For over 150 years after the fall of Quebec to the British in 1759, the Province of Quebec was a poor, agrarian, patriarchal, clerical society. It wanted little more from the English Canadians than to be let alone to slumber peacefully and to preserve its language and (like Ireland) its Roman Catholic religion. But little by little, and particularly since World War II, the industrialization and prosperity of the United States and of the rest of Canada have brought great changes. Less than half of the people of Quebec now live on farms; the growth of its cities has been enormous (Montreal now has more than a million people); and its rich natural resources-minerals, timber and hydroelectric power-have been rapidly developed.

By the early 1950s, as a result, Quebec had a small but brilliant and dynamic élite, which was determined that Quebec should become a modern society by breaking the hold of its traditionalist clergy, its corrupt and demagogic politicians, and of the American and English Canadian capital which controlled more than 75 percent of Quebec's natural resources and industries. This new élite was also determined not to become assimilated into English-speaking North America but to retain and modernize French Canadian culture-the French language, literature and arts whose character and fame France's postwar revival had taught them even more to cherish. Since 1952 when television came to Quebec, the élite has used this medium to spread their ideas and programs to the masses of the population. In addition the recent tendencies toward liberalization in the Roman Catholic Church, in which Cardinal Léger of Montreal is a leader, have also helped their efforts.

Quebec has experienced waves of French Canadian nationalism before, but they were always worn down by the overwhelming force of their traditionalist opponents and by the lack of full endorsement by the Quebec Roman Catholic clergy. The late Prime Minister Maurice Duplessis preached a demagogic nationalism but always deferred to the United States and English Canadian investors who controlled Quebec's economy; and he never challenged the Roman Catholic hierarchy's complete control of education and massive influence on public life in general. Finally, although bilingualism and other minority rights were constitutionally guaranteed to the English- speaking minority in Quebec, hundreds of thousands of French Canadians living outside Quebec had no such rights, and all French Canadians were discriminated against in government and industry if they did not master English. What was more, Quebec was an economic colony of Toronto and New York; French Canadians had little chance of rising to top positions in the industries of their own provinces, the more so because their backward educational system ill fitted them for success in the modern world of economics and technology.

Even before Duplessis died in 1959, the drive for modernization was making rapid headway in the Quebec trade unions and among university faculties and students. In 1960, new elections swept into power, under the motto "masters in our own house," a Liberal Party cabinet headed by a relatively young, dynamic Prime Minister, Jean Lesage, which included a majority of younger, modernizing and often technocratic intellectuals. Why did they win, what are they like, and what do they want?


They won because Quebec had changed decisively and for good, both in economics and in psychology. Young French Canadians in their twenties and thirties, pulled into the cities from the farms by the rapid industrialization, had lost the traditional moorings of the agrarian, clerical society and were searching for new, modern goals in life. Furthermore, they could now better see how rich Quebec was and how relatively little of its riches benefited French Canadians. Finally, the world-wide wave of decolonization, and notably the independence of the French-speaking African states ("if Guinea can be independent, why can't Quebec?"), added to their determination to be masters in their own house.

What are these new, modernizing French Canadian politicians, intellectuals and technicians like? Above all, it is a question of generations. Those between 25 and 40, who grew up in the struggle against Duplessis' demagogic nationalism, revolted against it and most other aspects of the society he dominated. Internationalists by inclination, they are pragmatists interested in social and economic reform. They want more political and economic power over their own destiny, but they also want to remain part of Canada and to maintain the continued inflow of American capital.

The younger generation, university students under 25, is in large part separatist; they want an independent Quebec. They are determined to achieve political and economic control over their destiny, if necessary at the expense of foreign capital investment, and their more extreme elements are largely committed to terrorism and violence to achieve their goals. (Most of them are extreme rightists; only a few, contrary to many reports, are extreme leftists.) For many of this generation, psychologically alienated and disoriented from their fathers' traditional society and contemptuous of what they think to be the excessive patience and half-measures of the older intellectual groups, nothing short of total independence and radical social revolution will suffice. And terrorism, as Algeria and Viet Nam have demonstrated, can transform a political problem into a major national crisis.

Yet these intellectuals are only a part of the story. Separatism or social radicalism has as yet achieved no hold over Quebec's workers or farmers. (A recent public opinion poll showed only 13 percent of the population for independence.) Except perhaps in a few depressed areas, the most important goals are held to be a further rise in the standard of living (which though some 30 percent below Ontario's is stilll most impressive on any but a United States scale) and the assurance of more jobs through foreign investment and economic development. And so it is for the Lesage government.

