and Federal Elections, 1867-2006
Department of History,
the time when Confederation was seriously under discussion, much attention was
focused, by the Fathers of Confederation, on the Federal Parliament. There were
long debates on Ontarios insistence on Representation according
to Population and for the other provinces to obtain safeguards against the possibility
that one day Ontario might contain the majority of the population of Canada, and
hence control the House of Commons of the country. The position and role that
each province was expected to play in the Federal government and Parliament was
carefully weighed by all parties, and the colonies that were least populated hesitated
in joining the union, for fear that they would not have a strong enough voice
in the political institutions of Canada. Quebec, although a large province, also
expressed fears as to its participation and influence in the new federal government.
However, Cartier assured his compatriots that if he was given 65 strong members
from Quebec to follow him, that he would continue to make and unmake governments in Confederation, as he had done, he claimed, during the period of the Union. Thus, they should
not fear, as their influence in federal affairs would continue to be great. Was
that promise fulfilled? What influence has Quebec had in federal elections since
Essentially, the analysis
presented here is divided into two parts: first, a macro-study of the three periods
that the voting pattern of Quebec seems to disclose. This study is based on the
data that is found in the statistics part of the site. Aside from identifying
the characteristics of each period, an attempt will be made to explain the shifts
that took place. The second part will examine the characteristics of Quebecs
vote in federal elections. On the whole, Quebec has voted as a block, has voted
for the winner, has supported the favourite son and has refused to
vote for third parties, unless they came from Quebec and were specifically dedicated
to defending the interests of Quebec. Overall, a great deal of rationality was
displayed by the people of Quebec in their voting behaviour in federal elections.
three periods in the Quebec voting pattern
Conservative period (1867-1891): In the period after Confederation, the Quebec
voting pattern continued the trend that had been established prior to 1867, especially in the period of 1848 to 1851.
At that time, the leader of the French Canadians, Louis-H. Lafontaine had
united with Robert Baldwin to lay the foundations of the Liberal-Conservative
coalition that was to be known eventually as the Conservative party. The party
was based on the idea of compromise between the sectional interests of Ontario
and Quebec, and a modest package of reforms, including Responsible
Government. It respected the autonomy of its constituent
parts, which in Quebec meant the bleu policies, ultramontane support,
pro business stances, dual leadership and efforts to secure anything essential
for la survivance. By the time of Confederation this coalition was
led by George-Etienne Cartier, an ally of John A. Macdonald who was the Prime
Minister after Confederation (1867-1873, 1878-1891). Until the elections of 1891,
with the exception of the 1874 election following the Canadian Pacific Scandal,
Quebec remained solidly behind the Conservative party. For a long time, there
appeared too few reasons, if any, to vote otherwise. Macdonald paid attention
to Quebec, made certain that it got its fair share of patronage, stayed away as
much as possible from contentious issues, always kept the counsel of a strong
lieutenant from Quebec (Cartier, Chapleau, Langevin) and manoeuvred reasonably
well through the minefield of sectional issues. The crafty politician managed
to keep the support of the Catholic Church of Quebec at the same time as the Orange
lodges of Ontario!
