Maurice Duplessis
Maurice Duplessis, a photography portrait from 1947.
Maurice Duplessis, in 1947.
16th Premier of Quebec
In office
August 30, 1944 – September 7, 1959
MonarchGeorge VI
Elizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorEugène Fiset
Gaspard Fauteux
Onésime Gagnon
Preceded byAdélard Godbout
Succeeded byPaul Sauvé
In office
August 26, 1936 – November 8, 1939
MonarchEdward VIII
George VI
Lieutenant GovernorÉsioff-Léon Patenaude
Preceded byAdélard Godbout
Succeeded byAdélard Godbout
Attorney General of Quebec
In office
August 30, 1944 – September 7, 1959
Preceded byLéon Casgrain
Succeeded byAntoine Rivard
In office
August 26, 1936 – November 8, 1939
Preceded byCharles-Auguste Bertrand [fr]
Succeeded byWilfrid Girouard
Minister of Roads of Quebec
In office
July 7, 1938 – November 30, 1938
Preceded byFrançois Leduc
Succeeded byAnatole Carignan
Minister of Lands and Forests of Quebec
In office
February 23, 1937 – July 27, 1938
Preceded byOscar Drouin
Succeeded byJohn Samuel Bourque
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec for Trois-Rivières
In office
May 16, 1927 – September 7, 1959
Preceded byLouis-Philippe Mercier
Succeeded byYves Gabias
Leader of the Official Opposition of Quebec
In office
November 8, 1939 – August 30, 1944
Preceded byTélesphore-Damien Bouchard
Succeeded byAdélard Godbout
In office
November 7, 1932 – August 26, 1936
Preceded byCharles Ernest Gault
Succeeded byTélesphore-Damien Bouchard
70th President of the Bar of Quebec, Bar of Trois-Rivières [fr]
In office
Preceded byLucien Moraud
Succeeded byPaul Lacoste [fr]
Personal details
Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis (baptized Joseph Maurice Stanislas Le Noblet Duplessis)

(1890-04-20)April 20, 1890
Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada
DiedSeptember 7, 1959(1959-09-07) (aged 69)
Schefferville, Quebec, Canada
Resting placeSaint-Louis Cemetery [fr], Trois-Rivières
Political partyUnion Nationale
Other political
Conservative Party of Quebec (pre 1936)
Alma materUniversité Laval de Montréal
Nickname(s)"Le Chef"[a] (The Boss)

Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis QC (French pronunciation: ​[dyplɛsi]; April 20, 1890 – September 7, 1959) was a French Canadian lawyer and politician who served as the 16th premier of Quebec. A conservative, nationalist, anti-Communist, anti-unionist and fervent Catholic, he and his party, the Union Nationale, dominated provincial politics from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Son of Nérée Duplessis, a lawyer who was serving at the time as a Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Maurice studied law in Montreal and became a member of the Bar of Quebec in 1913. He then returned to his home town to practice law, where he founded a successful consultancy. Duplessis ran as a Conservative candidate in the 1923 elections but only managed to get the Trois-Rivières seat four years later, which he retained until his death. His rhetorical skills helped him become the leader of the Official Opposition in the Legislative Assembly in 1933 in the place of Camillien Houde.

As opposition leader, he agreed to a coalition with Paul Gouin's Action libérale nationale (ALN), a breakaway faction of former Liberal MLAs, of which he quickly became the most prominent member. The first attempt, in 1935, to oust Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, then solidly in power for 15 years, failed. Duplessis, however, won in a landslide the following year, when the ALN merged with the Conservatives to form the Union Nationale, which Duplessis would lead until his death.[1] The 1936 election broke the dominance of the Quebec Liberal Party it held uninterruptedly for almost 40 years.

The first government of Maurice Duplessis lasted for just over three years. It was then that Duplessis became the president of the Bar of Quebec (bâtonnier), becoming the only person in Quebec to be attorney general, premier and president of the Bar at the same time. He was defeated by Liberal Adélard Godbout in the 1939 election, when his bid to underline Quebec's opposition to World War II failed, but the same opposition, as expressed in the 1942 Canadian conscription plebiscite and the Conscription Crisis that followed, returned him to power following the 1944 election. His second stint as premier lasted for fifteen years and spanned four legislatures. He is the longest-serving premier of Quebec since Confederation and the last one to have consecutively served more than ten years. His leadership was only interrupted by his death in September 1959 due to intracranial bleeding.

Duplessis was a proponent of economic liberalism, obstructing the efforts of the federal government to conduct Keynesian policies. While his first term saw the introduction of several key welfare policies (such as the universal minimum wage and old-age pensions), Duplessis viewed the welfare state unfavourably, in particular by resisting calls to expand social programmes in the post-war period. In his second period of premiership, he presided over a period of strong economic growth, notably due to the development of the Côte-Nord and rural areas. Duplessis implemented pro-business policies, which his opponents say led to wild capitalism and a clientelist relationship with business interests. The leader of Union Nationale also opposed the increasingly powerful trade unions and fought against communism by adopting laws such as the Padlock Law. Duplessis, while not a sovereigntist, repeatedly asserted provincial autonomy. He also strongly protected the traditional role of the Catholic Church in Quebec's society, notably in healthcare and education, engaged in persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, and resisted non-conservative tendencies in the society. This, coupled with his authoritarian grip of the province and what was widely seen to be an anachronistic model of society Duplessis was promoting, led his critics to label the period as the Grande Noirceur (Great Darkness). While this opinion is still present, some narratives are challenging the perception, providing more nuance to the portrait of the Duplessism, whose social and economical legacy was largely undone in the 1960s with the Quiet Revolution.


Early life


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Scholars have traced Duplessis's roots back to the sixth generation. Jean-Baptiste Duplessis (1711–1775) was a Mascouten slave of a noble called Louis Gatineau-Duplessis. He probably took the last and first names from Louis's brother, Jean-Baptiste, who became a godfather during the slave's christening in 1714 in Detroit.[2][6] Therefore, contrary to some suggestions,[7][8] Maurice Duplessis was not a descendant of Guillaume Guillemot Du Plessis-Kebodot, one of the earliest governors of Trois-Rivières. The connection between Jean-Baptiste Duplessis and Louis Gatineau-Duplessis is uncertain. Earlier works, particularly François-Sévère Lesieur Désaulniers's book on the genealogy of families in Yamachiche, say Gatineau-Duplessis was his father,[3][4] but newer scholarship dismisses this theory as implausible, stating instead that the slave might have had some family relationship with Louis Gatineau-Duplessis, but certainly not a paternal one.[2][9] It is also unclear why the Mascouten man took the nickname "Le Noblet", but it stuck to his descendants.[9] One of his children, Isidore, settled in Pointe-du-Lac (today part of Trois-Rivières), and all of Duplessis family from the paternal side have stayed in the area, either in that settlement or in nearby Yamachiche.[2]

Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis was born on April 20, 1890, in Trois-Rivières to a religious family of modest means. He was the second child and only son of Nérée Le Noblet Duplessis, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec for Saint-Maurice. Maurice's father was a kind but busy man and spent little time with the family, which was, however, expected at the time.[10] Two of Nérée's sisters married politicians who would also sit in the Legislative Assembly. Maurice's mother was Berthe Genest, who had Scottish and Irish origins on her maternal side.[5][11] Emma's Anglo-Saxon roots made the future premier well-disposed to Anglophones; Duplessis would even joke that he was "one of them".[5]

At the end of the 19th century, the Duplessis family of Trois-Rivières was active in the political and religious life of the region, and the members of the family could often be found among conservative and ultramontanist sympathizers, with whom they would often debate current political events. Some of the influential figures of the time, including Louis-Olivier Taillon, Edmund James Flynn, Joseph-Mathias Tellier, Louis-Philippe Pelletier and Thomas Chapais, could be found there. In addition to that, Maurice's father, a deeply pious person, maintained close relations with Louis-François Richer Laflèche, the bishop of the Diocese of Trois-Rivières, where he worked as legal counsel.[5] The bishop supported his electoral bid for the Saint-Maurice seat in 1886, which Nérée won.[10] Maurice was born during his father's reelection campaign, who chose to name his son for the electoral district he was the MLA for.[10] The newborn boy was then baptized by Laflèche himself.


