Pauline Marois

​Pauline Marois, politician (born 29 March 1949 in Québec City, QC). Marois was the first woman to be elected Premier of Québec. Pauline Marois held the most ministerial offices in Québec history, including those of minister of education, minister of health and minister of finance.

Pauline Marois, 2013.
Image: Simon Villeneuve/Wikicommons.\r\n

Pauline Marois, politician (born 29 March 1949 in Québec City, QC). Marois was the first woman to be elected Premier of Québec. She held that office for only 18 months. Pauline Marois held the most ministerial offices in Québec history, including those of minister of education, minister of health and minister of finance. After 33 years in politics, she retired from public life on 7 April 2014, following a very difficult election campaign that resulted in the Parti Québécois (PQ) winning only 25 per cent of the popular vote and only 30 of 125 seats. Marois is especially noted for her role in secularizing Québec’s education system and in creating a public network of low-cost early childhood centres offered to all Québec families.

Family and Education

Pauline Marois and her four brothers and sisters were raised in Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon. Their father was a mechanic, and their mother was a teacher. Despite her working-class background, Marois studied at a reputable private high school in Sillery, and then at the Université Laval.

When she was 20 years old, she married Claude Blanchet, a young man from a neighbouring village whom she had been dating since high school and who became an entrepreneur. They would have four children together.

After completing a Bachelor’s degree in social work at Université Laval, Marois went on to receive a Master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the Université de Montréal’s École des hautes études commerciales (HEC). Her political career would focus on social and economic issues. She began her working life in the non-profit and healthcare sectors in the Outaouais region and helped to set up the Association des coopératives d'économie familiale [Association of family economy cooperatives] and the Île-de-Hull local community services centre in 1976.

Political Career

Pauline Marois entered politics as finance minister Jacques Parizeau’s press attaché (1978–79). She subsequently became principal private secretary to Lise Payette, minister of state for the status of women.

Marois ran for election in 1981 at the request of René Lévesque and was elected MNA for the riding of La Peltrie. She gave birth to her second child only 11 days later. She became minister of state for the status of women and a member of the Priorities Committee in her second term with the Lévesque government.

In 1982, she became vice-chair of the Treasury Board and then minister of labour and income security, while also serving as minister for the Outaouais region.

Marois finished second behind Pierre-Marc Johnson in the 1985 PQ leadership race. Following the PQ’s defeat in the 1985 general election, she focused her energies on teaching at the Université du Québec à Hull (today known as the Université du Québec en Outaouais).

First Comeback

In 1988, at the request of Jacques Parizeau, Marois assumed the role of PQ platform advisor. After that, she became vice-president and then president of the National Executive.

In 1989, she was elected as MNA for Taillon, a seat left vacant after René Lévesque’s resignation. She served as chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Official Opposition critic for industry and trade (1989–91), and then Treasury Board and public administration critic. Marois also took on plans to integrate federal public servants into a sovereign Québec — a very sensitive issue.

Re-elected in the riding of Taillon in 1994, (she would be re-elected again in 1998 and in 2003), Marois was appointed as minister for child and family welfare, minister for government administration and public service, and then as chair of the Treasury Board in the Parizeau government.

After the 1995 referendum, she became the first woman to be appointed minister of finance of Québec.

In 1996, newly elected Premier Lucien Bouchard appointed Marois as minister of education to implement a very difficult reform process: the secularization of school boards. She also served as minister responsible for the Montérégie region at that time. In 1998, she became minister of health and social services, also at a challenging time — the province was instituting ambulatory care services as the federal government made cutbacks to provincial healthcare transfers.

Marois’ major achievements as minister for child and family welfare were establishing early childhood centres and implementing a daycare system available to all parents for the low cost of five dollars a day. As minister of education, she brought about the secularization of education by converting the Catholic and Protestant school boards into French-language and English-language boards.