Liberal period, 1891-1980: While the hold of the Conservatives over Quebec
appeared to be strong until 1891, in reality several factors were coming together
toward the end of the first period to doom the Conservative party in Quebec. First,
there was the ageing leadership of the party [see Lovell C. CLARK, « Macdonalds
Conservative Successors, 1891-1896 », in John S. MOIR, ed., Character and Circumstance,
Toronto, Macmillan, 1970, 239p., pp. 143-162] and the losses which death or resignation
brought [Cartier, Chapleau, Langevin; on this point see H. Blair NEATBY and John
T. SAYWELL, Chapleau and the Conservative Party in Quebec, in Canadian
Historical Review, Vol. 37, No. 1 (March 1956): 1-22 and Andrée DESILETS,
La Succession de Cartier, 1873-1891, Société historique du Canada,
Rapport, 1968, pp. 49-64]. Then there was a continuous rift between
the ultramontane faction of the party and its more moderate wing in Quebec (the
moderates will leave to join the Liberals). Also, the Conservative party found
it increasingly difficult to reconcile the Quebec wing of the party with the Ontario
one. The issues of Riel and minority schools profoundly divided
English and French Canada, and the Macdonald government, caught between the two,
did not manage these issues well, or at least, did not manage them to the satisfaction
of many people in Quebec. Mostly, the Liberal party took steps that were
to result in a great deal of success in Quebec: they proceeded to shed the old rouge radical image that so frightened the Roman Catholic Church in
Quebec, they challenged before the Courts the undue influence the
Church exercised in political affairs [see the case of Brassard et al. V. Langevin, Supreme Court Records, Vol. 1 (1977) pp. 145-234. This case of Undue Influence
is well known as it involved Hector Langevin himself. His election was declared
null and void. Langevin's brother was the Bishop of Rimouski!], they divested
themselves of the old Clear Grit tradition, with its explicit intolerance toward
Quebec, and most importantly, they chose Wilfrid Laurier, a French-speaking and
Roman Catholic Quebecer, to be the leader of their party [on the role of Laurier,
see H. Blair NEATBY, Laurier and a Liberal Quebec; A Study in political Management.
Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1973, 244p.]. Already, following the Riel hanging
in 1885, Macdonald had lost the political control of Quebec; with the election
of Laurier to the leadership of the Liberal party, the transfer of the political
allegiance of Quebecers to the Liberal party was completed. From 1891, there started
the long love affair between the Liberal party of Canada and the province of Quebec.
It was to last until the elections of 1984. Only once in 26 elections, in 1958,
did Quebecers not give the plurality of their federal seats to the Liberal party!
One could hardly imagine more faithfulness to a political party.
is the explanation for this long Liberal ascendancy? At the outset, one should
note that nothing resembled more the Conservative party (and policies!) of the
XIXth century than the Liberal party of the XXth century. Both were run on the
basis of compromise, with a sharp eye on keeping French and English Canada satisfied.
Both managed the question of la survivance very well and stayed away
from divisive issues. When such issues had to be confronted, they were sensitive
to the Quebec point of view as was shown with conscription in the Second World
War; Quebecers did not miss the sharp contrast between the way King had managed
conscription compared to Borden in the First World war, or the way the Conservative
party proposed to deal with conscription in the Second World war [ see J. L. GRANATSTEIN, The Politics of Survival: the Conservative Party of Canada, 1939-1945,
Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1967, 231p.]. The Liberals sought to bring
prominent Quebecers into their party, listened to their counsel, promoted them
and, in this period, chose three of them to become leaders of their party [Laurier
from 1887 to 1919, St. Laurent from 1948 to 1957, Trudeau from 1968 to 1984].
When the party was led by an anglophone, a strong Quebec lieutenant was associated
with the leader and somehow endowed with extra prestige; Ernest Lapointe was the
classic example. Not only could Quebecers recognise themselves in the leadership
of the Liberal party, they could also relate to their policies. Increasingly,
the Liberal party promoted an image of a bilingual and bicultural Canada [the
Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was appointed by Lester B.
Pearson], of a tolerant society, charting an independent course from Great Britain
and devising social programmes in the interest of ordinary Canadians. By contrast,
the Conservative party appeared foreign, as le parti des Anglais,
pro business, imperialist, opposing all the symbols of nationhood, including the
flag that Quebecers strongly supported. Their leaders were perceived as not so
open and tolerant, and caring very little about Quebec [see Marc LA TERREUR, Les
Tribulations des conservateurs au Québec. De Bennett à Diefenbaker, Quebec,
Presses de l'Université Laval, 1973, 267p.]. The memo of Gordon Churchill, in
the late 1950s, questioning the need for the Conservative party to seek
support from Quebec was both instructive and typical in this respect [see Gordon
CHURCHILL, "Recollections and Comments on Election Strategy", in Queen's
Quarterly, Vol. 77, No 4 (winter 1970): 499-511]. Only when Robert Stanfield,
and later Joseph Clark, became leaders of the Conservative party did the party
start to make inroads into the hearts and minds of the Quebec people. Both set
out to master the French language, the first among Conservatives to have done
that seriously, with the possible exception of Robert Manion, whose wife was a French Canadian,
and who was the leader of the Conservative party in the late 1930s.