In 1898, Duplessis left his home city to study at the Collège Notre-Dame in Montreal, which was run by the Congregation of Holy Cross. There he met André Bessette (better known as Brother André), then porter of the college, who came to like young Duplessis and handed him over the task of finding students willing to talk with the rector.[12][d] The relationship was so close that it was then that Duplessis developed the cult of Saint Joseph, which he carried for the rest of his life, and which sometimes influenced his political choices.[e] The future premier was a bright student, excelling in French, history, Latin and philosophy; at the same time, he was known to be playful and sometimes mischievous. He would often play tricks on his school friends and also on their sisters,[dubious ] hiding their clothes and pillows, readjusting the beds so that they would fall when someone lay down on them and throwing water buckets, small pastries, buns and other projectiles.[14][15]

In 1902, Duplessis moved to the Séminaire de Trois-Rivières in order to pursue his study in a classical college. Maurice continued to excel in other subjects, including history, theology, Latin and Greek, which helped him become the best student in his year, but in particular sharpened his rhetorical skills while attending the debate club at the college's Saint Thomas Aquinas Society.[16] Maurice would make what Conrad Black described as "long apologetic speeches about the founders of French Canada that were as extravagant as they were unconvincing",[16] where he would show his attachment to and admiration of his roots and the Catholic faith. He was especially fond of Louis Hébert, one of the first colonizers of the New France and a pioneer of farming in the area,[f] which Black suggests was a sign that he already had a deep affection for the rural lifestyle at this stage, particularly given that he spent the summer with his grandfather in Yamachiche.[g]

Duplessis's interest for politics appeared at a very young age. Maurice would memorize the circumstances and dates of important events in the politics of Canada and of Quebec, as well as the regional differences in voting patterns in the province. As early as at the age of ten, Maurice was already engaging in political meetings and was speaking with the voters, and he would also follow his father during his electoral campaigns and meetings across the electoral region, thus showing more interest in the practical aspects of politics than in its theory.[16] Later, in his adolescence, the future premier was preparing for public life by working in a political organisation of Joseph-Arthur Barrette, a Conservative MP for Berthier.[17]

When finishing school, Maurice Duplessis felt attracted to public life, while at the same time, he was equally devoted to the Catholic Church due to the influence of Brother André. However, Maurice felt that being a religious minister bore too many constraints. He confided to his secretary a few years later that "the priesthood [was] too much for me."[18] He was not interested to pursue a business career, either, because, as Black suggested, "he knew the English were greatly advantaged".[17] In the meantime, a wave of increased interest in politics engulfed Quebec at the beginning of 20th century, with the popularity of figures like Henri Bourassa and Wilfrid Laurier being felt across the province, which did not bypass Trois-Rivières or Duplessis. Strongly influenced by the family and by the uptick in engagement in political matters, he decided to go in his father's footsteps. Thus in autumn of 1910, he enrolled in the faculty of law at the Université Laval in Montreal, which is now a separate university called Université de Montréal. Pursuing a law degree was then a standard way to get into politics. Conrad Black described Duplessis thus:[17]

His social life was going according to the vocation he had chosen. His books, many more in number than he would wish to admit while speaking to the workers and farmers, were more about educating him about the public life rather than distracting therefrom. He had no hobbies and, outside politics, the only distractions of the youth were professional baseball (he liked to memorize the statistics almost as much as those relating to the politics), and, from time to time, opera.

A postcard showing a building housing a scholarly institution
A postcard showing the Collège Notre-Dame in Montreal, c. 1910
A black-and-white photo of a building housing a scholarly institution
The Séminaire de Trois-Rivières, photographed somewhere between 1903 and 1914
A postcard showing a building housing a scholarly institution
A postcard showing the Université Laval Montreal branch, now known as the Université de Montréal, 1911

While studying, he was noted for his liveliness, sharp responses and socializing.[19][20] Duplessis, sitting in the opposition, was a local star within the model parliament organized by the university.[18] The future premier of Quebec, before practising law, trained in the offices of Rodolphe Monty et Alfred Duranleau, two nationalist conservatives and friends of Duplessis's family, where Maurice was referred to by his father, Nérée.[21]

Entry into politics

Maurice Duplessis in 1911, as a law student
Maurice Duplessis in 1911, as a law student

Law practice

See also: Bar of Quebec and Law in Quebec

After three years of studies, Duplessis was admitted to the Bar of Quebec on September 4, 1913.[22] Maurice returned to his home town to practice law at the Bar of Trois-Rivières [fr], whose member he would stay until his death.[23] He first worked for a short time together with his father, before Nérée Duplessis was nominated as judge of the Superior Court of Quebec on June 15, 1914. The future Premier then opened his own consultancy, Duplessis, Langlois & Lamothe, Avocats et Procureurs, on Hart Street, behind his parents' house, together with Édouard Langlois, an old friend of his from the Séminaire who became husband of Duplessis's sister, Gabrielle,[24] and another lawyer from Trois-Rivières, Léon Lamothe.[22][25] The partnership of these lawyers lasted at least until the early 1930s.[25]

Practising civil law more than criminal law, Duplessis developed his large client base among the ordinary people, who were attracted due to his arguments in court that often proved persuasive. He was quickly recognized as a sociable and competent lawyer who approached his cases carefully, and thus became a popular figure in the town.[26] The young lawyer engaged in the activities of his area, notably taking care of a local baseball team, and became a fixture in high-end taverns of his town. His professional success, briefly interrupted by the death of his mother in 1921, let him buy a personal Winton on a loan (to great dismay of his father).[27]

First electoral successes

See also: 1923, 1927, and 1931 Quebec general elections

Despite a promising career start in his legal profession, Duplessis did not lose sight from his political ambitions. He made his first attempt to get to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in 1923, when he became a Conservative candidate for the riding of Trois-Rivières, seeking to oust the incumbent Liberal MLA, Louis-Philippe Mercier.[28] The campaign was a heated one. Mercier benefited from a well-organized political structure in the area, directed by his mentor, Jacques Bureau, who at the time served as a member of Parliament for Three Rivers and St. Maurice and the federal minister of customs and excise.[28][h] Maurice counted on the solidarity of his fellow lawyers, the good reputation among his clients as well as his father's acquaintances' support (notably Louis-Olivier Taillon), some of whom came over to make speeches in Duplessis's favour.[28] His campaign focused on the criticism of what Duplessis alleged was Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau's "contempt towards provincial autonomy" and towards municipal rights, while also speaking against the Liberals' management of the judiciary.[13][29] Despite a rather close race, Maurice lost to the incumbent, with 1,328 votes for Duplessis and 1,612 for Mercier. Duplessis at the time did not expect to win the riding anyway, but instead hoped that his good showing would make him a good candidate of the opposition leader in the region.[28]

