Union Nationale (Quebec)

Union Nationale (Quebec)

The Union Nationale was a political party in Quebec, Canada, that identified with conservative Québécois nationalism. It was created during the Great Depression and held power in Quebec from 1936 to 1939, from 1944 to 1960 under the leadership of Premier Maurice Duplessis, and from 1966 to 1970.


The party started as a loose coalition of legislators, the Action libérale nationale (a group dissidents from the Liberal Party of Quebec) and the Conservative Party of Quebec. In the 1935 Quebec election the two parties agreed to run only one candidate of either party in each district. The Action libérale nationale (ALN) elected 26 out of 57 candidates and the Conservatives won 16 seats out of 33 districts. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/documents/23.html Bilan du Siècle, 1934: Manifeste de l'Action libérale nationale] ]

Conservative Leader Maurice Duplessis became Leader of the Opposition. He soon rose to prominence as he used the "Standing Committee on Public Accounts" to expose the corrupt practices of the Liberal government of Alexandre Taschereau and force it to call an early election.

Capitalizing on his success, Duplessis called a caucus meeting at Sherbrooke's "Magog Hotel" and received the support of 15 Conservatives and 22 ALN members in favor of a merger of the two parties under his leadership. [The choice of "Magog Hotel" had a particular significance. This is where Duplessis had been chosen as the Conservative leader in 1933.]

The new party had no formal ties to the federal Conservatives. It ran candidates in every district and won a majority of the seats in the 1936 election. [Patricia G. Dirks, The Failure of L'Action Libérale Nationale, ISBN 0773508317, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, Montreal, 1991.]

First term of office

Even though Duplessis had run on ideas inspired from the ALN platform, he soon alienated his most progressive legislators. René Chaloult, Oscar Drouin, Joseph-Ernest Grégoire, Philippe Hamel, François Leduc and Adolphe Marcoux quit the party, while Rouville Beaudry and Grégoire Bélanger left politics.

The government adopted a farm credit policy in 1936, which was popular in rural areas where lived the party's most loyal base of supporters, but for the essential the administration of Maurice Duplessis protected the status quo. For instance, it gave the Catholic clergy government money to provide public education, health care and other social services.

Also, the legislature passed the "Act to protect the Province Against Communistic Propaganda", better known as the Padlock Law, in 1937, which provided evidence of Duplessis's interest in appearing tough on communism.

World War II

Duplessis called an election briefly after Canada declared war against Germany. Federal Cabinet Member Ernest Lapointe, the Quebec lieutenant of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, promised that no one would face conscription if voters supported the Liberals. The pledge was devastating to the Union Nationale, which lost the 1939 election.

While serving in as His Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the party opposed Women's suffrage which was enacted by the government of Adélard Godbout in 1940.

econd time in office

The Union Nationale enjoyed a surge after a majority of Canadian voters allowed the federal government to pass conscription. Duplessis, who would later create a provincial income tax equal to 15 per cent of the federal income tax, [Michael Derek Behiels, Prelude to Quebec's Quiet Revolution: Liberalism Versus Neo-Nationalism, 1945-1960, p. 199] claimed that Adélard Godbout failed to impose the strict respect for the principles established in the Constitution Act of 1867. The Liberals received a plurality of the vote in the 1944 election, but a majority of the seats was won by the Union Nationale.

World War II prosperity kept unemployment low. Machine politics, fiscal conservatism and a program of rural electrification consolidated the dominance of the Union Nationale over the province. The government of Maurice Duplessis adopted the current flag of Quebec to replace the Union Jack. It won a landslide victory in the 1948 election, leaving the Liberals with only a handful of seats. Until the 1952 election, the Liberal delegation to the Legislative Assembly consisted of only a handful of members who came almost entirely from Montreal's West Island. It was not until 1953 that their leader could win a seat in the institution. [Conrad Black, Duplessis, ISBN 0-7710-1530-5, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1977.]

Duplessis's administration was not flawless. Its relation with labor in general and trade unions in particular was difficult and led to a number of strikes. The government was also accused of being too strongly aligned with the Catholic clergy, bashing Jehovah's Witnesses, receiving insufficient royalties for the extraction the province's natural resources and allowing election fraud for its own benefit.

