Born in Montréal, Quebec, Jean Lesage (1912–1980) was a lawyer and politician. He studied law at Laval University in Québec City and was called to the bar in 1934. An army reservist from 1933 to 1945, he practised law independently from 1934 to 1939 and was a Crown attorney from 1939 to 1944. In 1945, he was elected to Parliament, and he entered Louis St-Laurent’s Cabinet in 1953 as Minister of Resources and Development. Although he won his seat in both the 1957 and 1958 elections, Lesage left federal politics to become leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.
He became Premier of Quebec in 1960 with the election slogan: C'est le temps que ça change (It’s time for a change). As Premier, Lesage supported the introduction of a comprehensive medical insurance program, but would not accept the federal plan because he believed that it impinged on Quebec’s constitutional powers. He favoured a provincial health insurance program, stating: “We firmly intend to provide our citizens with a comprehensive medical insurance plan” (Malcolm G. Taylor, Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy: The Seven Decisions That Created the Canadian Health Insurance System and Their Outcomes [Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 1987], p. 386). To achieve this, he appointed Eric Kierans as Minister of Health and commissioned Claude Castonguay to study health services and health insurance in the province. Lesage’s insistence on the provinces’ constitutional right to design their own social programs and still receive federal funding meant that medicare would develop through a federal–provincial compromise and not through the imposition of a federal program.