Photo by Lafayette | Courtesy of François Demers and Jean Hétu
GOUIN, Sir LOMER (baptized Joseph-Alfred-Lomer), lawyer and politician; b. 19 March 1861 in Saint-Charles-des-Grondines (Grondines), Lower Canada, son of Joseph-Nérée Gouin, a physician, and Séraphine Fugère; m. first 24 May 1888 Élisa Mercier (d. 4 Sept. 1904), daughter of Honoré Mercier*, premier of Quebec, and Léopoldine Boivin, in the parish of Saint-Jacques, Montreal; of the five children born of their marriage, two sons reached adulthood; m. secondly 19 Sept. 1911 Alice Amos in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Montreal; they had no children; d. 28 March 1929 at Quebec and was buried 1 April in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, Montreal.
Lomer Gouin’s paternal ancestor Mathurin was born in 1638 in Poitou, France. He immigrated to New France in 1660, settled in Trois-Rivières, and died in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade in 1710. His son Joseph was Lomer’s direct forebear. After his father’s death in 1872, Lomer went to live with an uncle, the protonotary Antoine-Némèse Gouin, in Sorel. That year he began his classical studies in this town, but he completed them in Lévis, where he excelled in oratorical contests on historical subjects with Adélard Turgeon and other friends. After enrolling in law at the Montreal branch of the Université Laval in 1881, he obtained his llb in 1884. He was articled in Montreal to John Joseph Caldwell Abbott*, a future Conservative prime minister of Canada, and Toussaint-Antoine-Rodolphe Laflamme*, a member of the Institut Canadien in Montreal and a radical Liberal. Called to the bar in 1884, he remained active in law in Montreal throughout his political career, maintaining a full-time practice until at least 1897. His first partners were Siméon Pagnuelo, a well-known lawyer and prominent ultramontane, and Louis-Olivier Taillon, who would later be a Conservative premier of Quebec. He would become an expert in cases concerning railways and contested elections.
From at least 1884, Gouin was also acquainted with Honoré Mercier, who was to be provincial premier from 1887 to 1891, and he visited his home in Montreal with such prominent moderate Liberals as Félix-Gabriel Marchand* and Laurent-Olivier David. He also associated with radical Liberals, in particular the lawyer and journalist Godfroy Langlois, who was a fellow member of the Club National. When Gouin became president of this Liberal political organization in Montreal in 1889, he supported Mercier, who had become his father-in-law the previous year and was now under attack from radical Liberals. In 1892 a disgraced and ruined Mercier would go back to the practice of law with two young lawyers, Gouin and Rodolphe Lemieux*, who were to remain lifelong friends. In articles Gouin wrote for Le Clairon, a Montreal weekly that had been launched by a group including Langlois and that appeared from December 1889 until May 1890, he showed his concern to reconcile all elements of the party, both moderates and those less so. For political and personal reasons, this reconciliation would become his overriding concern.
Gouin had his first experience in politics during the federal general election of 5 March 1891. As the Liberal candidate in the riding of Richelieu, he was defeated by Conservative cabinet minister Sir Hector-Louis Langevin*. In 1896 he and a group of Liberals that included Langlois, Christophe-Alphonse Geoffrion*, and Camille Piché founded Le Signal, a radical Montreal weekly. He won a seat in Montreal, Division No.2, in the provincial general election of 11 May 1897, and he would be re-elected by acclamation on 7 Dec. 1900. In spite of the support he had given his father-in-law, Gouin was perceived as a radical because of the people he associated with and the stands he had taken on certain issues; for example, he favoured the establishment of a ministry of education and wanted changes in Montreal’s municipal administration. In 1898 he supported the Marchand government’s bill on reforming public education, but it was voted down in the Legislative Council. However, Marchand had Gouin appointed to the Council of Public Instruction to satisfy the radicals. Gouin was also elected to represent the East ward on the Montreal city council, and he would serve in this position from February to November 1900.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier* was probably suspicious of Gouin’s political radicalism and for several years their relationship was rather cool. In 1899, however, it became clear that Gouin supported Laurier’s moderate policy on so-called “national” questions, which were now being pushed to the foreground by international events. When, in his presence, Henri Bourassa* informed Laurier that he could not accept the decision to send Canadian troops to South Africa, Gouin did not challenge the federal leader’s decision. Later on, the struggle against the Nationalistes would bring the two leaders, who were already linked by their common party interests, closer together, and would strengthen their mutual confidence.
After the sudden death of Marchand in September 1900, Simon-Napoléon Parent* became leader of the Liberal party and premier, very likely at Laurier’s insistence. The choice did not meet with unanimous approval. He was mayor of Quebec, had close ties to the business community, and was a skilful politician in organizing elections and handling patronage matters, but the party’s radical wing, which would have preferred to have the province led by a true Liberal such as Joseph-Emery Robidoux, disapproved of him. The desire to allay this discontent may have been a factor in Gouin’s appointment as commissioner of public works in October 1900 and as minister of colonization and public works in July 1901.
