LEBLANC, Sir PIERRE-ÉVARISTE (baptized Pierre-Laurent-Damase-Évariste), teacher, lawyer, politician, and lieutenant governor; b. 10 Aug. 1853 in Saint-Martin (Laval), Lower Canada, son of Joseph Leblanc, a blacksmith, and Adèle Bélanger; m. 12 Jan. 1886 Josephine-Hermine Beaudry (d. February 1931) in the parish of Saint-Jacques, Montreal, and they had three children; d. 18 Oct. 1918 at Spencer Wood, in Sillery, Que., and was buried 21 October in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, Montreal.
It was long maintained that Pierre-Évariste Leblanc’s ancestors were of Acadian origin and had come to Île Jesus, near Montreal, in 1757, following the deportation carried out by Charles Lawrence*. However, genealogical research seems to invalidate this claim. As far back as 1666 the marriages and burials of his forebears were registered in Ville-Marie (Montreal), Charlesbourg, Saint-Laurent, and Saul-tau-Récollet (Montreal North).
Leblanc studied at the local academy and then attended the École Normale Jacques-Cartier in Montreal, winning the Prince of Wales Medal upon graduation in 1873. He taught for eight years at his alma mater, where he is believed to have given private lessons for a fee. He apparently soon became disenchanted with the profession. According to one contemporary, “His quick temper overrode the patience that must be shown in order to impart to young people the rules and exceptions of French grammar, arithmetic, and geography.” While still engaged in teaching, Leblanc began studying law at McGill College in 1875–76, and then articled in the offices of Siméon Pagnuelo and Joseph-Aldric Ouimet. Called to the bar on 11 July 1879, he practised with the legal firm of Leblanc et Brossard in Montreal. He would be given a federal QC on 7 March 1893 and a provincial one on 9 June 1899.
Before long Leblanc was involved in political life. In the winter of 1874–75, with Alfred Duclos* De Celles, Fabien Vanasse, Guillaume-Alphonse Nantel*, and Joseph-Gédéon-Horace Bergeron, he founded the Club Cartier. Its purpose was to reinvigorate the federal Conservative party, which had been defeated in the election of January 1874 by the Liberals under Alexander Mackenzie*, and to recruit young people. In this club Leblanc “made his initial attempts at the art of public speaking.” He found himself on the hustings in the spring of 1878, during the provincial campaign that followed the dismissal of Premier Charles Boucher de Boucherville by Lieutenant Governor Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just. In 1898, under circumstances even more difficult for the Conservative party, Leblanc and his sympathizers would found yet another political club, the Conservative Association of Montreal.
Leblanc won a seat for the first time in the provincial by-election of 30 Oct. 1882, when he was returned as the Conservative member for Laval. On 19 Jan. 1883 he was chosen to move the adoption of the address in reply to the speech from the throne, a privilege underlining the esteem in which the party held him. He also made his first speech in the Legislative Assembly, covering, in succession, judicial reform (codification of the laws, juries), the economy (forests, mines), colonization, government expenditures, the civil servants’ pension plan, alcoholic beverages, protection against insurance companies, and freshwater fishing. Newspaper columnists noted that the new mla seemed “very much at ease,” and that he was “witheringly scornful towards his opponents.” During the session Leblanc served on two committees, moved four petitions, three bills, and a resolution, and asked three questions. He was even called on five times to substitute for the speaker, Louis-Olivier Taillon*. But his first venture into the legislature proved brief. On 25 May 1883 his election was annulled on grounds of corrupt practices and he was defeated in the by-election held on 13 June. However, since the victory of his opponent, Amédée Gaboury, was overturned on 31 May 1884, new writs were issued for 14 July, Leblanc and Gaboury again being candidates. Leblanc won and he was also successful in 1886, but on 7 April 1888 the balloting was once more declared invalid, on grounds of fraudulent activities. He managed to win the by-election of 8 May 1888, was re-elected in 1890, and was returned by acclamation in 1892.
During these years as a back-bencher, Leblanc was involved in every battle. He defended the stance of Sir John A. Macdonald*’s Conservative federal government in the Riel affair [see Louis Riel*]. He opposed a motion to congratulate British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, who was proposing to grant home rule to Ireland. He denounced a bill to broaden the franchise and give workers time off for political activities. Leblanc’s speeches touched off several incidents during the session. The member for Laval used every available weapon and attacked on all fronts.
