Régis Labeaume was born in the town of Roberval, on the shore of Québec's Lac Saint-Jean. The son of Maurice Labeaume and Thérèse Bolduc, Régis studied sociology at Université Laval. After graduating in 1980, he worked as a political aide to Jean-François Bertrand, the then-minister of communications in the provincial Parti Québécois government.
From 1985 to 1993, Labeaume was the founding president of the mining company Société minière Mazarin. He also co-authored a book on mining innovations in Québec, Les Innovations Dans le Monde Minier au Québec. He sat on the boards of Société Asbestos and Mines d’Amiante Bell.
Labeaume also worked as an executive for several technology firms in the Québec City area, and as a consultant for foreign firms wishing to establish in Québec. He was president and general manager of the Fondation de l'entrepreneurship, which promotes a culture of entrepreneurship in the Québec City region. He has also been on the board of directors of Hydro-Québec, the Fondation de l'Université Laval and the summer festival Festival d'été de Québec.
Labeaume says that he voted "yes" in Québec’s referendums on sovereignty in 1980 and 1995. He ran unsuccessfully to become a Parti Québécois candidate in the riding of Montmorency in 1998. He also made a failed bid in 2005 to become leader of the Québec City municipal party Renouveau municipal de Québec.
However, his fortunes changed a few years later. In October 2007, two months after the death of Québec City mayor Andrée Boucher (who died two years into her mandate), Labeaume announced his intention to succeed her as an independent mayoral candidate.
He told an interviewer that he decided to enter municipal politics after one of his daughters declared her desire to attend school in Montréal, because she feared young people had no future in Québec City. Labeaume set out to change that perspective, with a campaign that included a platform of economic development to halt the exodus of youth, and promote investment in major events, to rejuvenate the city. Labeaume rallied independent city councillors to his side and in a special election on 2 December 2007, won with 59 per cent of the vote. He was re-elected as mayor in 2009 with 80 per cent of the votes and in 2013 with 74 per cent.
Throughout his first term as mayor, Labeaume put the emphasis on making Québec City a major tourism destination in Canada.
The celebration of the city’s 400th anniversary in 2008 garnered international media coverage and included concerts by musical stars Paul McCartney and Céline Dion. So successful has Labeaume been on drawing attention, tourists and business to the region that in 2012, The City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank, named him the No. 4 mayor in the world. In 2009, Université Laval communications Professor Claude Cossette invoked the Roman satirist Juvenal to explain Labeaume’s success. “It’s not complicated,” he told the Montreal daily Le Devoir. “He gives the people bread and circuses.”
Labeaume, often combative and colourful – he has been mocked by critics as the "Napoleon of Québec" – is known for stirring controversy with his remarks. In November 2015, as Canada prepared to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, Labeaume said the city would favour Syrian orphans and families with two children. “Families are less frightening to people than frustrated, 20-year-old men,” he told reporters. He later backtracked on the comments, saying he shouldn't have said them.
He has also backtracked quickly from plans to ban pitbulls from the city after making remarks that generated outrage.
Olympics and Hockey
Labeaume has had a long interest in attracting sports events to the city. He entertained a plan to make a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, but was told in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee that the city was ineligible because the nearby mountains weren't high enough.
Lebeaume has also spent much of his tenure pursuing his dream to acquire a National Hockey League (NHL) franchise for his city. Québec City has had tremendous nostalgia for the Québec Nordiques since 1995, when the team relocated to Denver, Colorado and became the Colorado Avalanche. As part of a field-of-dreams gamble, Labeaume made the bet that a new arena to replace the outdated Colisée Pepsi, where the Nordiques played, would help secure a coveted NHL franchise. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the city had to meet two conditions to have a chance of getting a franchise – a new arena that would replace the Colisée, and strong ownership.
Two months before the December 2009 municipal election, Labeaume announced his intention to proceed with a new 18,000 seat arena, to be built besides the old Colisée Pepsi, as part of a plan that would bring back the Nordiques. The federal government turned down a request to finance the arena, but the Québec government and Québec City agreed to pay the costs, estimated at $370 million. Quebecor Inc was granted exclusive rights to operate the arena, named Centre Vidéotron after the company’s cable and Internet subsidiary, in a contract that was not awarded through an open bidding process.
Inaugurated on 12 September 2015, the arena was used only occasionally during its first year in operation – for concerts and minor league hockey games, and as of 2016 was running a financial deficit. The municipal government pledged in the agreement to split any arena losses with Quebecor. Despite the gleaming new arena, the NHL opted in June 2016 to defer a decision on expanding to Québec City and announced that Las Vegas would be the site of its newest team. “I'm not the type who gets depressed for three months,” Labeaume said in response to the NHL decision. “I'm already on to the next thing.”
In April 2016, the Grévin Museum, a wax museum in Montréal, announced that a wax figure of Labeaume will grace its displays, joining Québec political notables such as Jean Drapeau, René Lévesque and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who also have had their likenesses immortalized.
Labeaume is up for re-election in 2017 and has expressed his willingness to run for a fourth term.