Battle of the Law School Premiers & Other Quebec Curios

René Lévesque, Jean Lesage, and Daniel Johnson Sr. during the inauguration of the Manic-5 hydroelectric dam, 1968. Source: Musée Virtuel/Hydro-Québec. René Lévesque, Jean Lesage, and Daniel Johnson Sr. during the inauguration of the Manic-5 hydroelectric dam, 1968. Source: Musée Virtuel/Hydro-Québec.

It is not surprising that many of our Quebec premiers have been extremely accomplished in their respective domains of work. Premiers have come from diverse backgrounds, such as agriculture (Godbout), engineering (Barrette), and economists (Parizeau). But overall, the most popular professions for Premiers have been undoubtedly lawyers or those in the legal profession. Which school will win the throne for most Quebec lawyers coming from their school? Some statistics to follow.

Conforming to the constitution, the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec names the Premier (in French, s/he is literally the “Premier/Première Ministre”, or Prime Minister, of Quebec). This is the same as the Governor General naming the Prime Minister of Canada: it is a formality. By tradition, the Premier comes from the party who has won the most seats in the National Assembly. If the Premier has not won his seat, he must do so by a by-election, as was the case of Robert Bourassa’s sweeping 1985 victory of the Liberal Party…in which he could not win his own seat. He later was elected in a by-election in the district of Saint Laurent and became Premier. Elections happen every five years from the date that the last Premier was elected, unless the Premier asks for a dissolution prior to that. Maurice Duplessis called an awkward 1939 election in which he wanted to show that he could be re-elected in the face of war—and lost to Adélard Godbout.

There are five major law schools in Quebec. By official date of founding, the oldest is McGill (1848), followed by University of Laval (1852), University of Montreal (1892 as part of the university, 1878 as part of the University of Laval), University of Sherbrooke (1954), and UQAM (1969). McGill offers a combined dual degree of common and civil law, whereas Montreal and Sherbrooke in particular offer a three-year civil law programme followed by a one year optional common law degree. UQAM is notable for not having a separate faculty for law; rather, it is in the department of legal sciences.

Out of the 31 Premiers of Quebec (since its founding as a province of Canada in 1867), 23 were practising lawyers or notaries prior to becoming Premier. Nine studied law under other lawyers or came from seminaries, not coming from any faculty built specifically for the study of law. The first Premier to come from a law faculty was the tenth Premier, Edmund Flynn from the University of Laval. In total, Laval has six of their graduates going on to become Premier, Montreal had eight, and Sherbrooke had one. Notables include René Lévesque, a Laval attendee who ended up with Radio-Canada instead of practising law; Duplessis, a graduate of what would become the University of Montreal; and Jean Charest, graduate of Sherbrooke.

So what is the best university to go to if you plan to become Premier? While it seems it could be either Laval or the University of Montreal, the choice is not clear. After all, a bit of luck is needed as well.