Saturday, 11 January 2014

French Canadian Nationalism

French Canadian Nationalism, belief among French Canadians that they are a unique people whose language, culture, Roman Catholic religion, and institutions distinguish them from other Canadians. Nationalists seek protection of these cultural traits to ensure the survival of the French Canadian nation and to resist assimilation by the English-speaking, non-Catholic majority of Canada. French Canadian nationalism has evolved over time and has been expressed in various currents and movements.
The province of Québec has always been the center of French Canadian society, although French Canadians have spread from there to all parts of Canada and the United States. In the 20th century, Québec has increasingly become the focus for nationalists who want their society to be self-governing. According to the 1991 census, more than 85 percent of Canadians who claim French as their first language live in Québec. There they are more than four-fifths of the population, whereas across Canada they make up just under one-fourth. English is the language of the majority of the population in every other province. Despite recent gains in the use of French in Québec, speaking French as a first language is still a good gauge of French ancestry: 74.6 percent of Québeckers claimed unmixed French origin in the 1991 census, and 5.4 percent declared multiple origins including some French, for a total of 81.0 percent.
Many terms are used to refer to aspects of French Canadian life. People are sometimes identified by their main language as francophone (French-speaking), anglophone (English-speaking), or allophone (speaking another language). Acadians are French Canadians whose roots are not in Québec but in the former colony of Acadia, which is the present-day Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island). They too seek to protect their language and culture, and they have made much progress in New Brunswick, where more than one-third of the population is French-speaking. New Brunswick has a francophone university, the University of Moncton, and the province recognizes both French and English as official languages. Self-governance, however, has not been a major goal of Acadians except at the local level of municipalities and school boards.
Métis are descendants of French Canadians and live in small settlements in the west, chiefly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and western Ontario. A cultural group formed by the intermarriage of white fur traders and indigenous peoples, they consider themselves a nation. While they might answer to the label of “French Canadian,” they have their own separate lobbying groups and political organizations. Their treatment by Canada in the past, however, helped give rise to French Canadian nationalist sentiment in Québec.
Shortly after 1600 France established its North American empire, called New France, which included the colonies of Canada and Acadia. The colony of Canada included present-day Québec and Ontario, while Acadia included the present-day Maritime Provinces. For most of the 1600s the colonies grew slowly. Many colonists came for several years to work, then returned to France. Other colonists included fur trappers and Roman Catholic missionaries. As the population of native-born colonists grew, they began to call themselves Canadien or Acadien. They developed their own culture, which was distinct from that of France and differed in many ways from that of the English colonies in North America.
This new culture had several distinctive features. One was the seignorial system, in which a seigneur, or lord, received a land grant from the French king and in turn granted plots of land to settlers, or habitants, who paid annual dues to the seigneur. New France was also predominantly Catholic, since non-Catholics were not permitted to emigrate there after 1627. A third feature was the lack of representative government common in English colonies, since the French believed in the absolute rule of the king. The ruling body included the governor, the bishop, and an administrator called the intendant.
Beginning in 1689 France and England fought a series of wars in both Europe and North America. In the treaty ending Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), France lost much of Acadia to Great Britain, a union of three countries headed by England. The major blow occurred in 1759, when the British captured Québec City during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). This conquest was completed in 1760 and made Great Britain the master of New France.
For some, the conquest was a disaster. The higher ranks of society were shaken. The whole administrative and military elite went back to France, many businesspeople were financially ruined, and commercial links with France were severed. British merchants gained control of the fur trade and of the new commercial links with Great Britain. For the average farmer, however, the conquest meant the end of a long war and a return to normal life. The great majority of the French-speaking settlers remained on the land.
Thereafter British North America, as New France came to be called, was home to two different societies. The French Canadians continued to speak their language, worshiped as Roman Catholics, and followed French law and customs. Their way of life was typically traditional, geared to subsistence agriculture, and little involved in the vigorous international commerce that developed in such metropolises as Québec City and Montréal. The church was the central institution of French Canadian society.
The British spoke English, practiced Protestant religions, and imported British law and traditions. They controlled the administration and the economy in the Maritimes and also in Québec, although there they were a tiny minority. French Canadians became second-class citizens, and tension between the two societies was inevitable.
A The Quebec Act
The first constitutional act under British rule, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, was harsh on French Canadians. It applied British law and excluded Roman Catholics from public offices. In practice, governors administered the proclamation in a tolerant manner. They believed that concessions rather than coercion would gain the French Canadians’ loyalty and eventually lead to their assimilation. The British government in London was persuaded to follow this policy, and in 1774 the proclamation was superseded by the Quebec Act, which reestablished French civil law and removed the restrictions on Roman Catholics. French Canadians consider the Quebec Act the first constitutional recognition of their rights as a people.
The Quebec Act angered the British Americans of the 13 colonies on the Atlantic seaboard because it also greatly expanded Québec’s boundaries, taking land they believed was theirs by right. This was one of the grievances that led them to rebel against Great Britain in the American Revolution (1775-1783). An American force invaded Québec and briefly occupied Montréal in the winter of 1775 and 1776. Some French Canadians were sympathetic to the rebels, but most avoided taking sides. A key factor was the attitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, who were the leading French Canadian spokesmen after the conquest. They strongly urged loyalty to the British, a position that helped them gain the respect of the authorities.
B The Constitutional Act
The revolution ended in independence for the Americans, who named their new country the United States of America. In the aftermath, thousands of people who had opposed the American Revolution migrated from what was now the United States to British North America. These people, known as the United Empire Loyalists, settled in the Maritimes, where they greatly increased the British majority over the Acadians, and in Québec. Some settled near francophone communities around Montréal and in the Eastern Townships (areas east of Montréal), but most of them went to the sparsely inhabited western part of the colony. The British goal of colonizing Québec, unfulfilled since the conquest, was now a reality. The western settlers wanted to be under British law and to have the representative institutions they were accustomed to. Their pressure led to the Constitutional Act of 1791, which split the colony into two parts: English-speaking, or anglophone Upper Canada (today’s province of Ontario), governed by English common law and customs; and mostly francophone Lower Canada (today’s Québec), where French civil law continued to apply. The act also gave each of the Canadas a legislature consisting of an elected house of assembly and an appointed legislative council. Executive power in each part was in the hands of a governor and an appointed executive council.
