Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
23 August 2000

Biographies of Prominent Quebec Historical Figures


Honoré Mercier


Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College

(1840-1894) One of the co-founders of the Parti National in 1871. Elected to the House of Commons 1872-1874. Elected to the Quebec House of Assembly 1879-1894. Minister in the Joly cabinet in 1879. Leader of the Liberal party of Quebec 1883-1894. Prime Minister of Quebec 1886-1892. Honoré Mercier is well-known as the first nationalist Prime Minister of Quebec and as the father of the traditionally autonomist stand of the province. His party came to power in 1886 as a result of the Riel Rebellion. The hanging of Riel had demonstrated to Quebec the futility of counting too much on its political strength in Ottawa to defend its rights and point of view. At the time of Confederation, Cartier had argued that the strong presence of a French Canadian block of members in the governing party in Ottawa was the best safeguard - the first line of defence - for French Canadian rights. Mercier argued, during and after the elections of 1886, and the central question in this election was the Riel hanging, that the autonomy of the provincial government of Quebec now constituted the best guarantee for the protection of French Canada's culture and rights. He organized, in 1887, the first Interprovincial Conference at Quebec City. The aims of the Conference were to assert the autonomy of the provinces in the face of Macdonald's centralization and, as they had done in 1864 at the Quebec Conference, to bring about constitutional changes which would be more favourable to the provinces. His administration marked the beginning of the preeminence of the principle of provincial autonomy in Quebec and of an increasing separation between federal and provincial politics in Quebec’s affairs and political parties. His administration was dismissed, following a scandal, in 1892. While Mercier had not been personally implicated in the scandal, several of his ministers and associates had been.

© 2003 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College