Saturday, 11 January 2014

Quiet Revolution

Quiet Revolution, term used to describe the period of major reforms in Québec, Canada, that lasted from 1960 to 1966. The Quiet Revolution took place during the premiership of Jean Lesage, who was also the leader of Québec’s Liberal Party. A Toronto journalist coined the term to describe wide-ranging political, social, economic, and cultural changes in Québec. These changes were revolutionary, in that they fundamentally altered conditions in Québec, but were also quiet, in that they were generally nonviolent.
Prior to 1960, the Québec government had played a limited role in provincial affairs. It had created a publicly owned electric utility, Hydro-Québec, in the 1940s, but the company’s activities were limited to the Montréal area. Also, Québec did not have a provincial ministry of education, and the Roman Catholic Church heavily influenced Québec’s public schools and their curricula. Health care and other social services that in some provinces, such as Ontario, were generally state-controlled were provided mainly through church-related institutions in Québec.
Québec had become predominantly urban long before the 1960s, and Québec had a large Francophone working class. However, Francophones played a disproportionately small role in the upper levels of the economy. English-speaking Canadians owned many important enterprises and occupied most of the managerial positions in both Canadian and American-owned firms. Also, English was the dominant working language at the managerial level.
From 1944 to 1960 the Union Nationale party controlled the Québec government and was headed by Premier Maurice Duplessis until his death in 1959. Duplessis was personally conservative, and he defended the traditional rural character of French Canada. A large proportion of the province’s rural voters, as well as the church, supported his party. Thus, many of the province’s social and political institutions seemed outdated given its urban, industrial reality. Duplessis’s government resisted pressures from urban residents of Québec to modernize these institutions.
In contrast to the Union Nationale, the Liberal Party was tied more closely to the urban population. It was linked especially to the new Francophone middle class of salaried professionals who felt that they could not advance because Anglophones and the English language dominated the economic arena. When the Liberal Party came to power in 1960, many Francophones felt that French Canadians needed to gain control of the province’s economic, political, and social development. Also, they felt that the levels of education and social services had to be improved. Thus, the Liberal government was elected under its slogan Il faut que ça change (Things must change), and it began a new era when the provincial government became more involved in provincial affairs.
The Liberal government and Premier Jean Lesage set out to promote the interests of French business. In the 1962 election, the Liberals were reelected with the slogan Maîtres chez nous (Masters in our own house). The Lesage government brought the province’s larger hydroelectric utilities, which English Canadians had mostly owned and controlled, under provincial control. As these firms were integrated into the existing Hydro-Québec network, French became the dominant working language, and Francophones soon occupied most managerial positions. Hydro-Québec was a great achievement for French Canadians; they now controlled the primary producer and distributor of electrical power for the entire province. Lesage’s government also established many other state-owned corporations and created an investment institution, Société Générale de Financement, to provide capital for private (primarily Francophone) enterprises.
The government also introduced major educational reforms to increase the education of the Francophone population. It wanted to produce a more qualified labor force and was guided by the findings of a comprehensive inquiry on education conducted by the Parent Commission. The government established a ministry of education in 1964 and created regional school boards. Although the school system continued to be divided along denominational lines, with a majority of Catholic and a few Protestant school boards, the clergy ceded its supervisory role to the new government department. The government greatly increased public funding to universities and laid the groundwork for the creation of post-secondary Collèges d’Enseignement Général et Professionnel, or CEGEPs (Colleges of General and Occupational Education).
The government also displaced the Catholic Church in the area of health and social services. It took over the administration of hospitals from the church, and it created the Québec Pension Plan, which parallels the national Canada Pension Plan. It also formed the Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec to invest the Québec Pension Plan’s funds, and the Régie des rentes du Québec to administer the plan. It also overhauled Québec’s labor code, notably providing the right to strike for public-sector workers.
These measures and others rapidly expanded Québec’s government and the public sector. By and large, these structures functioned in French and served to create new opportunities for Québec’s Francophone middle class. However, the Lesage government encountered some resistance to its reforms. Implementing such a large-scale program of reform cost money, and taxes in Québec increased greatly as did the province’s debt. The Anglophone business community strongly opposed bringing the hydroelectric utilities under provincial power, and some elements of the church, unwilling to lose control of the school system, resisted many of the educational reforms. Many of the province’s rural and conservative Francophones were also uneasy with the government’s reforms. Opposition from various groups contributed to the Liberal Party’s defeat in 1966, despite all it had accomplished for Québec.
During the years of the Quiet Revolution, the reform of education and health and social services profoundly affected Québec society. The church’s role and influence in provincial affairs was greatly reduced, and the level of services available to the general public increased significantly. The effort to expand opportunities for Francophones in the upper levels of the economy had a more limited effect—at least in the private sector. In the short term, the growth of the public sector absorbed the increasing number of graduates of Québec’s French-language universities.
One of the most enduring legacies of the Quiet Revolution was that it marked a critical change in French Canadian nationalism, transforming it into an explicitly Québec nationalism. In the past, Québec Francophones had subscribed to the idea of a French Canadian nation that extended beyond Québec to other parts of Canada. With new emphasis on the provincial state, however, Québec alone became the basis for a French Canadian nation.
By the same token, French Canadians increasingly saw the provincial government as their national government. Québec Francophones began to refer to themselves as Québécois (Quebecker) rather than as Canadien français (French Canadian). Also, as French Canadians began to play a larger role in Québec society, they began to challenge the Canadian social order and their role in it. They had new demands for biculturalism, bilingualism, and special status in the Canadian Confederation. These demands were deemed necessary to preserve and develop a distinct French Canadian culture.
This growing Québec nationalism, which the Lesage government encouraged, had a major impact on the province’s relations with the rest of Canada. The Québec government argued that, in order to modernize Québec society and create new opportunities for Québec Francophones, it would have to take over programs, especially in social policy, that the federal government currently administered. Since the provincial government would be administering these programs, it argued that it would require a much larger share of the taxes paid by Québec residents.
During the period of the Quiet Revolution, especially after Lester Pearson became prime minister in 1963, the federal government met some of the Québec demands. The federal government allowed Québec to take over its programs of youth allowances and university loans, and to withdraw from federal-provincial programs in such areas as social assistance. The federal government gave Québec the money that would have been used for the programs. The federal government also created a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. This commission recommended measures to ensure the development of the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between its French- and English-speaking founders. The Québec government had begun to assume a different role than that of the other provinces.
The process of accommodating Québec nationalism came to an end in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau became prime minister. A staunch defender of the federal system, he opposed special status for any province. Viewing nationalism as a divisive force, he declared that Canada, not Québec, was the homeland for all French Canadians, but nationalist sentiment in Québec had already been unleashed. It produced a strong movement that advocated Québec’s secession from Canada as the only means to protect the French Canadian culture.

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