The act of 1791 introduced the French Canadians of Lower Canada to democracy and politics, and they seized the opportunity. Their representatives gained a majority in the assembly. By the early 1800s they formed the Parti Canadien and began a decades-long fight to gain autonomy—the power to govern themselves. The party soon came into conflict with the governors and the British-dominated legislative council and executive council. These officials administered the colony according to British interests. They sought to stimulate British immigration and develop transportation projects, such as canals, whereas the Parti Canadien insisted on the need to develop the domestic economy, especially agriculture.
C Population Growth and the Economy
Both colonies grew enormously. The high birth rate of French Canadians in Lower Canada swelled their numbers from 70,000 in 1760 to 160,000 by 1791 and to more than half a million by 1840. The ranks of anglophones grew too, mostly through immigration from the British Isles, especially after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Thousands of English, Scots, and Irish immigrants came to Lower Canada.
As population grew, new farming areas were opened up within the old seigneuries. Subsistence farming predominated, but excess crops found a ready market in the growing towns and in exports to Great Britain. A network of villages sprang up, where entrepreneurs started small local businesses. French Canadians were thus involved mostly in a domestic economy rooted in agriculture and local trade. But declining farm yields and overpopulation in the oldest settled areas led to growing poverty and social unrest.
On the other hand, the merchants of Québec City and Montréal were geared to continental and international commerce; they were key middlemen between Great Britain and the expanding economy of British North America. They wanted to strengthen the role of Montréal as the gateway to the interior of the continent, and they sought the building of canals and railways for this purpose. Most members of this business elite were Scots or English. Very few were French Canadians.
The Roman Catholic Church continued to play a large role in French Canadian society, but its position was not as strong as it was earlier or would be later. The number of priests did not rise as fast as the population, and this weakened the church’s control. In addition, the church’s leadership was challenged by a new lay elite of lawyers, notaries, physicians, and merchants who replaced the old seignorial elite as the main spokespersons for French Canadians.
D Political Struggles
Politics in Lower Canada became increasingly difficult because of numerous clashes between the French Canadian assembly members and the British ruling clique over many issues such as customs and other revenues, land distribution, public works, and education. A more radical group, the Parti Patriote (Patriot Party), headed by Louis Joseph Papineau, emerged from the Parti Canadien in 1826, and in subsequent elections won a majority in the assembly. Influenced by American and French democratic ideals, many Patriotes sought a French Canadian republic modeled on the United States.
Political tensions rose in the 1830s as Papineau followed a strategy of obstruction, using the assembly’s power to disapprove taxes to try to gain more power. In 1834 the assembly sent to London its 92 Resolutions, which repeated the Patriotes’ requests for such reforms as an elected legislative council and the power to remove members of the executive council. These changes would have put the government of Lower Canada in French Canadian hands, which British authorities found unacceptable. Governor-General Archibald Acheson, 2nd earl of Gosford, offered a compromise of appointing more French Canadians to both councils, but the Patriotes rejected it. The Patriotes lost some of their more moderate members and were opposed by the church, but kept their majority in the assembly. In 1837 the British government issued its Russell Resolutions, formally rejecting the Patriotes’ requests. That same year Gosford dismissed the assembly, sparking massive political protest.
During 1837 numerous meetings were held throughout Lower Canada, especially in the Montréal area, denouncing British policies. People who remained loyal to the authorities organized their own meetings in anglophone areas. Radical British Canadians in Montréal already had a secret paramilitary body, the Doric Club, which was organized in 1836. Radical French Canadians followed in 1837 by forming Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty). The group was named after a secret society that had organized resistance to the British in the 13 colonies prior to the American Revolution.
A street battle broke out in Montréal on November 6, 1837, between the Doric Club and the Fils de la Liberté. Thereupon the authorities assembled troops, organized a corps of volunteers, and ordered the arrest of Patriote leaders. Armed uprisings erupted in November and December in the francophone rural areas around Montréal. The rebels acclaimed Papineau as their leader, although he took part in no battles. British regular troops and British Canadian volunteers quickly crushed the ill-equipped peasants, and some rebels, including Papineau, took refuge in the United States. There was a second rebellion in 1838, proclaiming Lower Canada’s independence, but this too was easily defeated.
A The Act of Union
The rebellions were a signal to the British government that the Constitutional Act should be replaced. In 1838 Lord Durham was sent as governor-general with the mandate to make a thorough inquiry into the sources of conflict. He found that in Lower Canada the struggle for democracy was compounded by a national struggle—“two nations warring in the bosom of a single state,” as he described it. He favored greater colonial autonomy, but with the French Canadians—whom he perceived as backward—in a minority position. This, he believed, would lead to their assimilation, which he deemed necessary for the peace of Canadian society. He recommended that the two Canadas be reunited, and the British Parliament followed through with the Act of Union, creating the province of Canada in 1841. Each side of the new province, known as the Union, had the same number of seats in the combined provincial assembly even though Upper Canada (known as Canada West) had fewer people. Since there was also a sizable British minority in Lower Canada (known as Canada East), this ensured that French Canadians would be outnumbered in the assembly.
B Survivance
The Union had several consequences for French Canadian elites. First, it signaled the decline of the lay elite that under Papineau had overshadowed the Roman Catholic Church as the leader of French Canadians. During the Union period, the church recovered its leadership. The church had the favor of the authorities because it had opposed the Patriotes and supported the established order. From the 1840s, especially under the energetic Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montréal, the church embarked on a vigorous drive to restore its power and influence. The hierarchy actively recruited priests, nuns, and teaching brothers and received help from many French religious orders, which agreed to send some of their members to Canada. Soon the clergy were able to staff parishes all across French Canada and launch a host of new institutions for education, health, and social services.