After the dismissal of Premier Honoré Mercier* by Lieutenant Governor Auguste-Réal Angers in 1891 and the election of 8 March 1892, Leblanc was unanimously voted in as speaker of the Legislative Assembly on 26 April. At first glance, the Boucherville government’s choice may seem incongruous, given Leblanc’s history of partisan politics and political independence of mind, but it must be remembered that Leblanc had already five times replaced the speaker and had been completely overlooked afterwards. During the period 1892–96 he twice had the casting vote in the legislature. In one case he supported the government mlas, who opposed the abolition of the Legislative Council. In the other, he sided against them to ensure second reading of a bill amending the Municipal Code. The opposition challenged a number of his rulings but the majority in the assembly upheld all of them. Leblanc never succeeded in smoothing the sharp edges of his personality; he retained his “brawling” style, his intransigence, and, perhaps, his partisan spirit. Journalist Omer Héroux* of Le Devoir would remark, however, a few days after Leblanc’s death, that he “presided over the house with great impartiality.” While he was speaker, the house committee on rules was almost ignored. Its members were called together only four times in 61 months. (His predecessor, Félix-Gabriel Marchand*, had convened the committee 18 times in 51 months.)
The Conservatives lost the election of 11 May 1897, but Leblanc was returned in his Laval “fief” and would retain the seat until 1908. During this period, the number of Conservative mlas dropped from seventeen in 1897 to seven in 1900 and five in 1904. Leblanc was one of the chief lieutenants of opposition leader Edmund James Flynn* after the defeat of 1897, and he succeeded him in 1904. His rise to this position confirmed his talents as a debater. He defended the church’s exemption from taxation against the decision taken by the municipality of Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski (Rimouski) to tax religious property. He denounced the increase in public expenditures. He took the floor frequently and on every subject, making himself the spokesman for many citizens.
On 14 Nov. 1907 the constituents of Laval organized a celebration to honour Leblanc’s 25 years in the legislature, but he lost his seat in the general election of June 1908. After that result was declared invalid on 19 November, he was again defeated on 28 December. It was said that he had overestimated his strength during the June contest and had neglected his riding. Leblanc subsequently returned to the practice of law. He kept in touch with the mlas, since he often came to Quebec when the legislature was in session to appear before the private bills committee on behalf of clients. It seems that the old Conservative mlas were soon hoping for his return to the assembly, being tired of the duumvirate of Joseph-Mathias Tellier* and Henri Bourassa*, and that they considered offering him a Montreal riding.
When Lieutenant Governor Sir François Langelier died on 8 Feb. 1915 with the legislature in mid session, the federal Conservative government, encouraged by a majority of the province’s Conservative mlas, appointed Leblanc his successor. Leblanc served in this capacity from 12 Feb. 1915 until his death on 18 Oct. 1918.
Made a cmg in 1910, Leblanc became a kcmg on 3 June 1916. He was also a knight of the order of St John of Jerusalem in England and a member of the Mount Royal Club, the St James Club, the Montreal Hunt Club, the Garrison Club at Quebec, and the Union Club in Montreal.
Sir Pierre-Évariste Leblanc’s motto, “Always forthright,” accurately sums up his political behaviour. A lifelong staunch Conservative, he was an aggressive mla. However, his spontaneity, unselfishness, candour, and warmth apparently did much to break down partisan barriers and resentments, as contemporaries such as De Celles, Thomas Chapais*, and Abbé Elie-Joseph-Arthur Auclair bear witness. Omer Héroux expressed their thoughts when he wrote: “For 15 years the late lieutenant governor was one of his party’s most ardent fighters. Endowed with unusual physical strength and a considerable gift for public speaking, quick to retort . . . passionately fond of political battles, he was always in the front line when his party needed him. . . . Personally, we think he had no enemies.”
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 21 oct. 1918. ANQ-M, CE1-48, 10 août 1853, 12 janv. 1886. NA, MG 30, D1, 18: 62. Le Citoyen (Asbestos, Qué.), 20 juin 1978. Le Courrier de Saint-Jean (Iberville, Qué.), 1er nov. 1907. Le Devoir, 19, 21 oct. 1918. Le Monde illustré (Montréal), 14 mai 1892. Le Moniteur acadien, 25 oct. 1918. Montreal Daily Herald, 8 May 1909. La Patrie, 31 mars 1890. F.-J. Audet et al., “Les lieutenants-gouverneurs de la province de Québec,” Cahiers des Dix, 27 (1962): 242–43. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). CPG, 1918. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.2. J. [-E.]-A. Froment, Histoire de Saint-Martin (comté Laval-Île-Jésus) et compte rendu des noces d’or de son curé M. l’abbé Maxime Leblanc (Joliette, Qué., 1915), 109–14. GPQ. André Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques au Canada français, 1836–1900 (Québec, 1965), 298. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Qué., Assemblée Législative, Débats, 1883, 1890, 1892, 1907; Journaux, 1883–84, 1886–97. Résultats électoraux depuis 1867. RPQ. Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, vols.4–5, 7, 12–13, 19.