Duplessis attempted a second run to the Legislative Assembly, trying to get as much support from working- and middle-class families as he could, including by paying personal visits to them and tracking his opponent's moves during Mercier's another four years in office;[13] his resolve to get to the provincial parliament increased even further after his father died in 1926.[30] Despite a dismal showing of the Conservatives in the 1927 election, where they only managed to capture 9 out of 85 seats, Duplessis eked out a victory of 2,622 to 2,496 votes in a rematch against Mercier and flipped the Trois-Rivières seat, previously considered a Liberal stronghold, for the first time in 27 years.[31] In his victory speech, he prophetically declared that "you have in front of you the future premier of Quebec".[32]

At the time when Duplessis was elected, the Legislative Assembly was only in session for two months in a year, which allowed Duplessis to spend more time in his electoral district. Duplessis became immediately active on the parliament floor once the session started on January 10, 1928. In a speech from January 19, the Legislative Assembly freshman made a speech where he decried the overemphasis on industrial development, as opposed to rural and small-business interests, called to stop increasing taxes and to respect the religious nature of Sundays, and proposed to make an inventory of the forest industry (it was suspected at the time that the resources were being overexploited) and to reorganize the provincial police.[13][33] The first speech left Premier Taschereau impressed, who reportedly remarked that "this young man [...] will go far".[13] His rhetorical skills and the knowledge of the law on the books made him a rising star in the opposition. When Arthur Sauvé left the leadership of the Conservatives, it was even supposed that Duplessis could take the steers of the battered party, but at the time, Duplessis was not ready yet.[34] Camillien Houde, Mayor of Montreal, was nominated instead, but he often had to leave the parliament sessions because of his other demanding job, so Duplessis, whom the Conservative caucus already saw as a safe alternative to Houde should his policies fail,[35] was able to informally lead the caucus in the leader's absence.[36]

Arthur Sauvé, in his resignation speech, asked his successor "to reestablish order in our ravaged ranks". Even though the new leader liked Duplessis, the future premier did not particularly trust Houde's organizational capabilities, finding him "an impetuous and verbose braggart".[37] He also said to his party colleague, Antonio Barrette, who would serve briefly as Premier in 1960: "You will see Houde climb to the top of the hill, only for him to go down on the other slope". Conrad Black characterized his relationship with Houde, together with his political views, in the following way:[38]

Maurice Duplessis was surely of a fundamentally conservative point of view; he distrusted anything that seemed to be a flash-in-the-pan event and doubted anything that seemed improbable to him. The family was important for him. He also liked it when a person was able to respect the procedure. For him, Camillien Houde was a disorganised person who went bankrupt several times, who did not belong to any group of people, who neither had a family nor a job and who, except for his silver tongue, was inexperienced in anything, chaotic and superficial. He was sure that Houde, an overweight and unwieldy man, would be no match to Taschereau's ruse, air of authority and meticulousness.

Later events seemed to confirm Duplessis's intuition. In the 1931 election, the Conservatives were again resoundingly defeated, with only 11 seats out of 90 in the party's hands despite the fact that the Conservatives got a markedly larger share of votes provincially. Houde lost his own riding, while Duplessis got barely reelected with a razor-thin margin of 41 votes (3,812 for Duplessis versus 3,771 for Louis-Philippe Bigué, his Liberal challenger).[39] Upon learning the results, Taschereau declared that "this outcome means the end of Houdism".[40]

Rise to power

Leader of the Official Opposition

The 1931 election has seen the Conservatives internal strife, already present in Sauvé years, intensify.[42] The party members could not even agree to a common strategy of dealing with the results of the election. Houde opted for a recount in 63 ridings won by Liberals, alleging widespread electoral fraud; Duplessis, however, was among a group of dissident MLAs who refused to endorse Houde's idea, with Duplessis particularly being afraid that his narrow victory would be overturned.[43][44] The plan was frustrated by the governing Liberals, who passed legislation requiring that C$1,000 (equivalent to $16,707 in 2020) be paid for each contested riding.[13] In an effort to appease the Anglophone community, Houde designated an ageing Charles Ernest Gault, a Houde ally and long-time MLA from Montréal–Saint-Georges, as a new leader of the parliamentary caucus.[45] The choice enraged Duplessis, who was a rising star in his party. Houde also nominated Gault as leader of the Conservatives after he lost his mayorship and resigned from the leadership of the party on 19 September 1932, but the Conservative caucus overrode that decision on November 7 and put Duplessis in charge.[13]

The decision was formally confirmed during a party congress in Sherbrooke on October 4–5, 1933, when Duplessis was confirmed in his position, getting 332 votes against 214 cast for Onésime Gagnon, an MLA from Dorchester who favoured closer ties with the federal Conservatives.[46] Duplessis received support from seven out of 10 MLAs from his party as well as all federal ministers from Quebec with the exception of Maurice Dupré, who was a law partner of Gagnon.[47] While Duplessis got less support from the Anglophones due to him being perceived as too nationalist,[45] Richard Jones argues that it was the superior organisation and not the nationalist rhetoric that secured Maurice's victory.[42] Despite the victory, the tensions within the Conservative caucus did not subside.[48]

The news of the election of the new leader was received well in Trois-Rivières and Quebec City. Duplessis met with Cardinal Jean-Marie-Rodrigue Villeneuve, Anglican bishop Williams, Henry George Carroll, the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, as well as the mayor of Quebec City, Henri-Edgar Lavigueur.[49] On the other hand, Camillien Houde was angered by the choice of his party's caucus. He bitterly declared that "either I will perish or they [Duplessis supporters] will" and said that he was "free to associate myself with any serious movement that will try to get us rid of two political parties in Quebec that perpetuate the idea that the power trumps the law".[49] Houde would only reconcile with Duplessis in 1944.[13]

Duplessis immediately engaged in his new job. In his response to Taschereau's speech from the throne, Duplessis harshly criticized the management of the province, in particular pointing to the overcapitalization of companies, chaos in the province's industry and resource exploitation, and what he saw as unjust treatment of the municipalities, unnecessary confrontations with the federal government, the lack of respect for traditions and pandering too much to big business interests instead of developing rural areas.[50][48] Unlike some of his other colleagues in the party centered around Aimé Guertin, however, he opposed trust-busting in order to increase the clout of French-Canadian businesses and saw unfavourably the advocacy of some of his party colleagues to overhaul the social welfare system.[48]

Despite the differences within the opposition, the governing Liberals had even more problems. Quebec was in the midst of the Great Depression, which left Canada's economy declining. The Liberal Party, then in power for more than 35 years, was suffering from internal tensions, too, but also from the laissez-faire economic policies that proved inadequate for the crisis,[51] and what Conrad Black described as inflexibility and population's weariness of the government that has been in power for too long.[50] As a result, some of the Liberal MLAs became disillusioned with Taschereau and created a new party, the Action libérale nationale (ALN).

