Other posts in this series at end of post
Three decades since Quebec had joined Confederation, it was going through another election and this one would shift the political landscape of the country and it wouldn’t change until the country was only a few years away from the Second World War.
The Liberals were still led by Felix-Gabriel Marchand, who was hoping to lead the party to prominence after a poor showing in the previous election, one in which he nearly lost his own seat. The previous five years, Marchand had been rebuilding the Liberal Party and raising his profile throughout the province. Known as Pere Marchand because of his seniority in the party, he would speak in public in terms of reason, although he was not known for his fiery speeches. He also had a major ally in his corner, Wilfrid Laurier, who would become the Prime Minister of Canada in 1896. Restoring credibility to his party was his main concern from 1892 to 1897, and as opposition leader he would propose budgetary constraints, the abolishing of the Legislative Council, civil service cutbacks and reductions in ministerial spending. On Dec. 11, 1895, he gave a speech that told voters the province’s finances were terribly and he would propose a party truce for the common good of Quebec.
As he headed into the 1897 election, his popularity was high, voters loved the Liberal Party of Canada, and he was ready to take his party to the promised land.
The Conservatives were now led by Edmund James Flynn, who had taken over the leadership of the party in 1896. Louis-Olivier Taillon had left the party to join federal politics as the Postmaster General in the very short-lived government of Charles Tupper. He failed to win a seat in the federal election of 1896, and now found himself out of politics. As premier, Flynn was mostly concerned with public works and improving the quality of primary education in the province. His time as premier was not easy personally though. Two of his daughters would die from tuberculosis, a disease that would eventually take two other daughters in 1898 and 1906. Heading into the next election, he was not in an easy situation.
In the election campaign, Flynn would focus on the achievements of the previous year, of which he had accomplished quite a bit despite his limited time in power. He asked voters to judge his party on his programs and the results, and to not let the popularity of Wilfrid Laurier to sway their vote.
He would say in one speech quote:
“I ask for the judgement of the province of Quebec. I will not boast as Mr. Marchand did the other night that I have victory within my grasp but I will tell you here tonight that I have the utmost confidence in the people of the province of Quebec. Our desire is to elevate the people of Quebec, educate our compatriots and make them better.”
Marchand would focus his campaign on the government record of the Conservatives, telling voters that the Conservatives had managed the finances of the province poorly. He would be aided by the campaign organizers of Laurier, who were coming in hot after their election win.
During one stop in Montreal, the Gazette stated of Marchand quote:
“The leader then proceeded to blame the government for having so many so-called independent candidates in the field. He, in fact, had counted no less than 12 who were ashamed to show their true colors, and who were trying to pass off as independents. Mr. Marchand also said the government supporters were afraid to discuss the true issues before the people.”
The day before the election, the Ottawa Journal predicted that it would be a close election, with neither side claiming a majority of more than 10 to 12 seats. The editorial stated that the Liberals were confident because of the federal Liberal victory, while the Conservatives were confident because they carried a huge majority in the last election.
This election would be the first to take place after the Quebec Election Act of 1895, which put into law that persons whose names were entered on the voters’ list as tenant and who were not, at the time the voters list were last revised, actually residing at the premises for which their names appeared, were not allowed to vote.
One interesting aspect of this election was that the Manitoba Schools Question actually had very little impact. While it was a major factor in the demise of the federal Conservative Party and the rise of the federal Liberal Party, and it did play a part in the Ontario election, it was a non-issue in Quebec. The issue was whether or not there should be separate schools for Catholics in Manitoba, which the provincial government had attempted to put down. This issue began in the early 1890s and grew in importance to become the main issue of the 1896 federal election.
In the May 11, 1897 election, the Liberals scored a landslide victory by gaining 30 more seats than they had in 1892, to finish with 51 for a dominant majority in Parliament. They also gained an excellent nine per cent more of the popular vote. The 51 seats won by the party was the most the party had ever won to that point, eight more than the highest total of 43 in 1890.
The Winnipeg Tribune wrote quote:
“That the Liberal Party should be victorious in the Quebec elections was not wholly unexpected but the overwhelming majority by which they have carried the day was not looked for by even the Liberals themselves.”
The Conservatives would collapse, losing 28 seats and fell to the role of the Official Opposition for only the fourth time since Confederation. The 23 seats won by the party was its worst showing in the 19th century and its steepest drop in seats in its history.
The Victoria Daily Times wrote quote:
“The Conservatives are stupefied. They counted on Flynn being sustained and did not dream of defeat.”
The Kingston Whig Standard would add to this stating quote:
“The result of yesterday’s election was a simple Waterloo for the Flynn administration. So complete was the disaster that not only is the government beaten, but it is reduced to an almost insignificant opposition.”
