Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Premier of Quebec, leader of the Union Nationale party (born 20 June 1916 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, QC; died 22 February 1973 in Montreal). He succeeded Daniel Johnson Sr. and was the last Union Nationale premier. Many of his reforms are associated with the Quiet Revolution, including the founding of the Université du Québec network.
Education and Early Career
Jean-Jacques Bertrand studied at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, the University of Ottawa and the Université de Montréal. In 1941, he was admitted to the Quebec Bar. He practiced law in Cowansville, QC, and served as president of that town’s Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Member of the Legislative Assembly and Minister
In 1948, Jean-Jacques Bertrand was elected as the Union Nationale candidate in the riding of Missisquoi. Bertrand was victorious in every subsequent provincial election from 1952 to 1970. He is regarded as having been the leader of his party’s progressive wing. From 1954 to 1958, he served as parliamentary assistant to Quebec’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 Quebec had no Ministry of Education at the time, the Ministry of Youth was a prestigious portfolio. It had previously been 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 (Senior). 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 Quebec. 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 Quebec
As premier, Jean-Jacques Bertrand came under pressure to respond to linguistic issues as advocates and opponents of French-only schools faced off in Saint-Léonard. (See Saint-Léonard Schools Crisis.) In response, Bertrand introduced Bill 63 (An Act to Promote the French Language in Quebec), which guaranteed parents the right to choose the schools that their children would attend (see Quebec Language Policy). Subsequently, on 28 March 1969, Montreal was the scene of the massive McGill français demonstration. Protesters 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 Quebec’s then-bicameral legislature), changed the name of the Legislative Assembly to the National Assembly and founded the Université du Québec network. It also established the Quebec Health Insurance Plan, the Société québécoise d’initiatives pétrolières and Loto-Québec.
In the 1970 provincial elections, the Union Nationale lost to the Quebec Liberal Party, led by Robert Bourassa. Despite receiving 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.
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 Quebec. In fact, it was thanks to Giroux that Bertrand became involved in Union Nationale politics in the first place, even though his ideas were deemed overly progressive by some other members of the party. Bertrand was also the father of Jean-François Bertrand, a Parti Québécois MNA and minister in the governments of René Lévesque and Pierre-Marc Johnson.
The Jean-Jacques Bertrand archives are held at the Quebec City archive centre of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.