A Liberal, he helped found the short-lived Parti national in 1872, in an attempt to win electoral support by dissociating the Liberals from the PARTI ROUGE, and won election to the House of Commons for Rouville. Defeated federally in St-Hyacinthe in 1878, he won the provincial election in that riding the following year. In 1883 he became leader of the provincial Liberal Party, and in 1885 he headed a group of Liberals and dissident conservatives who rejected their parties' respective stands on the Louis RIEL affair. At the head of the revived Parti national, Mercier was the first Québec leader to win large popular support; by keeping alive the feelings aroused by Riel's hanging, he and his party won the election held late in 1886 after the Conservatives failed to cling to power and he took office as premier 29 January 1887.
In office he settled the issue of the JESUITS' ESTATES as well as the quarrels that surrounded the creation of a distinct university in Montréal. Mercier's government encouraged railway building and colonization of undeveloped lands, creating a department of agriculture and colonization in 1888, with Curé Antoine LABELLE as deputy minister. Mercier also called the first interprovincial conference of premiers since Confederation and led the movement to force the federal government to recognize the principle of provincial autonomy in administrative and fiscal matters. Implicated in the BAIE DES CHALEURS SCANDAL, Mercier was removed by the lieutenant-governor in December 1891. A subsequent investigation could not prove that Mercier was personally involved and he was re-elected in 1892 provincial elections, but his party was soundly beaten. A man of considerable style and a noted orator, Mercier collected various foreign honours during his premiership.
Author DANIEL LATOUCHE