Now largely either symbolic or absent altogether, the role of Quebec Lieutenant was for much of Canada’s history second only to the Prime Minister in terms of importance in cabinet.
The reason for this is simple. Through the first century of Canadian history, every non-Quebec Prime Minister of Canada – like the huge majority of his confrères in English Canada – was a resolutely uniligual English-speaker.
At the same time, pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec’s history, along with its power structures and political culture, made it an indecipherable terra incognita for outsiders (see entry for Two Solitudes), hence the need for a senior minister with extensive powers to represent Quebec at the federal cabinet table – and vice versa.
The archetypal Quebec Lieutenant was Ernest Lapointe, longtime Justice Minister in the governments of William Lyon Mackenzie King. Lapointe’s sudden death in 1941 prompted King to recruit future Prime Minister “Uncle” Louis St Laurent into government.
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