Overall, the voting was stated to be quite light in various parts of the province. In Montreal for example, only 60 per cent of eligible voters came out to vote in the election.
After the election, the Conservative Party would never again lead the province. Flynn would be the last Conservative premier the province ever had, and the Liberals were embarking on a 39 year domination of provincial politics.
The new century had dawned, Canada was going through a federal election and Quebec was about to go through its own election.
The previous few years, the government of Marchand had attempted to create a Ministry of Education. At the time, all of education in the province was handled by the Roman Catholic Church, which made Quebec unique in Canada. While Marchand attempted to create the ministry, the church was still very powerful in the province. His legislation would make it past the Legislative Assembly but was defeated in the Legislative Council. Quebec would have to wait 66 years until the Quiet Revolution before there was a Ministry of Education.
Marchand got the provincial finances under control and was able to record some surpluses thanks to a booming economy.
Unfortunately, the strain of the failure of the education ministry would take its toll on Marchand. His health began to take a turn for the worse and he would work at a slower pace while trying to get his ministry set up after its first failure. On March 9, 1900, he would present a bill to abolish the Legislative Council and would make a speech stating that those on the council represented private interests only and not the public. Feeling too sick to finish his speech, he withdrew from the assembly. By May he had stopped working altogether and in September he was confined to his bed. On Sept. 25, 1900, he died in the home of his son-in-law.
The newspaper would state quote:
“Integrity is in mourning, our ancient honour wears the crape of sorrow.”
The leadership of the party now suddenly fell on Simon-Napoleon Parent. He had been part of the Legislature for the previous decade, and surprised many when he was chosen to become the premier following the death of Marchand. The choice had been made by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier because of admiration and loyalty for his friend.
Then, only a month after he became premier, he was leading the Liberals into the next election just as the federal election finished.
The Conservatives were still led by Edmund James Flynn, who was trying to pick up the pieces of the party after its staggering loss in the 1897 election. An able Leader of the Opposition, he was handicapped by the popularity of the Liberals and the booming economy that ensured the public was happy with the government.
In the election campaign, Flynn would run a campaign that was described as half-hearted and unsuccessful in its attempt to denounce the federal interference in provincial politics, with Laurier choosing the new premier. He also had issues with the election coming so soon after the federal election.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Mr. Flynn protests against the elections coming so soon as unjust to the electors who will have to foot the bill. Mr. Flynn also finds fault with the time of the year chosen. The government’s object, he claims, in bringing on the elections so rapidly, is to stifle discussion.”
Flynn would also issue a protest against the dissolution of the Legislature and the shortness of notice between dissolution and polling day, which was only three weeks.
Flynn would attempt to drum up as much support as he could, touring through the province. The Montreal Star reported on Nov. 16, quote:
“Honorable E.J. Flynn arrived in Montreal last evening in the best of health and ready for the coming campaign. He drove at once to St. Lawrence Hall, where a large number of gentlemen met him. An informal meeting was held at which reports from various constituencies were made and in ever case there seemed to be a belief that good organization and honest work would result in a victory for the party under Flynn.
While that may have seemed positive, other Conservatives seemed to know that the writing was on the wall before the election date even arrived. The Montreal Star would write that one Conservative stated quote:
“We are not surprised that the general sentiment among Conservatives inclines strongly in favor of abstaining from opposition.”
In the Dec. 7, 1900 election, the Liberals increased their seat total by 16 to finish with an incredible 67, the most ever won by a party in Quebec to that point, and the most that would be won until 1916.
The Conservatives would lose 16 seats, falling to seven, the lowest point for the party to that point, and the lowest amount of seats won by a party to that point in Quebec. It would not be until 1916 that a party would sit with less than six seats in the Legislature.
The Calgary Herald wrote quote:
“The Quebec general election, which was held yesterday resulted in another Liberal sweep, and as a result, the Conservative force in the next Legislature will be reduce to a corporal’s guard.”
Flynn had made the decision to run in a riding that the Conservatives had won every single election since 1867, with the exception of 1890. The unpopularity of his party was apparent when he won the riding by only 41 votes.
Parent had an easier time in his riding, having been returned by acclamation. Parent was not the only one, an astounding 37 Liberals were re-elected by acclamation. Even with the seats won by acclamation, they would have soundly defeated the Conservatives. Only two ridings in all of Montreal actually had a contest between two individuals. Every member of the premier’s cabinet were also elected by acclamation.
Overall, the election was a quiet affair and very few people actually voted. The Montreal Herald wrote quote:
“Very little interest was taken in the election and a very light vote was polled.”
This was shown in the fact that while the Liberals won the largest majority in provincial history to that point, they actually lost .5 per cent of the popular vote compared to the previous election.
