Politician Pauline Marois (born 29 March 1949 in Limoilou, a working-class neighbourhood of Québec City) is the first woman to be elected Premier of Québec. She also holds the distinction of having held the most ministerial offices in the province’s history, including that of Minister of Finance.

Family and Education

Pauline Marois and her four brothers and sisters were raised in Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon. Their father was a mechanic, and their mother was a teacher. Despite her working-class background, Ms. Marois studied at a reputable private high school in Sillery, and then at Université Laval. When she was 20 years old, she married Claude Blanchet, a young man from a neighbouring village whom she had been dating since high school and who became an entrepreneur. They would have four children together. After completing a Bachelor’s degree in social work at Université Laval, Marois went on to receive a Master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the Université de Montréal’s École des hautes études commerciales (HEC). Her future political activity would focus on social and economic issues. She began her working life in the non-profit and healthcare sectors in the Outaouais region and helped to set up the Association des coopératives d'économie familiale [Association of family economy cooperatives] and the Île-de-Hull local community services centre in 1976.

Political Career

Pauline Marois entered politics as then Finance Minister Jacques Parizeau’s press attaché (1978-79). She subsequently became the principal private secretary to Lise Payette, Minister of State for the Status of Women.

Ms. Marois ran for election in 1981 at the request of René Lévesque and was elected MNA for the riding of La Peltrie. She gave birth to her second child only 11 days later. In the same year, she became Minister of State for the Status of Women and member of the Priorities Committee in the second term of the René Levesque government. In 1982, she became Vice-Chair of the Treasury Board and then Minister of Labour and Income Security, while also serving as Minister for the Outaouais region.

Ms. Marois finished second behind Pierre-Marc Johnson in the 1985 PQ leadership race. Following the defeat of the Parti Québécois in the 1985 general election, she began teaching at the Université du Québec. At the request of Jacques Parizeau, she assumed the role of PQ platform advisor, and after that she became Vice-President and then President of the National Executive.

In 1989, she was elected as MNA for Taillon, a seat that was left vacant after René Lévesque’s resignation. She served as Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Official Opposition critic for industry and trade (1989-91), and then Treasury Board and public administration critic, assuming responsibility for plans to integrate federal public servants into a sovereign Québec.

Re-elected in the riding of Taillon in 1994, (she would be re-elected again in 1998 and in 2003), Marois was appointed Minister for Child and Family Welfare, Minister for Government Administration and Public Service, as well as Chair of the Treasury Board under the Parizeau government.

After the 1995 referendum, she became the first woman to be appointed Minister of Finance of Québec.

In 1996, newly elected Premier Lucien Bouchard appointed Ms. Marois as Minister of Education to implement a difficult reform process. She also served as Minister responsible for the Montérégie region at that time. In 1998, she became Minister of Health and Social Services, another challenging position because of the shift to ambulatory care services and cutbacks in federal healthcare transfers.

Her major achievements as Minister for Child and Family Welfare were establishing early childhood centres and implementing a daycare system available to all parents for the cost of five dollars a day. As Minister of Education, she brought about the secularization of education by converting the Catholic and Protestant school boards into French-language and English-language boards.

Under the leadership of Premier Bernard Landry , Ms. Marois once again became Minister of Finance (2001-2003). She was also appointed Deputy Premier of Québec and was the third woman to hold the position. By the time the PQ was defeated in the general election of 29 April 2003, she had held 14 ministerial appointments.

Parti Québécois Leadership

In 2005, Pauline Marois joined the call for Bernard Landry to step down. He would resign as Leader of the Opposition, despite receiving 76% support in a confidence vote. Marois ran for the leadership for a second time on 15 November 2005 but lost, garnering 30.56% of the vote against her opponent, André Boisclair. She then retired from political life.

Eighteen months later, she returned following André Boisclair‘s resignation, which was brought on by a disastrous election campaign in which the Parti Québécois slipped to third place. On 26 June 2007, Pauline Marois was elected by acclamation as the seventh leader of the Parti Québécois, and in a by-election on 24 September 2007 she became MNA for Charlevoix.

In the 2008 general election, she re-established the Parti Québécois as the Official Opposition with 51 MNAs elected. Despite being a member of the Opposition, she proposed Bill 195, a new bill to establish Québec citizenship, soon after the Bouchard-Taylor Commission hearings.

Premier of Québec

On 4 September 2012, Pauline Marois was elected Premier of Québec after a tough campaign. In a televised debate, she squared off against a new left-wing pro-independence party, a party created by a right wing dissident, as well as the leader of the Liberal Party and outgoing Premier.

While giving her victory speech to a crowd of her supporters, Ms. Marois was the victim of an assassination attempt. The shooter, anti-independence activist Henry Bain, killed a technician at point blank range before his automatic rifle jammed. Marois narrowly escaped death.

As the leader of a minority government with 54 MNAs out of 125, she made it a priority to counter the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (CAQ), on the right, and Québec solidaire, on the left. She had her Minister of Finance re-establish the zero deficit budget target in her first year in power and institute the Banque de développement économique du Québec. She tasked her team with cleaning up government contracts, making the healthcare system more effective and efficient, developing a new industrial policy, and revising elementary and secondary school history courses. She also called on her team to make peace with university students after a bitter, long-drawn-out strike against the tuition fees imposed by the previous government.

Ms. Marois asked Bernard Drainville, the new Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, to propose amendments to strengthen Bill 101, Québec’s Charter of the French Language. The Bill had been attacked and weakened by the federal courts a number of times over the previous 30 years.

Québec Charter of Values

Ms. Marois then asked Mr. Drainville to propose a charter on secularism, which he made public on 10 September 2013. The charter aims to "limit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel in carrying out their duties" and to "make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service."

The charter has sparked an impassioned debate that had been simmering in Québec for a decade. Ms. Marois and Mr. Drainville maintain that its aim is to “establish an implementation policy for state organizations to ensure the religious neutrality of the state and the oversight of requests for religious accommodation."

In the Minister’s opinion, the overall intent is to finish what was started during the Quiet Revolution under Jean Lesage by making education secular. The public debate has been launched, but it has not yet been settled once and for all. To date, numerous stakeholders and all political parties have taken a position in the debate.