The radicals – in particular Langlois, who became the editor of Le Canada, a Liberal daily published in Montreal from April 1903 – were well disposed toward the new recruit. Gouin had appeared to support their arguments by opposing – albeit unsuccessfully – in 1901 certain clauses in bills aimed at favouring the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company [see Louis-Joseph Forget*], which held a monopoly on the distribution of gas and electricity in Quebec; he would do so again in 1904. In 1901, as commissioner of public works, he had led the debate in the assembly on the Act respecting councils of conciliation and of arbitration for settling industrial disputes. The positions he took enabled him to deal sensitively with both the religious authorities and the business community. However, the Nationalistes were already suspicious of Gouin. Olivar Asselin*, his secretary, left him in 1903, criticizing him for his lack of zeal in proceeding with reforms in the field of colonization. In the pages of the Montreal weekly Le Nationaliste, which Asselin helped found in 1904, this fiery journalist would write many articles critical of the government.
At the end of 1904 and the beginning of 1905, a veritable palace revolution would oust Parent from the government and push Gouin into the premier’s office. Parent, whose style of management and personal image drew increasing criticism within his own party, and whose integrity was being questioned by the opposition, is believed to have indicated that he would resign immediately after the federal election of 3 Nov. 1904, which kept Laurier in power. Instead, seeking to take advantage of an electoral climate that was favourable for the Liberals and thereby to strengthen his authority, he dissolved the Legislative Assembly and called an election for 25 November. The Conservative party was weakened and caught off guard by the announcement of a campaign that would last a scant three weeks. Its leader, Edmund James Flynn, denounced the hurried election call and declared that he would not participate officially in the contest. With the Conservatives running in only 24 ridings, the Liberals easily won the election, but dissension within the party itself broke out into the open. These fratricidal struggles worried Laurier, who had admitted, in a letter to Langlois on 1 April 1904, that Parent had to be replaced. This time, however, the federal Liberal leader would not be able to influence the provincial party’s choice of a leader as he had done in 1900.
In the fall of 1904 Gouin was in mourning for his wife, Élisa Mercier, who had died in September. Nevertheless, he decided to oppose Parent more strenuously. For the November election he contrived to recruit several candidates from among the premier’s opponents, and he discussed strategy with two cabinet ministers, Adélard Turgeon and William Alexander Weir, who were both hostile to Parent. Since 1901 Weir, like Gouin, had opposed the privileges granted by their own government to the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company. This issue split the Liberal party. In municipal politics, these opponents of Parent supported the party’s reformist faction, which was attacking Mayor Raymond Préfontaine*. The latter was a pillar of the Liberal elite and a friend of Laurier, but he was perceived as corrupt and as a friend of the trust headed by Louis-Joseph Forget, his nephew Rodolphe Forget*, and Herbert Samuel Holt*. Turgeon, who was increasingly dissatisfied with Parent’s leadership, seemed to be afraid that Parent might hatch a plot to force him, as well as Gouin and Weir, to resign.
Having decided to strike hard, the three ministers submitted their resignations on 3 Feb. 1905, blaming Parent for not having consulted his cabinet before he made important decisions, such as on the dissolution of the assembly. They also declared that, despite having been re-elected, he did not enjoy the confidence of the voters. When Parent, now facing new accusations, delayed recalling parliament, his bitter political enemy Senator Philippe-Auguste Choquette* busied himself with rallying the mlas who were hostile to the premier. During a meeting on 8 February at the Château Frontenac, a clear majority of the Liberal mlas signed a petition calling for the premier’s resignation. When the legislature finally opened on 2 March 1905, Parent brought up the accusations levelled against him “in connection with the administration of the Department of Crown Lands,” rejected them, and called for an inquiry by a parliamentary committee. The committee’s report exonerated the premier, who resigned on 21 March.
It was a good question who would replace him. Turgeon, who had an outgoing personality and was a fine speaker, declined. The lieutenant governor, Sir Louis-Amable Jetté*, then called on Gouin, who coveted the position and who was the candidate of the generally more progressive Montreal wing of the party, to form a cabinet. Gouin came to power thanks to the support of the Liberal party’s reformist faction – those wanting changes in the field of education or seeking state control of public services such as electricity, especially in Montreal. But in his choice of ministers, he did not reward these progressive elements as much as they had hoped. His co-conspirators Weir and Turgeon were brought into the cabinet, but Louis Allard, a rural mla whose chief qualification was his loyalty to Gouin, was awarded the important Department of Public Works and Labour. By the moderate program Gouin introduced, he gradually distanced himself from the progressives. In 1907, anxious to reconcile the supporters and opponents of Parent in order to fight more effectively against the nationalist threat, he would make room in his cabinet for Louis-Alexandre Taschereau*, a close friend of the former premier.
