Other posts in this series at end of post
Here we are on another election journey. So far on From John To Justin, I’ve covered every election in Canadian history, and every election in Ontario’s history. Now, it is time for every election in Quebec’s history.
As with the Ontario series, this will be split into five episodes of hopefully relatively equal length. The first episode will feature the most elections as the early elections tend to be shorter on information compared to the elections later in the 20th and 21st centuries.
So, let’s begin.
When Confederation happened, Quebec became one of the founding provinces of Canada. As it was a new province in a new country, there was the need to elect a premier. Originally, Sir John A. Macdonald had wanted Joseph-Edouard Chauchon to be the first premier of the province and had planned to appoint him. This was met with strong opposition from the anglophones of Montreal and the idea was scrapped. Chauchon’s position on public and religious schools had caused controversy, resulting in Pierre-Joseph-Oliveri Chauveau being appointed as the first premier of Quebec. He had experience in the Province of Canada, but he had been out of politics for 12 years. Nonetheless, he was accepted and appointed on July 15, 1867.
Chauveau came from a prominent family, who had settled in Quebec in the early-1700s. One interesting fact about Chauveau was that his great-great-great-grandson is Thomas Mulcair, who would be the Leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons from 2012 to 2015. Chauveau had first been elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1844, serving until 1854. From 1855 to 1867, he was the superintendent of the Bureau of Education.
Just because Quebec had a premier, that did not mean there wasn’t going to be an election. Chauveau would appoint his first cabinet, and then called the first election in Quebec’s history. The election would take place from August to September 1867.
Chauveau was a member of the Parti Bleu, which would become the Conservatives upon Confederation. The party was well-organized and easily adapted to the election call. The Liberals, who had been the Parti Rouge, were not well organized and had opposed Confederation. The party was unable to field a full slate of candidates, had no official leader and were not ready for the election. Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere would be chosen as the leader of the Liberals, having been a member of the Legislative Assembly since 1861.
Chauveau knew that he would have to call an election soon, so he gathered around him a group of legal officers and clerks to form a public service as he prepared his party for the election.
In the election, anyone could run for the Legislative Assembly who owned property in Quebec, valued at £500 as a minimum. Voting was another matter, only male British subjects over the age of 21 could vote, and only if they owned property. Within a city or town, the value of the property had to be $300, and rural residents had to have a property worth $200. Women could not vote, nor could judges, municipal and provincial officers, and any officials who had duties related to public revenue, as well as election officials.
For Quebec’s first election, there were 65 ridings.
In order to vote, polls were held in the open air, or in buildings that were free for the public to access along a highway. Polls could not be held in a tavern or place of public entertainment.
This was described by the Montreal Star, which stated quote:
“About 500 persons assembled opposite the Courthouse when the nominations were made at 12 o’clock. The Honorable J.E. Ferrier and the Honorable C.S. Rodler proposed, seconded by Mrs. Torrance and Bellevien, that Edward Carter be elected to represent Montreal Centre in the Local Legislature.”
Luther Holton was also nominated to represent the riding, which led to speeches by both candidates. Carter would speak for 45 minutes, highlighting his services over the past four years in the Legislature. The Star stated quote:
“He also referred to his services in the Legislature last session, and spoke of the various bills we had put through.”
Holton would then speak, which the Star described as strongly, where he also spoke of his experience in public life and the importance of the local legislature.
Each Deputy Returning Officer had a poll book, and each voter would declare how they were voting. This was then recorded in the poll book. The poll book was then given to the Returning Officer, who would total all the polls in public and declare which candidate had won.
Not all the polls were completed in the same day, leading to the election being spread across two months.
In the riding of Kamouraska, no member was returned. This was because on nomination day, a riot broke out and the Returning Officer had to seek refuge. As a result, no nominations was received and no polling date was set. It would not be until 1869 that the riding would have someone elected.
In the election, Chauveau and the Conservatives won an overwhelming victory, taking 51 seats and 53 per cent of the total vote. The Liberals under Lotbiniere would win only 12 seats, and 35 per cent of the total vote.
Chauveau would be elected to the House of Commons this same year, as dual mandates were still allowed at the time. This made him both the premier of Quebec and the MP for Quebec County.