When it comes to leaders for the two main parties in Quebec, nothing changed as the 1904 provincial election approached. In fact, as we will find out, very little would change through this election. I would say, this might be the election with the least happening that I have ever seen.
Simon Napoleon Parent still led the province and the Liberal Party, thanks to his massive majority from the previous election. Parent had chosen to continue the policy of Marchand of administrative honest and circumspection, as he said, choosing to run the province as a business. The first two years after the election were prosperous ones for the province, and good ones for Parent. By 1902 though, there were serious issues that he had to confront, one of which was the business community of Quebec putting pressure on the government to pressure the federal government with the Trans-Canada Railway project, which would link places like Quebec City with James Bay. When the government of Wilfrid Laurier stalled on building the railroad, and then decided that it would go through northern Quebec and Ontario towards Winnipeg, missing Quebec City, Parent was criticized for not pressuring the federal government more.
As the election campaign started, the Conservatives believed they had little chance of winning and stated that the sudden election call, which came one day after Wilfrid Laurier won his federal election, was an anti-democratic move to eliminate any sort of campaign since the election itself was only a few weeks later.
The Halifax Herald would state quote:
“A general election deranges business and if Mr. Parent had any idea of appealing to the people this autumn, he should have done so contemporaneously with the Dominion general election. It is true he tried the same trick four years ago and succeeded. But there is such a thing as trying a trick once too often.”
Flynn would sign a manifesto denouncing the actions of Parent. Flynn also ordered his followers to challenge the legitimacy of the election by abstaining from it. Flynn would also choose not to run in the election.
The Regina Leader-Post published quote:
“Mr. Flynn, leader of the Conservative Opposition, takes exception to the action of Premier Parent in advising a dissolution of the present time. On behalf of the Conservative party in Quebec, has announced they will place no candidates in the field and as a means of protest, will allow every Liberal to be returned by acclamation.”
Not everyone would listen to Flynn, with some still choosing to run in the election. Many considered Flynn and the Conservatives to be engaging in childish behaviour.
The Victoria Daily Times would report that a number of candidates wanted to still run in the election, feeling that traditions must be preserved and the party connection maintained with the electorate.
The Winnipeg Tribune would report quote:
“Mr. Flynn’s manifesto advising absolute political inaction is not likely to inspire hope or confidence in his following. How does he hope to mend matters if all his supporters follow his example? Is he simply waiting until his opponents, gorged with the fat things of office, begin quarreling over the spoils?”
As can be expected, there was little interest shown in the election, both in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. Only two ridings had any sort of contest, and both of those were between Liberal candidates.
In the Nov. 25, 1904 election, nothing changed. Literally, nothing. The Liberal Party gained no seats and lost none, finishing with 67 once again. They would also gain 2.2 per cent more of the popular vote.
The Conservatives also gained no seats but lost none, finishing with seven once again. This time though, due to Flynn’s statement to abstain from the vote, they lost 15 per cent of the popular vote.
While Parent had won another victory, he would face a massive revolt in his own caucus, and within a few months, he was out as premier of Quebec. Flynn, having not run in the election, had no seat in the Legislature and would soon resign as leader of the Conservative Party.
After an election that was pretty low-key and, shall we say, boring, four years would pass before it was time for another election in Quebec. This time, the previous leaders were gone and both parties were hoping for some major changes from the last election. The Liberals hoped to increase their majority, while the Conservatives hoped to once again form government.
Lomer Gouin led the Liberals after Simon-Napoleon Parent was ousted by his own party in 1905. Soon after winning the 1904 election, internal rivalries within the party started to increase and Parent stated he would be willing to resign, but would not so soon after an election out of the worry that it would demean him. Philippe-Aguste Choquette and Joseph-Hormidas Legris accused him of using his own influence to benefit his business interests. Parent in response sued them and they were unable to prove the allegations. Then, on Feb. 3, 1905, three ministers, including Gouin, resigned from the cabinet. Parent refused to resign and instead shuffled his cabinet. Then, on Feb. 8, 44 MQPs demanded his resignation. At this point, he knew he was beat but he would not resign until March 21. Soon after, Gouin became premier and Parent was appointed the chairman of the Transcontinental Railway Commission by his friend Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.
Within the Liberal Party, Gouin was praised as a successor to Mercier, and Gouin would continually pressure the government to give his province more autonomy. In 1907, he would ask the federal government to allow him to expand the northern border of Quebec. This would not happen until 1912. Gouin also worked to attract English Canadians to Quebec and American capital to ensure that the economic growth of the province continued. He was also strict in his control of the resources of Quebec. In 1910, he banned the export of pulpwood cut on Crown lands in the province. He then opened a number pulp mills in the province so the wood could be harvested in Quebec and shipped to the United States.