Gouin would be premier of Quebec from 1905 to 1920. During his term of office he benefited from generally favourable circumstances. Ideologically, he leaned towards classical liberalism, which called, for example, for the state to rely on private enterprise to encourage economic development. In any case the Quebec of his time was hardly in a position to act in any other way. For almost two decades, the Canadian provinces had been trying in vain to persuade the federal government to increase its annual grants to them. In 1902 Gouin, for whom this cause would become a hobby horse, had strongly supported Parent’s request to this effect. But Laurier was not easily persuaded. Once he became premier, Gouin, with the backing of the other provinces, kept up his campaign unflaggingly. “We have been reduced to the point of not being able to administer the criminal justice system properly and of postponing the encouragement and improvements that the public education system requires,” he complained in a letter to Laurier on 22 Nov. 1905. In the end, Laurier called an interprovincial conference in October 1906 at which he acceded to most of the provinces’ demands. The Liberal press hailed Gouin as a worthy successor to Mercier, the defender of provincial autonomy. In 1907 Gouin approached the federal government for permission to extend the northern boundaries of Quebec and thus take over the district of Ungava. This territory would be annexed to the province under the name of Nouveau-Québec in 1912.
Like his predecessors Marchand and Parent, Gouin sought to attract English Canadian and especially American capital into his province to ensure its economic growth. His efforts to this effect were assisted by a greatly increased demand for the natural riches of Quebec (pulpwood, minerals, hydroelectric energy). On the other hand, Gouin was not opposed to certain well-aimed government initiatives that would enable the province to benefit even more from its resources. For example, in order to stimulate the production of paper and create employment in 1910, he banned the export of pulpwood cut on crown lands. The United States countered by putting customs duties on imported paper, but Gouin was unshakeable, and a number of new paper mills were opened in the province. In 1910 he also set up the Quebec Streams Commission, which undertook the construction of works to regulate the flow of water in rivers harnessed to produce energy [see Simon-Napoléon Parent]. It was not supposed to compete with private enterprise, and Gouin refused to follow Ontario’s lead in establishing public ownership of the hydroelectric industry [see Sir Adam Beck; Sir James Pliny Whitney*]. Economic growth made it possible to stabilize the province’s finances. The larger federal grant, higher logging fees, the leasing of waterfalls, and the introduction of new permits and licences raised revenues from $5,340,000 in 1905–6 to $14,473,000 in 1919–20. The government could not only increase its expenditures during the same period from $5,012,000 to $13,503,000, but was able to balance its budget and even to declare modest surpluses year after year, while slightly reducing the province’s per capita debt. This sound management won the enthusiastic approval of the business community.
Gouin had taken a keen interest in the development of education. He established many normal schools for girls (in particular, at Hull, Nicolet, Trois-Rivières, and Salaberry-de-Valleyfield), raised teachers’ salaries, and provided much more funding to elementary schools. He especially emphasized the need to encourage technical and scientific education, and to that end in 1907 he personally steered through the assembly bills creating the Montreal and Quebec technical schools (with the object of providing a better grounding for young people heading for careers in industry), and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Montréal. In founding the latter establishment, the premier was carrying out the repeatedly expressed wishes of the Chambre de Commerce du District de Montréal, of which he himself had been a member, and of the party’s radical faction, and was hoping to increase the participation of French Canadians in the province’s economic development. The school began in 1910, on a modest scale, with 32 students and 12 professors. Gouin also founded the École Centrale de Préparation et d’Arpentage and the École Forestière, which opened in 1907 and 1910 respectively at the Université Laval at Quebec.
The increasing popularity of the automobile as a means of transportation led Gouin to create the Department of Highways in 1912 and to devote substantial amounts of money to this sector [see Joseph-Adolphe Tessier]. He built and paved new provincial highways, and guaranteed loans for municipalities interested in building them in their jurisdictions.
Gouin also had to take a stand on a number of highly controversial issues, including the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, a question on which Roman Catholics were divided. In 1908 he reduced the number of establishments serving alcohol in Montreal and Quebec and increased the fees for licences. He himself was opposed to total prohibition, preferring instead an educational campaign. After 1910, however, groups favouring prohibition, including some within the Catholic church, stepped up their pressure on the government, and it had to toughen its legislation. In 1919 a bill was passed imposing prohibition, with a few exceptions, but the law was unenforceable and was openly ridiculed. Feeling that the prohibition movement was losing momentum, Gouin moved back to a system of partial prohibition that permitted the sale of beer and wine.
Gouin had reorganized the municipal administration of Montreal by creating the board of commissioners in 1909. This new system of government was instituted following the recommendations of the royal commission to make a general and complete inquiry into the administration of the affairs of the city of Montreal [see Lawrence John Cannon] and after a referendum had been held. It was intended to reduce the patronage and corruption poisoning the municipal life of the metropolis. In 1918 Gouin’s government would again get the city’s charter amended, setting up the Administrative Commission of the City of Montreal with a mandate to manage the city’s administration and straighten out its finances. Since this move appreciably diminished the powers of the city council and the mayor, it aroused the ire of the mayor of Montreal, Médéric Martin*. With Gouin as premier, the assembly had also modified the provincial voting system in 1912 to give the vote to almost all men aged 21 or over and eliminate the plural voting that allowed electors to cast a ballot in every electoral district in which they owned property. He categorically opposed women’s suffrage. “Women do not vote in England,” he said in 1915 to Carrie Matilda Derick*, the president of the Montreal Suffrage Association.
