TORONTO -- Claude Ryan, a former Liberal Party leader in Quebec who successfully fought against the province's separation from Canada, died yesterday of cancer at a Montreal hospital. He was 79.
Mr. Ryan was best known across Canada as the cerebral leader of the provincial federalist forces that defeated Rene Levesque, then Quebec's premier, in the 1980 referendum on separation. "His intellectual rigor and natural curiosity made him one of the leading public figures of his time," Prime Minister Paul Martin said in a statement.
Premier Jean Charest of Quebec remembered Mr. Ryan as a man who was at the heart of Quebec's evolution over the years. "Claude Ryan's contribution to public life and to the progress of Quebec society is inestimable," Charest said. Separatists have argued for Quebec sovereignty since the 1950s, when a growing contingent began to shake off English, and Roman Catholic, cultural and economic control of the largely French-Canadian province. Canadian federalists narrowly won a second referendum on Quebec separation in 1995.
Mr. Ryan never became premier. He gave up the Quebec Liberal Party leadership in 1982 and went on to become a provincial Cabinet minister for nearly a decade before retiring from politics in 1994. He was at the right hand of former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa for most of that time.
Mr. Ryan was born on Jan. 26, 1925, and grew up in the heart of the Great Depression. He was one of three sons of a seamstress who was abandoned by her husband. The family survived on welfare.
One of Mr. Ryan's brothers went on to become a judge while the other was a successful municipal politician.
In Quebec, Mr. Ryan was well known long before his political career as an influential writer and editor with Montreal Le Devoir.
Mr. Ryan's wife, Madeleine Guay, died in 1986. He leaves five children. Funeral details were not settled as of early yesterday.