Coalition with the Action libérale nationale

Main articles: Action libérale nationale and 1935 Quebec general election

The new party, which in particular despised the big business's interests in the province, consisted of nationalist and progressive MLAs led by Paul Gouin and included some other figures, such as Philippe Hamel, Joseph-Ernest Grégoire and Oscar Drouin. The members of the new political force drew heavily from the Programme de restauration sociale, a social policy document drafted by the Catholic clergy in 1933 that advocated corporatism as an alternative for capitalism and communism[52] and sought to improve the position of French Canadians in the province by expanding the social welfare net, breaking (and, if needed, nationalizing) trusts and revitalizing rural areas.[53][54][55][56] In particular, the party was critical of the energy trusts and sought to bring the hydroelectricity companies under state control.[52] The New Deal policies adopted south of the Canadian border had also some impact on ALN's ideology.[57]

Initially, Maurice Duplessis was skeptical of the third political force, saying that "two [parties] are enough: the good one and the bad one".[58] He was then preparing for the upcoming 1935 election, starting a tour across the province more than a year before the voters were to go to the ballots. On 17 June 1934, Duplessis visited the Antonio Élie, a fellow deputy from Yamaska and an award-winning breeder of foxes,[58] where he delivered a speech underlining his attachment to the traditions and distrust of the modern and urban life.[i] He also attacked the presence of foreign economic interests in the province, accusing Taschereau of supporting supermarkets with tax credits while leaving independent shop owners vulnerable to bankruptcy and by leaving the extraction of natural resources in the hands of foreign capital, which he argued let them be used against Quebeckers.[59] These arguments echoed those made by the ALN, whose strength was amplified by Duplessis's incessant attacks on the government, even if Duplessis tried to assure that "honest" capital would remain untouched in the province and that they were less extreme than the maverick Liberals.[60]

Paul Gouin (right) and Maurice Duplessis (left) on a political rally of the Conservative–ALN coalition, November 1935
Paul Gouin (right) and Maurice Duplessis (left) on a political rally of the Conservative–ALN coalition, November 1935

Maurice remained distrustful of the ALN members, seeing them as unreliable men who would join the Liberals after the election and ruin his dream of heading the government himself, and warned his fellow party colleagues to stay away from ALN advances, even when publicly he encouraged "all sincere Liberals" to join forces.[61] Despite Oscar Drouin's call to Duplessis to unite in their quest to overturn the Taschereau government, the federal Conservatives' crushing defeat in the 1935 federal election in October, a prospect of three-headed race in the first-past-the-post system that would cause vote splitting issues, and finally, Taschereau's decision to call a snap election on November 25, 1935, in a bid to capitalize on an electoral success of the federal Liberals in Quebec, Duplessis remained opposed to any agreement with the breakaway Liberals.[62] However, faced with overwhelming support of a coalition within his party and donors' and organizers' threats to withhold resources if the Conservatives did not sign a coalition agreement, Duplessis was forced to sign one on November 7, 1935. According to the agreement, a so-called Union Nationale coalition was formed; each riding had only one candidate from the opposition, but two-thirds of ridings were signed off to the ALN members and all opposition candidates ran on ALN's platform, which was declared to be identical to the Conservatives';[63] if the Union Nationale won, Duplessis, given his experience, would become Premier but Gouin would choose the majority of his cabinet.[57]

The coalition failed to displace the Liberals from power, who got elected in 48 out of 90 ridings, just enough for the majority but 31 fewer than in 1931 and 20 fewer than just before the election.[64] As for the opposition, the Conservatives managed to win 16 ridings, the best result since 1923, while the ALN got 26 MLAs. Duplessis got reelected with a safe margin of 1,202 out of 8,544 votes in total.[64] The charisma and ardour of Duplessis, in contrast to the temperate behaviour of Paul Gouin, would strongly influence the MLAs from the Action libérale nationale, and a lot of them would co-create the new merged party of the same name as the coalition.[65]

Ascendancy of the Union Nationale

See also: 1936 Quebec general election

Le catéchisme des électeurs (The catechism of voters), full text of the 1936 edition (original edition in 1935). Le catéchisme des électeurs was strongly inspired by the Catéchisme politique (1851) by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie[66][67]
Le catéchisme des électeurs (The catechism of voters), full text of the 1936 edition (original edition in 1935). Le catéchisme des électeurs was strongly inspired by the Catéchisme politique (1851) by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie[66][67]

Maurice Duplessis continued his offensive when the new parliamentary session opened. In spring 1936, Duplessis managed to call the parliamentary public accounts committee to start an inquiry into the management of public funds by the Taschereau government, in which Duplessis would place himself as prosecutor.[57][68] Numerous irregularities were uncovered, where various Liberal government officials acknowledged having used the public money inappropriately.[69] For example, Antoine Taschereau, premier's brother and accountant of the Quebec Legislature, was forced to resign when he admitted having pocketed interest from the government's bank deposits. Duplessis even capitalized on the seemingly trivial infractions, such as when Irénée Vautrin, ex-minister of colonization [fr], confessed that he had bought trousers on his ministry's money, only to promptly denounce this as a symbol of the corruption of the Taschereau government.[70] The fact that the newspapers reported on all the smallest details of the inquiry made the committee job a political goldmine for Duplessis.[69] As a result of such revelations, Taschereau resigned on June 11, 1936, and handed over the premiership to Adélard Godbout,[71] who was forced to call an election on August 17 that year.

The political situation during that year changed dramatically. Even though Duplessis entered the election as a junior coalition partner, his charisma, rhetorical skills and his grilling of the Liberal officials has earned him support from most of ALN deputies; Gouin, on the other hand, proved not to be a good leader of the opposition and even handed over most of coalition matters to Duplessis because of the latter's expertise in politics.[57][72] On the organizational level, the Conservatives succeeded in capturing the Union Nationale brand for them.[72] Moreover, the corruption inquiry severely weakened the governing party, which gave Duplessis a chance to single-handedly win the premiership. Therefore, on 17 June, Duplessis announced his refusal to renew the coalition agreement even though the election writs were already issued.[13] The leader of the Conservatives was quickly able to force an increase of the proportion of Conservative ridings in the coalition from one-third to two-thirds, but the next day, Gouin decided to break with Duplessis and started campaigning independently against the other two parties.[73] Gouin's bid attracted little support, as 35 out of 42 Union Nationale coalition MLAs who came to a caucus meeting in Sherbrooke backed Duplessis's takeover of the coalition, and most of ALN's members joined Duplessis and the newly created Union Nationale party.[57] Eventually, Gouin said he would not field any candidates in any ridings due to his "temporary" retirement from politics, which confirmed Duplessis's leadership.[74]

The Union Nationale made an electoral campaign along similar lines to the 1935 election, formalizing that in a pamphlet called Le Catéchisme des électeurs, designed in a question-and-answer format to address the contemporary political and economical issues, while also adding attacks on corruption.[75] Duplessis successfully tied Godbout to the deeply unpopular Taschereau and rallied massive support for his political appearances.[76] When the voters came to the polls, they delivered a landslide victory for the Duplessis's party, handing 76 out of 90 seats and ending the Liberal rule over Quebec that lasted for 39 years.[76]

First government


The first government of Maurice Duplessis was formed in peculiar circumstances. The Union Nationale at the time was far from a monolith party, as it included both former ALN and Conservative members. Fourteen of these formed the cabinet.[77] Onésime Gagnon, Duplessis's challenger in the 1933 Conservative leadership contest, was appointed Minister of Mines, Hunting and Fisheries, and four former Liberals received their ministerial seats;[77] however, Philippe Hamel, one of the main ideologues of the late Action libérale nationale, was not offered a position in the provincial cabinet.[77] Among other consequences of the 1936 election, Camillien Houde, who had a feud with Duplessis, unexpectedly decided to resign from his mayorship of Montreal, citing bad relations with the new Premier, despite a looming election three months later (Houde lost it to a candidate favoured by the Union Nationale).[78]

Duplessis quickly became conflicted with his minister of roads, François Leduc, who was deeply critical of his being forced to cooperate with business interests of the "friends of the party".[79][j] Leduc, however, refused to resign himself, so Duplessis, who accused the minister of roads of various abuses, decided to request the Lieutenant Governor to dismiss the whole government, only to secretly assemble it later from the same members but without the recalcitrant minister—the first time ever since Confederation that a premier used this method to fire a government member.[81] Maurice has also seen a group of five people, led by Philippe Hamel and which also included Oscar Drouin, Ernest Grégoire, René Chaloult and Adolphe Marcoux, quit the Union Nationale altogether and found a short-lived Parti National, after he failed to keep up on his electoral pledges to fend off foreign capital.[82] He thus assumed the interim positions of the minister of roads and minister of lands and forests after Leduc and Drouin left the government.