In implementing his policies, Gouin had to contend with the Conservative party in the Legislative Assembly. Weakened, however, by having a smaller number of mlas and by a succession of leaders, and lacking a coherent program, the Conservatives were not managing to function effectively as the opposition. Outside parliament, however, Gouin had to reckon with powerful pressure groups. On the one hand, the Catholic clergy was worried that he might try to reduce the church’s control over education. On the other hand, among workers there was beginning to be a demand for social reforms from the government, which they considered too ready to listen to employers. For their part, the Nationalistes, such as Omer Héroux* and Olivar Asselin, denounced Gouin’s decisions related to colonization, accusing him of paying more attention to the demands of speculators and foreign capitalists than to the needs of the colonists.
On coming to power, Gouin had tried to calm the fears of the Catholic clergy. He promised Archbishop Paul Bruchési* of Montreal, with whom he developed a special relationship, that he would not secularize the educational system. In a speech on 11 Dec. 1905 at a banquet organized by the Liberals of the riding of Montreal, Division No.2, he declared: “We want neither to destroy nor to revolutionize; we want to improve and strengthen.” Out of concern for the archbishop’s opinion, he blocked the adoption of many bills (often introduced by Godfroy Langlois) aimed at creating a department of education, standardizing school textbooks, introducing compulsory education, requiring all teachers whether secular or religious to hold a certificate of competence, and democratizing the Montreal school system. He would put off until 1916 [see Joseph-Narcisse Perrault] the recommendations of the royal commission on the Catholic schools of Montreal, appointed in 1909 and chaired by Raoul Dandurand*. In their report, the lay members of the commission recommended the formation of a single school board in Montreal. Abbé Louis-Philippe Perrier dissented, expressing the position of the clergy, who preferred a decentralized system that was easier to influence. In 1913, when Gouin told the archbishop of Montreal that he was thinking of giving Langlois a foreign posting, Bruchési was delighted, and is said to have exclaimed, “Get that pest out of the country.” In 1914, at the archbishop’s urgent request, and following an exhausting campaign carried on by both the Nationalistes and the official organ of the archdiocese of Quebec, L’Action sociale, Gouin agreed to have the École des Hautes Études Commerciales affiliated with the Montreal branch of the Université Laval, an institution under the control of the clergy [see Jean Prévost*]. The school was able to maintain a de facto independence, however. Gouin made a point of involving members of the clergy in most official events and of appointing priests as colonization agents. Despite all this, L’Action sociale remained highly critical of Gouin and his government, to the point where the premier finally complained about it to Pope Pius X.
Opposition from the labour movement had remained marginal. The secretary of the Labour party, Albert Saint-Martin*, had run against Gouin in Montreal, Division No.2, in a by-election on 10 April 1905 and had won 13 per cent of the votes. Gouin promised that he would continue to be the workers’ champion and immediately created a department of labour, attaching it to Public Works (which thereby became the Department of Public Works and Labour). He would also have a number of measures adopted – modest ones, on the whole – including one passed in 1909 providing for compensation in the case of accidents in the workplace, and another the following year making it illegal to employ children under the age of 16 if they could not read and write.
The Nationalistes were more of a problem for Gouin. The Ligue Nationaliste Canadienne [see Olivar Asselin], which had been founded in 1903 and had begun publishing an official newspaper, Le Nationaliste, the following year, had at first attacked Laurier’s policies. But it also had concerns at the provincial level, so that, especially from 1907, under the leadership of their mentor Henri Bourassa the Nationalistes showed the Gouin government no mercy. Bourassa made a sensational entry into the Legislative Assembly by defeating the premier himself in the general election of 8 June 1908, in Montreal, Division No.2. Gouin, who had, however, won in the riding of Portneuf, wrote a letter to Laurier four days later in which he attributed his defeat to “the over-confidence of my organizers” and the receptiveness of the crowds whipped up by Bourassa. In 1908 and 1909 especially, the Nationalistes, who formed an alliance with the Conservatives, harshly denounced some of Gouin’s policies. On the subject of colonization, they maintained that the timber limits granted to the logging companies hindered the settling of colonists on new land. In their view, the measures aimed at encouraging industrialization were first and foremost of benefit to foreigners and they called for an end to the sale of forests at bargain prices. They demanded reforms, including restrictions on the export of pulpwood and paper pulp, and made accusations of corruption. Outside the house, Jules Fournier*, who had been the editor of Le Nationaliste since 1908, led the attack until Gouin, in an effort to silence him, sued him for libel in 1909.
During the election campaign, however, Bourassa on 9 May 1916 would publish in his newspaper, Le Devoir, these highly flattering remarks about the party and the leader whom he had criticized so severely: “The Liberal party is something; Gouin is a somebody. The Quebec Conservative party is nothing any more; [Philémon] Cousineau [the new Conservative leader] is a nobody.” What had happened to enable Gouin to overcome the nationalist opposition?
First of all, the Nationalistes considered that Gouin had implemented some important planks from their own program. He had had an embargo placed on the export of pulpwood from crown lands, raised the stumpage fees to force the big logging companies to pay more for their raw material, and substituted long-term leases for the outright sale of waterfalls. He had also encouraged colonization by creating some 50 new parishes and building roads and schools. In 1913 Abbé Ivanhoë Caron*, a priest and colonizer, praised the efforts made by the Gouin government in Abitibi, a region that Gouin visited the following year.