Under the leadership of Premier Bernard Landry, Marois once again became minister of finance (2001–2003). She was also appointed deputy premier of Québec, the third woman to hold the position. By the time the PQ was defeated in the general election of 29 April 2003, she had held 14 ministerial appointments. No other woman had held as many offices in Québec government

Parti Québécois Leadership

In 2005, Marois joined the call for Bernard Landry to step down. He would resign as leader of the opposition, despite receiving 76 per cent support in a confidence vote. Marois ran for the leadership position for a second time on 15 November 2005 but lost André Boisclair, garnering 30.56 per cent of the vote. She then retired from political life for the second time.

Eighteen months later, she returned following André Boisclair‘s resignation, which was brought on by a disastrous election campaign in which the Parti Québécois slipped to third place. On 26 June 2007, Marois was elected by acclamation as the seventh leader of the Parti Québécois. In a by-election on 24 September 2007, she became MNA for Charlevoix.

In the 2008 general election, Marois re-established the Parti Québécois as the Official Opposition with 51 MNAs elected. Despite being a member of the Opposition, she proposed Bill 195, a new bill to establish Québec citizenship, soon after the Bouchard-Taylor Commission hearings.

Premier of Québec

On 4 September 2012, Marois was elected Premier of Québec after a tough campaign. In a televised debate, she squared off against three opponents: Françoise David, the leader of a new left-wing pro-independence party called Québec solidaire; François Legault, a former ally who had joined a right-wing party; and Jean Charest, leader of the Liberal Party and outgoing Premier.

While giving her victory speech to a crowd of her supporters, Marois was the victim of an assassination attempt. The shooter, anti-independence activist Henry Bain, killed a technician at point blank range before his automatic rifle jammed.

As the leader of a minority government with 54 MNAs out of 125, she made it a priority to counter the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) on the right, and Québec solidaire on the left. She had her minister of finance re-establish the zero deficit budget target in her first year in power and institute the Banque de développement économique du Québec.

She tasked her team with cleaning up government contracts in light of the Charbonneau Commission (commission of inquiry established on 19 October 2011 to look into the awarding and management of government contracts in the construction industry), making the anemic healthcare system more effective and efficient, developing a new industrial policy, and revising elementary and secondary school history courses. She also called on her team to make peace with university students after a strike against tuition fees imposed by the previous government (see 2012 Québec Student Strike).

Marois gave the minister of education the task of proposing amendments to strengthen Bill 101, Québec’s Charter of the French Language. The Bill had been attacked and weakened by the federal courts a number of times over the previous 30 years. She also asked Bernard Drainville, minister responsible for democratic institutions, to table a bill on state secularism.

Québec Charter of Values

On 10 September 2013, Drainville held a press conference at which he made public a proposed charter on secularism (see Charter of Québec Values). The purpose of the charter was to "limit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel in carrying out their duties" and to "make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service."

The proposed charter sparked an impassioned debate in Québec. As stated in press conference documentation, Marois and Drainville maintained that the Charter’s aim was to “establish an implementation policy for state organizations to ensure the religious neutrality of the state and the oversight of requests for religious accommodation."

In the minister’s opinion, the overall intent was to finish what was started during the Quiet Revolution, by making education secular once and for all. However, the public debate was not settled, and no piece of legislation was passed. The Marois government was unable to garner enough votes in the National Assembly to push through its proposals on language, secularism, or the budget. Opinion polls indicated that support for the PQ was strong, so on 5 March 2014, Marois dissolved the National Assembly and called a provincial election for 7 April.

A Campaign Thrown off Course

The American-style election campaign proceeded with attack advertisements and references to illegal party financing while the Charbonneau Commission had suspended its work. Just a short time before the vote, Marois’ husband, Claude Blanchet, was called upon to disclose his personal finances and was accused of failing to comply with legislation on political party financing.

During the first televised debate, her three opponents attacked Marois and her husband directly. This knocked her off her stride, and she was on the defensive for the rest of the campaign. In addition, one of Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard’s tactics was to repeat that a vote for Marois was a vote for another referendum. She was worn out after two referendum defeats, young people in Québec were not interested in politics (only one third of them voted in the election), and voters in their 30s found Coalition avenir Québec’s proposed tax cuts very attractive. The end result was that Marois even lost in her own riding of Charlevoix.

