Duplessis had a lot of flaws, said Francois Legault, but he “defended the Quebec nation”. His judgment, mine and yours are probably clouded by the sympathetic interpretation made by Jean Lapointe in the remarkable series presented in 1978. Too sympathetic. Can we find nationalist achievements in the reign of Duplessis? Yes. A flag. A provincial tax. That is just about everything. In 18 years, that is woefully little. Was there any economic development during his years? Yes. He sold natural resources to foreign multinationals at the lowest possible price and guaranteed a brutal repression of the unions. As a result, wages were the lowest on the continent.
Was there, during his years of reign, urbanization? Yes, but it was in spite of himself. Until the end, he sang the praises of agricultural Quebec and colonization, denounced the vices of the city. Has there been an increase in the level of education? Yes, and a lot of new schools. René Lévesque’s verdict on Duplessis in education was clear: “Generalized contempt for education, degradation of teachers, electorally profitable collective stupidity, almost universal betrayal of the elites. “
Duplessis’ greatest achievement was the most anti-nationalist of all: delaying the Quiet Revolution by 25 years. Against the corrupt Liberal government of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, in 1936 he concluded an alliance with the reformers of the National Liberal Action. Their common program heralded a major reform package. Once in power, Duplessis renounced his allies, rejected their program and governed as an autocrat.
The extent of its control over Quebec affairs is simply unimaginable. He personally decided the salaries of civil servants and drew up the blacklist of people who were not to be hired by the state or by schools. Influence peddling was the rule, not the exception. No subsidy was statutory. None of them arose from a law or a regulation. To steal the election, he bought the votes with pairs of shoes, refrigerators, cash payments, cases of beer or 40 ounces. During close fights, he used strong arms. In a law in 1953, he excluded representatives of the opposition from polling stations.
Number plates ranging from 1 to 2000 were reserved for the favorites of the National Union. The police knew not to give them a ticket. However, he did vote on ” bill Picard ”to withdraw his driving license from the union leader Gérard Picard.
Duplessis was McCarthyism to the cube. He presented all his opponents as Communists. The accusation led to the point that sisters full of benevolence announced to make novenas for the salvation of the soul of the liberal leader Georges-Émile Lapalme, guilty among other things of offering a form of health insurance.
So what exactly did Duplessis do for the nation? When the other North American states built professional public services, opened universities, socialized medicine, nationalized their hydroelectricity, and legislated against work accidents, Duplessis made its lead felt on all those in Quebec who wanted to take the paths of modernity. One of his struggles was to oppose Ottawa funding the few Quebec universities. It would have been noble if he had offered to finance them himself. But he refused to do so. For him, intellectuals were “piano players” to be wary of.
Its initiatives never included the slightest cultural promotion, the slightest promotion of French-speaking entrepreneurship, the slightest defense of the right to work in French in factories. In the postwar period, Ontario subsidized the arrival of British immigrants. Duplessis refused urgent appeals (in particular from To have to) to do the same for immigrants from France. For him, the French had turned their backs on our holy mother Church and were reading index books.
What was his autonomist mantra? Lapalme, who must have listened to hundreds of hours of his speeches in the Assembly, wondered. He writes: “Electoral autonomy, negative autonomy, verbal autonomy, absurd autonomy, autonomy of filling, autonomy from nothingness. But is there anyone who has better autonomy than him? When he spoke of the threat of federal funding as “the crucifixion of the province on a golden cross”, he raised the level of autonomist offerings so that we did not see that it did not contain anything. René Lévesque writes that the autonomy of Duplessis was the “Maginot line behind which nothing should change too much”. Did he say the word “emancipation?” Never, because no matter how little it could give you ideas, ”adds Lévesque. “We felt everywhere,” he wrote again, “a need for change that he, hard cover over a boiling kettle, was stifling and with all his might even preventing it from being expressed. “
The then trade unionist and journalist Gérard Pelletier, in his memoirs The years of impatience, sums up the Chef’s work well: “Today more than ever it is important to remember that in the name of nationalism and religion, Duplessis imposed on us for 20 years the reign of lies, injustice and corruption, the systematic abuse of authority, the empire of meanness and the triumph of stupidity. We must remember that this man and his regime delayed Quebec’s entry into the modern world by a quarter of a century. This is why today positively invoking the heritage of Maurice Duplessis is to defend the indefensible, to associate with the infrequent. If he stood up for the nation, it was only one way. He forbade her to grow, to deploy her talents, to flourish. He forbade him to be modern and to be, in every sense of the word, free.