Considerable concern has been expressed outside Quebec lest Lesage's recent nationalization of the hydroelectric industry, inspired by the most nationalistic member of the cabinet, René Lévesque, portends more moves toward socialization. There seems little basis for this fear. Quebec was the last Canadian province to nationalize the hydroelectric industry; its previous owners were fully compensated by bonds sold successfully on the New York market. Moreover, the Lesage government is aware that it is confronted by two contradictory popular goals: first, rapid economic development, which is impossible without massive non-French Canadian investment; and second, more control of Quebec's economy by French Canadians. The first goal makes this difficult, but French Canadian public opinion requires it; and failing it the Lesage government might well be replaced by a more radical, even more separatist one. Talking to its members and to other observers, however, one gets the impression that pragmatism will determine the Lesage government's measures: nationalization of the hydroelectric industry; the use of a newly established governmental loan corporation to strengthen French Canadian-owned enterprises and to prevent their falling into English Canadian or American hands; the encouraging of Americans to employ more French Canadians, particularly in leading positions (as is being done); and, finally, a major overhauling of Quebec's out-of-date educational system to produce many more technically trained French Canadians who can fill such jobs when they are available.

But Quebec's demands do not stop here. In the first place, no modern industrial society can really be "master in its own house" unless it has control of, or at least substantial influence over, monetary, credit and tariff policy; and in Canada these are now fixed by the Canadian federal government in Ottawa. Hence, if Quebec is to achieve such influence, substantial changes in the Canadian federal system will be necessary.

The first significant encounter between Quebec and Ottawa on the economic level occurred earlier this year when the Quebec provincial government insisted that it should have complete control over the old-age retirement funds coming from and destined for the province. After long, hard bargaining in Ottawa between Lesage and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, Lesage won an almost complete victory. This gives the Quebec provincial government control over the investment of the large sums accumulated from old-age and retirement payments, and thus additional financial means to support French Canadian industries and, should it wish, to buy shares in the hitherto entirely English Canadian- and American-owned corporations which dominate Quebec's economy.

Another example, this time a symbolic and purely political one, is the issue of the new Canadian flag. Prime Minister Pearson has proposed that three red maple leaves on a white background with vertical blue bars on either side should replace the present "Red Ensign" which has the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner. Pearson's proposal was made almost entirely as a gesture of good will toward French Canada, which always has resented the Union Jack as a symbol of its conquest by the British in 1763. But Quebec has been unenthusiastic if not indifferent; the change seems to most French Canadians much too little and too late. On the other hand, some English Canadians, proud of the traditional ties with the mother country, have been outraged, and Pearson has felt compelled to add to his proposal the retention of the Union Jack itself as a symbol of Commonwealth membership.

The flag controversy has shown, fortunately on a symbolic issue only, that the gulf between English and French Canada is deep and growing deeper. Will the gulf be bridged?

The fanatical French Canadian separatists in Quebec and the fanatically pro- British and anti-Quebec English-speaking elements in the rest of Canada can only hinder any containment or resolution of the controversy. Neither represents as yet more than a small minority of English or French Canadians; and together they constitute a minority of Canadian citizens. The majority of moderate opinion on both sides is now agreed that there must be significant changes, but it has not yet agreed on what they should be. What are the minimum demands of the moderate French Canadians and how much of them are acceptable to the moderate English Canadians? Can a compromise be reached?


The basic, minimal moderate French Canadian demand is that Quebec be recognized not as just another one of the ten provinces of Canada but as the home and representative of the vast majority of French Canadians who make up one of the two founding nations of Canada, and that this recognition bring specific political, cultural and economic results. In economics, at present the most important area of controversy, this would mean that on issues involving Quebec, such as money, credit, tariff and investment policy, Quebec would have much more say than it does at present- enough to establish primary control over its own economic destiny while remaining within a common Canadian monetary, fiscal and tariff system. Culturally, this would mean extending to all French Canadians throughout Canada the rights that the English Canadians now have in Quebec: a school system in their own language and recognition of French as equal to English in political and economic life-the economic life of Quebec included. Politically, it would mean the revision of Canada's federal structure so that on the economic issues cited above Quebec would have an equal voice with the rest of Canada, perhaps through the remodeling of the Canadian Senate to be a Chamber of Nationalities, through revisions in the make-up and practices of the Supreme Court and the Bank of Canada, and so on. These minimal demands are likely to increase with time. Only this June the Montreal branch of the St. Jean-Baptiste Society, a major organ of the Quebec "Establishment," advocated-as Lévesque did earlier-an "Austro- Hungarian solution": two states in Canada freely and equally associated only in the areas of foreign policy, defense and economics.

