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The last five years have been portentous ones in the Province of Quebec. In September 1959, Premier Maurice Duplessis died of a stroke after 15 years of uninterrupted rule. He was succeeded by an enlightened conservative, Paul Sauvé, who also died four months later following a heart attack. That was the beginning of a rapid disintegration for Duplessis' National Union Party. At the next provincial election held in June 1960, the Liberal Party won a surprise victory over the National Union. Jean Lesage, a former minister in the federal cabinet of Louis St. Laurent, became head of the first Liberal administration in Quebec since 1944.
Mr. Lesage came into office with the help of three reform-minded colleagues, Georges-Emile Lapalme, René Lévesque and Paul Gérin-Lajoie, who were deeply committed to modernizing the government machinery and making democracy become a living reality in economics, education and welfare. Lapalme and Gérin-Lajoie had opposed Lesage at a leadership convention of their party in 1958 but had then rallied under the new leader. Lévesque had been a highly popular broadcaster but had never had anything to do with an organized political party; he was known for his advanced social views but was not generally considered as a nationalist. Each of these three men was assigned to a key post in the new Lesage administration and it became clear from that very moment that, regardless of his personal leanings, Mr. Lesage had committed his administration to a progressive line which was to change the face of the province and raise anew the question of what should be the position of French Canada in North America.
The Prime Minister of Quebec is not merely the political head of a province. He is also the leader of French Canadians. He is the one to whom they look for guidance in all matters related to their temporal welfare. French Canadians may be proud to see one of their men as Prime Minister in Ottawa, but the Premier of Quebec is always closer to their hearts than their federal leaders. The latter are more or less captive, having to compromise with the rest of Canada; the former owes no allegiance but to his own people. Mr. Duplessis had used his position to exalt the virtues of work and tradition. He staunchly opposed the encroachments of the Federal Government upon provincial jurisdiction, which became a frequent practice, easily accepted by the other provinces in the postwar period. He rigidly adhered to the old-fashioned philosophy of surplus budgeting and limited public debt. He often seemed to place the religious and cultural homogeneity of his people above individual liberties. He was a warm upholder of private enterprise and maintained very cordial relations with American investors. To his American friends he appeared as the man who could safely welcome them to Quebec and interpret their role to his own people. To his people he appeared as the man who was strong enough to protect them against the Anglo-Saxon centralizers of Ottawa. At home, he kept extolling the merits of an old-fashioned educational system which helped perpetuate the long-cherished myth of Quebec's unique and providential mission in North America.
Mr. Lesage was elected on a platform of "liberation." By that, he meant all sorts of things: liberation from the corrupt political machine of the National Union Government; liberation from foreign economic domination; liberation from all inequalities in the field of education and welfare; liberation from the evils of patronage in the handling of government jobs and contracts; liberation of the intellectuals from the unavowed tutelage in which they had been kept; liberation of French Canadians from unjust domination by English Canadians; liberation of Quebec from the excessive invasion of provincial prerogatives by the central government.
The men who were elected on this platform were secretly longing, in spite of their electoral utterances, for a gradual evolution which would represent no radical break with the past. But the energies that were released in the wake of the Liberal victory of 1960 were to prove much more explosive and widespread than anybody had thought. The June 1960 election actually marked the crystallization of an intellectual and social revolution which had been in preparation long before the death of Duplessis.
In the labor movement, in coöperative associations, in university departments of social sciences, in the mass media, in the arts, even in many Church organizations, thousands of French Canadians had been studying the problems of French Canadian society ever since the end of the war. New scientific methods had supplanted the old patriotic and moralizing approach. Democracy instead of being a borrowed garment had become a living ideal. Dozens of intellectuals had begun to leak away from the Church; hundreds of others were now seriously questioning the role which the Church had traditionally played in the institutions of French Canada. In many circles there was also a strong revival of the old nationalist instinct which had seemed to be on the wane. All those who had been secretly hoping for a resurgence of liberty in Quebec suddenly found themselves supporting Mr. Lesage's team and pushing it simultaneously in all directions. Militant nationalists who had deplored the negative autonomist policies of Duplessis, labor leaders who had long complained about the former government's open sympathies for employers, intellectuals who were determined to "de-clericalize" Quebec's institutions, plain democrats who were merely longing for honesty and efficiency in government-all these found themselves on the side of the Liberals. And curiously enough, a people which had traditionally been-and still remained-conservative, showed an enthusiastic readiness to invest its hopes in a clearly liberal team.