The moderate French Canadian politicians, sobered by the events of 1837 and 1838, adopted a policy of social conservatism and cooperation with the church. Under the leadership of Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and later Sir George-Étienne Cartier, most chose participation in the new regime rather than resistance to it. They also made peace with their former enemies, the British Canadian businessmen, and supported their projects for economic development of the country. Although French Canadian political leaders supported the church and the established order, they also sought greater political power for Canada East.
The radical, anticlerical tradition persisted, however, with the Parti Rouge (Red Party), which formed around Papineau after he was granted amnesty and returned from exile in 1845. The party sought repeal of the Act of Union and annexation of Canada to the United States, but it never gained a majority of support.
The failure of the rebellions thus represented a fundamental departure for French Canada, with consequences that were felt for more than a century. Under the twin leadership of bishops and conservative politicians, French Canadian nationalism was transformed. Shed of its most striking political features, it became a cultural nationalism with strong religious overtones. Its new chief objective was survivance (survival) of French Canada’s language, religion, culture, and traditions.
C New Political Alliances
French Canadian politicians of the Union period were as eager for power as their predecessors, but they played by the rules of the English-speaking majority and accepted compromises. They realized that, to gain power, they had to make alliances with other parties, even though they did not agree on all issues. In attempting to achieve greater political power, LaFontaine, a social conservative, found that his chief allies were the reform group in Canada West, who wanted to restrict the power of traditional elites. An alliance between LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, the leader of the reform group, achieved responsible government for Canada in 1848. Responsible government meant that Canada had a parliament, modeled on Great Britain’s, where the executive branch of government was chosen from and responsible to the legislature elected by the people. This gave the governing party the control of patronage, previously held by the governor-general, and laid the basis for modern party politics.
The Union preserved some autonomy for French Canada by setting up separate administrations for Canada East and Canada West. These administrations controlled such local functions as justice and education. French Canadian politicians thus had some control over social policy in Canada East, where they remained in the majority. They embarked on major reforms, such as creation of an educational system and municipal institutions, abolition of the seigneuries, and modernization of the old French civil law. At the same time, they fought to protect their distinct cultural features. For example, the Act of Union had made English the only official language of Canada’s Parliament. LaFontaine and others fought that measure and obtained its repeal in 1848. Thereafter both French and English were official languages, and all the laws were adopted in both versions.
Contrary to the hopes of Lord Durham and other British officials, French Canadians resisted assimilation. Although British immigration outpaced their numbers by the 1850s, they still had a substantial population thanks to a high birth rate. Their concentration in the St. Lawrence Valley, distant from anglophone society, allowed them to live in an almost totally francophone environment. Only the small minority who lived in towns needed to know any English.
D Cultural Revival
Not only did French Canadians resist assimilation, but they experienced a cultural revival during the Union period. Literacy rose with the expansion of education, and the number of newspapers exploded. Cultural influences from France, which had been limited up to then, grew significantly, and regular links with the old mother country became a permanent feature of cultural life. A distinctive French Canadian literature came into existence, and François-Xavier Garneau wrote the first comprehensive history of French Canadians, Histoire du Canada (History of Canada, 1845-1848).
Cultural life was the scene of a contest between freethinkers and the church. On one hand, a group of radical liberals advocated free speech and intellectual debate and attacked clerical influence. Their key instrument was the Institut Canadien, a liberal-leaning intellectual society. The church, on the other hand, promoted the theory called Ultramontanism, which demanded the supremacy of religious belief. Debates and clashes were numerous, but by 1870 the church had clearly won; it imposed an authoritarian dominance over French Canadian society. Lay elites chose to cooperate with the church rather than fight it.
E Confederation
On the political scene, dissatisfaction with the Union regime mounted as the population of the West grew larger than that of the East. Reform politicians in the West, who organized as the Upper Canadian Reform Party, began denouncing “French domination” and asserting that the only fair representation was by population—“rep by pop,” as it was abbreviated in their slogans. Political instability grew, and the idea of a federation was proposed as a way out of the impasse.
A federation, in which one level of government (the central or federal government) handles concerns of national and international scope, and another (the province) handles local and regional matters, had been proposed before. The Union itself, with its dual administrative bodies, was a federation of sorts but did not work smoothly with only a single legislature. By 1864 the parties were ready to put aside their rivalries to achieve a solution. A “Great Coalition” was formed among the Upper Canadian Reform Party, Canada West conservatives (known as Tories), and the Parti Bleu, a French Canadian party formed by LaFontaine in 1850. The project soon grew in scope to include a federation of all of British North America.
The proposed federation, which came to be called Confederation, was strongly supported by Cartier, who was then the head of the Parti Bleu. He saw it as a way to achieve economic development of British North America, including the building of railways, and thus avoid annexation by the United States. He was convinced that the traditional rights of French Canadians would be protected under a provincial government where they were the majority. The radical Parti Rouge vigorously opposed Confederation, which they saw as a railway promotion scheme. They thought that the new regime was too centralized and that French Canadians would lose ground under its provisions. In 1865, when the matter came to a vote in Parliament, 26 French Canadian members approved Confederation and 22 rejected it.
Canada and two of the Maritime colonies (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) became part of Confederation, and in 1867 the new regime came into being through an act of the British Parliament. The new country, called the Dominion of Canada, had four provinces, each with its own government: Ontario (formerly Upper Canada), Québec (Lower Canada), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The capital was established at Ottawa, on the border between Ontario and Québec. Although French Canadian support of Confederation had been far from unanimous, in the ensuing election of 1867, Cartier’s Bleus easily won a majority both in the new Québec legislature and in the Québec delegation to the federal parliament.