Nonetheless, the Union Nationale was re-elected in the 1952 election with a reduced majority, and in the 1956 election. Moreover, its influence was made obvious when its organization helped defeating Mayor of Montreal Jean Drapeau in 1957 and getting John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservative candidates getting elected in the 1958 federal election

Modernization and last term of office

Duplessis died in 1959. Paul Sauvé succeeded him, but he also passed away after only three months in office. Antonio Barrette took over and called an election in 1960, which was won by Jean Lesage's Liberals. The new government implemented a vast program of social changes, which is now known as the Quiet Revolution.

Daniel Johnson, Sr. became the leader of the Union Nationale in 1961. He was chosen by party delegates rather than by his colleagues only. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/1449.html Bilan du Siècle, 23 septembre 1961 - Élection de Daniel Johnson au poste de chef de l'Union nationale] ] The party lost the 1962 election, but it held a convention to discuss its platform in 1965 and opened its structures to card-carrying supporters. [ [http://www.quebecpolitique.com/quebec/histoirepolitique-mar-en.html Québecpolitique.com, Political History of Quebec, March] ] Johnson published a book called "Égalité ou indépendance" (Equality or independence), which appealed to a number of nationalist voters. Even though the Liberals won a plurality of the vote in the 1966 election, the Union Nationale won a majority of the seats. Among the newly elected MLAs, there were three former federal politicians: Rémi Paul, Jean-Noël Tremblay and Clément Vincent.

Johnson set a slower pace, but sustained many reforms initiated by the Liberals. His administration established CEGEPs ("Collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel", or "College of General and Vocational Education") in 1967, abolished the Legislative Council of Quebec and completed the dam and the generating station of Manic-5 in 1968 and laid the groundwork for the public health insurance plan that would later be implemented by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa.


The official visit of French President Charles de Gaulle in Canada in 1967 and Daniel Johnson, Sr.'s sudden death in 1968 left the party divided between its nationalist wing and members who clearly positioned themselves as a federalists. The latter prevailed when Jean-Jacques Bertrand won the party leadership over Jean-Guy Cardinal, [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/22492.html Bilan du Siècle, 21 juin 1969 - Tenue d'un congrès au leadership par l'Union nationale] ] but the controversy over a language legislation known as Bill 63 prompted a number of nationalist supporters as well as legislators such as Antonio Flamand and Jérôme Proulx to join the Parti Québécois. [ [http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-0-17-1300-7521/politique_economie/loi_101/clip4 La « loi 63 » soulève l'ire des francophones, Radio-Canada, April 5 1977] ]

In addition, the Union Nationale lost a portion of its conservative base, including MNA Gaston Tremblay, to the Ralliement créditiste. Bertrand was unable to inspire voters and the party seemed to have lost touch with Quebec society. While the Union Nationale managed to obtain the status of Official Opposition, it finished third in the popular vote behind the Parti Québécois in the 1970 election.

Gabriel Loubier took over as leader and the party became known as "Unité Québec" from October 25, 1971 to January 14, 1973. Under his tenure, the party was wiped off the political
1973 election. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/2328.html Bilan du Siècle, 19 juin 1971 - Élection de Gabriel Loubier au poste de chef de l'Union nationale] ]

In 1974, former UN Cabinet Member and interim leader Maurice Bellemare won a by-election, and the party once again was represented in the National Assembly. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/22527.html Bilan du Siècle, 30 mars 1974 - Accession de Maurice Bellemare au poste de chef intérimaire de l'Union nationale] ] On May 31, 1975, the party merged with the tiny Parti présidentiel, a group of Créditiste dissidents led by Yvon Brochu, and kept the Union Nationale name.