In the era of World War I things worked in Gouin’s favour. By 1910 Bourassa and the Nationalistes were again giving priority to their federal concerns. After forming an alliance with the Conservative leader, Robert Laird Borden*, to defeat Laurier, they quickly became disillusioned with the war policy of the Canadian prime minister. Gouin supported Canada’s participation in the war effort. On 15 Oct. 1914 he attended a large rally in Montreal’s Parc Sohmer, where Laurier spoke about the duty of French Canadians towards their two mother countries. In 1915 and 1916 he continued to appeal for recruits and to work with the federal government in encouraging the military effort. But, like Laurier and the Nationalistes, he soon found himself with no choice but to oppose conscription strongly.
Gouin had also vigorously championed the struggle of the Franco-Ontarians against Regulation 17, a measure adopted in 1912 that severely limited the use of French as a language of instruction in Ontario schools [see Sir James Pliny Whitney]. Gouin raised this matter in 1913, during an audience with the pope. On 11 Jan. 1915 he delivered an important speech in which he asked the government of Ontario to demonstrate justice and generosity in its dealings with the province’s francophone minority. Then, on 25 January, to give resounding support to the Franco-Ontarian cause he took part in a big demonstration at the Université Laval at Quebec, along with Cardinal Louis-Nazaire Bégin, the Nationaliste Armand La Vergne*, and a number of other dignitaries. In March 1916, under his guidance, a bill introduced by Antonin Galipeault, to authorize school commissions to make contributions from their funds for patriotic, national, or school purposes, was passed. (Gouin did not want his province to make a direct grant to the Franco-Ontarians, for fear of angering their government.)
In addition, Gouin contributed to the Bonne Entente movement, begun in 1916 by two Torontorians, John Milton Godfrey* and Arthur Hawkes, to promote harmonious relations as important between French- and English-speaking Canadians. In January 1917 Gouin was part of a delegation that went to Toronto and Hamilton, following a visit by an Ontario delegation to Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec, and Trois-Rivières. But during that year, when Laurier refused to form a coalition with the Conservatives to put into effect a policy of conscription, Gouin, who had likely also been approached by Borden, rejected the offer as well. The Quebec Liberals, headed by Gouin, were fiercely opposed to conscription. More than anyone else, it was Gouin who, for Laurier, led the campaign in Quebec preceding the general election of 17 Dec. 1917.
In December 1917, in the face of a frequently acerbic campaign in the English-Canadian press to denounce the so-called “disloyalty” of French Canadians and their rejection of compulsory military service, Gouin allowed one of his mlas, Joseph-Napoléon Francœur, to present a notice of motion stating that the province of Quebec would be prepared to accept the breaking up of the confederation pact if the other provinces considered it an obstacle to the development of Canada. Gouin made a vigorous and memorable defence of confederation at that time. After reminding his listeners that the federal system was the only one suitable for Canada, that separatism was impossible, and that confederation had brought notable benefits, the premier declared his confidence that the storm would pass. He was proud, he said, to be called a Canadian, and proud of his country, Canada. This part of his speech drew very positive reviews in the anglophone press. But at the same time, Gouin made a point of recalling the sufferings of “our fathers” in the wake of insults and appeals to prejudices, and he declared that the slanders of the present moment were the work of a “small number” and not the majority of anglophones. These references were probably intended to satisfy the Nationalistes in particular. At the end of the speech, Francœur withdrew his motion, declaring that it had had “the desired effect.” In 1937 he would admit, as the press reported on 10 December: “It was only a warning; I have never really wanted the province of Quebec to separate from the other eight provinces of the country.”
At the end of the war, Gouin was at the height of his power. His authority within the Liberal party was uncontested, and there was almost no opposition, either inside or outside the Legislative Assembly. His compatriots increasingly viewed him as their main champion. Many considered him a possible successor to Laurier, whose health was failing and who was faced with increasing opposition in the ranks of his party. In 1918 Borden, aware of his government’s extreme weakness in the province of Quebec, had made another unsuccessful attempt to persuade Gouin to join his Union government. Gouin certainly had much in common with the Conservatives on some questions. Although he was a Liberal, in governing his province his approach was conservative, he was close to the financial circles in Montreal, and he supported the tariff protection so dear to the Conservatives. But Gouin also knew that, given the conscription issue, he would be signing his political death warrant if he developed close ties with Borden.
The year 1919 brought important changes in Canadian politics. Laurier died in February. In western Canada and Ontario the United Farmers gained ground and fiercely opposed the protective tariff. In order to fight them, some Conservatives wondered whether the time had come to form an alliance with Quebec Liberals who favoured the tariff, starting with Gouin. In July Borden had another meeting with Gouin and two other Liberals, Ernest Lapointe* and Rodolphe Lemieux, who told him plainly that they could not become part of a union government because of their province’s opposition to conscription. Gouin also stressed the need to amend Regulation 17 in Ontario, a concession Borden was obviously powerless to grant. In any case, Gouin strongly opposed the Union government’s policy of nationalizing railways.
