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What Goes Up Must Come Down

For the week of Monday, December 16, 2013

On December 16, 1891, Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier received a letter from Auguste-Réal Angers, Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, removing him from his duties for embezzlement. Although the courts acquitted him of these charges, this letter marked the beginning of the end for Honoré Mercier.

Honoré Mercier (1840-94)
© Library and Archives Canada / C-003303
Born in 1840 into a family of French-Canadian patriotic farmers, Mercier became a journalist and then a lawyer before entering politics, first at the federal level and then provincial. Founder and leader of the Parti national, he was elected premier of Quebec in 1887. During his term, he sought to unite Quebeckers regardless of their political views. His policies and actions favouring provincial autonomy, railway building, agriculture and the colonizing of undeveloped lands earned him a great deal of admiration.

Mercier’s fame spread even to Europe. In spring 1891, he toured parts of that continent, where he was awarded a number of titles, including Count Palative! However, this fame was short-lived. Mercier’s intransigence aroused the animosity of some people, and the public debt incurred by his government undermined the public’s trust. The Chaleur Bay scandal was the final straw.

The Honourable Auguste-Réal Angers
© Library and Archives Canada / “Les Hommes du Jour” / C 003851

A few years earlier, Mercier had hired contractor Charles Armstrong to build a railway to Chaleur Bay. Four years later, he withdrew the contract. While Mercier was travelling in Europe, Ernest Pacaud, his finance minister, paid the contractor $175,000 in compensation, $100,000 of which was returned to the Parti national. Quebeckers were outraged by the rumours that their money was being used to line the Premier’s pockets. Lieutenant Governor Angers called for Mercier’s resignation before the investigation was completed.

However, the investigation could not prove Mercier’s involvement in the scandal. Cleared of the charges against him, he returned to office in the 1892 provincial election. His health failing, Mercier was bedridden in August 1894 and died before the end of the year. Then, the people began to mythicize him. 

Honoré Mercier was designated as a person of national historic significance in recognition of his achievements as Premier of Quebec.

To learn about other Canadian politicians, read The First Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, A Reluctant First Among Equals, Birth of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, A Scandal Exposed in the This Week in History archives.

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