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Union nationale leader Maurice Duplessis, Premier of Quebec from 1936 to 1939 and from 1944 to 1959, the year of his death
Maurice Duplessis

Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959)

There is no lack of epithets to describe Union nationale party leader, Maurice Duplessis. Many regard him as the saviour of the race, the paragon of French Canadian nationalism; others depict him as an autocrat, a dictator and a xenophobe. It was said of Duplessis that he managed Quebec in the manner of a lawyer become store manager. Newspaper editor André Laurendeau for Le Devoir ruthlessly referred to the Premier as the Negro King of Quebec. That said, it is important to place the man in his context. René Lévesque rightly wrote that "Duplessis reflected part of his era." He then added, "He also exacerbated it."

A lawyer by training, Maurice Duplessis ventured into politics for the first time in the elections of 1923 as a Conservative Party candidate in his native riding of Trois-Rivières. He lost, but tried again in 1927. This time he won. He was re-elected in 1931 and became leader of the Conservative Party two years later. Then, as leader of the Union nationale, he sat as a member of the Legislative Assembly for the riding of Trois-Rivières from 1936 until his death in 1959. Duplessis dominated political life for 18 years. No other politician in Quebec in the 20th century has been Premier for as long as Duplessis. A populist through and through, he drew crowds. At the Legislative Assembly, he was a formidably sharp debater and his adversaries were often taken aback by argumentation bordering on electioneering. Duplessis left no one indifferent, sparking passion among both admirers and critics.

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