Gouin was also in favour of prohibition. In 1908, he would reduce the number of places that could serve alcohol in Montreal and Quebec City, while also increasing fees for licences.
On the Conservative side, the party was now led by Pierre-Evariste Leblanc. First elected to the Legislature in 1882, it was hoped he would lead the party to its former glory after several disappointing elections. After the travesty that was the 1904 election, Edmund James Flynn resigned since he never even ran in the election. This necessitated a new leader and Leblanc had served as a chief lieutenant for Flynn for years and was seen as the perfect person to replace him.
There would be some accusations of shady actions in the election. An F.D. Monk would call attention to the fact that $8,000 worth of whiskey had entered Thetford Mines to be distributed to the electors in the area without having paid duty.”
Due to accusations of corrupt practices, both Gouin and Leblanc would express their readiness to give a pledge to conduct a pure election and they would encourage their followers to do so as well.
Under the Quebec Election Act, which had been amended, no person could keep a factory, workshop or shop open between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on the afternoon of the provincial election. Doing so meant a fine of $100. Overall, this legislation was very unpopular in the business community of Quebec. The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“There are scores of large factories which simply cannot afford to shut down for half a day whenever a member of the Legislature is to be chosen by the constituency in which they are established.”
The Conservative Party would be very active in the election, holding meetings across the province in order to drum up support. The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“The Conservative Party are very busy now and there is scarcely a night that meetings are not on the table.”
The first big rally of the election was held by the Conservatives at Monument National in Montreal, where 40 of their candidates would be on hand to drum up support on May 18.
Despite this support, most felt that the election was a mere formality and that the Liberals would cruise to another victory. The Montreal Witness wrote quote:
“On broad lines, it appears to us that Mr. Gouin has deserved well of the electors and should be given their confidence. Mr. Gouin has deserved well of the province in many ways, especially in the educational reform to which he has attached so much importance, and which he promises even more materially to assist.”
In the June 8, 1908 election, The Liberals would lose 10 seats but still finish with a large majority of 57 seats in total. Despite the loss of seats, the party still had more seats than at any point in the 19th century. The party also picked up four seats by acclamation.
Gouin would run in two ridings, as was allowed, but he would lose in his home riding of Montreal No. 2, which he had represented since 1897. This forced him to represent his riding of Portneuf.
The Winnipeg Free Press wrote quote:
“The net result of the elections is that the Gouin government will go back, but will have to face a much larger and stronger opposition, while the premier will have to return with the worst kind of black eye in that he was defeated in his home riding.”
The man who defeated him in that riding, Henri Bourassa, would claim many corrupt practices in the election including Gouin’s faction delaying the list of polling places until just before the election, which prevented Bourassa’s workers from notifying their followers where to vote.
The Conservatives would regain seven seats to reach 14 seats, a modest showing for the party. It was the first time the party had double digit numbers in seats since 1897.
Le Canada would report quote:
“The Conservative Party remains as badly beaten as in 1904. The Liberals, in spite of the defection of a part of their forces, have gained a brilliant victory. The province of Quebec has anew asserted its confidence in the Liberal Party, which has given it ten years of honest administration.”
Despite representing his riding of Laval since 1882, and despite the fact that the people in his riding threw him a large party in 1907, Leblanc would lose his seat in the election. The result of that election was declared invalid on Nov. 19, and in a subsequent by-election on Dec. 28, he once again lost. At this point, Leblanc would leave politics and go back to law. He would do okay for himself though, he would become the Lt. Governor of Quebec in 1915, serving until his death in 1918. An interesting fact about this election is that both party leaders would go on to serve as Lt. Governor of Quebec. Gouin would serve from Jan. 10, 1929 to his death on March 28, 1929.
It would be a full four years before Quebec residents headed to the polls once again. During that time, Quebec went through some changes when the amount of ridings were increased from 74 to 81, representing the largest jump in ridings in the province’s history to that point.
Lomer Gouin was still leading the Liberal Party and the province at this point, having won his first election in 1908. Over the previous term, he was receiving increased pressure to enact prohibition within the province. Like other provinces, the temperance movement was growing in strength but unlike other provinces, the political power it wielded would be less in Quebec.
Gouin had also changed the provincial voting system prior to the election, giving the vote to almost all men aged 21 and over, while eliminating the plural voting that allowed electors to cast a ballot in every riding that they owned property. While he expanded the vote, he was highly opposed to giving women the vote. In fact, it would not be until 1940 that Quebec would finally give women the vote in provincial elections. The automobile was also increasing in popularity and Gouin would form the Department of Highways and begin to put more money into the development of highways within the province.
He would also continue his expansion of education in the province, establishing several normal schools to train teachers, he had teacher salaries raised and he provided more funding to elementary schools. He would also introduce bills to create technical schools in the province as he wanted more participation among French Canadians in the economic development of the province.