- The post patriation period, 1984
to today: The Liberal dominance of Quebec came to an abrupt end with the patriation of the Constitution without the support of Quebec in 1982 and the subsequent resignation of Pierre Trudeau in 1984. In the last eight elections since that resignation (as of 2008), the Liberals have been unable to capture their former position of dominance, despite the selection of Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Stéphane Dion (all francophones from Quebec), as the leaders of the Liberal party. As in the case of the XIXth century shift from the Conservative party to the Liberal party, the shift that occurred in the last generation was caused both by factors within the party and outside of it.
Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec
has changed a great deal. Nationalism,
focused on Quebec, has become more and more prevalent among francophone Quebecers.
Demands for the greater autonomy of the province, for the recognition of a distinct
society status for Quebec, indeed for independence, have been made. French has
been promoted in Quebec. On all of these points, Quebec was on a collision course
with the Trudeau
conception of Canada. Logically, Quebecers should have turned against the Liberal party long before 1984. However, force of habit was still strong, the alternative was not quite ready, and moreover, Quebecers had never before refused to vote against one of their own in federal politics. The irony was that, though Trudeau continously scorned nationalism in Quebec, he was one of the main beneficiaries of it, as his compatriots continued to vote for him, at least in part, because he was "from Quebec".
within the Liberal party, two events were to weaken it in Quebec: the first was
of the Constitution by Trudeau in 1982, despite the opposition
of the government of the province. As this patriation was made by Trudeau in answer to the
promise of renewing Canadian federalism, during the referendum of 1980, this seems especially damaging. Nothing could confront the vision that Quebecers have of themselves as a separate people, equal to and freely associated with their anglophone compatriots in Canada, than the patriation of the constitution without the support of Quebec. Nothing could say more loudly that Quebec was a province just like the others. The repeated attempts made by Trudeau, Chrétien and others, to alter the perception that Quebecers have of this event have had hardly any impact at all. Ever since 1982 they are persona non grata for many Quebecers. The other event that served to confirm the divorce between Quebec and the Liberal party was the Meech Lake Accord. To the extent that the Meech Lake Accord aimed at repairing the mistakes that had been made in the patriation of 1982, to the same extent it was opposed by Trudeau, Chrétien and other Liberals. They were responsible for the demise of the Accord, although other factors no doubt entered into play. The sense of hurt felt in 1982, was repeated in 1990. This is so significant that Quebecers have refused to support Chrétien, the first Prime Minister coming from Quebec who has not been wholeheartedly supported by the province.
contrast, ever since the days of Robert Stanfield, the Conservative party had
been cultivating the support of the people of Quebec, in the best of the Macdonald
tradition. The Conservatives chose a Quebecer, Brian Mulroney, to head their party.
He worked hard at getting the First Ministers of Canada to agree to recognise
Quebec as a distinct society, and to enshrine in the Meech Lake Accord (and later in the Charlottetown Accord) several
traditional constitutional demands of Quebec. Mulroneys efforts to bring
Quebec back into the Canadian fold raised the ire of a segment of English Canada,
where Quebec bashing pays political dividends. It made him the target of incessant
Liberal attacks, of unfair characterisation, and of strident opposition from English
Canadian nationalists who saw in the Free Trade Accord and the Meech Lake Accord
the germs of the destruction of Canada. Mulroneys brazen style did not help
matters. However, the strong defence of the interests of Quebec won him significant
support in Quebec in the elections of 1984 and 1988. Since the death of Meech
Lake, and Mulroneys retirement, it is the Bloc Québécois that has received
the support of Quebec. While the Liberal party has governed Canada between 1993 and 2006,
it has done so with relatively little support from Quebec, and virtually only
from the areas of the province where the anglophone and the allophone population
main characteristics of Quebecs voting pattern in federal elections.