In some ridings, it was an overwhelming victory with a bit of drama. In one riding, three men put their nomination to run for the Legislature. A man named George Simard would earn 809 of 811 votes. This was because after the nominations were filed, the two men, Blanchet and Garneau, both dropped out. Dr. Blanchet was burned in effigy in front of his house after putting his nomination in, and he would not only drop out of the election, but also leave the party completely. The Montreal Gazette reported quote:
“The whole police force rushed upon the mob but were hooted away. The people dispersed in quietness.”
Over the previous four years, Pierre Joseph Olivier Chauveau established the early institutions in the province of Quebec, while also serving as the Minister of Education. His government had passed several bills to establish the public service, the Treasury Department and the Department of Public Instruction. He would continue to lead the Conservatives into the next election. By this point though, he was not popular within his own party. Hector-Louis Langevin would say of him quote:
“Chauveau is not very likeable, nor is he liked, he is just a child, he will not last.”
The Liberals were still led by Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere. De Lotbiniere had spent the past few years criticizing Chauveau openly in the press and Chauveau would find heading into the election, his work was cut out for him.
The conduct of the 1871 election continued in the same way that it had in the 1867 election. Polls were held in the open air, or buildings accessible to the public, with the exception of taverns or places of public entertainment. To vote, you simply announced to the Deputy Returning Officer who you were voting for in front of everyone. Of course, this allowed intimidation to be rampant because employers would dictate to their employees who they would vote for. They would then make sure that the employee voted that way.
The election was not held on one single day, but instead stretched from June to July 1871. In Montreal, 300 volunteer militia would be ordered to be at readiness for the last days of the election in case there were any problems. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“The canvass in the Centre Division has been continued since the rumination with great vigor on both sides.”
In the election, the Conservatives lost five seats to finish with 46, but still maintained their strong majority. Premier Chauveau would have an excellent election in his riding, where he took 1,160 out of 1,500 votes. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“Peace and goodwill prevailed throughout. The electors have responded nobly to the call of the Premier, who no doubt will receive it as a mark of esteem and confidence in his stewardship to his people.”
The Liberals rose by seven seats to finish with 19. They also increased their share of the popular vote by four per cent.
Prior to this election, the Quebec Elections Act was passed, which would replace the pre-Confederation laws that had been used in the two previous elections.
Under this act, the secret ballot was used for the first time in a Quebec election. Voters were no longer required to announce who they were voting for in front of everyone, and this would go a long way in reducing corruption in the election process. This would also be the first election in which the election was held on only one day, rather than over the course of two months as was done previously.
A voter list also had to be prepared in March of each year under the Act, based on the valuation of property and ownership used in the tax rolls. The municipal council would review the list and make corrections to it. It would then be approved and used until the following year when it was updated.
For any person to run in the election, they had to have a nomination paper signed by 25 supporters, who were all eligible to vote in the riding, as well as a $200 deposit.
The Act also required that after the election was finished, the Deputy Returning Officer would unlock the ballot box and count the ballots in the presence of candidates or their agents.
Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau was no longer leading the Conservatives. He had left politics in 1873 to serve on the Senate of Canada. This would last only one year, and he would run unsuccessfully in the 1874 federal election. After that point, he retired from politics and became a professor at Laval University.
Gedeon Ouimet would replace Chauveau as premier, but his term only lasted from Feb. 27, 1873 to Sept. 22, 1874 when he resigned as party leader over the Tanneries Scandal. This scandal erupted on July 16, 1874 when the Montreal Herald reported that the government had exchanged land in Montreal worth $200,000 for a farm west of Montreal valued at $40,000. A Conservative party organizer had received $65,000 in the deal, while three members of the Legislature resigned over the scandal. Ouimet would resign over the scandal. The Montreal Star would write quote:
“Ouimet compromised not only the dignity of the provincial government, as well as his own dignity, but accepted in advance the verdict of guilty, that so many conceited influences, and so many unfortunate circumstances, will probably draw from the treasurer.”
Ouimet was replaced by Charles Eugene Napoleon Boucher de Boucherville on the request of the Lt. Governor. He had previously served as the Speaker of the Legislative Council.