The dominion’s constitution gave the federal government sole responsibility for overall economic development (commerce, money and banking, customs and tariffs), defense, criminal law, and the indigenous peoples. The provinces had exclusive powers over property, civil law, education, social services, public lands, and purely local matters. Ottawa retained all the residual powers and had the right to disallow any provincial law. French and English were the official languages on the federal level and in Québec. In the other provinces, English was the only official language.
Confederation accentuated the minority status of French Canadians. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia brought in more francophones, but they brought in still more anglophones. Québec’s weight in the House of Commons, the elected chamber of Parliament, was reduced by the “rep by pop” principle, although this was partly offset by guaranteeing Québec one-third of the seats in the appointed chamber, the Senate. The real gain for French Canadians was their own government with their own legislature. The Québec government enjoyed exclusive power in areas deemed essential for protecting their culture, such as education and civil law.
The anglophone minority of Québec received protection under the constitution for its religion and language. The same protection was not extended, however, to francophones in the other provinces. The only concession they got was a guarantee of Roman Catholic schools—but not French-language schools—in Ontario.
The prosperity that Cartier envisioned did not come easily, and the first decades of Confederation were difficult. Conditions in some rural areas of Québec were so harsh that they caused massive emigration to the United States. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, thousands of French Canadians left to work in New England’s factories. Many others went to urban areas of Québec, where they found work in the growing low-wage industries. A few made their way to Ontario or farther west.
Confederation also did not put an end to national strife. Many French Canadian leaders thought that their people could settle everywhere in Canada and that their rights would be respected. They soon discovered that many English Canadians did not share those views. The fate of the Métis gave them a taste of things to come.
A Resistance in the West
The Métis, who lived in the Red River colony in Rupert’s Land, were the offspring of fur traders who had married indigenous women. About two-thirds were Catholics of French descent. When the federal government was negotiating to annex Rupert’s Land in 1869, its agents began to survey the Red River area for settlement without regard to Métis land rights. The Métis began the Red River Rebellion under their leader, Louis Riel, and after several tense months Riel negotiated recognition of the Métis in the new province of Manitoba. This recognition, however, proved fruitless. The federal government delayed in awarding agreed-upon land allotments, and the waves of new anglophone settlers were hostile to the Métis, so many of them moved farther west into what is now Saskatchewan.
But the anglophone wave continued to press westward, and by 1885 the Métis feared they would be driven out of Saskatchewan. They called Riel back from exile and launched another resistance movement, the Northwest Rebellion, which was defeated. Riel was tried, found guilty of treason, and hanged. Francophones petitioned Ottawa to commute the death penalty, while anglophones pressed for it to be carried out. Ottawa went the way of the majority. An uproar in Québec followed Riel’s hanging. Although the Métis question was too complex to be reduced to a matter of French-English relations, it was seen as such in Québec. Riel became a lasting symbol of unfair treatment of francophones.
B The Schools Questions
Another powerful symbol of French Canadian rights was minority schools. In Québec, where education was organized along religious lines, the anglophone Protestant minority had the right to its own separate public schools. Francophone Catholics expected the same right in the provinces where they were in the minority. However, they were denied this right or saw it reduced when it existed. A series of school crises thus erupted during the first 50 years after Confederation, giving French Canadians the feeling of unfair treatment.
In 1871 New Brunswick abolished public funding for separate Catholic schools, which were attended mostly by Acadians and used French as the language of instruction. There was no constitutional guarantee for these schools, and political pressure by French Canadians of Québec did not succeed in restoring them.
A greater furor erupted in Manitoba in 1890. Manitoba had become a province only after Riel negotiated the recognition of the French language and provisions for separate public schools. However, after 20 years of immigration from Ontario, Manitoba was overwhelmingly anglophone, and its government abrogated the agreement. Heated debates in Parliament followed for several years as French Canadians pressured Ottawa to reverse the situation. Finally, in 1897 a compromise was negotiated that allowed some religious instruction in the schools but did not restore the francophone school system. The compromise was seen by French Canadians as a significant loss. The same kind of debate came up in 1905, when the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created, and in 1912, when part of the Northwest Territories was annexed to Manitoba. In these cases, francophone Catholics failed to obtain recognition of a right to separate public schools.
After Confederation the French Canadian population of Ontario grew sharply, until it was 10 percent of the population in 1911. The francophones were secure in their right to separate Catholic schools because the constitution provided for them. The constitution was silent about language in Ontario, however, and this led to stresses that came to a climax in 1912. In that year the provincial government, pressured by the ultra-British and ultra-Protestant Orangemen, issued a regulation denying funds to schools that taught in French beyond the second grade. The measure sparked strong reactions not only among francophones in Ontario, but also among French Canadians in Québec. Federal politics was disrupted as federal parties split along language lines over the Ontario schools question. The measure stayed in effect until the 1920s.
These difficulties had their origin partly in the rise of strongly pro-British-Empire, anti-French, anti-Catholic movements like the Orangemen and the Equal Rights Association. A majority of English-speaking Canadians saw Canada as a British country where English should be the language for all. If they tolerated some recognition of French in Québec, they were not ready to accept its extension beyond the confines of that province. The British connection was a fundamental component of nationalism to many English-speaking Canadians, and some of them, through the Imperial Federation League, sought greater Canadian participation in the life and conduct of the British Empire. At the turn of the 20th century, such movements took on added significance when Great Britain requested substantial participation by its dominions in the defense of the empire.
C Ligue Nationaliste
All these events stirred a renewed French Canadian nationalist fervor, represented primarily by Henri Bourassa, a grandson of Louis Joseph Papineau. A Liberal member of Parliament, Bourassa quit that party in 1899 to protest Canada’s participation in Great Britain’s Boer War (1899-1902). Bourassa tried to develop a Canada-wide nationalism that both French and English Canadians could share. He challenged those who advocated a strictly French Canadian nationalism and even separation from Canada. Bourassa also challenged the imperialists by stating that Canada owed nothing to Great Britain and should not participate in imperial defense projects. He insisted on the bicultural nature of the country and on equality between English and French Canadians, between Protestants and Catholics. He helped popularize an idea that had been taking shape in Québec: that Confederation was a compact between two peoples. He rapidly became known throughout Québec, especially among students and young professionals. In 1903 they created an organization, the Ligue Nationaliste (Nationalist League), to spread his ideas.