In analysing the data of
voting behaviour in federal elections, four main characteristics stand out: Quebecers
have voted as a block, they have usually voted for the winner, they have supported
the favourite son, and have not supported third parties, except those
that have come from Quebec.
29 of the 39 elections that have been held since 1867, Quebecers have voted
as a block. For the purpose of argument, a block vote is credited whenever at least two thirds of the total seats of Quebec have gone to the same party. A three quarters calculation would not yield substantially different results. While other provinces have frequently divided themselves between two or more parties, Quebec has resisted doing so. The exceptions have been mostly in periods of transition such as in the XIXth century or at the time of the Quiet Revolution. The "group mentality" is very strong in Quebec, so much so that two of the most successful third parties have been called blocs: the Bloc Populaire in the 1940s and the Bloc Québécois in the 1990s. Two reasons explain the block voting in Quebec: one is the strong sense of community in Quebec, of sharing a common language and culture and, consequently of seeing and appraising events and issues in a similar fashion. The other is the minority position of Quebec: it is a common phenomenon among minorities to foster group consciousness and common action to protect their rights. By definition, a minority lacks political clout and will have even less political power if it divides its votes. Thus in the same way that Blacks in the USA tend to support the Democrats, or that anglophone Quebecers support the Liberal party, Quebecers have voted as a block for the Conservative or Liberal parties in the past.
Also, until the rise of the Bloc Québécois in 1993, in 27 cases out of 34, Quebec supported the winning party. Here, Quebec
is not alone as Ontarios record is nearly as good [23 instances out of 34].
Indeed, there is a dispute as to which comes first. Does Quebec vote for the winner,
or does the party that wins Quebec (and Ontario) automatically win the elections
by the sheer electoral weight of the province? There is no doubt that if both
provinces support the same party, then that party will form the federal government.
However, indications were, at least until recently, that there was a desire in
Quebec to be part of the federal government. Belief was strong that as a minority,
and as a people, Quebecers could not afford to be out of the government. There
is little to be gained by a minority in sitting alone in opposition. This was
the reason why Quebecers voted for the Conservative party of John Diefenbaker
in 1958. Otherwise they had no reason to do so, as one could hardly get farther
from the Quebec point of view than John Diefenbaker did.
third characteristic of Quebecs voting pattern, and the most evident, is
that Quebec votes for the favourite son. By favourite son is
understood one of the family, that is a fellow Quebecer. If two Quebecers
are federal party leaders at the same time, then the one that more closely approximates
the ideas, or mood, of Quebec will win the vote. In this respect, the performance
of the Prime Ministers that have come from Quebec is nothing short of phenomenal.
Laurier won 76.9% of the seats from Quebec throughout his career; St. Laurent
won 87.1% of the seats from Quebec; Trudeau achieved an 83.2% penetration while
Mulroney managed to win 80% of the seats of la belle province. Only
Chrétien (and later Martin) has failed to live up to the tradition for the reasons raised above but
also because he was defeated in the province by Lucien Bouchard of the Bloc Québécois
who wore the mantle of favourite son. He is the only Quebec leader
to have faced another leader from Quebec in a federal election. Thus, political
parties that have chosen a Quebecer as their leaders have been very shrewd...