The Liberals were still led by Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere, who had been the leader of the party since 1869 and hoped to make gains in the next election. He had been a champion of railroad construction the past few years, seeing it as essential to the economic growth of the countryside, through opening up lands for colonization, helping the timber trade and bringing the province into the main stream of commerce with the rest of Canada.
Meetings would be held throughout the province as the Conservatives hoped the scandal would not hurt them on election day. In Montreal on the last day of the election, Premier de Boucherville would appear to speak in favour of the local candidate, along with others, in front of 3,000 people. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“The premier made the opening speech and was enthusiastically applauded. Lourier’s speech lost some of its freshness from the subject and matter contained in it, having been repeated so often. Frechette delivered the most violent and absurd oration that was ever heard. Honourable Chapleau’s speech was very eloquent and well received. Masson made a most masterly speech of an hour’s length. The meeting has done a great deal of good for the Conservative Party.”
In the June 7, 1875 election, The Conservatives, despite the Tanneries Scandal outraging the public, only lost three seats and finished with 43. Their share of the popular vote only fell by .7 per cent as well, reaching 51 per cent.
The Liberals would gain no seats, but lost none either, staying with 19 in the election.
Three independents would also be elected, and they sided with the Conservatives in the Legislature.
As for the tanneries affair, on Oct. 30, 1875, Francis Johnson, the judge called on to render a decision on the affair, found no evidence of conspiracy or fraud. Ouimet would say his ministry was quote:
“cleansed of every stain. Today, as before, I, their leader, can hold my head high.”
The election that came about in the spring of 1878 was an unusual one. It was on March 8, 1878 that Luc Letellier de Saint Just, the Lt. Governor of Quebec, dismissed Premier Boucherville over a proposed railway legislation. The Lt. Governor had refused to approve legislation that had already passed both houses of the Quebec Legislature. This legislation would have required municipalities to pay for their own railway construction.
This decision was made because the Conservatives had borrowed more than $7 million and used all their credit. In order to continue building railroads, the party decided to fall back on the municipalities along the rail route as they had pledged funds but not made contributions yet.
Letellier justified the measure by stating the government was acting incompetently and corruptly in regards to the railway legislation. Letellier had recently left politics where he supported the Liberals, and he made no attempt to conceal his dislike for his Conservative advisors.
He would state quote:
“After having studied the general state of the affairs of our province, after having become convinced that legislative and administrative changes were becoming more and more necessary, I decided upon using, with moderation, and with greatest possible discretion, the influence attached to my position, in order to obtain the realization of that which I deemed to be the greatest advantage to the province.”
Boucherville would complain to the Governor General, but it would do little.
With Boucherville now out as premier, Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere was brought in to form the government, giving Quebec its first Liberal government.
The Montreal Gazette wrote of the matter on May 9, 1878, quote:
“We have no disposition this morning to deal at length with this new Government. It is a straight Rouge Ministry, and on party grounds, apart from the great and more vital question of the violation of the constitutional principle of responsible government, for which it has made itself responsible, and to which it owes its existence, we are naturally opposed to it.”
The Conservative still held the majority in the Legislature, so Lotbiniere requested the dissolution of the Assembly and an election was called.
Throughout this election, the main issue was the economy, as well as the actions of the Lt. Governor. The Conservatives would attack the Lt. Governor repeatedly on the campaign trail. Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, a leading Conservative, would even open his campaign with the slogan of quote:
“Silence the voice of Spencer Wood and let the mighty voice of the people speak.”
Spencer Wood was the official residence of the Lt. Governor.
Joly de Lotbiniere would campaign on the slogan of quote:
“The province must choose between direct taxation and economy.”
For election, all hotels, taverns, shops and stores were closed, whether they were licensed or not. Any place that sold alcohol was closed during the day of voting. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $200, or six months in prison if the establishment owner failed to pay the fine.
For many, the election was a more interesting affair than in previous years. This was especially true in the House of Commons on election night. The Brantford newspaper would write quote:
“The Quebec elections excite a great deal of interest here and furnishes all absorbing topic of conversation in the chamber. Speculative telegraphs of all kinds have been received by the hundred tonight.”