On the whole, Mr. Lesage and his team have kept their promises. Hydroelectric companies were nationalized in 1963. Substantial concessions were obtained from the Federal Government in the fiscal field. Sweeping reforms were introduced in the educational system of the province. Hundreds of competent experts were given key positions in the civil service. Labor laws were redrafted in consultation with labor leaders. New forms of encouragement to the arts and other expressions of French culture were devised. The government became more directly involved than before in the economic development of the province. Quebec in the last five years could boast of an administration which was as good as that of any other province or state in North America. It has ceased to be a mediaeval reserve of the Roman Catholic Church or a backward remnant of French culture on the North American continent. Under Mr. Lesage it has made a belated but brilliant entry into the modern world.
Of all the influences which have helped shape Quebec's course since 1960, the nationalist ferment has been one of the most decisive. Some people supported Mr. Lesage because they counted on him to modernize the administration; others joined him because they thought he would restore civil liberties and democracy in the province; still others gave him their votes because he had come out so clearly in favor of social justice; yet others supported him because he had promised to fulfill long-frustrated aspirations of French Canadians. On the whole, it seems that the most pervasive influence was the nationalist one.
French Canadians, like all other peoples, have always dreamed of a homogeneous political society. Ever since the British conquest of 1760 they have had to accommodate themselves to the will of the conqueror who was later to form a majority. Through successive constitutional developments they were able to preserve their language and traditions, but they have not been, since 1760, the complete masters of their own destiny. During the century which followed the defeat of 1760, they still formed the majority of the Canadian population, but they had to live under a political yoke which inevitably bent the use of power to the advantage of the conqueror. After 1867, the Constitution was made more democratic and flexible, but it contained many loopholes which, in later years, the English-speaking majority was to turn to its advantage. No French Canadians-except perhaps those who "collaborated" with English Canadians for their own personal profit-were ever completely satisfied with this ambiguous situation. The question of the status of the "French Canadian nation" in the Canadian political framework has always remained open for most French Canadian thinkers, historians, poets and political philosophers.
It was inevitable that the question should come to the fore with the advent of a dynamic government in Quebec. Consciously or not, the nationalist elements quickly tried to turn the Lesage administration into an instrument for the realization of their dreams. This was made easier by the fact that Mr. Lesage had exploited familiar nationalist themes in his electoral campaign. Within a few months everybody began to exalt the overruling responsibility of the State in fields which had hitherto been considered as sanctuaries of private enterprise. Scores of commentators, teachers and politicians began to describe the Quebec government as the national government of French Canadians. They would no longer speak of the province but of the state of Quebec and would thus pave the way for their ensuing claim that the state of Quebec is the national state of French Canadians.
Among Mr. Lesage's colleagues were a few men, particularly René Lévesque, who seemed disposed to go nearly as far as many separatists. He himself was carried away on a few occasions by rash sentences which were nothing but hard ultimatums to the rest of Canada. When action seemed to let up, bombs began to explode in federally owned armories, and the outside world suddenly learned that terrorist tactics had moved into Quebec. As for the rest of Canada, it belatedly began to wonder if Quebec would some day secede from the other provinces and form a nation of its own.
Mr. Lesage has recently appeared willing to turn his back upon his former ultranationalist supporters. He has claimed on many occasions that he is not himself a nationalist. But his position is not strong enough to enable him to dismiss a colleague like Mr. Lévesque, who continues to profess ardent nationalist convictions and has remained to this day a leading member of the cabinet. The presence of these two men in the same cabinet is symbolic of the classic dilemma of French Canada. The dilemma is not new. It has haunted the minds of French Canadian leaders ever since the conquest. But it has taken on new momentum.