The Premier of Quebec, at the same time, held some top positions related to his law career. After receiving the honorary title of King's Counsel on 30 December 1931 due to his achievements in the field of law,[23] he appointed himself attorney general of Quebec for the whole duration of all his terms. In addition to that, he was elected President (bâtonnier [fr]) of the Bar of Quebec and President of the Bar of Trois-Rivières for the 1937–1938 term,[23] which, in addition to conferring prestige to the Premier, gave him some influence over the internal order of the bar. This was the only case in Quebec when the top prosecutorial position, the top government position and the top lawyers' self-government position were all held by one person.

Economical and welfare policies

See also: Great Depression in Canada

During his speech from the Throne, Duplessis emphasized that his priority was giving "[advantage to] the human capital over money capital". He announced four measures seeking to implement his agenda: creation of the Farm Credit Bureau, abolition the so-called Dillon law (which was adopted to restrict the possibility of challenging 1931 election results), adoption of an old-age pension program together with the federal government and enhancement of the law on workplace accidents, as well as a ban on ministers to sit on corporate boards of directors.[77] In particular, the rural loan program, which Duplessis instituted due to his conviction that agriculture still constituted the main locomotive of economic progress in the province, proved extremely popular in the countryside, which the new party exploited to the full and which, according to Michel Sarra-Bournet, was the main factor of Union Nationale's longevity.[13]

This was, however, where the similarities with the electoral pledges ended. Despite assurances that he would reform the economy, the policies he pursued largely mirrored those of the Liberals his party had just deposed.[13] He also opened the province to more foreign capital, notably to Robert R. McCormick, an American media mogul and outspoken critic of the New Deal policies, who built a new paper plant in Baie-Comeau.[82][l] Duplessis also resented nationalization of hydroelectric plants, as some ALN members proposed while the Union Nationale was still a coalition. This attracted accusations of hypocrisy from his adversaries, but even some members of his own party were not content, either, seeing this as "selling off Quebec to the foreigners". As a result, five MLAs left his party due to this about-face.[82] The condition of Quebec's economy did not improve during his term due to the reverbations of the Great Depression, which, however, Duplessis blamed on Ottawa for what he said was an artificial restriction of the province's borrowing power. Public debt ballooned from $150 million to $286 million during his three years in power (C$2,777,000,000 to C$5,089,000,000 in 2020 dollars),[7] and the tempo of the emission of obligations during his first term exceeded that of all of prior administrations since Confederation.[85] It prompted Ottawa to control the province's borrowing, which Duplessis decried as an invasion on fiscal autonomy of the province.[86]

His social welfare record in the first term was somewhat progressive. Old-age pensions and workplace accident protections were instituted during his first year in office, as were some public works projects, such as the completion of the Montreal Botanical Garden.[13] The Union Nationale was the first Quebec cabinet to include the Ministry of Health, and it also financed the new Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene of Montreal [fr], a research facility similar to Paris's Pasteur Institute.[87] In line with the Church's teaching, Duplessis gave assistance to needy mothers (but not to unwed, divorced or separated women), as well as to the blind and the orphaned.[88]

Duplessis adopted the Fair Wage Act (French: Loi des salaires raisonnables) and created the Fair Wage Board. It was the first time the minimum wage in Quebec was available for all workers (it only previously applied to women),[89] but the legislation was marred by reticence of the trade unions to embrace the scheme (they preferred collective bargaining instead, which led to agreements that were not regulated by the Fair Wage Act),[90] by the government's liberal application of the law[m] and the proliferation of often arbitrary decisions of the Board.[89] Despite an increase of minimum wages above Ontario levels, almost a fifth of workers were not paid the mandated wages in 1940, suggesting its rather weak enforcement.[89] Duplessis additionally banned closed shop arrangements and outlawed the practice where the employers fired employees only to return them to work with a lower salary.[91] The latter policy, however, created perverse incentives, as the companies increasingly stopped negotiating with the workers and were bypassing the trade unions while asking for government assistance during thestrikes.[92] This was the case with the Dominion Textile strike in August 1937 and another one in a shipyard in Sorel, when Duplessis, who saw the protests as "unfortunate and unjustified",[88] ordered workers to return to work before starting negotiations (the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada (CTCC) eventually secured, with government's mediation, a short-term agreement).[93]

Most historians largely agree that favouritism and clientelism were one of the defining features of Maurice Duplessis's reign over the province.[94][95] The premier himself did not particularly hide from it, e.g. by telling people in the ridings that had not yet elected an Union Nationale representative that if the constituents would like some sort of investment in their area, they would have to show him this on election day.[96][97] Even if Duplessis personally did not enrich himself by this means, the party he led did not hesitate to fill its coffers by contributions from businesses to which it would return favours once in power. It was largely due to these donations that the Union Nationale managed to conduct well-financed electoral campaigns.[98]

Duplessis in 1938
Duplessis in 1938

Societal issues

Further information: Padlock Law and Canada in World War II § Preparations

Duplessis being a deeply devout person, he regularly engaged with the Catholic Church officials. Duplessis strongly enticed them to support him by making numerous symbolic moves.[99] For instance, when Brother André, whom he met in his elementary school in Montreal, died on January 6, 1937, he had a mausoleum built in his honour.[13] The following year, in his opening speech to the National Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, Duplessis stressed he did not accept the ideas coming from the French Revolution and underlined his Catholic faith.[13] In addition to that, he also introduced the crucifix to the debate hall of the Legislative Assembly. This could have been a nod to his father's ultramontanism, but it was more probably a continuation of Taschereau's policies, who introduced a "universal" prayer in 1922 and ordered to place crucifixes in Quebec courtrooms.[100][101] At the same time, the premier did not intend to give as much power to the clergy it had under Taschereau, throwing the Church out of the lawmaking process related to social and moral issues it used to have access to.[99] In fact, only part of the clergy supported Duplessis, and many more preferred Parti National's manifestos.[102]

The defining feature of his first term was the fierce opposition to Communism, something that would persist in later terms, too. Duplessis said that "the Communism must be considered the top public enemy, despised and to be despised". In line with his ideas, and with unanimous support of the Liberals,[103] the Union Nationale enacted the Act to Protect the Province Against Communistic Propaganda, better known as the Padlock Law, which allowed the Attorney General (i.e. Duplessis) to prosecute people propagating Bolshevism or Communism (not defined in the law) on private or public property and banned any publications "advocating or trying to advocate" the ideologies. It could be arbitrarily used against trade unions and the clergy Duplessis personally did not like, and the law provided no appeal to those expropriated.[104] The law received positive reactions from the general public[105] as well as the clergy, but was fiercely criticized in the Anglophone press, which tied its enaction with Cardinal Villeneuve's supposed undue influence on the government.[106] It was only struck down in 1957 by the Supreme Court of Canada in Switzman v Elbling as an infringement on federal government's powers to pass criminal statutes.