On election day, there were issues with people trying to influence others at the polling stations. The Kingston British Whig would report that in one riding, the Liberals were surrounded by crowds of rough individuals who were apparently bent on interfering with voting.
The newspaper stated quote:
“An additional force of river and other police have been placed at the separate polls. The contest in this Division will be severe and close.”
In the May 1, 1878 election, Boucherville and the Conservatives lost 11 seats to fall to 32. Their share of the popular vote also fell by 1.5 per cent. The Kingston British Whig wrote quote:
“May day has proved a sombre holiday for the Blues of Quebec. Contrary to the all too sanguine predictions of the Tory press, the electors of Quebec have doomed the party of taxation and corruption to at least a four years’ term of banishment from power.”
The Liberals under Joly de Lotbiniere were able to pick up 12 seats and almost 10 per cent more of the popular vote than they had in the previous election.
The Liberals were able to hold onto power, who worked with the two Independent Conservatives to swing the number of seats in their favour, but only by one.
As can be expected, the government of Joly de Lotbiniere would not last long and while the province would not see another election until 1881, Joly de Lotbiniere would be out as premier well before that. As for Boucherville, his standing within the party had collapsed, and after the election he would bow to pressure and be replaced by Chapleau as the leader of the party.
As for Letellier, when Sir John A. Macdonald and the Conservatives won back the House of Commons in the 1878 federal election, one of the first tasks of the new government was to try and have Letellier dismissed. The Marquess of Lorne, the new Governor General of Canada would speak with the Colonial Secretary in London who advised him to follow the advice of Parliament. With that, Letellier was out as Lt. Governor on July 25, 1879. At this point, he was financially ruined and broken physically after a severe heart attack right after the election. He would suffer another heart attack and soon retired to Ottawa. On Jan. 28, 1881, he was dead.
Of course, the impact of what Letellier did would last for several years into the next election.
As we reach the 1881 Quebec election, it would be natural to think that Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere was still premier, but that was not the case. His government barely won the last election and within 16 months his government would be brought down. All of this stems from the legitimacy of the previous Lt. Governor Letellier and his dismissal of the Conservative ministry prior to the last election. The Conservatives in the House of Commons were not letting this slide and they would pass a motion to censure him, and they asked the Governor General to remove him from office. Lord Lorne then decided to speak with the British government over the matter and Lotbiniere decided to go to England himself to plead the case of the Lt. Governor. As I stated earlier, the matter would end with Letellier being dismissed.
A new Lt. Governor, Theodore Robitaille, who was a former Conservative MP, would be established and he quickly began to harass Lotbiniere. He would constantly demand explanations, reports and more from the premier. Due to the poor economy, Lotbiniere would propose eliminating the Legislative Council do reduce public expenditures. This would earn him the wrath of the council, and the Conservatives were rising up again under a new leader. To top all of this off, on Oct. 29, 1879, five Liberal MQPs joined the Conservatives and Lotbiniere could see the writing on the wall. He would ask that the Legislature be dissolved, which was refused, and he promptly resigned as premier. He was once again back as the Leader of the Opposition.
The Brantford newspaper reported quote:
“The political excitement is intense. Last night, Mr. Joly called on the Lt. Governor for a dissolution and he will likely communication his answer to the proposition today at the morning session of the Legislature. Should there be no election, Mr. Chapleau would be called upon to form a government.”
With the collapse of the Liberal government, Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau was called upon to lead the government.
The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“Once more, the province of Quebec returns to her ancient allegiance and is governed by a Conservative ministry.”
The Kingston Daily News reported on it quote:
“Mr. Chapleau has formed his government and it must be confessed it is a strong one. Mr. Chapleau himself is one of the ablest men in British America. He is a man of fierce energy, and of that magnetic eloquence so essentially Celtic in character.”