Gouin put an end to these dealings by attending the Liberal convention in August. To be sure, the Liberal platform, with its reference to lower tariffs, worried the Montreal business community and its political friends, including Gouin and Lemieux. The co-chair of the convention, Gouin supported William Stevens Fielding, who had been minister of finance in Laurier’s government, in the race for the party leadership. Fielding was pro-tariff and, although he had supported conscription, he had never disowned Laurier or served in the Union government. The Quebec delegates were more in favour of William Lyon Mackenzie King*. Particularly concerned about bringing the western farmers back into the Liberal fold, King was prepared to agree to some relaxation of the tariff. He had been defeated in the general election of 1911, but had remained loyal to Laurier during the war. At Laurier’s request, he had run as the Liberal candidate in the Ontario riding of York North in 1917, and had been defeated. He opposed conscription because he believed it posed a threat to national unity. King would never forgive Gouin for supporting Fielding.
In 1919, as well, Gouin had called a general election, two years before he had to, supposedly in an endeavour to win popular support for an ambitious and costly “program of reconstruction” (according to the account in Le Devoir of 10 June 1919) based on colonization and the development of hydroelectric power. It was becoming increasingly obvious that he wanted to relinquish the leadership of the government; in fact, his aim was to give his successor a strong mandate. The official opposition, led by Arthur Sauvé*, carried the stigma of the pro-conscription federal Conservatives. On election day, 23 June, 43 of the 81 Liberal candidates had no Conservative opponent; 74 Liberals and 5 Conservatives were elected. It was Gouin’s last election campaign as premier. On 25 August he appointed Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, who seemed to represent a comfortable political choice, as attorney general. After serving for one session in the spring of 1920, Gouin gave a farewell speech on 21 June to the Young Liberals in Montreal, in which he reviewed his 15 years as premier. On 25 June he and Taschereau left for the Rivière Moisie and discussed the transfer of power. Gouin resigned on 8 July and Taschereau was summoned to replace him the following day.
During his years in provincial politics, Gouin had received many honours. France had made him a knight of the Legion of Honour in 1907 and a commander in 1920. He was awarded a kmg in 1908 and a kcmg in 1913. He became a grand officer of the Order of Leopold II in 1912 and a commander in 1920. A number of universities conferred honorary llds on him.
A more trying period for Gouin began in 1920. During a brief stint as editor of La Presse (from August to December), he found it difficult to cope with the restrictions placed on him by its owner, Eugène Berthiaume, and the arrangement ended on a sour note. In July of that year Taschereau had appointed him to the Legislative Council for the division of Salaberry, but he resigned in October 1921 without having taken his seat. Then, at the request of King – who was under pressure to recruit such a high-profile candidate – Gouin entered federal politics. As the candidate in the riding of Laurier-Outremont he won an easy victory in the general election of 6 Dec. 1921. With 116 mps out of a total of 235, the Liberals won the election but they had lost the support of the western farmers, who voted for the new Progressive party, which, with its 64 seats, was in second place. The Conservative Montreal Gazette predicted that Gouin, who headed a large block of Quebec mps, would soon become the real leader of the Liberal party. During the campaign, there was another rumour that Gouin and Lemieux were plotting with Conservative prime minister Arthur Meighen* to unite the protectionist forces and enable Gouin to take power in Ottawa. King was furious and demanded a public show of support from the two Quebec Liberals. Lemieux complied with a letter published in the press, but Gouin simply sent indirect assurances of support. King continued to harbour doubts about the loyalty of his brilliant recruit.
Once the Liberals were in power, Gouin expected an important cabinet portfolio. King, who was worried mainly about the growing threat from the Progressives, knew that it was better for him to work closely with the Liberals from the Quebec City area, headed by Ernest Lapointe, than with the protectionist Liberals in Montreal. Maintaining ties with the former, who were relatively open to concessions in the matter of tariffs, would give him more opportunity to placate the farmers. Gouin asked King to give his province six ministers, four of them from Montreal. He pictured himself as minister of justice (a portfolio that King was planning to give to Lapointe), and president of the Privy Council, a prestigious office. The Montreal business community put similar pressure on King. The prime minister finally gave Gouin the most important portfolio, justice, but kept for himself the presidency of the Privy Council, in order, as he confided to Lapointe, not to put Canada’s future in the hands of the Montreal financial magnates. In the end, the Montreal region had three ministers (Raoul Dandurand, Gouin, and James Alexander Robb), as did the Quebec region (Henri-Sévérin Béland*, Jacques Bureau*, and Lapointe). For the moment, Gouin was doing well. Having failed in his attempt to attract the Progressives into his cabinet, King could not afford to ignore the Montreal Liberals. In Gouin’s case, the issue was merely postponed.
Gouin’s career in federal politics was short. King never trusted him, for both personal and ideological reasons. He knew he had to get reduced tariffs and lower freight rates adopted in order to calm the farmers’ revolt. Gouin objected to this policy and seems to have threatened more than once to resign. As time went on, he found himself more and more isolated. The younger Liberal mps disliked his arrogance and his ties to the Montreal ruling class. On 16 Dec. 1923 King recorded in his diary that he judged the time had come to dissociate himself completely from the Montreal interests in order to move closer to the farmers. When Gouin sent him his letter of resignation soon afterwards, King eagerly accepted it and made it public on 3 Jan. 1924. As soon as he had left, King committed himself to lowering the tariff, and noted in his diary that he would never have been able to get cabinet agreement if Gouin had been there.