With the campaign well under way, leading Québec businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau (see Québecor Inc.) announced his decision to run for the PQ and join Marois’ team. He also proclaimed his allegiance to the cause of Québec sovereignty. This had the effect of driving lukewarm CAQ supporters into the Liberal Party fold. For its part, Québec solidaire focused on attacking the proposed charter on secularism, while CAQ leader François Legault proved to be a very skilful television debater. As a result, a second shift in voter opinion developed during the last week of the campaign, with many more PQ votes moving over to the CAQ.

The PQ won only 1,075,000 votes — a mere 100,000 more than Coalition avenir Québec. The Liberal Party garnered 1.7 million votes, and Québec solidaire won 325,000. According to successive opinion polls, there was a strong vote-splitting trend along with a number of wild swings in voter intentions as the campaign wore on.

After 30 years in Politics

Pauline Marois retired after 30 years of active involvement in politics. The PQ’s crushing defeat meant that a number of progressive women to whom Marois had given prominent roles during the campaign failed to win a seat. They included Martine Desjardins, Diane De Courcy, Dominique Payette and Djamila Benhabib.

On the day she announced her resignation party leader, Marois promised that she would facilitate the transition toward a new leadership team and plans for a leadership convention, which will be held in 2015 at the earliest. Stéphane Bédard, a young MNA representing Chicoutimi, was chosen as the interim leader of 30 PQ MNAs in the National Assembly. A total of 70 Liberals, 22 members of the CAQ, and 3 members of Québec solidaire also won seats in the Assembly.

In the Québec City region, only one PQ MNA kept his seat. All others were swept away by the Liberal landslide following vicious attacks on “trash radio” — attacks that resulted in Marois losing all the areas in the western part of her riding of Charlevoix, including Côte-de-Beaupré.

The election results also show that Marois, the seventh leader of the PQ, suffered a defeat comparable to the 2007 defeat of André Boisclair, whose campaign was destroyed by references to his homosexuality. Shortly after Marois’ defeat, Jean Garon, minister of agriculture and later minister of finance in the Parizeau government, commented: “People just didn’t like Pauline.” His statement would make for an unflattering epitaph, to say the least. Brigitte Breton, an editorialist for the Québec City daily Le Soleil, referred to her as “Pauline the unloved.” In fact, a mere 22 per cent of women voted for her — a much lower percentage than from male voters.

In February 2015, five people ran to succeed Pauline Marois: Pierre Céré, Alexandre Cloutier, Bernard Drainville, Martine Ouellet and Pierre Karl Péladeau.

On 6 December 2014, Pauline Marois was honorary chairperson of a concert (Pour elles) commemorating the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique tragedy. She is also an ambassador for the international organization CECI (Centre for International Studies and Cooperation) and supports a group of women entrepreneurs in Burkina Faso.

Awards and Distinctions

Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Pléiade, Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (2004)

Prix Louis-Joseph-Papineau, Regroupement pour un pays souverain (2011)

Grade de Grand Croix de l'Ordre de la Pléiade, Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (2015)

Further Reading

  • Brigitte Breton, « Merci à Pauline Marois », Le Soleil, 10 avril 2014.

    Robert Comeau, Charles-Philippe Courtois et Denis Monière, Histoire intellectuelle de l'indépendantisme québécois, 2 tomes (VLB éditeur, 2010 et 2012).

    Alec Castonguay, « Les neuf vies de Pauline Marois », L’Actualité, 9 mars 2014.

    Pauline Marois et Pierre Graveline, Pauline Marois, Québécoise! (Montréal : Fides,‎ 2008).

    Évelyne Tardy, Égalité hommes-femmes? Le militantisme au Québec : le PLQ et le PQ (Montréal : Hurtubise-HMH, coll. « Les Cahiers du Québec »,‎ 2003).

    Michel Lévesque et Martin Pelletier, Le Parti Québécois : bibliographie, 1968–2007 (Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec, 2007).

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