Another issue of his government was the approaching of World War II and conscription-related issues. On the one hand, Duplessis tried to assure George VI of his province's loyalty towards the Crown during the king's visit in May 1939, but on the other, many French Canadians had the conscription crisis of 1917 fresh in their minds.[107] Therefore, Duplessis, together with his aides, decided to make use of the electorate's distrust of federal war plans and general anti-war attitude of Quebeckers to announce a snap election, hoping to catch the Liberals by surprise and persuading the electorate that the conscription was a means to take over provincial competences.[7] The effort did not succeed, however, as the provincial Liberals also announced their opposition to conscription, as did Camillien Houde and some members of the Union Nationale, including Wilbrod Rousseau and Adhémar Raynault; finally, William Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada, declared that no one would be drafted to the army by force, particularly as three French Canadian ministers in King's government threatened to resign in case of Duplessis's reelection, which would give way to supporters of conscription.[13] At the same time, the Liberals pointed to the bad state of the economy.[7] The 1939 election was disastrous for the Union Nationale: it only received 39.1% of votes, but, more importantly, it got 15 out of 86 seats, losing the premiership to Adélard Godbout.

Return to the Official Opposition

Adélard Godbout, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party 1936–1949, Premier of Quebec 1939–1944
Adélard Godbout, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party 1936–1949, Premier of Quebec 1939–1944

The defeat of the Union Nationale met Duplessis's leadership in danger. Some of his fellow MLAs were mad at his starting the election in an unfortunate moment.[108] Joseph-Damase Bégin called to convene a caucus meeting to consider changing the leader, with Onésime Gagnon and Hormisdas Langlais as possible contenders. Duplessis, however, managed to persuade his colleagues not to do that.[108] The Union Nationale was at the brink of implosion but eventually survived the turbulent period following the 1939 electoral defeat. Another challenge to his leadership came in 1942, when Duplessis was criticised for his alcoholic tendencies—he would sometimes participate in parliamentary deliberations while completely drunk[109]—but after being absent for a few months due to surgical treatment of strangulated hernia (see relevant section), the leader of opposition decided to quit drinking altogether.[110]

The Liberals introduced some progressive policies during their five years in power. One of the main achievements of the Godbout administration was granting women suffrage in provincial elections (they were allowed to vote in federal elections since 1917).[111] Duplessis had previously considered the issue several times, but largely avoided discussing it and generally either submitted abstentions or nays during floor votes, and at one time proposed to block the legislation in committee.[112] On this vote, Duplessis, as most of Union Nationale members, opposed the government,[n] with the leader of the opposition in particular citing Godbout's voting record on women's suffrage (he voted "nay" on seven previous occasions) and criticizing the about-face. Duplessis did make some efforts to prevent passage of the bill[111] but ultimately he did not seem to as intrigued by the issue as some other MLAs.[112]

Another landmark policy of the Liberals, the introduction of compulsory schooling from age six to fourteen in 1943, was prompted by a report noting high dropout rates after four years of formal schooling.[113] As with the women's suffrage, the bill was opposed by Union Nationale and Duplessis (only Camille Pouliot voted with the Liberals), and during his fifteen years in power after Godbout, the obligation was very rarely followed in Quebec.[113] Finally, in 1944, Godbout created Hydro-Québec from the nationalization of Montreal Light, Heat & Power and its subsidiary Beauharnois Power, but Duplessis again opposed the policy, saying that its timing just before the 1944 election suggested that it was a political campaign trick.[13] He also disagreed with the details of its implementation (he argued that the takeover should have been made by Montreal rather than the provincial government),[114] the fact that the nationalization would cost taxpayer money and that the high electricity prices (the main driver of the nationalization) could be lowered via negotiations between the government and the companies, rather than by assuming state ownership.[13]

1944 election

Just as with the 1935 elections, a third political force wanted to enter Quebec politics: the anti-conscriptionist Bloc populaire, a brainchild of such figures as Lionel Groulx and Georges Pelletier [fr], the editor-in chief of Le Devoir, and centered around André Laurendeau and Maxime Raymond.[115] It was mostly due to their efforts as part of the Ligue pour la Défense du Canada, the precursor to the Bloc populaire, that over 72% of Quebeckers voted against introducing conscription in 1942, in stark contrast with English-speaking Canada, which overwhelmingly voted in favour.[116] A nationalist formation, it supported the nationalization of hydroelectricity and argued for more autonomy for Quebec; at the same time it drew inspirations from Catholic social teaching, corporatism and syndicalism.[115] The party thus sought to compete for nationalist and anti-war votes with the Union Nationale, but at the same time largely keeping the economic policies of the Liberals.

Duplessis largely succeeded in sidelining the Bloc populaire, however, by portraying the religious minorities, the federal government and the trade unions as threatening the province's interests, autonomy, traditions and identity.[13] In the same vein, Duplessis attacked Godbout's reforms as threatening the Church, the clergy and the religion (and indeed many Godbout's initiatives were criticized by Cardinal Villeneuve).[117] During the campaign, Duplessis notably floated a false anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that asserted that the federal government and the Quebec Liberals struck a secret deal with the so-called "International Zionist Brotherhood" to settle 100,000 Holocaust refugees in Quebec in exchange for campaign contributions for federal and provincial Liberals, and pledged to prevent it from happening.[118] While Max Beer argues that this story did not influence the election result very much,[119] the public and the press was enthusiastic about a leader who would not let any refugees arrive in la belle province.[120] The business community, in its turn, was assured by his will to pursue development driven by private investments and opposition to state takeovers of companies.[13]

In the 1944 election, Duplessis's Union Nationale received the smallest share of votes in any election during his leadership (just over 38%) and finished behind the Liberals in the popular vote count, but due to vote splitting between the Bloc populaire and Godbout's party, it was the Union Nationale that got the majority in the Legislative Assembly, with 48 out of 91 MLAs belonging to Duplessis's party. This election marked the beginning of Duplessis's 15 years as Premier of Quebec.

Public reconciliation of Camillien Houde and Maurice Duplessis during a political assembly on Montreal's Saint-Jacques market in July 1948. Georgianna Falardeau, Houde's wife, is seen to the right.
Public reconciliation of Camillien Houde and Maurice Duplessis during a political assembly on Montreal's Saint-Jacques market in July 1948. Georgianna Falardeau, Houde's wife, is seen to the right.
Maurice Duplessis sculpture beside Parliament Building (Quebec)
Maurice Duplessis sculpture beside Parliament Building (Quebec)
A building that belonged to Maurice Duplessis, at 240 Bonaventure Street in Trois-Rivières. His law office was located in the basement.[121]
A building that belonged to Maurice Duplessis, at 240 Bonaventure Street in Trois-Rivières. His law office was located in the basement.[121]
Duplessis (4th to the right) at the Dominion-Provincial Conference on Reconstruction
Duplessis (4th to the right) at the Dominion-Provincial Conference on Reconstruction

Later policies

See also: Grande Noirceur

Duplessis returned as premier in the 1944 election, and held power without serious opposition for the next fifteen years, until his death, winning elections in 1948, 1952 and 1956. He became known simply as le Chef ("the boss").

