The 1878 Quebec general election was held on May 1, 1878 to elect members of the 4th Legislative Assembly for the Province of Quebec, Canada. The result was a hung parliament, with no party having a clear majority. Only one seat divided the two major parties, the Quebec Conservative Party and the Quebec Liberal Party. The balance of power was held by two Independent Conservatives.
The incumbent premier, Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, was able to form a minority government with the support of the Independent Conservatives, even though the Conservative Party had one seat more than the Liberals.
The election was called in unusual circumstances. On March 8, 1878, the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Luc Letellier de Saint-Just, dismissed the Conservative premier, Charles Boucher de Boucherville, in a dispute over proposed railway legislation. The Lieutenant Governor then appointed Joly de Lotbinière, the leader of the Liberals, as premier. Since the Conservatives still maintained a substantial majority in the Legislative Assembly, on March 22, 1878 Joly de Lotbinière requested the dissolution of the Assembly and a general election, which Letellier de Saint-Just ordered.
The election was fought in part over economic issues and in part over the actions of the Lieutenant Governor, who was criticised by the Conservatives for having installed Joly de Lotbinière by a coup d’état. One of the leading Conservatives, Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, opened his campaign with the slogan: “Silence the voice of Spencer Wood [the residence of the Lieutenant Governor] and let the mighty voice of the people speak.” Joly de Lotbinière agreed that the people should decide, and campaigned on the slogan “The province must choose between direct taxation and economy.”
Following the election results, Joly de Lotbinière was able to stay in office for one year as the leader of a minority government supported by the Independent Conservatives, even though the Conservative Party had one more seat than the Liberals. In 1879, he was defeated in the Assembly by the Conservatives, who formed a minority government.
The Legislative Assembly was composed of sixty-five single-member constituencies or “ridings”. The 1878 election was conducted under the pre-Confederation electoral map of the former Province of Canada. That map had set the boundaries for the sixty-five constituencies of Canada East, which became Quebec. The British North America Act, 1867 provided that the pre-Confederation electoral map would continue to be used for Quebec elections until altered by the Legislature of Quebec. The map of the sixty-five constituencies was also to be used in federal elections, until altered by Parliament.