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Maurice Duplessis

Maurice Duplessis
Duplessis campaigning in the 1952 election.
16th Premier of Quebec
In office
August 17, 1936 – November 8, 1939
Monarch Edward VIII
George VI
Lieutenant Governor Ésioff-Léon Patenaude
Preceded by Adélard Godbout
Succeeded by Adélard Godbout
In office
August 30, 1944 – September 7, 1959
Monarch George VI
Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Eugène Fiset
Gaspard Fauteux
Onésime Gagnon
Preceded by Adélard Godbout
Succeeded by Paul Sauvé
MNA for Trois-Rivières
In office
February 5, 1923 – September 7, 1959
Preceded by Louis-Philippe Mercier
Succeeded by Yves Gabias
Personal details
Born Maurice Duplessis
(1890-04-20)April 20, 1890
Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Died September 7, 1959(1959-09-07) (aged 69)
Schefferville, Quebec
Political party Union Nationale
Other political
Conservative Party of Quebec(pre 1936)
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic

Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis (French pronunciation: ​; 20 April 1890 – 7 September 1959) served as the 16th Premier of the Canadian province of Quebec from 1936 to 1939 and 1944 to 1959. He rose to power after uniting his Conservative party and the breakaway Action liberale nationale progressive faction of the Liberal party of Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, to form a new conservative party, the Union Nationale.[1]

His era later became known as La Grande Noirceur ("The Great Darkness"). During the time, the Liberal opposition was unsuccessful in challenging Duplessis' power. Duplessis championed rural areas, provincial rights, anti-Communism, and opposed the trade unions.


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
  • Policies 3
  • Roncarelli v. Duplessis 4
  • Death and legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8
  • Reference works 9

Early life

Duplessis was born in Trois-Rivières, the son of Berthe (née Genest) and local politician Nérée Le Noblet Duplessis. He studied at the Séminaire Saint-Joseph de Trois-Rivières, obtained a law degree from Université Laval's Montréal branch (later renamed Université de Montréal) and was admitted to the Barreau du Quebec in 1913. He returned to his home town to practice law until running for public office. He was a life-long bachelor.[2]

Political career

Duplessis in 1936
Maurice Duplessis sculpture beside Parliament Building (Quebec)

Duplessis first won the seat as a Conservative Party of Quebec candidate in the 1927 Quebec election. In the 1931 election, he was reelected in his seat, but Conservative leader Camillien Houde lost both the election and his own seat. The Conservative caucus chose C. E. Gault to be interim Leader of the Opposition but, after Houde resigned as party leader in 1932, Duplessis won the leadership of the party during the 1933 convention over the only other candidate, Onésime Gagnon.

Two weeks before the 1935 provincial election, he engineered a coalition with Paul Gouin's Action libérale nationale (ALN), a party of dissident reform Liberals and nationalists who had quit the governing Parti libéral du Québec. While he lost that election, Duplessis was soon able to exploit a patronage scandal involving the family of Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau to force Taschereau's resignation.

Gouin withdrew his support from Duplessis on June 18, 1936, but the ALN caucus sided with Duplessis and joined with his Conservative caucus to formally merge into the Union Nationale party. Duplessis and the UN won the August 1936 election in a landslide, putting an end to thirty-nine consecutive years of Liberal rule. Duplessis's first government was defeated in the 1939 election, a snap election called by the premier in hopes of exploiting the issue of Canadian participation in World War II.

Duplessis (4th to the right) at the Dominion-Provincial Conference on Reconstruction

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 managed to win 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. 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 and employed the slogan Le ciel est bleu; l'enfer est rouge: Heaven is blue (UN); Hell is red (Liberal).[3] “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.”—Toronto Globe & Mail, December 19, 1946.

Roncarelli v. Duplessis

Duplessis actively opposed Jehovah's Witnesses and once used his influence to revoke a liquor license from one of their member's businesses. This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, Duplessis being ordered to pay $33,123.53 in damages.

Death and legacy

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 (Révolution tranquille), a decisive movement away from the conservative policies of Duplessis and toward a secular social democracy.

Duplessis has not been without his loyal 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 (Black revealed, for instance, that Duplessis suffered from hypospadias).[4]

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. Some minorities resent the privileges he granted to the Catholic church as other religious groups were actively or passively discouraged 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,[5][6] defence of the Duplessis regime 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. Duplessis is thereby held to have prevented "subversion" without the massive use of force and police repression that characterized the dictatorial policies of the Franco regime in Spain (which he supported).

The Canadian Historical Association in a booklet on file with Collections Canada puts it this way:

"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.[7]"

For better or worse, Duplessis lent stability to Quebec through turbulent times. For this he is praised by some and reviled by many. Few Quebecois view him favourably in public discourse today, but he devoted much of his life to public office and was sufficiently popular with the Quebec electorate of the period to spend almost two decades as Premier, a position he held until his death. Duplessis' defenders also note that political patronage under his government did not differ very much from a similar patronage system under Taschereau's Liberals in earlier decades. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Duplessis ever personally enriched himself, as he died in debt.

Ironically, it could be argued that Duplessis' greatest legacy was to lend impetus, after his death, to the societal changes he opposed throughout his political life. That his suppression of modernizing elements in Quebec produced a sense of urgency among the non-traditional populace and political elites which amplified the speed and scope of the social, political and economic transformation of Quebec under subsequent governments. In short, that the failure of the Duplessis regime to accommodate the demands of an increasingly cosmopolitan populace acted as both trigger and catalyst for the Quiet Revolution.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Conrad Black, Duplessis, (McLelland & Stewart, 1977)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^

External links

  • Biography of Maurice Duplessis
  • May 22 1999 Article On Duplessis
  • CBC Digital Archives - Maurice Duplessis

Reference works

  • Conrad Black, Duplessis, ISBN 0-7710-1530-5, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1977.
  • Jacques Rouillard, Le syndicalisme Québécois, Boreal, Montreal, 2004
  • CSN-CSQ, Histoire du mouvement ouvrier au Quebec, 2001
  • Jones, R. (1983). Duplessis and the union nationale administration. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association.
  • Laporte, P. (1960). The true face of duplessis. Montreal: Harvest House Limited.
  • Paulin, M. (2002). Maurice duplessis: Powerbroker, politician. Montreal: XYZ Publishing.
National Assembly of Quebec
Preceded by
Louis-Philippe Mercier (Liberal)
MLA, District of Trois-Rivières
Succeeded by
Yves Gabias (Union Nationale)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Camillien Houde
Leader of the Quebec Conservative Party
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Leader of the Union Nationale
Succeeded by
Paul Sauvé
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Ernest Gault (Conservative)
Leader of the Opposition in Quebec
Succeeded by
T.-D. Bouchard (Liberal)
Preceded by
T.-D. Bouchard (Liberal)
Leader of the Opposition in Quebec
Succeeded by
Adélard Godbout (Liberal)
Preceded by
Adélard Godbout (Liberal)
Premier of Quebec
Succeeded by
Adélard Godbout (Liberal)
Preceded by
Adélard Godbout (Liberal)
Premier of Quebec
Succeeded by
Paul Sauvé (Union Nationale)

*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.

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