While French Canadians have always been united in their will to survive, they have been divided as to the methods whereby their objective could be realized.
It has become commonplace to talk of Canadian Confederation in terms of a moral compact between two nations. According to this interpretation of the events of 1867, the two founding nations of Canada would then have reached an agreement whereby each would be given a fair chance to develop in a subtly conceived, federal régime. The reality seems to have been somewhat different. Let us forget about English Canadians. As for French Canadians, they were already sharply divided at the time of Confederation. Nearly half of the French-speaking parliamentarians of the time were opposed to the Confederation scheme on the grounds that it would be the graveyard of French Canada. Opposition in the press and among intellectuals was still more pronounced. It was a tiny majority of French leaders, not a unanimous body of opinion, which brought Quebec into the federal union of 1867.
Ever since that moment, the debate has remained alive. Two schools of thought have been contending against each other as regards the future of the French Canadian nation.
The first school could be called the "Canadian" school. According to this school, the decision to join Confederation was a wise one. All things considered, say the tenants of this point of view, French Canadians have certainly been treated unjustly by the English-speaking majority in many spheres, e.g. lack of school facilities in provinces other than Quebec, lack of respect for the French language in several services of the Federal Government, limited opportunities for personal advancement for French Canadians in English-dominated firms operating in the Province of Quebec, bullying tactics of the central government in the period which followed World War II, etc. But on the whole, Confederation has deprived French Canadians of none of their essential liberties and has brought them considerable blessings in many spheres. Spokesmen for this approach willingly concede that not everything is perfect in the Canadian set-up, that the government of Quebec must assume heavier responsibilities in view of its direct obligation to act as the leading promoter of French culture in the country, and that a total revision of the Canadian Constitution will soon be required. But all this they want to achieve not on the back of English Canada but through democratic consultations with their English- speaking counterpart. They are more concerned with the quality of political life as such than with fostering a particular culture by one single government. They sincerely believe that diversity of cultures, in spite of the difficulties that are caused in the day-to-day operations of government, is in itself a great positive challenge in that it offers a built-in guarantee against totalitarianism and narrow nationalism. Finally, they consider that Canada is an historic and geographical necessity and that nothing short of a complete amalgamation with the United States or the creation of another Cuba in North America could be a valuable substitute for the present political arrangement. This is the point of view of Premier Lesage and most of his colleagues in the Quebec government. It is upheld by most of the political leaders representing Quebec in the federal arena. It has also been endorsed by the most important leaders of the labor movement, the press and the large voluntary associations.
In order to make their case acceptable, the leaders of the "Canadian" school have set out in greater detail recently two fundamental conditions which they consider essential to the realization of a new Canada which would be seriously founded upon the principle of cultural dualism. One condition is the formal and practical acceptance of the absolute equality of the English and French cultures in Canada. The Federal Government and all its services must become thoroughly bi-cultural-not merely bilingual-in the near future. Equality of opportunity must become a living reality for French Canadians in the school systems of every province. On no score must the French-speaking citizens of Canada be considered or treated as inferior because of their language or culture. This objective seems fair enough, but in practice it would involve far-reaching changes in most departments of the Federal Government and in the educational policies of most provinces.
A second condition is the recognition of a "special status" for the Province of Quebec in the framework of Confederation. Canadian politics have been more or less paralyzed recently by the clash of centripetal and centrifugal forces. While English-speaking provinces were attracted by the need to establish "national" standards, identical from coast to coast, in the fields of education and social welfare, Quebec felt more strongly than ever before the need to assert and develop its own original way of life. The other provinces seemed willing to enlarge the sphere of action of the Federal Government; Quebec would rather strive to take away from Ottawa responsibilities which it felt its own government could discharge in a more appropriate manner. The conflict revolved for nearly 15 years around the crucial areas of education and social security, and corresponding powers of taxation. New "opting-out" devices, which would allow Quebec to withdraw from federally sponsored programs in these areas without suffering any financial disadvantage, will probably provide an acceptable solution.
