Adélard Godbout

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The Hon.
Adélard Godbout
Adelard Godbout portrait.jpg
15th Premier of Quebec
In office
June 11, 1936 – August 28, 1936
Monarch Edward VIII
Lieutenant Governor Ésioff-Léon Patenaude
Preceded by Louis-A. Taschereau
Succeeded by Maurice Duplessis
In office
November 8, 1939 – August 30, 1944
Monarch George VI
Lieutenant Governor Ésioff-Léon Patenaude
Eugène Fiset
Preceded by Maurice Duplessis
Succeeded by Maurice Duplessis
Senator for Montarville, Quebec
In office
June 25, 1949 – September 18, 1956
Appointed by Louis St. Laurent
Preceded by Charles-Philippe Beaubien
Succeeded by Henri Charles Bois
Personal details
Born Joseph-Adélard Godbout
(1892-09-24)September 24, 1892
Saint-Éloi, Quebec
Died September 18, 1956( 1956-09-18) (aged 63)
Montreal, Quebec
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Dorilda Fortin
Profession Agronomist
Religion Roman Catholic

Joseph-Adélard Godbout (September 24, 1892 – September 18, 1956) was an agronomist and politician in Québec, Canada. He served as the 15th Premier of Quebec briefly in 1936, and again from 1939 to 1944. He was also leader of the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ).

Youth and early career[edit]

Adélard Godbout was born in Saint-Éloi. He was the son of Eugène Godbout, agriculturalist and Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from 1921 to 1923, and Marie-Louise Duret. He studied at the Séminaire de Rimouski, the agricultural school of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and the Amherst Agricultural College, in the American state of Massachusetts. He then became teacher at the Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière agricultural school from 1918 to 1930. He was an agronomist for the Ministry of Agriculture from 1922 to 1925.

Member of the legislature[edit]

Godbout became a Member of the legislature for the district of L'Islet in the Chaudière-Appalaches area, after he won a by-election without opposition on May 13, 1929. He was re-elected in the 1931 and 1935 elections.

Member of the Cabinet[edit]

Godbout was appointed to the Cabinet by Premier Alexandre Taschereau and served as Minister of Agriculture from November 27, 1930 to June 27, 1936.

Party leader[edit]

Shortly after the 1935 election, Conservative Leader Maurice Duplessis, a rising star in Québec politics, forced Taschereau to call the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which brought to light the existence of widespread corruption in the provincial government. The revelations made by the committee were embarrassing for several Liberal insiders. On June 11, 1936, less than a year after being put back in office, Taschereau resigned. He recommended to Lieutenant Governor Ésioff-Léon Patenaude the names of Édouard Lacroix and Adélard Godbout for his successor as Premier. Following constitutional conventions, the lieutenant governor offered the opportunity to form a government to Lacroix, who declined. He then made the offer to Godbout, who accepted. With the blessing of federal Cabinet Members, he took over Taschereau’s job as Liberal Leader and Premier of Québec. Godbout formed his first government and an election was called for August, 1936.

Godbout had remained untouched by the scandals. But despite Godbout's talks of "a new order" in an effort to distance himself from the Taschereau era, his first government lasted only two months, as his party suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1936 election. Led by Duplessis, the recently created Union nationale was put in office. The Liberals were reduced to 14 seats. Godbout lost re-election in his own district of L'Islet. He remained Liberal Leader after being reconfirmed at the 1938 party leadership convention, but T.-D. Bouchard led the parliamentary wing of the party until the 1939 election.

Premier[edit]

Godbout launching the 1939 campaign in Saint-Hyacinthe

World War II created the opportunity that Godbout needed to make a political comeback. An early provincial general election was called in 1939 and federal Cabinet member Ernest Lapointe, the Quebec lieutenant of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, took the stump for Godbout. He guaranteed that no one would face conscription if voters supported the Liberals. Lapointe would die of cancer in 1941.

Through the campaign, Godbout relentlessly repeated the formal promise : "The government will never declare military conscription. I undertake, on my honor, weighing each of my words, to leave my party and even to fight against it, if even one French Canadian, before the end of the hostilities in Europe, is mobilized against his will under a Liberal government."[1] Their promise would soon haunt Liberal politicians.

In the meantime though, Godbout made a spectacular comeback. He and 69 of his candidates were sent to the legislature. Godbout formed his second government, where he would serve as Premier and as minister of Agriculture.

Under Godbout’s premiership, the provincial government implemented a number of significant progressive legislations, laying the groundwork for the Quiet Revolution that would be implemented by the government of Premier Jean Lesage a couple of decades later. In fact, the Liberal administration delivered many of the proposals made by Paul Gouin’s Action libérale nationale in 1935.