The last characteristic of
the Quebec voting pattern is that third parties have not been supported,
except if they came from Quebec. Historically, Quebecers have rejected the Progressive
Party (1921-1930), the Reconstruction Party (1935), the Co-operative Commonwealth
Federation (1935-1958), the New Democratic Party (1962 to today), the Reform Party
(1993 to 2000) and the Canadian Alliance (2000-2004). Only one seat was ever won by any of these parties federally
in Quebec; this was a seat won by the NDP under particular circumstances. By contrast,
the Nationalist-conservatives (1911), the Bloc Populaire (1945), the Ralliement
Créditiste (1962-1979) and the Bloc Québécois (1993 to today) have had some success.
Only the Bloc Québécois has gained the majority of seats in Quebec. Two factors
explain the lack of success of some, and the success of the others. Third parties
in Canada are usually born in a specific region of the country, and express the
views and discontent of that region. Rooted as they are in the problems of a specific
area, they have difficulty in winning support in other areas where the situation
is not the same. Leaders of third parties from outside of Quebec have rarely been
able to speak in French, or to understand the specificity of the people of Quebec.
They frequently address the province, claiming to understand the people of Quebec
who are deemed to have the same problems as other Canadians, mostly bread and
butter issues. While in a general sense this is not untrue, nothing demonstrates
the foreign nature of a political leader or party than claims that Quebecers are
just the same as other Canadians. They will not win support with such ideas. By
contrast, the third parties born in Quebec usually expressed a discontent rooted
deeply in the province, were voiced by local heroes in a language that the people
of Quebec could understand. Two excellent examples of this were Réal Caouette
and Lucien Bouchard. Both had a finger on the collective pulse of Quebec, as did Henri
Bourassa in his campaigns against the imperialism of Laurier. Yet, until recently, third parties had received
little support in the province as Quebecers refused to isolate themselves. This
last point touches on the second reason for the lack of success of third parties
in Quebec. As long as Quebecers defined themselves as a minority, requiring group
solidarity to protect their rights, it also ensured that they would want to find
other groups to make alliances so as to solidify these rights. When you are in
a minority you are powerless on your own, and you must find political allies to
protect yourself. Evidently, in Canada, this was best achieved within a national
party. However, at times, there might exist reasons why Quebec would want to give
a warning to a governing party. The best way to do so was deemed to be to elect
a third party from Quebec. This perspective has only changed lately, as the perception
of itself has changed in Quebec. People in Quebec now consider themselves primarily
as Quebecers, and as such as a majority. The Bloc Québécois has been the beneficiary
of this new vision of life.
it seems evident that there has been a great deal of rationality behind the voting
behaviour of Quebec since Confederation. Those that received the support of the
province seemed to deserve it by virtue of the interests of the people of Quebec.
Those that were rejected by the people of Quebec did not provide an alternative
that was clearly superior. When Quebecers voted for third parties, rarely did it put the
Canadian political process in jeopardy. By its voting pattern, the province
was certainly an element of stability in Canada. Many consider that it provided the country with
some of the best, most creative, and original leaders in Canadian politics.
note: There is a vast array of literature on this subject. Only a few studies
are mentioned here for further examination. John Murray BECK, Pendulum of Power.
Canadas Federal Elections., Prentice-Hall, 1968, 442p. is a classic
study that paid due attention to Quebec. Richard JONES, Vers une hégémonie
libérale. Aperçu de la politique canadienne de Laurier à King, Presses de
lUniversité Laval, 1980, 256p. updates Beck with a great concentration on
Quebec issues. Richard COHEN, Quebec Votes, Montreal, Saje Publication,
1965, 128p. This little book deserved far wider distribution than it received
at the time. It was a pioneer on the subject. On the XIXth century, one of the
best studies is by Jean HAMELIN, John HUOT and Marcel HAMELIN, " Aperçu sur
la politique canadienne au XIXe siècle", in Culture, (June-dec. 1965):
150-189, 303-322, 424-455. This was later published as a small book. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia offers a description of the various federal elections since 1867 and provides much data on the voting behavior of the various provinces. Federal elections' data will also be found in the statistics section of the Quebec History website.
© 2008 Claude
Bélanger, Marianopolis College