He was elected to five terms of office in all, the last four of them consecutive. Duplessis remains the last Quebec premier to have won three or more consecutive majority governments. After him, no political party in Quebec elections at the provincial level had won more than two terms of office in a row until the December 2008 victory of Jean Charest's Liberal party, its third consecutive win.

Duplessis favoured rural areas over city development and introduced various agricultural credits during his first term. He was also noted for meagre investment in social services except education (budget was multiplied by six between 1946 and 1956[122]) in Catholic schools. Duplessis also opposed military conscription and Canadian involvement in World War II. The Union Nationale often had the active support of the Roman Catholic Church in its political campaigns.

Labour policy, anti-unionism

In 1949, Duplessis also attempted to introduce a law modeled on the 1947 American Taft-Hartley Act to eliminate certain[clarification needed] labour union rights established by the Labour Relations Law of 1944, which was Quebec's equivalent of the American Wagner Act of 1935. Duplessis's bill was withdrawn after fierce union opposition.

Duplessis later introduced a similar law in 1954, known as Bill 19 to force union groups to expel any communist-supporter. Any group would lose its trade union accreditation if there was a single member with ties to communist organizations or who supported the ideology. The bill was so unpopular that it lost even the support of the conservative Catholic union group. That controversy forced the union to review its structure, which eventually led to the creation of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).

Duplessis's time in office was marked by significant labour strikes, such as the Dominion Textile in Valleyfield in 1946, the Asbestos Strike in Estrie, and the Murdochville copper mine strike in 1957. In those conflicts, Duplessis responded rapidly with force by using the provincial police to disperse picket lines and restore order, with several arrests. However, the Murdochville strike led to a major victory for union rights and provided the impetus and inspiration for other labour leaders to emerge and energized calls for labour rights.[123]

Jehovah's Witnesses and Roncarelli v. Duplessis

Duplessis actively opposed Jehovah's Witnesses, causing The Globe and Mail to comment, "The persecution of the religious sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, now going on in Quebec Province with enthusiastic official and judicial sanction, has taken a turn which suggests that the Inquisition has returned to French Canada."[124] In 1943[clarification needed] the Witnesses of the Canadian province of Quebec were continuously arrested up to twice the same day.[125]

Duplessis once used his influence to revoke a liquor licence from one of their members' businesses. In Roncarelli v. Duplessis, the decision of the lower court was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, and damages to Roncarelli were increased. Duplessis was ordered to pay $33,123.53 in damages. In his comments, Justice Abbott wrote, "The cancellation of the licence was made solely because of the plaintiff's association with the Witnesses of Jehovah and with the object and purpose of preventing him from continuing to furnish bail for members of that sect." In a 6–3 decision, Duplessis influencing the liquor commission to cancel the license was deemed an improper use of his power.[126]

Death and legacy

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Montréal August 1959
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Montréal August 1959

Duplessis died in office after a series of strokes he suffered while visiting the Iron Ore Company of Canada in Schefferville in the presence of seven government and company officials on September 7, 1959. Following his death and the subsequent election of a Liberal government under Jean Lesage in 1960, Quebec entered a period later termed the Quiet Revolution, a decisive movement away from the conservative policies of Duplessis and toward a secular social democracy.

Duplessis has not been without his defenders. Conrad Black's 1977 encomium, Duplessis, painted a sympathetic portrait of the man as a transitional figure towards modernism, and the victim of partisan attack and personal malady.[127]

Nevertheless, Duplessis's legacy has been the subject of repeated criticism in the decades since his death. Quebec nationalists dislike his anti-separatist stance, liberals denounce his social conservatism. His critics hold that Duplessis's inherently corrupt patronage politics, his reactionary conservatism, his emphasis on traditional family and religious values, his anachronistic anti-union stance, rural focus and his preservation and promotion of Catholic Church institutions over the development of a secular social infrastructure akin to that underway in most of the postwar West, stunted Quebec's social and economic development by at least a decade.

In response, it has been argued that the notion of the Duplessis "black years" is a myth propagated by all subsequent major political actors in Quebec due to a fundamental aversion to Catholic church-oriented traditionalist patterns of development, with dominant intellectual movements combining various elements of this dislike. However, the counter-argument, that this is an over-simplification which fails to capture the complexities of Quebec politics, society and its economy, has consistently prevailed in public and academic discourse for some time.

Aside from occasional defenders of his anti-communist and socially conservative views,[128][129] defence of the Duplessis government today comes primarily from traditionalist conservatives (paleoconservatives in North American definition) who view his regime as an essential reaffirmation of traditional values, and as an assertion by democratic means of the basics of church and family life with low social spending and suppression of labour unions.[citation needed]

Richard Jones, an historian specialising in the political and cultural history of Canada and Quebec, summed up Duplessis:

"The Duplessis regime may well have endured for too long, the Union Nationale leader's traditionalist policies may well have been anachronistic when compared with the relatively modern society that, in many respects, the Quebec of the 1950s had already become."[130]

Private life

Maurice Duplessis as photographed c. 1940
Maurice Duplessis as photographed c. 1940

Duplessis was a lifelong bachelor and had no children.[13] That is not to say, however, that Duplessis was not interested in women he met, particularly in his student years. During World War I, Duplessis courted Augustine Delisle, a daughter of a prosperous coal trader. Duplessis's family disapproved of a connection that would unite them with a family of merchants. Duplessis remained bitter towards his family members over their opposition to this marriage, and seems to have decided at this time never to marry.[131] That said, Duplessis remained close to his sisters as well as their husbands and children. He also became a godfather of a daughter of Antonio Talbot, the minister of roads in his post-war government.[132]

Duplessis has had numerous health problems in his life. Duplessis underwent two surgeries for strangulated hernia in 1930 and 1942, which each time ended in several-month-long stays in the hospital due to complications or other diseases slowing down his reconvalescence, as well as a shorter one for traumas he had during a car accident in 1929.[13] Maurice has also been a heavy drinker,[1][133] but on the advice of his doctor,[134][135] his party's pressure and Adélard Godbout's suggestion that this "weakness was going to ruin [Duplessis]",[110] became abstinent after his second surgery. It was also in 1942 that it was discovered Duplessis had diabetes,[134] which particularly caused trouble particularly in his last years of life.[13] Conrad Black also writes that he suffered from hypospadias.[136]

Despite a populist image Duplessis has created in public and rumours that persisted even after his death, Duplessis's hobbies included opera and literature. Even though he most liked to read historical or political books, he also read classical French or English-language authors, such as Rudyard Kipling, Tennyson and Shakespeare.[137] Later in his life, the Premier developed a taste for paintings and started collecting them. At his death, his sister Jeanne-L. Balcer-Duplessis inherited the works of art, which she donated to the provincial government in exchange for the cancellation of the inheritance tax. Most of the paintings, including those by Clarence Gagnon, Cornelius Krieghoff, J. M. W. Turner, Auguste Renoir, Charles Jacque, Cornelis Springer and Johan Jongkind, may be seen in the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec.[138] On the other hand, his love of sport was not unequivocal. In fact, Duplessis has not practised any in his life, except for croquet.[17] However, he supported the Montreal Canadiens and tuned into radio broadcasts of international baseball matches with the New York Yankees. In addition to that, he ran a local cricket club in his hometown of Trois-Rivières.[136]

