Paul Gérin-Lajoie, Quebec’s first education minister, dead at 98

Former Quebec education minister Paul Gerin-Lajoie waves as he receives the George-Emile-Lapalme award at a ceremony for Les Prix du Quebec, Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

Paul Gérin-Lajoie, one of the driving forces behind a massive reform of Quebec’s education system in the 1960s, has died at the age of 98.

The former cabinet minister was surrounded by loved ones at the time of his death.

“He was not only a visionary, a great builder, [and] a tireless worker, but also a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather loved and appreciated by his family,” his children said in a statement.

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Gérin-Lajoie was first elected to the Quebec National Assembly as a Liberal Party MNA in 1960. Under the Jean Lesage government, he became Quebec’s youth minister.

In 1964, he became the province’s first education minister and has since been widely recognized as a symbol of the Quiet Revolution.

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In his time in politics, Gérin-Lajoie was best known for overhauling Quebec’s education system and for his dedication to modernizing the province.

As minister of education, he pushed for a free public education system and for children to attend school until the age of 16. Gérin-Lajoie also implemented a high school network and more training for teachers.

After Union Nationale was elected to power in 1966, Gérin-Lajoie continued to champion Quebec’s education system as the opposition. He supported the creation of CEGEPs and the implementation of the Université du Québec network.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard described the political leader as a prominent historical figure.

“The Quebec of 2018 owes a lot to Paul Gérin-Lajoie, who marked his time and our history,” said Couillard.

“I offer my sincerest condolences to his family on behalf of all Quebecers.”

Gérin-Lajoie, born in February 1920 in Montreal, was also a lawyer who was called to the Quebec bar in 1943.

After his time in the Quebec political sphere, he embarked on a career in international development by becoming the president of the Canadian International Development Agency.

In 1977, he created a foundation in his own name to provide educational services and opportunities to students in developing countries.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Gérin-Lajoie’s contributions “helped build a bright future for so many young people, and our society is stronger for them.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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