But the conflict is far from eliminated; it is now moving to the equally crucial area of broader economic policies. The question of the future is which government is going to be primarily responsible for economic development and planning. Here, a strong case can be made for the central government. But the advocates of provincial autonomy rightly answer that no policy of cultural development is viable in the long run unless it is supported by corresponding policies in the economic field. French Canadians no longer accept the old dichotomy whereby they would enjoy cultural autonomy coupled with a tragically acephalous economic existence.
An example of this new attitude was provided by the recent controversy on the Canada Pension Plan. Ottawa had conceived a "national" program which would have set identical standards for the entire population. Quebec replied with a program of her own which was to be run by the Quebec government. The crux of the matter, of course, was that the Quebec government was determined to keep under its immediate control the tremendous investing resources which will become available through the accumulation of savings resulting from the pension program. After tense negotiations which nearly brought Confederation to the brink of disruption, a satisfactory compromise was finally reached which gave satisfaction to both governments and to the other provinces as well. Quebec advocates of the "Canadian" point of view like to see in this recent arrangement an example of the new type of solution which can be brought to old and apparently insoluble problems.
The granting of a "special status" to Quebec would also involve a more active role for the provincial government of Quebec in fields such as immigration, broadcasting and foreign affairs. The Quebec government would like to be more directly involved in international activities connected with its own jurisdiction-in particular in technical assistance programs, in programs involving exchanges of experts and students, etc. It would wish eventually to have a more direct voice in the shaping of the programming policies of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (a federally owned and controlled body) or any state-sponsored broadcasting service operating in Quebec. It would also like to be associated more intimately in the shaping and implementation of immigration policies. These objectives are all related rather directly to the conviction-widespread in Quebec-that the Quebec government is, as Mr. Lesage likes to put it, the "political expression of French Canada" and should serve as the leading custodian and promoter of the French fact in North America.
But this "Canadian" point of view represents only one side of the French- Canadian quandary. In the very heart of every French-Canadian institution, one is bound to meet representatives of another equally articulate point of view which we shall identify as the "Quebec First" school.
If it were only a matter of listing specific French-Canadian grievances against English Canada, spokesmen for this approach would often appear to be in agreement with their "Canadian" counterpart. But the agreement is superficial and accidental. There are, in reality, radical differences of philosophy between the two groups.
We have seen that the "Canadian" school tends to interpret the balance sheet of the last century in rather positive terms. It holds that on the whole French Canadians have progressed rather than regressed since 1867. The "Quebec Firsters" rather suggest that Confederation was a political straitjacket for Quebec and that the history of the last hundred years has been marked by a series of dubious concessions on the altar of Canadian unity. They make a subtle distinction between the "Canadians" and the "Canadiens." They then observe that Canada has always been ruled, to all practical ends, by the "Canadians" and that the "Canadiens" were systematically kept in the position of junior partners. Minor concessions in the language field or secondary posts in the federal cabinet might be made to them from time to time, but there was no real desire on the part of the rest of Canada to help bring French Canadians out of their position of inferiority. One need only look, they contend, at the standard of living of the two central provinces of Canada to find out that Quebec is trailing Ontario by a margin of at least 20 percent in this respect. They never explain, though, why the Maritime Provinces, which are predominantly English but are situated east of Quebec, are even less developed than Quebec.
Where the first school scores injustice, the Quebec First school rather suggests that, in acting the way they do, English Canadians are only logical and realistic. It is no longer the lack of sympathy or the imperialist feelings of English Canadians that they denounce, but the very association which places all the political trumps in their hands. To count on an English majority to ensure the blossoming of French culture on this continent is, according to this point of view, pure folly. The only practical course for the French is to build for themselves a position of force in Quebec and from that position to negotiate freely with the rest of the world, including of course Quebec's immediate neighbors.