Bourassa gained strong support in Québec but failed to convince English-speaking Canadians to accept a bicultural Canada. Growing international tensions stirred imperialist fervor, leading to Canada’s involvement in World War I (1914-1918). Few French Canadians enlisted in what they called “England’s war.” When the federal government imposed conscription (drafting of soldiers) in 1917, they protested, convinced that Canada had relinquished its autonomy to Great Britain. The conscription controversy left a lasting bitterness among French Canadian nationalists.
A Industrialization
Industrialization speeded up after 1890, and by 1914 half the people of Québec lived in towns and cities. A French Canadian business class emerged and created institutions such as French Canadian banks and chambers of commerce. Usually limited to small or midsize regional enterprises, French Canadian entrepreneurs could not compete with the wealthy English-speaking capitalists who controlled the largest firms; however, they played a significant role in local and regional development. Professions that were well established in Québec, such as lawyers, notaries, and physicians, were joined by new ones: engineers, accountants, managers, and university professors. A new French Canadian middle class was in the making and was assuming a growing role in social and political life.
Most French Canadians still toiled as farmers or, increasingly, industrial workers or service employees. Their incomes and living conditions were low, although some improvement occurred in the first three decades of the 20th century. The Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s, hit French Canadians more than other groups and was a major setback.
The Roman Catholic Church was still a powerful institution, but it had to deal with the new challenges raised by urbanization, growing materialism, and the Americanization of popular culture. The 19th-century view that religious beliefs were primary could no longer stand. The church hierarchy tried to adapt to social change by setting up a host of new organizations, such as Catholic trade unions, women’s movements, and student associations. But in an urban society, its followers were subject to many other influences that led in the long run to a decline of church influence. Nevertheless, at the turn of the 20th century the church remained well in command of education and social services.
B Influence of the Liberal Party
The Liberal Party of Québec held power from 1897 to 1936 and again from 1939 to 1944. Premiers such as Lomer Gouin and Louis-Alexandre Taschereau developed what might be called the Liberal version of French Canadian nationalism, adopting two main strategies. First, using provincial control over natural resources (water, forests, mineral rights), they promoted economic development and foreign investment, which they saw as the only way to check emigration to the United States. Second, they fostered education as the key instrument for French Canadians to improve their situation. Their policies led to growing state intervention and tension with the church. Premier Adélard Godbout’s Liberal government (1936, 1939-1944) nationalized some private electric companies, forming the public corporation Hydro-Québec in 1944.
The Liberals were staunch supporters of provincial autonomy: They wanted Québec to stay in the Canadian federation but did not want the federal government to be involved in any functions the province could perform for itself. During World War II (1939-1945), however, Godbout broke with that tradition and accepted federal appropriation of some revenue sources that had traditionally been reserved for the province. This action provoked strong reactions from more militant nationalists.
C Groulx and Clerical Nationalism
The Liberals’ nationalism came under attack from Bourassa’s Canada-wide nationalist movement and even more from a new current that emerged after World War I. Headed by a priest-historian, Lionel Groulx, the “clerical nationalist” movement of the 1920s and 1930s inherited some ideas from Bourassa but departed from his dream of bicultural nationalism. Groulx and his followers narrowed their focus to Québec. Groulx edited the monthly review L’Action Française to spread his ideas. Later, Ligue d’Action Nationale, a nationalist group reflecting his opinions, published L’Action Nationale, an influential journal.
Groulx gave doctrinal coherence to traditional French Canadian cultural nationalism. At the center was the indissoluble link between nation and religion: a French Canadian was a Catholic. Tradition and history were paramount: To Groulx it was strong family ties, agriculture, and moral and religious values that had made French Canadian survival possible. By promoting materialism, modern society was a major threat to those values. Industrialization and urbanization were menaces to an agrarian society. Foreign influences were responsible for such changes, and they had to be checked. Some of Groulx’s nationalists slipped into anti-Semitism during the 1930s, although it was never a dominant theme of their discourse. The troubled times of the Great Depression brought a search for scapegoats in Québec as elsewhere. The depression also brought a resurgence to Groulx’s movement, which had been dwindling during the late 1920s. It seemed to confirm Groulx’s earlier bleak predictions that industrialization would destroy society’s fabric.
D Splinter Parties
In 1933 a church organization proposed a program of social restoration, insisting on the need to help farmers, working-class families, and small entrepreneurs. These ideas were adopted by a group of breakaway Liberals, who formed a party called Action Libérale Nationale. They allied themselves with the provincial Conservative Party, headed by Maurice Duplessis, and campaigned under the name of Union Nationale with a nationalist program. They came to power in 1936. However, Duplessis, as the new premier, put aside his more fervent nationalist colleagues as well as his nationalist electoral promises. He nevertheless exploited the nationalist theme by posing as the protector of French Canadian traditional rights against encroachments by Ottawa.
When World War II began in 1939, Duplessis called a provincial election over the issue of Québec’s involvement in the war effort, which he opposed. At this point the Québecker ministers in the Liberal federal government, particularly Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe, intervened. As long as they were in the government, they said, they would see to it that conscription would not be enacted as it was in World War I. But they threatened that, if Québec thwarted the war effort by reelecting Duplessis, they would resign and leave the province to the mercy of anglophone opinion. Accordingly, the Liberals under Godbout won the election.