At the time, he was only 39 and considered a young and dynamic leader for the party. He the member of a family that had been in Quebec since 1626, across eight generations. At the age of 30, he would defend Ambroise-Dydime Lepine on the charge of shooting Thomas Scott during the Red River Resistance in 1870, which greatly raised his profile. He had also been an MQP since 1867, and was well respected in the Legislature. As the new leader, Chapleau would begin to restore the party and bring back unity within it. In order to hold onto power in the Legislature, he would work to form a coalition with the right-wing members of the Liberal Party. While he would fail in these regards, his government was able to hold onto power without falling until 1881.
With the downfall of the Liberals in 1879, very few expected any sort of close race. Most felt that the Conservatives would walk away with the election. The Halifax Herald would state this would be the case, even if the number of seats was not known. It would write quote:
“What the result of the approaching elections may be, of course, no one can tell, but the general opinion seems to be that Mr. Chapleau will come back stronger than in the last house.”
Overall, few people outside of the province followed much of the election. The Halifax Herald reported quote:
“The Quebec elections are exciting but little interest outside of Quebec itself. This is partly due to the fact that the result is almost a foregone conclusion and partly by the absence of any important principle dividing contestants. Both parties claim economy as the plank in their platform.”
In the Dec. 2, 1881 election, the Conservatives regained a huge majority with 49 seats won, a rise of 17 from the previous election. This was the party’s best election since the 1867 election when they won 52 seats.
The Liberals, who were fractured under their current leader Lotbiniere, would lose 16 seats to fall to only 15. They also lost nearly nine per cent of their public vote compared from the previous election.
The Halifax Herald reported quote:
“So far as heard from we have gained 15 seats and lost none. The result while not unexpected, is having a most depressing effect on our Grit friends.”
As it would turn out, by the time the next election rolled around, both leaders would no longer be the ones to take their party into the 1886 election.
As the new election year dawned, the two main parties in the province were now led by two new men.
For the Conservatives, there a few new men at the helm. Despite the promise of the young Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, he would end up not serving long as premier. On July 29, 1882, he chose to resign as premier in order to run for the House of Commons, which he was successful at in August of that same year.
For some in the province, this was looked down upon. The Montreal Gazette would write quote:
“He throws the province away like a well-sucked orange, just when to hold on any longer would reveal him as the most brilliant failure who ever made impossible promises to a gullible populace.”
The Montreal Star would write quote:
“The Conservative party in Quebec cannot be congratulated upon the exchange of offices. The new premier is not to be compared in ability with Mr. Chapleau.”
Replacing him was Joseph-Alfred Mosseau, who had been serving in Parliament at the time since 1874. He chose to leave federal politics to become the new premier of Quebec. He would serve from July 29, 1882 to January 22, 1884. As soon as Mosseau became premier, his government was almost doomed to fail. Several prominent Conservatives refused to be a part of his cabinet and the party started to fracture. It would finally collapse on Jan. 10, 1884. In an effort to keep the party in power, Sir Hector Louis Langevin would bring together the supporters of the men who didn’t support Mosseau and they agreed to have John Jones Ross become the new leader of the party.
The new man to lead the province would then become John Jones Ross. He had been in provincial politics since 1867, during which time he also served in Parliament from 1867 to 1874. In the Legislature, he was the Minister Without A Portfolio before becoming premier of the province. During his years as premier prior to the election, his party would end free-spending initiatives and practice fiscal responsibility. As a result, he was able to create a balanced budget by cutting expenses and obtaining new sources of revenue.
For the Liberals, they were now led by Honore Mercier. He had been a member of Parliament from 1872 to 1874, and he would move into provincial politics in 1879 when he was made the Solicitor General. He would become the leader of the party in 1883. The Montreal Herald wrote quote:
“When Mr. Mercier assumed the leadership of the Opposition he announced his intention of making himself and his followers respected, and we think that he has accomplished this in a manner more successful than his warmest friends could have ever expected.”
Mercier would state in the opening session of the Legislature after becoming leader that he wanted to ensure a practical and Christian education for children, and that the province use direct taxation as a means to raise public finances.
His profile rose heavily in 1885 due to his public opposition to the execution of Louis Riel after the North West Resistance. In fact, the execution of Riel, despite happening half a country away, would have an impact on this election.
The execution of Riel was something that was supported by Anglophones in Canada, but not supported by Francophones. The country at the time was led by the Conservatives, and the Conservative Party in Quebec would pay the price for that.
