Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
December 6, 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec Historical Figures


Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959)




Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College

First elected to the Quebec House of Assembly in 1927, Duplessis became the leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec in 1933; his party joined forces with Paul Gouin's Action libérale nationale in 1935 to form the Union Nationale party which was successful at the polls in 1936.  As the leader of the U.N. party, Duplessis won every elections in Quebec until 1959, except for that of 1939. In his first administration, between 1936 and 1939, he was a great disappointment, having been elected on a progressive platform that he soon abandoned after the election. In this early period, his only claim to fame was the issuance of the controvertial Padlock law in 1937. Prime Minister of Quebec in a period of widespread centralization, in the war and post-war periods, Duplessis became the most important proponent of provincial autonomy. He made it the corner stone of his success. Among his most famous autonomist moves were the rejection of fiscal arrangements in the post-war period, the refusal of federal grants to universities, the establishment of the Tremblay Commission on constitutional problems and the creation of a provincial income tax scheme. To this day Quebec is the only province of Canada with its own income tax collection scheme. However, these popular autonomist measures were coupled with a staunchly conservative stand in social and economic affairs. Many believed his regime an anachronism, that he was corrupt, that he sold the resources of the province to the highest bidder, indeed that he was a "negro-king", that he disregarded completely human rights, that overall his years in power should be considered as ‘les années noires’ [Dark years].  This led eventually to massive frustrations which were vented after his death (Quiet Revolution). Such harsh judgments have been nuanced by the more recent research and writing on Duplessis; some praise the stability of the province and its economic performance under his rule; others increasingly recognized him as having initiated the modernisation of Quebec.

Caricature of Duplessis by Lapalme (1950's)


© 2003 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College