Moderate English Canadian opinion varies, but it seems agreed that some concessions to Quebec must be made. Prime Minister Pearson believes the greatest problem Canada faces is to agree upon the nature of these concessions, and he and his Liberal Party are ready to go far in an attempt to solve it. Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his Progressive Conservatives, who draw almost all their support from English-speaking Canadians, are more hostile to moderate French Canadian proposals. (Moreover, many English Canadians are postwar immigrants from Europe who naturally prefer their native tongues rather than French as a second language.) On the question of giving Quebec more political power, however, English Canadians of both parties balk. Why, they ask, should some 38 percent of the population, by no means the most economically or educationally advanced part, a part which now shows even less loyalty to the Canadian state than the little it ever did, and within which radical separatist and terrorist groups, if still small, are gaining in strength- why should we give this minority a veto over our actions?

The answer is, one supposes, that the alternative-at worst the break-up of Canada, at best prolonged unrest, instability and consequent decline in economic growth-would be worse than the concessions Quebec demands from English Canada. Granted, pure democracy would rule against the French Canadians, but successful federal systems have never considered pure democracy to be necessarily the determining factor. Substantial concessions may be necessary if only because by now the majority of French Canadians (and the overwhelming majority of their élite) are convinced that they constitute a nation, and that Quebec is its embodiment; and a nation is something very different from a minority.

There are other reasons why both English and French Canadians shy away from the possibility of Canada breaking up. Considering its past history, an independent Quebec would probably have a strongly rightist régime, perhaps even an authoritarian one; and few modern Quebec intellectuals think that this kind of retrogressive nationalism is any solution for the problems of an increasingly modern North American nation. Secondly, geographically and economically, Canada's settled areas are a long, narrow strip of land north of the United States border, with none but political and historical reasons for remaining separate from the United States. Indeed, English Canadians, increasingly conscious of the attraction of the American economy and the invasion of the American mass communications media, have themselves been searching for ways to reaffirm their Canadian national identity. Nor do French Canadians particularly like the American economic and cultural invasion; on the contrary, they fear for their language and culture-another source of their increasing nationalism. So, ironic as it may seem south of the border, the United States is to both English and French Canadians not only a common friend but also a common threat; it is on this basis, if the truth be told, that Canada has always found its unity-and may well keep it. Furthermore, independence for Quebec would probably mean, at least at first, a considerable drop in its standard of living. It would also mean that English Canada would be split like Pakistan, its Maritime Provinces to the east separated by Quebec from the rest of the country. And finally, even though many English Canadians-weary of what they find the incomprehensible and increasing hostility of Quebec-talk in their more pessimistic moods of joining the United States if Quebec secedes, it seems doubtful that they could bring themselves to this even if the United States would take them.


It would be wrong to end on such a pessimistic note. English Canadians, like the English and Americans, have always been pragmatic; and it seems likely, once they are consciously faced with the alternative of Quebec's seceding, that their fear of its consequences will overcome their natural reluctance to make concessions to what they have always regarded as a backward minority, and that they will therefore make sufficient concessions to save Canada.

Much will depend on when and how this confrontation will come, and who will lead both sides. Ignorance of French Canada among English Canadians is great, and much work will be needed on both sides to dissipate it. Even so, one should not overestimate Quebec separatism. It still lacks the four essential ingredients for success: (1) a charismatic leader, (2) an efficient political organization, (3) an ample supply of funds, and (4) the demonstrated hostility of English Canadians to moderate French Canadian goals. On the other hand, five conditions-all present in Quebec-operate strongly against a successful thrust for independence: (1) relative affluence and rising living standards; (2) full civil rights; (3) major powers, including education, in provincial hands; (4) a foreign unifying threat (the U. S.); and (5) a felt danger of falling living standards, after independence, due to withdrawal of foreign investments.

There are some alarming symptoms in Quebec-radical nationalism, terrorism, massive foreign control of the economy, rapid reaffirmation of national and cultural identity by a hitherto passive minority. And, as the world today demonstrates, nationalism, even if confined to a youthful intellectual élite, is an unpredictable and explosive phenomenon. But Quebec is not an underdeveloped country; and one should be wary of applying the lessons of Africa, Asia and Latin America to the banks of the St. Lawrence. The majority of intellectuals are rational and modern men, and the greater part of its population belongs to the North American mass consumption society. Barring a major depression, it still seems likely, therefore, that Canada will survive.

And if it does, it will do so as a different and quite possibly a better country. Nothing was more unhealthy for Canada than to have its one-third of French extraction clinging to the eighteenth century; and, as Switzerland continues to demonstrate, nothing can be more vitalizing than genuine confederation of peoples with more than one language and culture. If the French minority will show reason and patience, and the English majority understanding and generosity, Canada's future may well be more stable and more promising than its troubled present.

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