Gérin-Lajoie passed away in Montreal on June 25, 2018, at the age of 98.
He was Quebec’s founding minister of education in the 1960s, when he led vast reforms of Quebec’s education system. The reforms focused on free public education, obligatory student attendance until age 16, a robust secondary education network, student exchanges with France, and strengthened training for teachers, among others. These principles remain the bedrock of Quebec’s education system.
After leaving politics, Gérin-Lajoie turned his attention and talents to international development. He was the founding president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 1970. That same year, he was appointed to the Board of Governors of the newly-formed IDRC. He served on IDRC’s Board from 1970-1972 and again from 1973-1977.
His roles positioned Gérin-Lajoie as a leading voice in modernizing Canadian international development policy. They focused on engaging developing countries as equal partners and enabling the agendas of developing countries, rather than prescribing them. His contributions to IDRC reflected his strong belief in the value of evidence, sustainability, and empowerment as development pillars.
Following the end of his tenure at CIDA and IDRC in 1977, he became President and CEO of the Paul Gérin-Lajoie Foundation, focused on education programming in developing countries. In the mid-2000s, IDRC supported the foundation’s research into local economic development strategies in Senegal. This was but one example of Gérin-Lajoie’s successful effort to increase Canada’s engagement in francophone West Africa.
Whether serving as an architect of Quebec’s modern education system or of Canada’s international development policy, Gérin-Lajoie never lost sight of the people embedded in every policy and statistic.
“These are not merely depressing statistics — these are human beings,” he told an audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1975.
The following year, he delivered a speech at the annual meeting of UNICEF Canada, where he spoke to Canada’s engagement with developing country partners.
“For a long while, industrialized countries tended to regard foreign aid as simply a gift from a wealthy country to a less fortunate one, a gift carrying the seeds of dependence between donor and beneficiary,” he said.
“This approach has been transformed: the goal of Canada’s development assistance program is to support the efforts made by developing countries themselves — efforts to foster their own economic growth and the evolution of their social systems in a way that will distribute the benefits of development as widely as possible among their people, enhance the quality of life, and enable all sectors of their populations to participate in national development efforts.”
Paul Gérin-Lajoie’s legacy will live on through the work of the people and institutions, like IDRC, that he led and inspired.