Education and Early Career

The son of Henri Gérin-Lajoie and Pauline Dorion, Paul Gérin-Lajoie was born into a Québec 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 Québec. 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 Montréal, 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 Montréal and various organizations, including the Fédération des collèges classiques (Federation of Classic Colleges), the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec (Federation of Québec 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 Québec’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 (196064) and then as his minister of Education (196466). As the first head of the newly founded Québec Ministry of Education, Gérin-Lajoie undertook a sweeping reform of Québec’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 Québec’s interests in the federal-provincial disputes that were so common at that time. In April 1965, four years after the government of Québec had opened its first delegation abroad, in Paris, he formulated Québec’s first policy on international relations: in two speeches to representatives of foreign countries, he expressed Québec’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 Québec’s international relations was summed up in the expression “the external extension of Québec’s internal jurisdictions”. In other words, Québec 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 Québec Liberal Party’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Sitting in opposition after the Liberal defeat of June 1966, he resigned from the Québec 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, Québec (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).

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)