Since Pierre-Evariste Leblanc had lost his seat in the previous election, he was no longer the leader of the Conservative Party in Quebec. The new man at the helm was Joseph-Mathias Tellier, who had been first elected in 1892 to the Legislative Assembly. In 1909, he took over as leader of the party, hoping to guide it to at least more success in the upcoming election.
When the election call came in the middle of April 1912, no one was surprised by it as most felt it was time.
The Sault Star wrote quote:
“The announcement that the local elections for the Province of Quebec would be held almost immediately did not come as a surprise to anyone. It was an open secret that an appeal to the people would be made with the least possible delay.”
While Wilfrid Laurier was no longer prime minister, having lost the 1911 election, he would come to Quebec to assist the Liberals in their campaign. At one stop in Hull, he was greeted warmly by the crowd. The Ottawa Citizen wrote quote:
“Sir Wilfrid Laurier was received with prolonged cheering. He explained that he had come to the meeting quite by accident. He had been away in the States and somewhat out of touch with the situation. His wife, who was a good soldier to the cause, had called his attention to Sir Lomer’s meeting and had said, you must go. He had obeyed.”
Tellier appeared to be doing well in the election. At one point, he spoke in front of 2,000 people including the Mayor of Montreal, three federal cabinet ministers, several MPs and many members of his own party. He would say in his speech quote:
“Sir Lomer Gouin should remember that the season of bad roads was also the season of floods and that it is quite possible that his government will be carried out of power on the wave of popular opinion and that is the fate which is awaiting the Gouin government if it gets its desserts at the hands of the people.”
Gouin did not appear to get large crowds. During one stop in Montreal, poor weather meant only a couple hundred people came out to see him speak. In terms of optics, this was not a great look. Most of his campaign was focused on the accomplishments of the party over the previous four years, while also contradicting the claims of Tellier against him. He would say at one point quote:
“Look over your city and show me where there is any right or privilege lacking that others have, and I will see you get it.”
For most, it was felt that the Liberals winning was a foregone conclusion. As a result, the Montreal Star, which was firmly in support of the Conservatives, tried to sway the vote by putting doubt in the minds of voters about majority governments. It stated quote:
“The most fatal gift which a province can send a strong premier, is an overwhelming majority. Every prime minister of experience knows this to be true. When there is no opposition in the Legislature to be seriously considered, then the premier, who would like to be honest, has no defence against the grafter and the franchise seeker, who bring him their unheeded and unwelcome support.”
Two days before the election, it would be claimed by some that Tellier was heading towards a majority government in the Legislature. The Montreal Gazette would cite two men who were close with the Conservative Party, who stated that in daily communications they were claiming that Tellier would win at least 43 seats.
Henri Bourassa would say that Tellier would carry several ridings and would come to the Legislature without quote:
“A stain and will make a safe and progressive prime minister.”
The Vancouver Province would be the most accurate in the election when it stated quote:
“Leaders on both sides give out optimistic statements, the Conservatives predicting a landslide, while the Liberals assert that their record will be approved by the people. Sir Lomer Gouin, who said last week he would concede only 23 seats out of 82 to the Opposition, was quoted yesterday as saying that he believed they could not possibly capture more than 15.”
By the time election day rolled around, there were several libel cases due to mud slinging between candidates. Most of the lawsuits involved suing for between $900 and $1,000.
The Calgary Albertan stated quote:
“All the actions are based on statements made during the present electoral battle.”
In various ridings, parties were shepherding voters to the polls to get out the vote, which was expected to be low. In Quebec City there was less enthusiasm but balloting was proceeding quickly for those who did vote.
In the May 15, 1912 election, the Liberals once again continued their dominance. Thanks to the increased number of seats, Gouin and the Liberals finished with 62 seats, five more than they had in the previous election.
The Conservatives also benefited from having more ridings in the province, and they would pick up two seats to finish with 16. While they didn’t pick up that many more seats, the party did earn three per cent more of the popular vote. The 16 seats were also the most the party had had since 1897 when they picked up 23 seats.
After the election, Tellier would continue to serve as the Leader of the Opposition until 1915 when he was replaced by Philemon Cousineau. In 1916, he became a Quebec Superior Court Judge and from 1932 to 1942, he was the Chief Justice of Quebec.
After another four years, Quebec residents were back at the polls as the Liberals and Conservatives both vied for their votes. Lomer Gouin continued to lead the Liberals, still refusing to give women the vote despite the growing trend in the west to grant the vote to women.
