What If Politics: The French Connection
So, here’s a look at the contenders from La Belle Province. I’ve decided not to profile the separatists (and whatever the heck Jean Lapierre is) but if anyone wants to make a strong case for Prime Minister Levesque or Bouchard, I’m all ears.
Are you one of those people who thinks democracy is way overrated and that the country would be a lot better with an iron fisted dictator? Well, then, Maurice Duplessis may be the candidate for you. During his close to 20 years as Premier, Duplessis instituted the Padlock Law, cracking down on freedom of the press (and, worst of all, he often only selected press gallery reporters questions from his list instead of their list). His tight alliance with US business and the Church helped hold him in power, as did some of the dirtiest election tactics ever seen in Canada.
Liberal Premier of Quebec during the interlude of Duplesis’ reign. By, all accounts, he did more for Quebec in those five years than Duplesis did in the 15 which followed. Godbout gave women the right to vote (in 1939…), made elementary school attendance compulsory and reformed the education system. He gave workers the right to unionize and founded Hydro-Quebec. Unfortunately, his support for Mackenzie King cost him the 1944 election, fought in the midst of the conscription debate.
Lalonde is best remembered in Calgary as the Energy Minister who brought in the NEP. I’m going to go on a hunch and say that Lalonde will not get a lot of votes from Conservative Albertans in this contest. A close advisor to Pierre Trudeau, Lalonde also served in a wide range of Cabinet position over the years, including Finance.
A tragic figure is ever there was one. Laporte was a fierce critic of Maurice Duplesis and was seen as one of the key progressives in Jean Lesage’s equipe du tonnerre. He was a leadership candidate in the convention which selected Robert Bourassa as party leader and went on to serve as immigration Minister under Bourassa’s government. During the infamous October Crisis, Pierre Laporte was kidnapped, then murdered, by the FLQ’s Chenier cell. Under 50 at the time, it’s not hard to imagine Laporte going on to bigger things had he survived.
I’m actually surprised Lesage hasn’t fared better in this poll. After serving 13 years in King and St.Laurent governments, Lesage left federal politics in 1958 to become leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. Under the "Maîtres chez nous" slogan, Lesage’s win in 1960 is often seen as the defining moment in the Quiet Revolution. Lesage’s government brought in massive reforms in nearly every field, making substantial progress in education and health, while curbing the power of the Church. They also nationalized hydro power, leading to a powerful Hydro-Quebec. Lesage began the all-too-familiar tradition of Quebec Premiers trying to get more from Ottawa and as much autonomous power as they can possibly squeeze out of the federal government.
Had Mackenzie King not stuck around for so long and the Liberals gone ahead with their alternance tradition, there is little doubt that Ernest Lapointe could easily have become Prime Minister of Canada. Lapointe served for close to 40 years as a Liberal MP and was King’s Quebec lieutenant for much of that time. During his dozen years as Justice Minister, Lapointe made great strides for Canadian independence on the international scene and was busy at home, often locking heads with William Aberhart’s government in Alberta.
Lapalme is currently sitting dead last in this contest so it’s really gonna take a Herculean sales pitch to get him into the next round. Like Lesage, Lapalme was a federal Liberal who jumped to the provincial scene to become PLQ leader – the only problem is, he jumped a decade too early. He fought hard against Duplessis as opposition leader for much of the 50s, and was the Deputy Premier under Lesage’s government when they finally took office.
Marchand was always the wise man Pearson wanted in ’65 – Trudeau coming with him was only at Marchand’s insistence. So it’s not hard to see a scenario where Marchand, and not Trudeau, turned into the francophone candidate to become Prime Minister in ’68. Marchand made a name for himself leading the strikers at the 1949 Asbestos strike, seen by many as the start of the Quiet Revolution. After winning a seat in 1965, Marchand was appointed Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and would go on to hold several key portfolios under Pearson and Trudeau.
A poet and scholar who never ran for elected office, despite being involved in politics for much of his life. Scott was instrumental in founding the League of Social Reconstruction, the CCF and other left wing organizations in the 1930s. Along with Frank Underhill, he co-wrote the Regina Manifesto, often seen as the threat needed to scare the Liberals to the left. He fought hard against Duplessis’ Padlock Law and sat on Pearson’s bi and bi commission. In addition, he was also a constitutional expert and helped found several literary journals.
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