Adélard Godbout, while Premier of Québec, published a article entitled "Canada: Unity in Diversity" (1943) in the Council on Foreign Relations journal. He asked, "How does the dual relationship of the French Canadians make them an element of strength and order, and therefore of unity, in our joint civilization, which necessarily includes not only Canada and the British Commonwealth of Nations, but also the United States, the Latin republics of America and liberated France?"[2]

Accomplishments[edit]

These measures include:

The Godbout cabinet, November 10, 1939
  1. the enactment of the right to vote for women in 1940, despite resistance from Duplessis and the Catholic Church;
  2. the establishment of a Civil Service Commission in 1943;
  3. the passage of an act that enforced compulsory school attendance until the age of 14 and the introduction of free education in primary schools in 1943;
  4. the adoption of a Labour Code that established principles governing union certification and the negotiation of collective agreements in 1944;
  5. the nationalization of the Montreal Light, Heat & Power Company, a private corporation who had a monopoly on gas and electric light in the Montreal area, which led to the creation of Hydro-Québec in 1944.[3]
  6. encouragement of French culture and language [2]

Relations with the federal government[edit]

Because he served during wartime and dealt with federal politicians who believed in a strong federal government, Godbout was pressured into abandoning a number of the provincial jurisdictions. The most notable prerogatives that he surrendered to Ottawa include:

  1. the opportunity to create and oversight a provincial unemployment insurance system (a nation-wide program was put into action in 1940);
  2. the power to tax the income of individuals and corporations, in exchange for a much more modest financial compensation from the federal government.

In a 1942 plebiscite, Canadian voters were asked to release the Government from its commitment made to the Québec voters not to declare military conscription. Even though the majority of predominantly French-speaking Québec refused, English-speakers throughout Canada accepted. Even though not that many people were forced to serve until the end of the war, the decision made by Mackenzie King to allow conscription was very unpopular in Québec. Opposition Leader Maurice Duplessis, whose criticism of the federal encroachments to the constitutional autonomy of the provinces capitalized on the population’s mistrust of the federal government, had a field day.

Electoral defeats[edit]

In the 1944 provincial election, Godbout's Liberals and Duplessis’ Union Nationale received similar shares of the popular vote, the Liberals getting slightly more votes but the UN enjoying a level of support in the province’s rural areas that was strong enough to win a majority of seats to the legislature and thus form the government.

Godbout served as Leader of the Opposition until the 1948 election. Benefiting from post-war prosperity, the Union Nationale won an overwhelming majority. The Liberals won only eight seats, six of whom were located on the Montreal Island. Once again, Godbout narrowly lost re-election in his home district of L'Islet. In 1950, he relinquished the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Senator[edit]

In 1949, Godbout was appointed to the Canadian Senate on the recommendation of Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. He remained a senator until his death in 1956.

Legacy[edit]

Observers are divided about the significance of Godbout’s legacy. Lacking the oratory skills[4] of Duplessis,[5] his main political competitor, Godbout is sometimes judged very severely.

Federalists stress the importance progressive precedents that were set under Godbout’s premiership.[2][6]

Autonomists on the other hand criticize him for taking a weak stance in the matters of the province’s autonomy.[7]

More nuanced analysis claim that, being in power during World War II, he served in a difficult time, despite the shortcomings of his relations with the federal government.

In his 2000 film entitled Traître ou Patriote, filmmaker Jacques Godbout, Adélard's nephew, lamented what he perceived as a lack of public knowledge about his uncle's work and premiership.

On September 27, 2007, in a ceremony attended by Premier Jean Charest, a former electrical power station in Montréal, at the corner of Wellington and Queen streets, known as Poste Central-1 was named in honour of Godbout. A bust of Godbout by sculptor Joseph-Émile Brunet (1893–1977) has been installed at the site.

Elections as party leader[edit]

He lost the 1936 election, won the 1939 election, lost the 1944 election and lost the 1948 election.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Genest, Jean-Guy, Godbout, Septentrion, Sillery, 1996, 390 pp.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

National Assembly of Quebec
Preceded by
Élisée Thériault (Liberal)
MLA, District of L'Islet
1929–1936
Succeeded by
Joseph Bilodeau (Union Nationale)
Preceded by
Joseph Bilodeau (Union Nationale)
MLA, District of L'Islet
19391948
Succeeded by
Fernand Lizotte (Union Nationale)
Government offices
Preceded by
Joseph-Léonide Perron (Liberal)
Minister of Agriculture
1930–1936
Succeeded by
Bona Dussault (Union Nationale)
Preceded by
Louis-Alexandre Taschereau (Liberal)
Premier of Quebec
1936-1936
Succeeded by
Maurice Duplessis (Union Nationale)
Preceded by
Maurice Duplessis (Union Nationale)
Premier of Quebec
1939-1944
Succeeded by
Maurice Duplessis (Union Nationale)
Political offices
Preceded by
Maurice Duplessis (Union Nationale)
Leader of the Opposition in Quebec
1944-1948
Succeeded by
George Carlyle Marler (Liberal)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Louis-Alexandre Taschereau
Leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec
1936-1950
Succeeded by
Georges-Émile Lapalme