Paul Gérin-Lajoie, CC, GOQ, lawyer and politician (born 23 February 1920 in Montreal, QC; died 25 June 2018 in Montreal), is one of the great figures of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. He served as minister of Youth (1960–64) and Education (1964–66) in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Lesage. Gérin-Lajoie was responsible for reforming Quebec’s education system and formulating Quebec’s first international-relations policy, two milestone achievements of this period that helped to define modern Quebec. He has also played a leading role in the field of international development, as president first of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and then of the Paul Gérin-Lajoie Foundation.
Education and Early Career
The son of Henri Gérin-Lajoie and Pauline Dorion, Paul Gérin-Lajoie was born into a Quebec family that had been known for generations for its social, political and intellectual engagement. His great-grandfather was the journalist and lawyer Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, author of the famous poem “Un Canadien errant” [“The Lost Canadian”]. His grandmother Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie was a pioneer in the struggle for women’s rights in Quebec. His great-aunt Justine Lacoste-Beaubien and his aunt Marie Gérin-Lajoie both played leading roles in the fields of health care and social services, respectively founding a children’s hospital (the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine) and a religious organization dedicated to community action (the Institut Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Conseil).
Paul Gérin-Lajoie studied at Collège Brébeuf in Montreal, then received his law degree from the Université de Montréal. Called to the Quebec Bar in 1943, he received a Rhodes Scholarship in 1945 and used it to earn a doctorate in constitutional law from Oxford University in 1948. In 1953, he became legal counsel for the federal Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. From 1954 to 1957, he served the Royal Commission on Coastal Trade in the same capacity. In 1957, he founded the weekly newspaper L’Écho de Vaudreuil-Soulanges et Jacques-Cartier. Gérin-Lajoie subsequently worked as legal counsel for the City of Montreal and various organizations, including the Fédération des collèges classiques (Federation of Classic Colleges), the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec (Federation of Quebec School Boards), the Chambre de commerce de la province de Québec, and the Fédération des pilotes du fleuve Saint-Laurent.
Minister in the Lesage Government
A star candidate in Quebec’s 1960 general election, Gérin-Lajoie was elected as Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly for the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Premier Jean Lesage appointed Gérin-Lajoie first as his minister of Youth (1960–64) and then as his minister of Education (1964–66). As the first head of the newly founded Quebec Ministry of Education, Gérin-Lajoie undertook a sweeping reform of Quebec’s education system, which until then had been operated mainly by the Roman Catholic clergy. He established a centralized, secular system that emphasized postsecondary education.
As an eminent specialist in international law and constitutional law, Paul Gérin-Lajoie was well equipped to defend Quebec’s interests in the federal-provincial disputes that were so common at that time. In April 1965, four years after the government of Quebec had opened its first delegation abroad, in Paris, he formulated Quebec’s first policy on international relations: in two speeches to representatives of foreign countries, he expressed Quebec’s desire to play a role on the international stage, without the consent or oversight of Canada’s federal government. The legal doctrine underlying these speeches and this vision of Quebec’s international relations was summed up in the expression “the external extension of Quebec’s internal jurisdictions”. In other words, Quebec asserted the right to negotiate and implement treaties and other international agreements in the areas of jurisdiction granted to it under the Canadian Constitution, such as health, education and culture. This position became known as the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine.
From 1966 to 1969, Gérin-Lajoie chaired the Quebec Liberal Party’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Sitting in opposition after the Liberal defeat of June 1966, he resigned from the Quebec legislature on 20 June 1969.
Life after Politics
Gérin-Lajoie was a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa (1969-1970) and the Université de Montréal (1970-1975). He served as president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) from 1970 to 1977. In this role, he showed himself to be both open-minded and highly active, carving out a leading role for Canada in cooperation with developing countries. He also sat on the boards of governors of the World Bank and each of the major regional development banks for Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.
In 1977, he established the Paul Gérin-Lajoie Foundation, a philanthropic organization for international cooperation that helps to educate children in Africa and Haiti by sponsoring students and supporting literacy efforts. Since 1991, this foundation has also sponsored the Dictée PGL, an annual language-skills competition conducted in Canada’s French-language schools as a playful way of raising funds to build new schools and develop education programs.
A building at the Université du Québec à Montréal, a regional university-outreach centre in Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec (with the Université du Québec en Outaouais, Université Laval and the École nationale d’administration publique as partners) and an occupational-training centre at the École secondaire de la Cité-des-jeunes have all been named in Gérin-Lajoie’s honour. In 2009, the Fondation de la Tolérance created the Prix de la Tolérance Paul Gérin-Lajoie (Paul Gérin-Lajoie Tolerance Award). Upon Gérin-Lajoie’s death on 25 June 2018, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that Quebec would hold a state funeral with the following remarks:
On the day after our fête nationale, Paul Gérin-Lajoie, a figure of historic proportions at the origin of modern Québec, has left us. This morning, I had the opportunity to meet with Paul Gérin-Lajoie’s son, François Gérin-Lajoie. As a result of our discussion, I am announcing that we will hold a state funeral for Paul Gérin-Lajoie. During the Quiet Revolution, modernization and democratization of education opened the doors of modernity to Quebecers. Mr. Gérin-Lajoie left his stamp on his time and our history. More than half a century later, our public educational institutions are a testament to his memory. The Québec of 2018 owes a great deal to Paul Gérin-Lajoie, and this recognition will traverse our era and future generations.
Honours and Awards
- Prix David award for literature, Government of Québec (1950)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Université de Montréal (1963)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Mount Allison University (1964)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, McGill University (1964)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Carleton University (1965)
- Honorary Doctor of Education, Université Laval (1965)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, University of Western Ontario (1966)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Bishop’s University (1966)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Sir George Williams University (1966)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, University of Ottawa (1974)
- Honorary Doctor of Law, Universidade Cândido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1976)
- World Federalists of Canada World Peace Award (1976)
- Commander of the Order of Merit, Order of Saint John of Jerusalem and Malta (1976)
- Grand Officer of the National Order of the Lion of Senegal (1977)
- Doctor of the University, Université de Sherbrooke (1978)
- Companion of the Order of Canada (1979)
- Officer of the National Order of Québec (1987)
- Honorary doctorate, Université du Québec à Montréal (1992)
- Officer of the Ordre de la Pléiade, Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (1995)
- Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec (1998)
- Honorary Doctor of Education, Université du Québec en Outaouais (2001)
- Knight of the Legion of Honour (2002)
- Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
- Prix Blanche Lemco Van Ginkel, Ordre des urbanistes du Québec (2003)
- Great Montrealer (Social), Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal (2007)
- Albert Einstein Gold Medal, UNESCO (2008)
- Grand Officer of the National Order of the Lion of Mali (2008)
- Emeritus member of the Quebec Order of Excellence in Education, Government of Quebec (2018)