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Re-evaluating 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.

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History has been mostly unkind to Maurice Duplessis. In the forty years since his death, his terms in office have been collectively labeled la grande noirceur, the great darkness. But now, historians and Quebecers are reappraising the former premier. They recall the tight ship Duplessis ran -- with no debt, minimal unemployment and a booming construction industry. "We were in the dumps when he came to power; when he left we were the richest in Canada," his niece Berthe Bureau-Dufresne recalls in this CBC Television report.
• "He may have had a lot of disparagers, but it's he who opened up the North and kept the farmers from leaving their land in 1936. He built universities, schools and hospitals and he stood up to Ottawa. He listened to people. People need a confidante. And he had a radar. He knew how to detect with that big nose of his who was a hypocrite and who was good." — former Union Nationale MNA Maurice Bellemare in the Globe and Mail, Aug. 23, 1986.

• "I liked Duplessis and I think there is a revival of thought in Duplessis's favour now. He was a strong nationalist. He ran a very personalized type of government. He used to spend every morning, you know, in his room at the Chateau Frontenac phoning all over the province." — John Turner, The Long Run (1984).

• In this feature, reporter Tom Kennedy alludes to the Duplessis orphans. During the 1940s and 50s, thousands of children were sent to live in church-run institutions and mental hospitals. The children, who were born to low-income or unwed mothers, were wrongly labeled mentally incompetent. The survivors later charged that they were physically, mentally and sexually abused in the institutions, and sought compensation.

• In March 1999, Premier Lucien Bouchard apologized to the Duplessis orphans on behalf of the Quebec government. He also announced that $3 milllion would be put into a fund for orphans.

• In June 2001, Bernard Landry's government offered a settlement to the Duplessis orphans. Landry offered $10,000 per person plus an additional $1,000 for each year spent in an institution. "It was done in the spirit of compassion," Landry told a news conference. "It was the acceptance by our society of a sombre episode in our history," he added. "The recognition of it, the compensation of it materially. Even though you cannot really compensate anything totally."
• The committee of Duplessis's orphans continue to seek more compensation.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 7, 1999
Guest(s): Jean-Marc Beaudoin, Berthe Bureau-Dufresne, René Durocher
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Duration: 2:51

Last updated: March 14, 2012

Page consulted on September 11, 2014

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