One of his major tasks throughout the four years from 1912 to 1916 was dealing with the Quebec school system. He promised the Archbishop of Montreal that he would not secularize the education system and he would block adoption of several bills that were meant to create a department of education, standardize text books, introduce compulsory education and require all teachers to hold a certificate of competence.
By the time the election had come around, Canada was two years deep into the First World War. While there was a great deal of recruitment in English Canada, recruitment remained slow in French Canada. The next year, that would lead to the Conscription Crisis as the government of Sir Robert Borden implemented conscription, something heavily opposed in Quebec, which would hurt the federal Conservative Party for decades to come in the province. Gouin, for his part, supported Canada’s participation in the war and he would attend a rally on Oct. 15, 1914 in Montreal where he spoke about the duty of French Canadians to help both England and France. Throughout 1915 and into 1916, he would appeal to Quebecers to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He would also work with the federal government to encourage the war effort. That being said, he would be strongly opposed to conscription when it came about after the election.
In 1913, Gouin had also met the Pope, where he raised the concern he had for the struggle of French-Canadians in Ontario who were fighting against a resolution to limit the instruction of French in Ontario schools.
The Conservatives were not led by Joseph-Mathias Tellier anymore. He stepped down as leader in 1915 and would be replaced by Philemon Cousineau. Formerly the Major of St. Laurent from 1905 to 1909, he was relatively unknown and his work was cut out for him to go against the juggernaut that was the Liberal Party. He had been in the Legislature since 1908, a relatively short time compared to others within the Conservative Party.
The Conservative Party would often use the word Kaiser to describe Gouin, in an effort to equate him with the German leader during the First World War. Arthur Sauve, the Conservative Deputy Leader, stated quote:
“Nothing would have been done for agriculture had it not been that the federal government presented the Gouin government with hundreds of thousands of dollars for this work. The next premier of Quebec will be Mr. Cousineau.”
The growing rift between Anglophones and Francophones in Canada over the war was also something Cousineau brought up in his speeches, calling for the two sides to work together, rather than break apart. He would say during one speech on May 19, quote:
“The present situation is that we are fighting the Gouin government. Our adversaries want to turn the question. They say that Cousineau is a traitor, that he betrays the French-Canadians in Ontario, that he betrays his race. These are only the little men of the Liberal Party.”
Attacking the Liberals, with little in the way of their own platform or promises, was the main focus of the Conservative campaign. He would say at another rally in front of 1,000 people on May 17 quote:
“Our unscrupulous adversaries are trying to exploit the most sacred beliefs of the people of the province. They make appeals to the patriotism of the people of the province. Real patriotism would be to take note of the true economic position of the province.”
In another rally in Montreal on April 28, he would say quote:
“I have no hesitation in saying that the government is rotten.”
Cousineau would also criticize Sir Wilfrid Laurier for being involved in the provincial election and making appearances for the Liberals in Quebec. Cousineau would state that it was a provincial election and not a federal election.
The Liberals in contrast to the Conservatives would tout their previous record, stating that Gouin had kept his promises since coming to power in 1905. Walter Mitchell, an Member of Parliament would say according to the Montreal Gazette quote:
“Sir Lomer has given good, sound, honest business administration to the province for eleven years and if there was a change of government, there would have to be more substantial reasons than those advanced by Mr. Cousineau.”
Like with previous elections, it was a mostly foregone conclusion that the Liberals would be returned to power. In the 1916 election for example, 23 Liberals were acclaimed before the election even happened.
In the May 22, 1916 election, Gouin and the Liberals once again won another election, picking up 13 seats and finishing with a then-record 75 seats. By this point, the Liberals had won six elections in a row, twice as many as the Conservatives had won in a row during their most dominant period. The 75 seats won by the party was also the most any party would win until 1931.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“The province of Quebec has renewed its expression of confidence in the Gouin government in a most striking and flattering fashion. So complete a mandate to a government could not be secured in this or any other province without a pretty general obliteration of party lines.”
Gouin would say of his victory quote:
“I must say that I am very much satisfied with the results. I cannot say that I am surprised by the number of Liberal members elected because I have learned to know the province and I felt sure that our administration was approved by the people.”
The Conservatives suffered a terrible collapse after making gains in the previous two elections. They would win only six seats, the lowest the party had won to that point.
The Star would continue in its article quote:
“It is unfortunate that the Opposition has been left so weak. An Opposition is as much an essential part of our system of government as a majority behind the ministry. It does no government any good to be faced by feeble criticism.”
As for Cousineau, he lost not only the election but in his own riding, ending his career in the Legislature. He said on election night that he would seek election in another riding but was done as the party leader. As it turned out, he decided to leave politics completely. He would be okay though, as in 1920 he became a Quebec Superior Court judge.
