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Le Chef: Maurice Duplessis

Maurice Duplessis's death was a rare historical marker, forever discussed in terms of before and after. Before his death, the province basked in the postwar boom but strikers were punished, communists were hounded and the province's resources were sold to American big business. After his death, the province rallied its way into modernity with the not so Quiet Revolution. But over the past fifty years, historians and Quebecers have been constantly re-evaluating Duplessis and have drawn no certain conclusions.

To friends and foes alike, Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis is known as "Le Chef." The simple translation of this term is "the leader," but somehow this falls short of the mark. Duplessis himself recognizes his reputation is far more complex and contentious. "Duplessis the troublemaker, Duplessis the dictator," he says mocking his critics in this English-language broadcast on CBC Radio. Powerfully eloquent and unrelentingly outspoken, Duplessis skewers his opponents and charms his supporters effortlessly as heard in this speech on provincial autonomy. 
• Joseph Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis was born on April 20, 1890, in Trois-Rivières, Que.
• Duplessis studied at Laval University in Montreal and was admitted to the bar in 1913. He returned to Trois-Rivières to practice law before being elected to the Quebec legislature to represent his hometown as a Conservative in 1927.

• On Sept. 19, 1932, Conservative provincial party leader Camilien Houde resigned after receiving poor election results in 1931. Maurice Duplessis was elected to replace him in 1933. But, Duplessis had a Herculean task ahead of him; overhauling the Tory party which had been out of power in Quebec since 1897.

• Duplessis ambitiously shook up the political order and sought out a partnership with the Action libérale nationale, a party of discontented Liberals and Nationalists led by Paul Gouin.

• Liberal leader Louis-Alexandre Taschereau was returned to power in 1935 but his term would be short-lived thanks to Duplessis's accusations of corruption.
• Duplessis outmanoeuvred Gouin as leader of the coalition. On Nov. 7, 1935, Duplessis created the Union Nationale, of which he became chief. Campaigning on a platform of anti-corruption, Duplessis was successfully elected premier in the 1936 election.

• Like many of his contemporaries, Duplessis found it difficult to introduce new legislation during the economic crunch of the Depression. Nonetheless, Le Chef did manage to introduce wage regulations, modest relief funds and agricultural provisions.
• A restless population refused to give Duplessis a second-term when he hastily called an election in 1939. Duplessis made a pre-emptive strike against the federal government, which hadn't yet proposed conscription of soldiers for the Second World War, and campaigned on an anti-conscription platform.

• To Duplessis' surprise, Quebec Liberal Adélard Godbout campaigned on the same platform. With the support of three federal ministers — Ernest Lapointe, minister of justice, P.J.A. Cardin, the minister of public works, and postmaster general C.G. Power — Godbout convinced Quebecers that his government would be more able to negotiate with Ottawa should the conscription question ever be posed. Duplessis, they argued, had proven himself to be a hostile and willing adversary to the federal government.

• Lapointe, Cardin and Godbout went so far as to stake their seats in the Mackenzie King federal cabinet on the election outcome. Godbout's Liberals prevailed and secured 70 seats to the Union Nationale's 15.
• In 1944, Duplessis threw his hat in the ring again. He campaigned vigorously on the notion that the Liberals had broken their conscription promises. Duplessis won the election, capturing 48 seats to Godbout's 37.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 1, 1956
Guest(s): Maurice Duplessis
Duration: 26:41

Last updated: May 3, 2012

Page consulted on March 10, 2014

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