Throughout the campaign, Mercier attempted to force Ross to admit that he stood with the federal Conservatives over the Riel issue. Ross in return urged voters not to allow federal issues infringe on provincial politics. As the election went on, Ross would lose his voice and was forced to get his points across through a pamphlet.
By the end of September, most were expecting that the Conservatives would not win the election. The Kingston Weekly British Whig reporting that the chances of the government were very thin. It would add quote:
“The politicians on both sides are evidently beginning to spurt. Club and committee meetings are taking place nightly, and the work of organization is being pushed forward to all appearance with great vigor. It is announced that Premier Ross will be at the rooms of the Conservative Association tonight to meet his friends and Le Canadien states that the utmost enthusiasm and confidence in the coming election reigned in these same rooms last night.”
The Ottawa Journal would call the election the most eventful that had been held in Quebec since Confederation. It stated quote:
“The Riel cry has been used by the Liberal leader to inflame the passions of the French-Canadians in the province against their English fellow-citizens. It has been used to such an extent, indeed, as to create dissension in his own party, many of the English-speaking members thereof being unable to swallow the pill Mr. Mercier would fain force down their throats.”
In the Oct. 14, 1886 election, the Conservatives would win 26 seats, which saw their seat count fall by 23 but they would hold onto power with a majority government despite the Liberals having won more seats. For the Conservatives, their 29 seats were their worst-ever showing since provincial elections began in 1867. The attorney general would be defeated in his riding, describe by the Kingston British Whig Standard as an able man who failed to put himself in sympathy with the people on certain questions.
The Liberals had gained 18 seats to finish with 33, riding on the anger towards the execution of Louis Riel by the Conservative government in Ottawa. The 33 seats was the most won by the party in its history to that point.
The Ottawa Journal reported quote:
“There appears to be small reason for doubting the Conservative ministry in Quebec has gone to the wall and that Mr. Mercier has received a sufficiently large majority to warrant the resignation of the government. The journal has on several occasions indicated that the Riel agitation was almost certain to defeat the Conservatives in Quebec and it is this element in the Liberal victory which is most sincerely to be deplored.”
As can be expected, this government did not last long. Only a few months later on Jan. 25, 1887, Ross resigned and appointed Louis-Oliver Taillon to succeed him. Tallion would hold power for only two days before Mercier became the new premier of Quebec as the Liberals formed government.
Honore Mercier, the new premier of Quebec, was still in power by the time the 1890 election came along. As soon as he came into power as premier, his first speech from the throne announced several measures that would review the finances of the province. An interprovincial conference was also planned. The first bill that Mercier put through would be to incorporate the Society of Jesus, which had been slated for extinction after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 with the forbidding of new members by King George III. Mercier felt that a good way to win over new voters was to incorporate the society. As premier, he would defend Quebec’s provincial autonomy within confederation and he would campaign to abolish the federal government’s veto power over provincial legislation. In many ways, Mercier was a precursor to nationalist premiers who would come later in the 20th century. He would work with other Francophones in North America to keep them from being assimilated into English culture. He would also promote provincial reform, economic development, Catholicism and the French language as premier. This naturally gave him a great deal of popularity in the province itself.
At his interprovincial conference, only British Columbia and Prince Edward Island did not attend. In all, it had five premiers and 20 ministers who took part in discussions related to provincial autonomy. The delegates would agree to 26 resolutions that included the life appointment of senators and the existence of a legislative council in Quebec and Manitoba.
Construction had also begun during his first term on the Quebec and Lake St. John Railway, and commissions had been created to look into agriculture and mental institutions. He would also prohibit the granting of timber limits in inhabited areas, and he made settlers life-tenants on their land.
Louis-Olivier Taillion, who had served as premier of Quebec for two days in January 1887, continued to lead the Conservatives. He had been offered a place on the Superior Court of Quebec by the federal Conservatives but he had turned this down. For Tallion, he simply loved politics too much.