Lomer Gouin continued his dominance of Quebec politics, continuing to serve as premier of the province that he had led since 1905. Gouin had spent the previous years dealing with the growing rift between Quebec and Canada over the Conscription Crisis. After Wilfrid Laurier had rejected a coalition with the Conservatives in the House of Commons over Conscription, Gouin chose to do the same when he was approached with a similar offer. Gouin was fiercely against conscription and due to the age of Laurier, who would die only two years later, Gouin led the federal campaign for the Liberals in Quebec in the 1917 federal election.
Gouin would also allow one of his MQPs to present a notice of motion stating that the province of Quebec would be prepared to accept the breaking up of the Confederation pact if the other provinces considered Quebec’s rejection of conscription an obstacle to the development of Canada.
When the war ended in 1918, Gouin was at the peak of his power and was highly popular in Quebec. He was even seen as a successor to Laurier, who was in failing health. Due to his popularity, Prime Minister Robert Borden asked Gouin to join his Union Government, which Gouin refused.
In February 1919, Laurier died and would be succeeded by William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Macleans would write of Gouin around this time, stating quote:
“For ten years he had been uninterruptedly Premier of Quebec with a moral guarantee that he could occupy the premiership by an overwhelming majority until he should be gathered to his father.”
Gouin would oppose the federal government’s plan to nationalize railways at this time, and he would push for lower tariffs to help the Montreal business community, as well as his powerful friends in the province.
The next election did not have to be called until 1921 in Quebec, but Gouin, seeing his popularity was at an all-time high, chose to call the election two years early in order to begin his plan for the development of hydroelectric power in the province and the pushing for further colonization in rural areas of the province.
Macleans would write quote:
“There does not seem to have been any pressing reason for holding the elections just then. The government certainly had not exceeded its mandate. Perhaps Sir Lomer, like Anteaus, just wanted to touch his feet to earth again, to renew his strength. The formal reasons given were that the government had had a war mandate, now it wanted a peace mandate.”
In opening his election campaign, Gouin would conjure up the memory of Laurier in a hall in Quebec City, stating quote:
“We cannot forget that for over 30 years you elected without a break a man whose teachings and remembrance we keep in the depths of our hearts. That man, as you are aware, brilliantly embodied for nearly a century the great idea that bring us together here at this moment.”
Going against Gouin was Arthur Sauve, who had taken over as leader of the Conservative Party in Quebec in 1916 from Philemon Cousineau. Sauve had been elected to the Legislature in 1908 and was popular within the party. He proved to be the natural person to take over.
The Conservatives were going into the election with their backs to the wall due to the decision by the federal Conservatives to support conscription. Whether Sauve and the Conservatives supported conscription or not, it didn’t matter, as their brand was tarnished in Quebec.
In the election 43 Liberals were elected by acclamation as they had no Conservative opponent. Only one Conservative candidate was acclaimed and that was Sauve.
The Conservatives mostly campaigned on the principle that the Liberals were exploiting the residents of Quebec, especially with calling the election early. Sauve would call Gouin an emperor who treated the province like his empire.
The issue of the early election would be a contentious one in Quebec in some circles.
The Montreal Gazette would write quote:
“The potent objection to a general election is not that it disturbs the currents of business. Provincial elections when no vital issue is at stake are rather diverting, but that it involves a considerable expenditure of public money that could be avoided.”
Sauve would say quote:
“At the last session of the legislature, the legislation of the most important kind that was enacted, was that which came from Ottawa such as the Workmen’s Housing Bill and land for returned workers. The government could not have chosen a worse time for elections.”
On June 23, 1919, the Liberals lost one seat, to finish with 74 and once again took a massive majority in the Legislature.
The Montreal Star stated quote:
“The result, of course, was foregone. The only area for political figuring was between the minimum of six and the maximum of 15 seats which the Opposition might secure.”
The Conservatives also lost a seat, finishing with only five, but were still the Official Opposition. This was the lowest amount of seats the party had ever had, or would ever have, in the Legislature. In fact, other than when the Union Nationale lost all its seats in 1973 and 1981, it is the lowest amount of seats ever won by a major party in the history of Quebec elections.
The Montreal Star stated quote:
“This Opposition weakness naturally throws a heavy responsibility upon the ministry, and particularly upon the man who has dominated and is personally responsible for its record.”
Parti ouvrier, a Labour Party, did reasonably well, electing two candidates from a slate of six that went up for election.
Despite the loss, Sauve would stay on as the leader of the party, likely due to a lack of options. He would lead the party through to 1930 and while he did not have much luck against the Liberal juggernaut of the time, he would be elected to Parliament, serving from 1930 to 1935, and was made a Senator in 1935, serving until his death in 1944. His son would do what he never could, become premier, serving from 1959 to 1960.
