase public figures until they were plague victims. MNA Catherine Dorion did not recall on social networks Monday that her father, lawyer Louis Dorion, had to go into exile from Quebec after enduring the host’s wrath. When he was Prime Minister, René Lévesque went so far as to qualify André Arthur as a ‘social termite’.

Overtaken by time

King Arthur will finally strike his Waterloo in the mid-1990s, when the courts began to favor the right to dignity at the expense of the most absolute freedom of expression. A long decline followed, until his election as an independent MP for Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier in 2006. After politics, he tried to return to the airwaves, but he eventually 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 bad hello police, which is why, I think, he never managed to break through in Montreal. Although he was very civilized, he persisted in speaking only to the lumpen proletariat. He never managed to expand his audience. That’s probably why in the end he ran out of a microphone and I still have one,” says Gilles Proulx, who is not controversial, however.

Gilles Proulx, a passionate independence fighter, has long been at war with his great rival in Quebec, a fierce opponent of the Sovereignist project. He goes so far as to attribute part of the defeat in the 1995 referendum to André Arthur, given the weaker support for the ‘yes’ in the suburbs of Quebec than in the other French-speaking regions.

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

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