Provincial Show-Down

In the federal side of the bracket, it will be 1988 versus 1957/58, after the free trade election cruised to a 74% win and Dief’s dominance lead to a squeaker of a win (51% to 49%).

So the time has come to select the final showdown on the provincial side. The following four elections ran away with things in round 1 but I’m expecting closer races this time around. It’s the battle of Quebec in one semi and a pair of political dynasties born one year apart in the other.

(4) 1960 Quebec vs. (1) 1976 Quebec

The Case for 1960: When political dynasties fall, it’s always memorable. And few political dynasties deserved to fall more than the Union Nationale, who had ruled Quebec since World War 2. Under Duplesis, electoral fraud was common, the press was oppressed, and the province resisted modernization, being controlled by the Catholic Church and US business. After Duplesis (and his reformist successor Paul Sauve) died, the stage was set for an 8 seat Jean Lesage win under the Maîtres chez nous slogan.

The win started the quiet revolution – Quebec became more secular, Hydro Quebec come into being, economic and social reforms were passed, and nationalist sentiment bubbled to the surface. The Liberal win also jump started the political career of a young Cabinet Minister by the name of Rene Levesque and, in many ways, set the stage for the 1976 election shocker.

The Case for 1976: It’s rare that an election stuns a province, never mind a country but 1976 did just that, drawing headlines around the world. Given the rise of the PQ, the corruption scandals surrounding Bourassa, and the polls that showed Levesque marching to a win, the result should not have been surprising, but it still was.

As for the consequences, we all know them. Bill 101 came into being, and the exodus of head offices out of Montreal began. Two referendums and what seemed like a dozen unity crises came and went. And yet, the country still stands. So while the 1976 Quebec election did not destroy Canada, it certainly changed it forever.

Which Election Was Bigger?
(4) Quebec 1960 (Lesage over Barrette)
(1) Quebec 1976 (Levesque over Bourassa)
See Results

(3) 1943 Ontario vs. (2) 1944 Saskatchewan

The Case for 1943: The 1943 Ontario election was a dog fight, with three parties coming within 5% of each other and the PCs holding on for a 4 seat minority government victory. The Liberals, victims of a Hepburn-King feud, were booted from power, while the surging CCF came up just short.

The resulting 42 years of PC dominance, at a time when the Liberals owned the province federally, has been well documented and certainly changed Ontario’s history dramatically. But the real reason this election left a mark was because of what didn’t happen – that is, the CCF coming up just short. If you think a CCF government in Saskatchewan changed Canada forever, just imagine the impact one in Canada’s largest province would have had…

The Case for 1944: While the previous year’s Ontario vote was close, Tommy Douglas’ win was an absolute rout, blowing out the governing Liberals and establishing a 20 year CCF dynasty that would change Saskatchewan forever. The win was the first ever for a socialist party in North America, raising eyebrows across the continent.

The election’s impact on Canada as a whole cannot the under-estimated either. While the CCF’s success in Saskatchewan never materialized into a federal NDP win, three other provinces have since elected CCF/NDP governments and 1944 no doubt paved the way for that. Many of Douglas’ policies, most notably health care, would be later adopted by the federal Liberals and strong CCF performances like these two elections scared Mackenzie King to the left on many issues. For better or worse, much of Canada’s current welfare state can be traced back to 1944’s shocker on the Prairies.

Which Election Was Bigger?
(3) 1943 Ontario (Drew over Nixon)
(2) 1944 Saskatchewan (Douglas over Patterson)
See Results

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Canada's Biggest Election

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at and online at the National Post.

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