Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Premier of Québec and leader of the Union Nationale party (born 20 June 1916 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, QC; died 22 February 1973 in Montréal, QC).
Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Premier of Québec and leader of the Union Nationale party (born 20 June 1916 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, QC; died 22 February 1973 in Montréal, QC). He succeeded Daniel Johnson, Sr. as premier, and his reforms are associated with the Quiet Revolution.
Education and Early Career
Jean-Jacques Bertrand studied at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, the University of Ottawa and the Université de Montréal. He was admitted to the Québec Bar in 1941, practiced law in Cowansville, QC, and served as president of that town’s Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Member of the Legislative Assembly and Minister
Elected as Union Nationale member of Québec’s Legislative Assembly in the riding of Missisquoi in 1948, Bertrand was victorious in every subsequent provincial election from 1952 to 1970. He is still regarded as having been the leader of his party’s progressive wing. From 1954 to 1958, he served as parliamentary assistant to Québec’s minister of Lands and Forests and minister of Hydroelectric Resources. From 1958 to 1960, he served as minister of Lands and Forests in the Duplessis and Sauvé governments.
Following the death of Paul Sauvé, Bertrand became minister of Youth and minister of Social Welfare in the Barrette government. Because Québec had no Ministry of Education at the time, the Ministry of Youth was a prestigious portfolio; it was held by Paul Sauvé from 1944 to 1960, when he became premier. In 1961, Bertrand ran for the leadership of the Union Nationale, which had been defeated in the provincial elections the year before. He lost to Daniel Johnson, Sr. When the party returned to power in 1966, Bertrand became minister of Education and actively supported progressive educational reforms. When Johnson died in 1968, Bertrand was chosen as the new leader of the party and thus became Premier of Québec. He also served as minister of Justice and minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in his own government. Though his leadership was contested by his own minister of Education, Jean-Guy Cardinal, at the party convention in 1969, Bertrand emerged victorious, with 58 per cent of the votes.
Premier of Québec
Under pressure to respond to the earliest symptoms of the language crisis (in particular the battle between advocates and opponents of French schools in the municipality of Saint-Léonard), Bertrand introduced Bill 63 (An Act to Promote the French Language in Québec), which guaranteed parents the right to choose the schools that their children would attend (see Québec Language Policy). Subsequently, on 28 March 1969, Montréal was the scene of the massive McGill Français demonstration, which demanded that the province’s most prestigious English-language institution of higher learning become a unilingual French institution.
The Bertrand government instituted many reforms that are generally associated with the Quiet Revolution: it abolished the Legislative Council (the unelected upper house of Québec’s then-bicameral legislature), changed the name of the Legislative Assembly to the National Assembly, founded the Université du Québec, and established the Québec Health Insurance Plan (via Bill 30), the Société québécoise d’initiatives pétrolières and Loto-Québec.
In the 1970 provincial elections, the Union Nationale lost to the Québec Liberal Party, led by Robert Bourassa. Despite having received fewer votes than the Parti Québécois, and despite the good performance of another party, the Ralliement Créditiste (especially in rural areas), the Union Nationale became the official opposition, with 17 seats.
Legacy and Public Recognition
Jean-Jacques Bertrand remained in politics, as leader of the Opposition, until 1971. By then he was the longest-serving Member of the National Assembly, and he remained an MNA until his death in 1973. He was married to Gabrielle (Giroux) Bertrand, a Progressive Conservative member of the House of Commons from 1984 to 1993. He was also the son-in-law of Louis-Arthur Giroux, a Conservative member of the Legislative Council of Québec. It was thanks to Giroux that Bertrand became involved in Union Nationale politics, even though his ideas were deemed overly progressive by some other members of the party. He was also the father of Jean-François Bertrand, a Parti Québécois MNA and minister in the governments of René Lévesque and Pierre-Marc Johnson.
Jean-Jacques Bertrand received honorary doctorates from Bishop's University, the University of Ottawa, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Sherbrooke and Université Laval. A bridge spanning the Richelieu River at Lacolle, Québec bears his name. The Jean-Jacques Bertrand archives are held at the Québec City archive centre of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.