1966: Union Nationale defeats Lesage's Quebec Liberals
Quebec elections are never dull because they are full of colourful characters, intrigue and more than a few surprises. Whether it's the Liberals ushering in the Quiet Revolution with their 1960 win, or the emotional 1976 election of René Lévesque and his separatist Parti Québécois, the voting habits of our belle province guarantee to fascinate.
• During the 1960s, Quebec underwent a period of rapid social and political change that became known as the Quiet Revolution. It began with the 1960 election of Lesage's Liberals - an election that marked the end of a 16-year reign of the traditional, extremely conservative Union Nationale party.
• As part of the Quiet Revolution, the Liberals introduced sweeping changes in areas such as education, health care and labour. But Lesage's 1966 election loss was partly blamed on his inability to convince the population of the merits of those changes. "In a democracy where the military cannot be used to keep the people in line, the people must be sold on the idea that the revolution belongs to them. Mr. Lesage forgot to sell," explained a June 7, 1966, Globe and Mail editorial.
• The educational reforms were particularly vexing to many Québécois. School restructuring resulted in numerous students being bused outside of their neighbourhoods, which meant they couldn't come home for lunch. Many rural Québécois saw such changes as a threat to family unity. Lesage "believed that his program was in the best interest of Quebec - and he was probably right - but he did not convince the farmers that their children should bus 20 miles to and from school," said the June 7 Globe and Mail editorial.
• As the Liberals pursued their social, economic and political reforms between 1960 and 1966, Johnson was making efforts to re-invigorate the Union Nationale. He brought younger people into the party. He also had regional and national meetings to work on defining "a programme more in tune with the times," according to historian Claude Bélanger. "Johnson worked incessantly in the trenches trying to regain the old support of the party," wrote Bélanger in a short online biography of Johnson.
• Many Québécois saw the 1966 election as the end of the Quiet Revolution. But once in office, Johnson did continue with numerous Quiet Revolution reforms, albeit in a much slower and less aggressive fashion. He followed through with many of the educational plans, including the establishment of the CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel) system - Quebec's post-secondary, pre-university school system - in 1967. However, some reforms were dropped completely, including a massive program the Liberals had planned to re-organize Quebec municipalities.
• This was the last election the Union Nationale would win. Daniel Johnson died in 1968 while in office, and was succeeded by Jean-Jacques Bertrand. In the 1970 election, the Liberals won a majority again under Robert Bourassa while the Union Nationale won only 17 seats. The party didn't win any seats in the 1973 election, and never again had a significant presence in Quebec politics. In 1989, the Union Nationale was deregistered as a political party.
• Pierre-Marc Johnson, Daniel Johnson Sr.'s son, was premier of Quebec representing the Parti Québécois for a brief period in 1985. Daniel Johnson Jr. was Liberal premier of Quebec from January to September 1994.
Program: Sunday Morning Magazine
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1966
Guest(s): Pierre Bourgault, Frank Hanley, Daniel Johnson, Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, Jean Lesage, René Lévesque, Herbert Quinn
Last updated: January 31, 2012
Page consulted on April 30, 2013
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