In May 1976, business owner Rodrigue Biron, a former card-carrying Liberal supporter who had no experience in provincial politics, was chosen as party leader. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/22494.html Bilan du Siècle, 22 mai 1976 - Élection de Rodrigue Biron au poste de chef de l'Union nationale] ] [Bellemare tried to flush out potential candidates for the leadership of the UN (such as former Liberal cabinet minister Jérôme Choquette) by calling a leadership convention for May 1976, but was unsuccessful. See: "Montreal Gazette", "UN’s Bellemare lets Choquette do the dirty work", 7 August 1976] His impulsive policy statements and poor relations with the old guard of the party had led to resignations of party officials, including Jacques Tétreault, who had been his most serious opponent for the party leadership. In September 1976, Biron abandoned a projet to unite his party with Jérôme Choquette's Parti National Populaire, despite prior efforts made by the two groups. [Montreal Gazette, "PNP, UN to join forces", 4 August 1976, p.1]

The Union Nationale made a modest recovery in the 1976 election, winning 11 seats and 18.2% of the popular vote, but in 1980 Biron quit the party to sit as an independent and joined the Parti Québécois. Michel Le Moignan, the MNA for the district of Gaspé, took over as interim leader. By then six Union Nationale MNAs had already crossed the floor, moved to federal politics or retired from public office, leaving the party with only five seats.

Collapse and deregistration

On January 9, 1981, federal Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Roch LaSalle was acclaimed leader of the Union Nationale. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/22528.html Bilan du Siècle, 9 janvier 1981 - Accession de Roch Lasalle au poste de chef de l'Union nationale] ] As it did under Loubier seven years earlier, the party failed to win a single seat to the National Assembly. La Salle resigned as leader and returned to federal politics. He won the federal by-election that was called as a result of his resignation and the Union Nationale never won another seat in any subsequent election. [ [http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/pages/evenements/22529.html Bilan du Siècle, 24 octobre 1982 - Accession de Jean-Marc Béliveau au poste de chef de l'Union nationale] ]

In the 1980s and in the early 1990s, the Union Nationale no longer could rely on a significant get-out-the-vote organization or attract any media attention. The electorate was increasingly polarized over the constitutional issue and even conservative voters would support either the federalist Liberals or the sovereigntist Parti Québécois in provincial elections.

Furthermore, a number of small conservative and créditiste parties were created and were in competition with the Union Nationale for the few thousands of votes that were still up for grabs. [Those parties included André Asselin's Progressive Conservative Party of Quebec, Jacques E. Tardif's Unité Québec and Jean-Paul Poulin's Parti crédit social uni.] The situation accelerated the demise of the Union Nationale.

On June 19, 1989, Pierre F. Côté, the Chief Electoral Officer for the Province of Quebec, withdrew the party's registration, bringing an end to the party after more than 50 years as a political force in the province. As a result of this decision, it was no longer able to receive contributions or make expenditures. The next day, the interim leader of the party, Michel Le Brun, told a reporter that he would contest the decision before the Quebec Superior Court, arguing that the decision was unfair, and a violation of both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was the first time in Quebec that a party had lost its official status as a result of its debts. [ [http://archives.radio-canada.ca/IDC-0-17-1343-8046-20/souvenirs/politique_economie/fin_union_nationale Radio-Canada archives] ]

Le Brun was able to resurrect the Union Nationale under the name "Parti Renaissance" on June 26, 1992. The "Parti Renaissance" ran candidates in two by-elections in 1993, but the party did not field any eligible candidates in the 1994 election and lost its registration on August 27, 1994. [Liste des partis politiques provinciaux ayant perdu leur autorisation, Directeur général des élections du Québec]

Although another attempt was made to revive the Union Nationale in 1998-99, the party was not registered and it no longer exists. The Action démocratique du Québec was established about at the same time and has since made a significant breakthrough in the districts that were once considered the base of the Union Nationale support.


The media claimed that the Parti Québécois was going through a phase of "Union-Nationalization" ( _fr. unionnationalisation) when, in the mid-1980s, it chose Pierre Marc Johnson as its leader and put the issue of Quebec sovereignty on the back burner. [Gérard Bergeron, Ànous autres, Aide-mémoire politique par le temps qui court, Université Laval, 1986]

Party Leaders


ee also

* Action démocratique du Québec
* Political parties in Quebec
* List of Quebec general elections
* National Assembly of Quebec
* Parti conservateur du Québec
* Parti National Populaire
* Politics of Quebec
* Timeline of Quebec history
* Unité-Québec

External links

* [http://www.assnat.qc.ca/fra/patrimoine/ National Assembly historical information]
* [http://www.quebecpolitique.com/ La Politique québécoise sur le Web]

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