The Failure of l'Action libérale nationale


199 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0831-7
DDC 324.2714'093




Reviewed by Peter Henderson

Peter Henderson teaches history at Douglas College in New Westminster,


This book illustrates how the forces that eventually brought about
Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s failed to do so in the 1930s.
It tells how the province’s middle-class professionals and
small-business owners joined to try to preserve Quebec’s Catholic,
French, and rural character, while simultaneously coming to grips with
modern industrialized society.

I cannot do better than use frequent quotes, as follows.

“Their objective was to see that French Canada’s traditional lay
and clerical elites and a new class of highly trained francophone
technocrats occupied positions which would give them power over all
aspects of life in the province.”

“Their proposals for doing so involved shoring up Quebec agriculture
and furthering the cause of small business at the expense, if necessary,
of trusts and monopolies.”

“The prolonged economic collapse of the early thirties had limited
the already restricted career opportunities available to francophone
professionals and raised the spectre of working-class rejection of the
capitalist system and traditional French-Canadian Catholic values.”

However, to achieve power, the Action Libérale Nationale joined with
the Quebec Conservatives to form the Union Nationale, under the
exceptionally astute Maurice Duplessis.

“Factionalism within the ALN and the political inexperience and
ineptitude of most members . . . helped Duplessis to ensure that there
would be no radical departures from existing political, economic or
social norms under a Union Nationale government.”

“It was not until Duplessis had disappeared from the political scene
late in 1959 that power in Quebec passed to younger men desirous of
implementing some of the ALN’s nationalist and reformist policies.”

This episode is little known in English Canada, but the author’s
style, bibliography, and footnotes make this book a model of what
readable political history ought to be. It is not of general appeal, but
should be read by all Canadian students of political science.


Dirks, Patricia., “The Failure of l'Action libérale nationale,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 5, 2023,