As the war went on, it appeared to many in the federal government that the promise to Québec could not be kept. In 1942 Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King called a nationwide referendum to get authorization for conscription if it should be needed. The vote was overwhelmingly no in Québec, but a substantial yes in the rest of Canada. The campaign against the referendum spawned a new nationalist party, the Bloc Populaire Canadien. By 1944 the Bloc had four members in the House of Commons. In that year’s provincial election the Bloc took only four seats, but it contributed to Godbout’s defeat, allowing Duplessis’s Union Nationale to return to power.
Although he had his authorization, King delayed conscription to avoid alienating Québec. When he finally imposed it, very late in 1944, it had only limited application and the negative reaction in Québec was not nearly what it had been in World War I. Québec voters continued to send Liberals to Commons even though they voted for Duplessis at home.
A The Second Duplessis Era
Duplessis benefited from postwar prosperity and, thanks to a powerful political machine, remained in power until his death in 1959. He held conservative views about the economy, relying on private investment and keeping the state in a supportive role. In social matters, his regime failed to adapt government to Québec’s new realities. He relied on the church to provide social and educational services even though Québec was lagging in those areas. He insisted on the importance of agriculture even though Québec was overwhelmingly urban and rural migration to the towns was accelerating.
Duplessis nevertheless posed as the champion of autonomy. During and after the war, the federal government moved toward the so-called welfare state, where government provides subsidies such as family allowances and old-age pensions. Ottawa controlled these programs by contributing federal money with strings attached: Any province that accepted the funds had to run its program by Ottawa’s rules. Duplessis denounced this cost-sharing scheme as a violation of Québec’s autonomy and refused federal funds for many areas of social service, such as education. Thus underfunded, social services in Québec fell behind those of many provinces. His nationalist rhetoric was so outdated that many French Canadian reformers of the time turned against nationalism and became admirers of the federal government.
In the 1950s many groups outside government circles were trying to formulate alternative policies to those Duplessis championed. Among these was a group formed in the 1950s around Le Devoir, a daily newspaper founded by Bourassa, and its editor-in-chief, André Laurendeau, former leader of the Bloc Populaire Canadien. Dubbed neonationalism, this movement parted sharply with the prewar nationalism of Groulx. Welcoming change, the neonationalists insisted on the need to adapt the nationalist program to the needs of an industrial, urban population and to be concerned with better education, economic well-being, and housing. Neonationalists also accepted state intervention. For the first time, they identified Québec as the true and only national state for French Canadians and the only one able to promote their collective interests. They wanted it to become a modern state. Some of them began to discuss the issue of immigrants and their integration; for the first time in nationalist circles, immigrants were seen as a potential asset rather than a threat to French Canadian society.
Meanwhile the new middle class was expanding rapidly and growing more frustrated about the limitations it suffered. Its members increasingly resented the church’s authoritarian control over French Canadian institutions. They also resented the control of the economy by an English and Scots elite and the resulting discrimination against French Canadians. This new middle class was to be the driving force of a coming political shift, the so-called Quiet Revolution.
B The Quiet Revolution
The Quiet Revolution began in 1960, when the Liberal Party regained power in Québec, and lasted until 1966, although its ripple effects were felt much longer. The new government of Premier Jean Lesage embarked on a string of major reforms. These included modernization of state agencies, overhaul of the education system, greater intervention in the economy, and adoption of welfare programs. These reforms led to a rapid demise of church control over secular institutions, a major departure in French Canadian history.
The Quiet Revolution was carried by a powerful wave of nationalism that integrated the Liberal tradition of insistence upon education and economic development with the ideas of the postwar neonationalist movement. Nationalism appeared as a liberating force that would finally allow French Canadians to fulfill their destiny. Never before had the identification between French Canadians and Québec been so complete, so much that the term French Canadian was rapidly replaced by Québécois. The Québec flag, adopted by Duplessis in 1948, now floated everywhere and became the most powerful symbol of the new nationalism. It was much more conspicuous than the Canadian flag, adopted in 1965.
The Québec government was perceived as the francophones’ collective instrument and was used openly to foster their advancement. A key target was anglophone control over the Québec economy. The educational system was reformed, to provide francophones with greater skills so that they could improve their economic situation. But in the meantime, government had to offer them jobs to offset the discrimination they faced in the private sector. These were provided by the rapid expansion of the public sector, but something more had to be done to increase francophone control of the economy. Thus the Lesage regime increased the French Canadian share in the private sector by adopting policies to help capital-strapped French Canadian enterprises and by setting up a host of new state-owned corporations. Hydro-Québec, the state-owned utility that the Liberals had created in 1944, became one of the chief avenues of this reform. Using the electoral slogan Maîtres chez nous (Masters in our own house), the Lesage government nationalized the private electric companies and merged them into Hydro-Québec. The utility became a powerful symbol of Québécois achievement because it was one of Canada’s largest corporations, was run and staffed by Québécois, and put the electorate in control of most of the province’s power supply.
The new Québec nationalism also had a major impact on Canadian federalism. Lesage sought autonomy as much as Duplessis, but he found a way to cooperate with Ottawa rather than simply obstructing its intervention. Lesage negotiated an “opting out” system whereby any province could share in federal welfare funding without adopting Ottawa’s programs, provided it set up its own counterpart programs. Québec was the only province to do so, in effect carving out for itself a special status. Lesage wanted to go further and negotiate major constitutional reforms. He made two requests that became the basis of Québec positions for the following three decades. First, he asked Ottawa to give the provinces greater autonomy by shifting some powers to them. Second, he contended that, as the only French Canadian government in North America, Québec had a special status that entitled it to still greater autonomy. This second request rested on the well-entrenched French Canadian interpretation of Confederation as a compact between two nations.
C Sovereignty
During the Quiet Revolution a minority of Québécois began to express the idea that the national destiny could not be fulfilled by constitutional reform but rather through political independence for Québec. The idea of independence had appeared sporadically in the past but had never been taken seriously. This time it took hold and gave rise to a significant political movement. Most of these separatists wanted to achieve independence through a democratic process. The major group, the Rassemblement pour l’Indépendance Nationale, was founded in 1960 as a consciousness-raising movement and became a political party in 1963; it received nearly 6 percent of the vote in the 1966 general election.