On leaving active political life, Gouin was able to devote more attention to his business affairs, which indeed he had never neglected, even during his time as premier. On 12 May 1919, his friend Georges-Élie Amyot, who owned the Dominion Corset Company, stated in the Quebec newspaper L’Événement that Gouin had sold him a lot in Maisonneuve (Montreal) in 1911 for $100,000. “Is it scandalous,” he concluded, “for a premier of Quebec to carry on business because he is the premier? On the contrary, I think we should congratulate ourselves on having a man in charge of our affairs who is able to look after his own and ours at the same time.” During his years in politics, Gouin continued to practise law, and his office maintained close ties with a number of big companies in Montreal. While he was a cabinet minister in Ottawa, he was a director of many corporations, including the Bank of Montreal, the Montreal City and District Savings Bank, the Royal Trust Company, the Crédit Foncier Franco-Canadien, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company, the Laurentide Company Limited, the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company, and the Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada. In April 1922 the Liberal mp Andrew Ross McMaster introduced a motion in the House of Commons that would have prohibited cabinet ministers from serving on the boards of directors of corporations. The person targeted was obviously Gouin and the government had to intervene vigorously to get the motion withdrawn.
Gouin continued to take an interest in education. In 1920 the new Université de Montréal had invited him to chair its governing council. In 1924 Taschereau appointed him to head a commission to study, among other things, the advisability of creating a network of Jewish parochial schools. In 1926 the premier gave him the task of investigating the state of French-language Catholic education in Montreal.
After leaving the House of Commons, Gouin hoped to be given a seat in the Senate. Senator Dandurand interceded on his behalf, but King, and especially Lapointe, opposed the appointment. In 1926 Oswald Mayrand, Gaspard De Serres, Léon Trépanier, and J. P.-Victorien Desaulniers made a vain attempt to persuade Gouin to run for the mayoralty of Montreal. He showed some interest, but because he did not wish to run against Médéric Martin, he made one stipulation: he wanted to be elected by acclamation. Dandurand tried again in 1927 to persuade King to appoint Gouin to the Senate, but Lapointe still objected. King nonetheless offered him the post of lieutenant governor of Quebec. Humiliated at having been denied a seat in the upper house, but by now seriously ill, Gouin agreed to become lieutenant governor. “It is not a question of honours, but of honour,” he confided to one of his daughters-in-law. “I will go to Spencer Wood to die on my feet.” He took office on 10 Jan. 1929. In March, during a visit to Montreal, Gouin suffered an attack of angina. On 28 March he went to parliament in ceremonial dress to perform his first official act as lieutenant governor – to give royal assent to the acts that had been passed and to prorogue the session. In the presence of Premier Taschereau, a number of ministers and mlas, Lady Gouin, and a few close friends, he suffered another angina attack, collapsed in his office, received the last rites, and breathed his last. Thousands of people filed past his body in the chapel of rest at Spencer Wood, in Sillery, near Quebec. Messages of condolence poured in from all directions. The funeral took place in Notre-Dame basilica at Quebec on 1 April, after which a special train transported the casket to Montreal for burial.
Gouin was a taciturn, rather cold, and distant man. According to his friend Dandurand, he did not reveal his thoughts to anyone. He had no charisma and had little ability to stir up crowds. Because he was sensitive to criticism, some of his close friends thought he lacked self-confidence. In 1920 the Canadian annual review had referred to him admiringly as a “cool, calm and calculating” man, who appealed to people’s intelligence rather than to their feelings. Somewhat authoritarian in style, Gouin kept a firm hold on the reins of the party and government. He saw to it that the Montreal Reform Club became the seat of the powerful Liberal machine, and in the house he gave his mlas little leeway except on private members’ bills. His two sons would also have political careers. Léon Mercier-Gouin would become a professor of law at the Université de Montréal and a senator, and Paul Gouin* would be one of the founders of the Action Libérale Nationale and the Bloc Populaire.
Sir Lomer Gouin was premier almost as long as Louis-Alexandre Taschereau and Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis*. But while their terms of office would end in great political upheavals, Gouin left the Liberal party stronger and more united at the end of his years than when he had found it in 1905. By encouraging the industrialization of the province and attaching great importance to education, he assuredly helped bring Quebec into the modern world.
Several of Sir Lomer Gouin’s speeches are available on microfiche and are listed in CIHM, Reg. The Lomer Gouin fonds at the LAC (MG 27, III, B4) is voluminous and there is a copy on microfilm at the ANQ-Q. The ANQ-Q holds a second collection of his papers, at P1000, D2348. Other fonds at these archives that contain useful documents are LAC, MG 26, G; H; J; MG 27, II, D10; E1; III, B3; and ANQ-Q, P198 and P350.
