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The Grande Noirceur (French pronunciation: [ɡʀɑ̃d nwaʀsœ:ʀ], English, Great Darkness) refers to the regime of conservative policies undertaken by the government of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis from 1936 to 1939 and from 1944 to 1959.
Duplessis favoured rural areas over city development and introduced various agricultural credits during his first term. He also was noted for meagre investment in social services. Duplessis also opposed military conscription and Canadian involvement in World War II.
Support from the Church
Duplessis's party, the Union Nationale, often had the active support of the Roman Catholic Church in its political campaigns and employed the slogan Le ciel est bleu; l'enfer est rouge: Heaven is blue (Union Nationale); hell is red (Liberal). Only during the labour strikes in the 1950s did the Church break with the Union Nationale by supporting the unions.
Duplessis championed anti-Communism and also opposed trade unions such as the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC). He introduced several laws opposed by the unions, most notably the Padlock Law, which prohibited the dissemination of Communist propaganda "by any means whatsoever".
In 1949, Duplessis also tried to introduce a law modeled on the U.S Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which would have eliminated certain[clarification needed] labor union rights established by the Labour Relations Law of 1944, the equivalent of the American Wagner Act of 1935. Duplessis' bill was withdrawn due to fierce union opposition.
Duplessis later introduced a similar law in 1954, known as Bill 19, which would force union groups to expel any Communist supporter; any group would lose its trade-union accreditation if there was a single member with ties to Communist organizations or who supported the ideology. The bill was so unpopular that it lost even the support of the conservative Catholic union group, and this controversy forced the union to review its structure, eventually leading to the creation of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).
Duplessis' mandates were marked by significant labour strikes, such as the Dominion Textile in Valleyfield in 1946, the Asbestos Strike of 1949 in the Estrie region, and the Murdochville copper mine strike in 1957. In those conflicts, Duplessis responded rapidly with force, using the provincial police to disperse picket lines and restore order, with several arrests. However, the last of these strikes led to a major victory for union rights. The Murdochville strike also provided the impetus and inspiration for other labour leaders to emerge and energized calls for labour rights.
Roncarelli v. Duplessis
Duplessis actively opposed the Jehovah's Witnesses, and once used his influence to revoke a liquor license owned by one of their members. In Roncarelli v. Duplessis, the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, Duplessis being ordered to pay $33,123.53 in damages. He died shortly thereafter.
Patronage and corruption
Duplessis' government was characterized by patronage and corruption, wielded against the Liberal opposition. He once proclaimed that a much-needed bridge at Trois-Rivières would not be built should a Liberal MNA be elected, and he kept his word while the opposition held the seat. In a rural district which had always elected a Liberal, the roads were kept unpaved, obstructing commerce, so the residents decided in 1956 to vote for the Union Nationale as that was the only way to get their district noticed. Duplessis was also accused of vote-fixing. Contemporary rumors say that Union Nationale groups would arrive in rural towns armed with whiskey, food and appliances in exchange for votes.
Provincial autonomy and nationalism
On January 21, 1948, Duplessis made one of his most enduring contributions to Quebec with the adoption of an official Flag, the Fleurdelisé, which replaced the Union Flag atop the Quebec Parliament Building.