A tiny minority of separatists chose violence to achieve their goals. Under the name Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), at least 11 small terrorist groups were active between 1963 and 1970. They planted bombs on targets they perceived as symbols of oppression, such as federal institutions, monuments, or the stock exchange. Their most famous intervention came in October 1970, when they kidnapped a British commercial attaché and the labor minister of Québec. Authorities responded by invoking the War Measures Act, a suspension of civil liberties originally designed to be used only in a national emergency. Troops were called in, and hundreds of people were arrested who had no connection with terrorism. This so-called October Crisis ended with the murder of the kidnapped minister, Pierre Laporte, and the arrest or exile of the terrorists. Although the terrorism probably stimulated awareness of discrimination in Québec, it was not a major factor in spreading the idea of independence. Most separatists shunned terrorism and used democratic means to achieve their goals.
The new nationalism launched by the Quiet Revolution continued to be a dominant force in Québec during the following decades. But the seeds planted by the early separatist groups led to a major split among francophones about the means to achieve the common goal of collective advancement of Québec’s French-speaking society. One group, in the footsteps of the Lesage government, advocated a distinct and stronger Québec within the Canadian federation and sought the largest degree of autonomy compatible with the preservation of the federal principle. A second group called for political independence for Québec, with or without an economic association with the rest of the country.
Each side had its unconditional core supporters and vied to convert the undecided middle of the electorate. Those favoring autonomy were represented in the Union Nationale governments of Daniel Johnson (1966-1968) and Jean-Jacques Bertrand (1968-1970) and the Liberal governments of Robert Bourassa (1970-1976, 1985-1994). Those favoring independence were represented by the Parti Québécois (PQ), founded in 1968 by René Lévesque, a former Lesage cabinet member. He advocated what he called souveraineté-association (sovereignty-association), meaning that Québec would be a sovereign state but would keep a strong economic association with Canada. The PQ governed the province under Lévesque (1976-1985), Jacques Parizeau (1994-1996), Lucien Bouchard (1996-2001), and Bernard Landry (2001- ). After 1966 both currents of Québec nationalism were confronted with two major challenges: the language controversy and the growing impact of other cultures.
A The Language Challenge
The first challenge had to do with the status of the French language in the province. The constitution of 1867 had provided for bilingualism in the National Assembly and the courts, but no other rules governed linguistic usage. English, the language of those who ran the economy, became more common than French in private enterprises and on public signs. This was particularly striking in Montréal, where anglophones were concentrated. In the 1960s francophones became aware of the low status of the French language in their province. They noted that immigrants tended to send their children to English-language schools and perceived that trend as a threat to French. Groups began pressing government for linguistic policies to cover not only education but also the public use of French. Some radical groups even advocated French unilingualism. The provincial government responded with a series of laws (in 1969, 1974, and 1977) that proceeded from mere persuasion to coercive measures. In the end, teaching in French became compulsory for non-anglophone children, French was made the language on public signs, and its use was enhanced in the workplace, stores, and public services. Anglophones retained a right to education and services in English.
B The Multiculturalism Challenge
Another issue was related to the growing number of Québeckers who were neither French-speaking nor English-speaking. In linguistic terms, they are often called allophones (speakers of other languages). They feel left out when Canada is defined as a binational, bicultural country. The same is true of the indigenous peoples.
In 1971 the federal government responded to their complaints by adopting a policy of multiculturalism: Henceforth all cultures in Canada were entitled to equality and mutual respect. In Québec this policy was at first perceived as a way of opposing the two-nation concept. However, Québec also had to come to terms with its own diversity. French Canadian nationalism had always been an ethnic nationalism until the 1970s, when nationalist thinkers began to shift from ethnic to civic or territorial nationalism. Gradually all Québec parties and governments have made this shift.
Canadians were never satisfied with their constitution of 1867, and there were periodic discussions about revising it. The rise of the Québec sovereignty movement made the discussions more urgent and gave more clout to the autonomists in their efforts to get constitutional concessions. However, with the election of Pierre Elliott Trudeau as prime minister of Canada (1968-1979, 1980-1984), they were stopped. Himself a Québécois, Trudeau valued individual over collective rights and rejected the idea of Québec as a nation. He maintained instead that individual French Canadians’ rights had to be protected from coast to coast by the federal government. He was a staunch supporter of a strong central government and of federal direction of economic and social matters. Neither Daniel Johnson nor Robert Bourassa was able to wrest from Trudeau significant concessions for Québec.
The Canadian constitution was still a law of the British Parliament, and Trudeau was eager to patriate it (bring it under Canada’s full control). He wanted Canada to be able to amend it without having to get approval from Great Britain or the consent of all the provinces. He also insisted on the need to add a charter of individual rights. This could not be done without the substantial agreement of the provinces, and Québec’s governments, intent on achieving autonomy, would not agree to patriation without a new division of powers.
In the provincial elections of 1976, the PQ had promised not to try to implement sovereignty-association without consulting the population through a referendum. The PQ was elected, and the referendum took place in 1980. Québeckers were not asked yet to approve sovereignty-association, but to authorize their government to enter into negotiations about it, and there would be another referendum to approve any agreement. But even this toned-down question was rejected by almost 60 percent of the electorate, with francophones splitting about half and half, and anglophones and allophones overwhelmingly voting no.
The PQ was nevertheless reelected in 1981, and Lévesque decided to participate in new constitutional discussions. These led in 1982 to an agreement between the federal government and the nine anglophone provinces about patriation, the amendment formula, and the charter of rights. Québec representatives were not involved in the accord, and both provincial parties rejected it, but to no avail. The new constitution was imposed upon Québec without its consent.