The most shocking part of the election was the decision by Gouin to leave power. He wanted his last election to leave his successor a large mandate and he had accomplished that. He would serve for one session into the spring of 1920 and then on June 21, 1920, gave a farewell speech. On July 8, 1920, he resigned as premier. In 1921, he was elected to Parliament, and would serve as the Justice Minister until 1924. He would then be named the Lt. Governor of Quebec in 1929, serving for two months until his death on March 28, 1929. He ranks third among all premiers of Quebec for time in office, but unlike the men who served longer, he left the party stronger than when he came in.
With Gouin no longer the leader of the Liberal Party and Quebec, the role of premier fell to a new man, Louis-Alexandre Taschereau.
Taschereau had first been elected to the Legislature way back in 1900 and was one of the longest serving members of the Legislature. He was a natural to take over from Gouin, especially considering he had been the Minister of Public Works from 1907 to 1919.
As premier, he began to challenge the traditional agrarian society dominance that was prevalent in Quebec at the time, as well as the Roman Catholic Church that held so much sway. He attempted to reform education and the social service, but this was often met with hostility from the church. He was also an advocate for the exploitation of the hydraulic potential of the waterways in Quebec and saw it as an opportunity to bring in American investment to develop Quebec’s potential when it came to industry and stop people moving to the United States.
Arthur Sauve still led the Conservatives, and hoped to rebound from the terrible showing for the party in the last election when his party only picked up five seats, the worst in history to that point.
Macleans would write before the election quote:
“There is considerable unrest among the habitants but the Opposition is weak and none too strongly lead. It numbers only five in a chamber of 85 and Leader Sauve is far from being Napoleon.”
The calling of the election caught the Conservatives off guard, which was likely the point for the Liberals. Suave would state quote:
“I have little to say for the moment on the dissolution, which really means taking us by the throat. I did not think that the Lt. Governor would consent to the dissolution.”
Sauve criticized holding an election in the winter, but Taschereau would state that winter elections had happened before, adding that Mr. Sauve had not caught the death of cold. He would state quote:
“It is said that weather conditions are bad, and that may be true for candidates, but not for electors.”
The Liberals would campaign on what they had done for agriculture, and their efforts to modernize Quebec. Taschereau would state in a speech that kicked off his election campaign on Jan. 19, quote:
“We need no better proof of the success of our agricultural policy than the utter failure of the farmers’ movement in this province. While the same movement is carrying everything before it in the West and also in Ontario, it collapsed most miserably before the sound common sense of our farmers.”
At the time, the economy was doing well in the post-war boom, and the Liberals were still relatively popular. The conscription crisis, despite now being six years in the past, was still forefront in many minds and it would continue to hurt the Conservatives in Francophone heavy ridings for years to come, even though it was the federal level Conservatives who instituted conscription during the First World War.
That being said, there was discontent in the province and it was the hope of Sauve and the Conservatives that they could bring in those who were unhappy with the Liberals and boost the party’s numbers in the election.
During an event at the Monument National on Feb. 2, police had to throw 60 people out of a meeting as they were heckling Taschereau, amongst the crowd of 2,000 who came to hear him speak. The Montreal Star wrote of that scene quote:
“Suddenly, the door was pulled to by superhuman effort on the part of the police. A moment later an unconscious man was dragged out of the crowd and revived. Two or three women, their hats and clothing awry, gave up the endeavor and went home. A fat policeman came out of the middle of the crowd, puffing, and lamenting the disappearance of many buttons from his great coat.”
Sauve would campaign on attacking the government, stating that it had spent too much time in power. He would also promise that if elected, he would cut the red tape in the Legislature and cut costs at the Department of Justice so that it was simplified for those who were dealing with poverty. He would state in a speech quote:
“The legislature of the Taschereau government is making a race of functionaries of our people. Individual initiatives is impossible any more without trekking to Quebec and know-towing to ministers. The delegations which travel to voice their grievances or ask for reforms are treated with contempt or indifference by these eternal masters of power.”
In the Feb. 5, 1923 election, Taschereau and the Liberals lost 10 seats but still finished with a large majority of 64 to take the election. The party also lost half a percentage point of the popular vote compared to the previous election.
The real story was the surge ahead by the Conservatives, who picked up 15 seats to finish with 20. Still the Official Opposition, the party also earned 22 per cent more of the popular vote than in the last election. In Montreal, the Conservatives took 13 of 15 seats. The 20 seats won by the party was the most the party had since it had 23 in 1897. Unfortunately, this would be the high point for the Conservative Party in the 20th century and it was all down hill from here.
Macleans reported quote:
“To be sure the Taschereau Government was returned by a good majority, and from the outside everything looks lovely. Under the surface, it is different, quite different. For the Sauve opposition practically swept the Liberals off Montreal Island.”
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