Through the election, Tallion would criticize Mercier for what he called pitting Anglophones against Francophones due to the Jesuits Estates Act. After the last member of the Society of Jesus had died in 1800, the government of Lower Canada took over the urban lots, buildings and more of the organization. In 1831, these properties were entrusted to the House of Assembly for financing higher education. The Jesuits returned to Canada in 1842 and they wanted compensation. Mercier would negotiate directly with the Jesuits and the Vatican over the manner, which brought the amount owing to $60,000 for the schools and $400,000 that would be redistributed by the Pope within the Catholic Church in Quebec. This Act was passed in July 1888, and in January 1889, Pope Leo XIII gave $160,000 to the Jesuits, $100,000 to the Universite Laval, $40,000 to the Montreal branch of the university, $20,000 to the prefecture apostolic of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and $10,000 to each diocese.
The election had a few instances of some shady shenanigans. In a political gathering in St. Anne De Beaupre, several politicians were giving speeches when a crowd of individuals came up and began to yell at the speakers. Luckily, the people in the crowd began to push back against the hecklers. It would be stated quote:
“The habitants were up to the mark for off went their jackets and with tucked up sleeves they pelted away at them until they fled to the fields.”
The day before the election, the Winnipeg Tribune wrote quote:
“The election agony is almost over and both sides are anxiously waiting the result of the decisive battle at the polls today. Both parties held large meetings in the city, and judging from the excitement that prevails a large vote is likely to be polled in the city today. The endorsement by the papal authorities of Mr. Mercier is being used as big card by the government supporters.”
Naturally, the election was something followed on the federal level. Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier would come to Quebec to meet with Mercier, but he would not give his total support having been in opposition to the Jesuits Act.
The same day Laurier visited, The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“The audacity of Mr. Mercier knows no bounds. He has set about with the utmost deliberation to bribe the people with their own money, and having begun to buy a majority in the next Legislature, he does not propose to fail from any lack of unscrupulousness.”
Overall, Mercier was quite confident in victory through the election.
When Mercier was asked how he felt the election was going, he would say quote:
“It is too soon to say. I was out bright and early, and in company with Honourable Mr. Boyer, voted at poll No. 9 in St. Louis Division.”
When asked what kind of majority he expected, he would say quote:
“My own impression is that it will be between 20 and 25.”
In the June 17, 1890 election, the Liberals won their second election in a row, picking up 10 more seats and five per cent more of the popular vote. The party finished with 43 seats, for a resounding majority. A total of nine MQPs would be acclaimed in the election.
Mercier would say in the Montreal Star quote:
“Some people seem to think that I mean to convey the idea that a National Party is a French Canadian and Catholic Party as opposed to an English and Protestant Party but I can assure you this view is entirely erroneous. I am and always have been well disposed to my English fellow citizens.”
The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“Mr. Mercier was fully sustained, the new constituencies created during the last session have returned Nationalists, with two exceptions. It is understood that the results far exceeded Mr. Mercier’s anticipations.
The Conservatives would lose three seats in the election. One of those seats was the seat of Tallion. He had held a seat in the Legislature since 1875, but don’t count him out yet. He still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
As for Mercier, his time as premier would be a lot shorter than he likely hoped for.
Only two years after the previous provincial election, Quebec was once again going down the road to a new election. Mercier, the man who had led the Liberals to their greatest height in the province so far was no longer premier. After winning the 1890 election, he got down to work with several changes to the province including mandating that the mentally ill be supervised by doctors employed by the province in asylums. He would also secure the passage of a bill to unite the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery with the faculty of medicine at the Laval University. He did this with the backing of Rome, which gained him support from the Catholics.
Mercier would then get behind Laurier and help him in the election, which allowed the Liberals to gain 11 seats, despite still losing to the Conservatives. Mercier then went to France for three months and upon his return found that the prime minister had died in office and rumours of corruption within Mercier’s cabinet was becoming more rampant.
On Aug. 21, 1891, a Senate railway committee found that one cabinet member had paid $175,000 for a railway contractor to do work and then received $100,000 back from the contractor. Mercier was slow to react to the scandal and he defended himself and his government poorly to the Lt. Governor. Despite setting up a Royal Commission on Sept. 18, he would be dismissed as premier by the Lt. Governor on Dec. 16, before the final report came in. Mercier’s time as premier was over.