A Renewed Drive for Autonomy
After this double setback, Lévesque put aside his quest for independence, creating a major split in his own party. In 1985 the Liberal Party regained power under Robert Bourassa, and French Canadian nationalism focused again on autonomy for Québec. Trudeau was out of office, and Canada’s new prime minister, Québecker Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative Party, was eager to heal the rift made by the 1982 constitutional reform. After two years Mulroney, Bourassa, and the other provincial premiers created the Meech Lake Accord, a package of constitutional changes that recognized the distinct character of Québec and the opting-out principle. It also provided for provincial participation in the choice of senators and Supreme Court justices. To become law, it had to be adopted within three years by all provincial legislatures; it failed, however, in two provinces. The failure stirred greater feelings of rejection among Québécois and boosted their interest in sovereignty.
Bourassa then adopted a bold strategy. Refusing to negotiate with the other provinces, he invited the federal government to submit new proposals. He set a two-year deadline, to be followed by a provincial referendum on Ottawa’s offer. However, if Ottawa’s offer was not acceptable, the question on the referendum would again be sovereignty-association. The other provinces generally resisted Québec’s requests for recognition of its distinct character and decentralization of power. Angry debates occurred everywhere during those two years and showed that Canadians lacked a common vision about their country’s future.
Finally a constitutional package, the Charlottetown Accord, was put together. Québec was to receive much of what Meech Lake would have given it. Its special status was nominally recognized, but without much change in distribution of powers. The only concession to the two-nations concept was a guarantee that Québec would always have at least one-fourth of the seats in Commons. However, at the same time Québec would lose the quota it had enjoyed in the Senate (24 out of 78 seats) because every province would have the same number of senators. Bourassa, eager to avoid the referendum on sovereignty that he had himself proposed, accepted the package. It was put to the vote in two referendums, one in Québec and one in the rest of Canada, on October 26, 1992. It failed in both with a total vote of 55 percent no, 45 percent yes.
The reasons for rejection were diverse, but in Québec a majority of the French Canadians felt that Bourassa had betrayed them. Thirty years of constitutional negotiations had produced no significant change. The concept of a country made up of two nations, where Québec was entitled to special recognition, seemed to have been rejected. After 1992 a growing number of Québécois were convinced that the only way out of the quandary was a bold move toward sovereignty.
B The Resurgence of Sovereignty
After the Meech Lake defeat, a group of Québécois in the Canadian Parliament, headed by Lucien Bouchard, created the Bloc Québécois, a new party devoted to sovereignty; it was the federal counterpart of the PQ. The Bloc gained 54 of the 74 Québec seats in the federal election of 1993. For the first time in history, Québeckers had chosen to be represented in Ottawa by a nationalist party. The following year, the PQ under the leadership of Jacques Parizeau came back to power in Québec. Parizeau immediately started organizing a second referendum on sovereignty-association, which took place on October 30, 1995. Voters were asked to accept sovereignty of Québec and the offer of a new political and economic partnership with Canada. This time the results were very close: 50.6 percent no and 49.4 percent yes. Support for sovereignty had reached a clear majority among francophones. For the federalists, this was a bitter victory, and the vote provoked an anti-Québec backlash in the English-language media.
After the referendum, Parizeau resigned, and Bouchard replaced him as premier of Québec. Bouchard promised to continue the fight for sovereignty. However, Bouchard resigned in January 2001 amid declining public support for independence and growing pressure from hardline separatists in the PQ to call a third referendum. Bouchard was succeeded as premier by the new PQ leader Bernard Landry, a strong advocate of sovereignty.
The Canadian Parliament passed a law in June 2000 setting conditions on any new attempts by Québec to leave the Canadian federation. The so-called clarity law, backed by premier and Liberal Party leader Jean Chrétien, followed a 1998 Canadian Supreme Court ruling that found that Québec did not have the authority to unilaterally secede from the union. The court also ruled that the federal government must negotiate regarding secession if a “clear majority” of people in Québec voted to secede on a “clear question.” The clarity law gives the federal House of Commons the authority to determine what is a clear referendum question and what constitutes a clear majority. If both the referendum question and majority are deemed clear, the federal government must negotiate on secession.
French Canadian nationalism has come a long way since the British conquest of Canada in 1760. It has taken various forms over the centuries, but a basic thread runs through all these movements: the will to survive as a distinct people in a North American environment. But French Canadians were never unanimous about the means to achieve these goals. In recent decades, they have been split between the two options of autonomy and independence. Heated debate rages over how independent sovereignty would affect Québec’s economy. Opponents argue that it would dismantle the closely linked system of interprovincial exchange and reduce the standard of living. English-speaking Canada, they contend, would never accept association with a sovereign Québec or allow it to join the trading partnership of Canada, the United States, and Mexico formed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Proponents argue that Québec’s healthy economy would make it one of the world’s wealthiest countries and, therefore, including it in NAFTA would benefit all concerned. There has also been argument about how to divide Canada’s federal assets and the public debt.
Separation of Québec would break the geographic connection between the Atlantic provinces and the rest of Canada; some argue that this would result in annexation of those provinces to the United States. In Québec, some indigenous and anglophone groups who reject separation have threatened a partition of Québec’s own territory. If Canada is divisible, they say, Québec too is divisible.
Separation has never gained the support of the anglophones or allophones in Québec, nor for that matter a sizable number of francophones. Polls have shown that support for total independence is only about 20 percent; sovereignty advocates got a larger vote only by proposing some kind of continuing partnership with Canada. It is clear nevertheless that Québécois’ first loyalty is to Québec and that they want full acceptance of the distinct character of their society. Failure to get such acceptance has led many to vote for sovereignty less through deep conviction than as an expression of disappointment or a pressure tactic.
A transformation of the Canadian federation in a way acceptable to Québec would reinforce the branch of French Canadian nationalism seeking autonomy for Québec, and the sovereignty movement would wither. However, even after the close results of the 1995 referendum, English-speaking political leaders and public opinion have not moved in that direction.

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