Gouin’s public career between 1906 and 1921 may be traced in such printed sources as Que., Legislative Assembly, Debates, 1906–21; Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1906–21; and Canadian annual rev., 1906–21. The memoirs of several politicians recall his life. Among them are R. L. Borden, Robert Laird Borden: his memoirs, ed. Heath Macquarrie (abridged ed., 2v., Toronto, ), 2; P.-A. Choquette, Un demi-siècle de vie politique (Montréal, 1936); and Raoul Dandurand, Les mémoires du sénateur Raoul Dandurand (1861–1942), Marcel Hamelin, édit. (Québec, 1967). Pertinent theses and dissertations include René Castonguay, “La motion Francœur (1917–1918)” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1989); Ruby Heap, “L’Église, l’état et l’enseignement primaire public catholique au Québec, 1897–1920” (thèse de phd, univ. de Montréal, 1987); and Edwidge Munn, “Les relations entre Wilfrid Laurier et Lomer Gouin, de 1905 à 1908” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1985).
There are two articles that are entirely devoted to Gouin – P. A. Dutil, “The politics of progressivism in Quebec: the Gouin ‘coup’ revisited,” CHR, 69 (1988): 441–65 and Bernard Weilbrenner, “Les idées politiques de Lomer Gouin,” CHA, Report, 1965: 46–57 – and he figures prominently in a number of others: in F. W. Gibson, “The cabinet of 1921,” in Cabinet formation and bicultural relations: seven case studies, ed. F. W. Gibson (Ottawa, 1970), 63–104; in Jean Hamelin et al., “Les élections provinciales dans le Québec,” Cahiers de géographie de Québec (Québec), 4 (1959–60): 5–207; and in three articles by Ruby Heap, “Libéralisme et éducation au Québec à la fin du XIXe et au début du XXe siècles,” in Combats libéraux au tournant du XXe siècle, sous la dir. d’Yvan Lamonde (Montréal, 1995), 99–118, “La Ligue de l’enseignement (1902–1904): héritage du passé et nouveaux défis,” RHAF, 36 (1982–83): 339–73, and “Urbanisation et éducation: la centralisation scolaire à Montréal au début du XXe siècle,” CHA, Hist. papers, 1985: 132–55.
Aside from Jacques Gouin’s brief study, Sir Lomer Gouin (Montréal-Nord, [1981?]), and the collection of articles by Gonzalve Desaulniers*, Sir Lomer Gouin: sa vie, son œuvre ([Montréal], 1923), Gouin has never been the subject of a biography. On the other hand, several specialized studies contain information about him and allow him to be better placed in context: Réal Bélanger, Wilfrid Laurier; quand la politique devient passion (Québec et Montréal, 1986); R. C. Brown, Robert Laird Borden, a biography (2v., Toronto, 1975–80), 2; René Castonguay, Rodolphe Lemieux et le Parti libéral, 1866–1937: le chevalier du roi (Sainte-Foy, Qué., 2000); R. MacG. Dawson and H. B. Neatby, William Lyon Mackenzie King: a political biography (3v., Toronto, 1958–76), 1–2; P. [A.] Dutil, Devil’s advocate: Godfroy Langlois and the politics of Liberal progressivism in Laurier’s Quebec (Montreal and Toronto, 1994); John English, The decline of politics: the Conservatives and the party system, 1901–20 (Toronto, 1977); Roger Graham, Arthur Meighen: a biography (3v., Toronto, 1960–65), 1–2; Alain Lacombe, Errol Bouchette, 1862–1912: un intellectuel (Saint-Laurent, Qué., 1997); Claude Larivière, Albert Saint-Martin, militant d’avant-garde, 1865–1947 (Laval, Qué., 1979); Joseph Levitt, Henri Bourassa and the golden calf; the social program of the nationalists of Quebec (1900–1914) (Ottawa, 1969); H. B. Neatby, Laurier and a Liberal Quebec; a study in political management, ed. R. T. Clippingdale (Toronto, 1973); Hélène Pelletier-Baillargeon, Olivar Asselin et son temps (2v. parus, [Montréal], 1996–?); Yves Roby, Les Québécois et les investissements américains (1918–1929) (Québec, 1976); Fernande Roy, Progrès, harmonie, liberté: le libéralisme des milieux d’affaires francophones de Montréal au tournant du siècle (Montréal, 1988); three works by Robert Rumilly, Henri Bourassa: la vie publique d’un grand Canadien (Montréal, 1953); Hist. de la prov. de Québec, 8–30; Histoire de l’École des hautes études commerciales de Montréal, 1907–1967 (Montréal, 1966); Adrien Thério, Jules Fournier, journaliste de combat (Montréal et Paris, 1954); B. L. Vigod, Quebec before Duplessis: the political career of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau (Kingston, Ont., and Montreal, 1986); and two works by Mason Wade, The French Canadians, 1760–1945 (Toronto 1956); The French Canadians, 1760–1967 (rev. ed. 2v., Toronto, 1968).
Other useful sources are ANQ-M, CE601-S33, 24 mai 1888; ANQ-Q, CE301-S9, 19 mars 1861; Rosario Gauthier, Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde de Montréal: mariages, 1862–1964 (2v., [Saint-Jérôme, Qué.], 1993); La Presse, 6 sept. 1904.
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Cite This Article
Richard Jones, “GOUIN, Sir LOMER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 20, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gouin_lomer_15E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Richard Jones|
|Title of Article:||GOUIN, Sir LOMER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||March 20, 2023|