See also


  1. ^ Also often rendered as "Le Cheuf" so as to reflect the particularities of Quebec French pronunciation
  2. ^ Her full name was Marie Catherine Camille Berthe Genest.
  3. ^ Her full name was Marie Esther Charlotte Emma MacCallum
  4. ^ In the 1950s, when Duplessis was premier of Quebec, he was among the foremost people lobbying for the canonisation of Brother André
  5. ^ For instance, Duplessis would always schedule his most important political events on Wednesdays due to the fact that in French Canada, Saint Joseph's day was observed every week on that day.[7] He would also attend the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec on these days to pray to Saint Joseph.[13]
  6. ^ Black gives an example of such speech: "How beautiful and laudable was the deed whose purpose was to establish Catholicism on the unexplored lands among the barbaric peoples deep in the dark forests of idolatry! Oh! The seas, ladies and gentlemen, have not always been these vast scathes of clear waters in which rays from the bright sun are being reflected; the waves have not always been calm and symmetrical, on which old and fragile vessels steered with sweet tranquility. How much courage was needed to set adventure in these pelagic immensities in such a light caravel... In light of his glorious actions, I dare anyone to say that Louis Hébert was not a great Christian, that he did not love the fleurdelisé with devotion and passion."
  7. ^ Duplessis argued: "Louis Hébert has understood that with honesty and the good luck of having a healthy soul and body, the life in the fields would bring true happiness [...] Unfortunately, today [...] the countryside is being neglected by the legions of strong and able-bodied young men who leave it in order to flock in the offices of large cities."
  8. ^ Étiennette Duplessis, sister of Maurice, would marry Édouard Bureau, Jacques's son, in the April following the election
  9. ^ As Conrad Black notes in his biography of Duplessis, "[he] accused Taschereau of all crimes related to the disorganized industrialization. Hydroelectric projects were assigned a higher priority than those of the rural areas. The colonization of new lands was almost tossed away in favour of urbanization. The farmers were abandoned all while foreign and corrupt industrialists were accorded more and more privileges, no assistance was offered to the breeders of foxes (like Élie; the market of fox skins virtually ground to a halt in the early 1930s), and neither were loans for agriculturers or rural electrification programmes enacted, while the assistance offered to the old parishes, which constituted the moral and social backbone of Quebec, was far from sufficient. The earth, the Church and the culture—all that was patriotic, divine and traditional—was thrown away to give way for urbanization, speculation and dehumanizing materialism. And among the swarming masses of the cities, patience, religious practice and faith, all that was honest and dignified was replaces by frivolousness, licentiousness, disorder, alcoholism and the lack of respect towards God and the state."
  10. ^ In his letter to Le Devoir, Leduc complained that: "It's due to my will to align my administrative affairs to the principles espoused by the Premier in his communications with the press that I am no longer the Minister of Roads. I believed that it was my duty to conduct public affairs with all honesty and efficiency that could be seen in any well-managed organization, even if, in order to achieve the foal, it was needed to sacrifice some friends of the party, who are more interested in their personal position rather than in the province's advancement, and even if it was needed—the highest sacrifice—to part ways with the person who, for such a long time, was my boss. I did not want, in the domain of road construction, to let reign a dictature controlled by two or three friendly businessmen of yours, who had their will imposed on the government, rather than who executed government orders."[80]
  11. ^ Seated in the front row, from left to right: Henry Lemaître Auger (Minister of Colonization), Albiny Paquette (Minister of Health and Secretary of Quebec), Martin Fisher (Treasurer), Maurice Duplessis (Premier and Attorney General), Oscar Drouin (Lands and Forests), Onésime Gagnon (Mines; Hunting and Fisheries), William Tremblay (Labour). Standing in the second row, from right to left: Gilbert Layton (minister without portfolio), Joseph Bilodeau (Municipal Affairs; Industry and Commerce), Bona Dussault (Agriculture), John Samuel Bourque (Public Works), François Leduc (Roads), Antonio Élie (without portfolio), Thomas Joseph Coonan (without portfolio).
  12. ^ Bernard Saint-Aubin, who wrote a political biography of Duplessis, stressed that the Premier "admired the Englishmen and the Americans, who had an air of liveliness in business affairs. He knew that the province needed financial behemoths—most of which were not Francophone—so that it prospered and so that jobs were created for the Quebeckers. In the periods of prosperity, no one topples governments, which Duplessis also knew. The Union Nationale, while in opposition, promised to destroy the grip of foreign capitalists on Quebec's economy, but now that it was in charge, Duplessis, being a realist, renewed his predecessor's policies. Duplessis continued Taschereau just like Taschereau continued Gouin. The premier simply followed the traditional policies of the former leaders of Quebec, who, since the late 19th century, turned to foreign money to develop the province.
  13. ^ For instance, when the government did not have the money to pay hospitals, it asked the Board to rescind minimum wage protections afforded to healthcare workers. The Act also did not apply to workers engaged in public works organized by the government.
  14. ^ Three people from his caucus: Gagnon, Langlais and, in the Legislative Council, Martin Fisher, broke ranks and voted with the Liberals


  1. ^ a b Black, Conrad M. (2011). "Duplessis, Maurice Le Noblet". The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation, Toronto. Retrieved January 31, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Tremblay, Sylvie (1990). "L'énigme de la famille Le Noblet Duplessis". Cap-aux-Diamants : La revue d'histoire du Québec (in French). 5 (4): 66. ISSN 0829-7983.
  3. ^ a b Lesieur Désaulniers, François Sévère (1900). Les vieilles familles d'Yamachiche (PDF) (in French). Montreal: A. P. Pigeon. pp. 154–168.
  4. ^ a b Lefebvre, Jean-Jacques (1961). "Lignée canadienne de l'hon. M. Duplessis". Le bulletin des recherches historiques. Lévis: 33–35 – via Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
  5. ^ a b c d Black 1977, p. 15.
  6. ^ Trudel, Marcel (2004). Deux siècles d'esclavage au Québec (in French). Montréal: Hurtubise HMH. p. 291. ISBN 2-89428-742-9. OCLC 54692927.
  7. ^ a b c d e "CANADA: Duplessis Out". Time. November 6, 1939. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved December 25, 2021.
  8. ^ Shaw, James Gerard (1954). Notre-Dame du Cap, son histoire (in French). Cap-de-la-Madeleine: Les Éditions de Notre-Dame du Cap. p. 35.
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  10. ^ a b c Rumilly 1973, p. 14-15.
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Audiovisual materials

Short biographical entries

Party political offices Preceded byCamillien Houde Leader of the Quebec Conservative Party 1933–1936* Succeeded bynone Preceded bynone Leader of the Union Nationale 1935–1959 Succeeded byPaul Sauvé Political offices Preceded byCharles Ernest Gault (Conservative) Leader of the Opposition in Quebec 1932–1936 Succeeded byT.-D. Bouchard (Liberal) Preceded byT.-D. Bouchard (Liberal) Leader of the Opposition in Quebec Succeeded byAdélard Godbout (Liberal)

*The Union Nationale was founded as an alliance in 1935 with Duplessis as leader. In 1936 the UN formally became a unitary political party with the Quebec Conservative Party dissolving into it.