The Montreal Gazette reported on Dec. 16, quote:
“When it became evident that Mr. Mercier would have to quit, his friends talked about barricading the public buildings and keeping him in.”
It would add quote:
“Mr. Mercier has been dismissed from his post as head of the provincial ministry. That this should be the result of the investigation has long been patent to everyone who followed the evidence.”
There would be threats of violence over the dismissal and some friends of Mercier threatened to raze the home of the Lt. Governor and told Mercier to defy him and not step down.
Charles Boucher de Boucherville, who had served as premier from 1874 to 1878, was then called to form a government, which he did despite not having a majority. Boucherville was not the leader of the party at the time, as the party had not selected a leader after Jean Blanchet had left to become a judge on Sept. 19. Knowing the government would fall quickly, Boucherville asked the Lt. Governor to dissolve government and call an election.
With Mercier no longer leading the party, Felix-Gabriel Marchand was called on to serve as leader. He had been an MNA in the Legislature since 1867 and would actually hold his seat until his death, over three decades later. Fluently bilingual, he worked as a writer, journalist and notary.
Marchand would denounce what he felt was the unconstitutional decision by the Lt. Governor to dismiss Mercier and dissolve the government on the request of Boucherville.
In the day of the election, trains from the United States were loaded with French-Canadians who were living in the country. They were coming to vote against the Conservatives on the request of Mercier. One of the men on the train would state quote:
“We have come in the hour of peril to rescue the Church and our language from destruction by the spoiler De Boucherville.”
A circular was also distributed throughout New England asking those who could vote in Quebec to return to the province to do so. The circular would state quote:
“We are now witnessing in our dear province of Quebec our constitution violated and tyrants and despots governing us and leading our beloved province to ruin.”
Despite the influx of voters from the United States, betting had the Conservatives 10 to 1 favourites to win the election.
The Montreal Gazette would write of the Conservative prospects that they were confident in the success of the coming contest, with most estimates giving the party 47 seats in the election.
In the March 8, 1892 election, the Liberals were decimated on the heels of the scandal that removed from power only three months previous. They would lose 22 seats, falling to 21 and allowing the Conservatives to regain their majority. The Liberals would lose four cabinet ministers in the election.
The Conservatives picked up 28 more seats, finishing with 52. They would also pick up seven per cent more of the popular vote than in the previous election. Boucherville, for the second time in nearly two decades, was once again the premier of Quebec. The 52 seats won by the party was the most since it had that same number in the first election in Quebec’s history in 1867.
The Ottawa Journal would write of the election quote:
“The one topic on the streets today was the result of the Quebec elections. Conservatives and Liberals alike freely discussed the vote and almost all were, if not pleased, at least content. Regarding probably no other election ever held was there so little dissatisfaction on the part of those politically allied to the losers. The Liberals felt that Mercier’s government had disgraced them.”
Senator Francis Clemow, a Conservative, stated quote:
“Yesterday’s great defeat simply shows that the people are disgusted with Mercier and his bloodling propensities. The people of the province want an honest government, and they are now going to have it.”
As for Mercier, despite being acclaimed in his riding, he was financially and personally ruined. Brought to trial later in 1892, he was found not guilty after a second report cleared him of wrongdoing. His health quickly began to go downhill at this point and in 1894, at the age of only 54, he passed away.
The Ottawa Journal wrote quote:
“Honore Mercier died this morning. The end had been expected any moment during the preceding 24 hours and hope of recovery had been given up weeks ago. After his defeat at the general elections of March 1892, his friends expressed the opinion that he had only six months to live, but by dint of adopting abstemious habits of living, he managed to prolong existence longer than had been expected.”
At the time of his death, it was stated his body was a mere skeleton, having wasted away from his 185 pounds only a few years previous.
The article finishes quote:
“He was naturally a genial man and had warm friends until the last, although many of those whom he befriended when in power knew him not in his adversity.”
Marchand would win his riding by only 167 votes. It may seem like he was going to be someone to fade into history, but despite coming in as a quick replacement for Mercier, he would actually become a capable leader for the party and would return it to a great height but not quite yet.