The Canadian experiment has rested on a delicate political machinery which first considered each Canadian as an individual citizen before the law, regardless of his language, race or creed. National rights of French Canadians have often proved difficult to harmonize with this basic premise. According to the Quebec First school, there would no longer be any fatal dilution of "national realities" in a vaguely polyethnic political structure. There would be two nations, each being sovereign: one, Quebec, would be French; the other would be English. The Quebec nation would have all the attributes of a sovereign state, save those which it might freely choose to share with its neighbor. The Canadian nation would no longer have to cope with "the French problem;" it could freely follow its destiny as an English-speaking nation. Each nation would of course be unilingual The status of minorities in each of the two nations would be determined by treaty.
There are, of course, various shades of opinion and even deep divergencies among those who hold the Quebec First point of view. Some would achieve their goal gradually; others contend that gradualism in this respect is a smoke screen and that nothing short of a radical separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada will satisfy them. Some would maintain the existing economic structures and touch only the political apparatus. Some would incline toward a corporative pattern of society. Others would rather establish a frankly socialist republic in Quebec. But they are all agreed on one fundamental premise: the interests of Quebec must supersede all other considerations. Underlying this premise is a burning faith in the ability of French Canadians to accomplish for themselves what scores of other previously "occupied" nations have achieved in the last 20 years in Asia and Africa.
Not many advocates of this approach at present hold positions of key responsibility in the political and social life of Quebec. Neither Marcel Chaput nor Raymond Barbeau nor Pierre Bourgault, the three outstanding spokesmen of the separatist point of view, has ever accomplished anything significant in any of the numerous intermediary bodies which are so important in French-Canadian society. Neither the labor movement, nor the powerful Caisses Populaires movement, nor the Catholic Action organization was built by leaders like them. None of these organizations would entrust vital positions to such persons. But one must not be misled by this characteristic trait of a conservative society. The fact remains that the Quebec First view has made important inroads among artists, the mass media, educators, high and low-ranking civil servants, and scores of professionals, students, small businessmen and members of the lower clergy. A French Canadian professing that point of view would have been branded as a lunatic or a dreamer only ten years ago. He may now remain as a respected colleague on the staff of any college, newspaper or government department. He may even, as Mr. Lévesque's experience suggests, remain as a member of the provincial cabinet in spite of his leader's commitment to the "Canadian" point of view.
The paradox in the Quebec First approach is that it breeds upon a pessimistic interpretation of past history, while it owes its increased influence to the very progress which French Canadians have achieved in the last 25 years. Confederation, it is claimed, has been a frustrating experience for French Canadians, but in the next breath representatives of this point of view answer objections on the viability of separation by citing recent achievements which would provide an adequate institutional base for a radical political option.
This debate on past history is insoluble. The more one looks at history, the more one is inclined to interpret great historical trends in the light of one's own convictions. The more I reflect upon this question, the more I think it is a certain view of the future which is the key factor in shaping the fundamental options of a nation.
In all my discussions with representatives of the radical Quebec First point of view, we have been led to a far-reaching interrogation: "What is going to be the future of this piece of land called Quebec?" If we let the forces of history follow their course, my friends reason, the French fact is doomed. This pessimistic interpretation seems to find support in demography: if French Canadians still form a vast majority of the population of Quebec, they have none the less shown a very limited power of assimilation with respect to immigrants who settle in Quebec. A large majority of the latter opt for the English language because to them it is the quickest road to success in business. The English language remains in Quebec the leading medium of communication in business. The attachment of the French Canadians themselves to their language is very high indeed but not always matched by a corresponding determination to speak it perfectly or with pride.
The situation is so grave, the Quebec Firsters point out, that a state of emergency must be proclaimed and radical cultural policies must be enacted by the "national state" of French Canadians. Let us create the framework while there is still time, they secretly reason, and we will thus have a fairly good chance to mold the future history of Quebec along French lines. What these men want is the emergence of a brand-new type of man, "the Quebec man," a man who would be wholly committed to reincarnating French culture in North America and would cease to live the hermaphroditic existence which has been imposed upon the French Canadians since 1760.
