Jean Lapierre, a former federal cabinet minister whose acumen and vast network of contacts made him perhaps the most influential political analyst in Quebec, was killed Tuesday along with four members of his family when their plane crashed in poor weather on the remote Magdalen Islands.
Mr. Lapierre, 59, was on the chartered plane heading to his father’s funeral when the aircraft went down in fog and wind at midday Tuesday. All five passengers, including Mr. Lapierre’s wife, two brothers and one of his sisters, were killed, along with two crew members.
Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were dispatched to the site to probe what caused the 10-seat aircraft to crash.
The death of Mr. Lapierre, an outsized figure in Quebec’s media and political landscape, provoked an outpouring from across the political spectrum. Mr. Lapierre combined one of the most extensive Rolodexes in the business with keen insights and a prodigious work ethic, making his commentary essential listening.
“When you were looking for guidance, you would go to Jean Lapierre and seek his advice,” former prime minister Paul Martin said. “I’ll tell you something else: He was so much fun. He was great company, so you’d be working really hard and you wouldn’t notice.”
Mr. Lapierre was one of five passengers in the Mitsubishi plane that left Montreal’s suburban St. Hubert airport on Tuesday morning for a direct flight to the Magdalen Islands. A day earlier, he said on his Twitter and Facebook pages that his father had just passed away after a fight against Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Lapierre’s mother still lived on the Magdalen Islands, where Mr. Lapierre was born, and she was awaiting the plane’s arrival.
The two-engine aircraft, built in 1982 and registered to Marquise Aviation Corp., a Delaware company, was less than four kilometres from the Magdalen Islands airport when it crashed in a rolling field in a residential area. The islands, making up an archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, were immersed in fog and rain, and two earlier commercial flights to and from the islands had been cancelled.
“It was a real weather cocktail, which doesn’t favour the landing of a plane,” said the mayor of the Magdalen Islands, Jonathan Lapierre, who is not related to Jean. He said residents of the island, a tight-knit community proud of their famous son, were in a state of shock. The mayor expressed his sympathy to Mr. Lapierre’s mother, who was just mourning her husband when she then lost several children.
“A big part of the Lapierre family was decimated today. We all feel tremendous sadness,” the mayor said in an interview.
Resident Antonin Valiquette said he is accustomed to hearing planes overhead on their approach to the airport, but the noise of the plane engines Tuesday was much louder than usual. He looked out his window and saw the plane fly close to the tops of two nearby homes.
It crashed at 11:43 a.m. on a small rise in a rolling field.
“It made a loud boom. It was a pretty violent impact,” Mr. Valiquette, a radio journalist, said in an interview. He said the fuselage broke in two and debris spread over an area of several dozen square feet.
Mr. Lapierre’s death provoked widespread reactions. Though his time in government was short and he wasn’t as well known outside his native Quebec, Mr. Lapierre was a political veteran and savvy networker who managed to become close friends with key figures across a broad ideological range, from André Ouellet and Mr. Martin to Lucien Bouchard.
Mr. Lapierre was successively the youngest federal cabinet minister in Canadian history, co-chairman of Mr. Martin’s first leadership bid, a co-founder of the Bloc Québécois and again a Liberal minister.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “shaken” by Mr. Lapierre’s death and called it “a great loss to the political world.”
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who worked with Mr. Lapierre when they were both MPs in Mr. Martin’s government, said his former colleague was “above all, a communicator.”
“He could say a lot in a few words. He used his colourful commentary to make us understand [politics] in few words and left no one indifferent,” Mr. Coderre said.
Mr. Lapierre worked throughout the day, trading in rumours with other journalists and political contacts, regaling his interlocutors with funny stories or juicy gossip in exchange for their insight. He offered a rare mix for a political commentator: a down-home charm that came from his roots in the Magdalen Islands, coupled with his years of experience in politics and his intimate knowledge of the business world and the top movers and shakers in “Quebec Inc.”
Working in both French and English, he regularly appeared on TVA, which is Quebec’s biggest private broadcaster, as well as CTV and the top-rated talk-radio stations in Quebec, including Montreal’s biggest drive-in show on FM 98.5.
“Over the last 10 years, Jean Lapierre was by far the political commentator who had the biggest reach in Quebec,” said Jean-François Dumas, the owner of a firm that closely monitors media coverage across the country.
Former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, who last spoke to Mr. Lapierre on Monday night, said his main thought was with Mr. Lapierre’s mother – who lost, in a short span, her husband and four of her five children. He said he remembers a friend who was “probably the best networker” in Canada.
“He was passionate, very generous,” Mr. Duceppe said.
After Mr. Lapierre announced his father’s death on social media, he responded Tuesday morning to a note of condolences from a Globe and Mail reporter. Mr. Lapierre said that along with other family members, “we are alternating between tears and laughter as we go over all of the good times we spent with our father.”
The victims were identified as Mr. Lapierre, his wife, Nicole Beaulieu, his sister, Martine, his brothers, Marc and Louis, as well as crew members Pascal Gosselin and Fabrice Labourel.
INGRID PERITZ, DANIEL LEBLANC AND TU THANH HA
MONTREAL and OTTAWA and TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Mar. 29, 2016 3:40PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Mar. 29, 2016 9:36PM EDT