One wonders at times if it is really the men and women living in Quebec which these people have espoused or a more or less abstract cultural ideal. The exponents of the "Canadian" point of view are more modest and perhaps more genuinely liberal. They instinctively feel that a new type of man will progressively emerge from the Canadian experiment. This new man will be shaped, they sense, as much by geography and economics as by the cultural blending that is inevitably taking place in a bi-cultural country. They know that the risks are considerable for French culture. But they have a boundless confidence in the fundamental resilience of the French Canadian species and they believe that, provided reasonable compromises are worked out with English-speaking Canadians, French life will continue to prosper.
The "Canadian" point of view would be supported by a large majority of the people of Quebec in any immediate confrontation. It is, after all, the modern expression of the line which French Canadians have traditionally followed for well over a century. It appears more realistic. It also takes into account the fact that about one out of five French Canadians lives outside the Province of Quebec. But the Quebec First point of view must not be dismissed too lightly. It rides upon the new wave of nationalism which has swept so many colonized people in recent years. It has the advantage of logic and clarity. It appeals to aspirations which have deep roots in the French Canadian soul. It also finds negative support in the numerous abuses which are still being heaped every day upon French Canadians by their old economic masters.
I would even suggest that in the long run, unless dynamic new arrangements are worked out between Quebec and the rest of Canada, the Quebec thesis might well prevail. This consideration brings us to a cardinal element which we have scarcely mentioned: the future of Quebec may largely depend upon the attitude which is adopted by English Canada in the next ten years.
French Canadians like to think of English Canada in terms of a monolith. This representation is no more true of English Canada than it is of French Canada. Many English Canadians have nourished-and still nourish-the same nationalist dreams about Canada as are evoked by some French Canadians. To them Canada has been and must remain a predominantly Anglo-Saxon country. They are willing to grant a few concessions to Quebec since it is impossible to wipe out "the French problem" in Canada. That is about as far as they are willing to go. I would not be surprised if they were still a majority among their own group. The only difference is that this ugly reality has been masked in the past by the fact that these people were in power and that, rather than proclaim their convictions openly, they could discreetly translate them into action.
Encouraging signs of change have fortunately begun to appear on the English- Canadian scene in the last few years. Academics and students in practically all English-Canadian universities have organized countless seminars on the "new Quebec" and the demands of French Canada. The teaching of the French language is rapidly becoming a top priority in the curricula of public schools in most Canadian provinces. A growing number of English-Canadian political leaders are now able to express themselves in French. French lessons are being taken at an accelerated rate by hundreds of federal civil servants and by members of the largely English-speaking managerial class. Recent negotiations between the central government and the provinces have led to more satisfactory agreements than had been the case in the 15 years which followed the war. Quebec leaders have been in high demand as speakers in all parts of the country. A Royal Commission has been quietly exploring all aspects of bi-culturalism for over a year and a half and is expected to produce a final, far-reaching report early in 1967. The French Canadian "moderates" have finally found a corresponding group of "moderates" among English Canadians. A dialogue is now in progress in most influential circles of both Canadas. The dialogue has merely begun. It has yet to come to grips with specific difficult issues which still divide English and French Canadians. No new, tangible consensus is yet in sight. But the high caliber of many of the men who have chosen this course is in itself an encouraging omen for the future.
Most modern nations came into being as a result of violent upheavals which were largely determined by the rebellious instinct of repressed nature. Canada stands almost alone in this respect with her historic dependence on the law of reasonable compromise. The will to compromise was largely influenced in 1867 by a common fear of absorption into the American melting pot. Both founding peoples were too much attached to their European traditions to be seduced by the American cultural proposition. The fear of external danger is no longer sufficient in 1965 to warrant a continuation of a loose compromise which does not take into account the new aspirations of French Canadians. There must be a deeper understanding, a more radical mutual acceptance among the two founding peoples of Canada. Otherwise the blind forces of national pride will be let loose for good.