Saturday, April 4, 2015

Quebec under the War Measure Act 1918

In this installment, I continue my examination of Canadian history by reviewing the latest interesting historical essay. To be honest, I’m always hoping that the Historica Canada foundation will find inspiration in my articles for the latest Heritage Minute, that excellent series of historical vignettes whose choice of subjects is not biased in any way!  This time, I choose to talk about the essay Québec sous la loi des mesures de guerre 1918, by Jean Provencher. The title translates as “Quebec under the War Measure Act 1918” and it deals with the events in Quebec City around Easter 1918, namely the popular uprising against the obnoxious recruitment effort for the war, the brutal suppression of the anti-war demonstrations by the army on Easter Monday and the declaration of the War Measures Act (WMA) soon afterwards, along with mass arrests, in order to find a foreign conspiracy behind the uprising which, of course, never materialized. I chose this work partly because of its relative brevity (150 pages or so), but also because it perfectly encapsulates the Quebec experience in Canada. The exploitation of the Quebec people for imperial ends, the ‘rule of law’ interpreted in such a way as to further those ends and the final repression led by an ambitious francophone toady who knew what it took to get promoted; it’s all there!

War Measures Acts, old and new

The current essay is actually a reprint of the original published in 1971, not long after another application of the WMA by another ambitious francophone toady who knew what it took to get promoted. The new edition includes an interesting foreword by Provencher, where he explains the genesis of his book and its impact after publication. It all started in the 1960s, when the author was working for the Quebec government as part of the commission for territorial integrity. Provencher and his colleague were tasked with reviewing documents from other ministries in order to find material relating to Quebec’s borders. During the course of this endeavor, he came across the coroner’s inquest report on the cause of death of the four innocent people gunned down during the Quebec riot of 1918. This discovery led to years of research finding material from the public archives of Ottawa, Quebec City and other sources.

A few years after its publication, Provencher’s book was turned into a play at the Trident Theater and was the biggest hit of the 1973-74 season. Two years later it was turned into a television play featured on the program Beaux Dimanches on SRC, which would later win the Annik prize of 1975 and represent the SRC at the International Television Festival in Venice, 1977. Finally, the play was translated into English by the American writer Leo Skir and published in the Canadian Theater Review in 1980. Skir saw a parallel between the events in Quebec in the spring 1918 and the killing of students at Kent State University during the Vietnam War. There is some truth to this, but it ignores the fundamental fact that the events in Quebec City, 1918, were the result of a dominant nation exploiting a subject nation, as cheap labor during peacetime, as cannon fodder during wartime. The national guardsmen and the students at Kent State were part of the same nation.

Setting the stage

Provencher starts by describing the overall context of the uprising.  Summer 1914, the Great War begins, and soon the lightning war that was supposed to be over by Christmas turns into a stalemate on the Western front. The initial influx of enthusiastic volunteers dries up and thoughts quickly turn to conscription. Obviously, Quebecers weren't too keen to volunteer to get themselves blown up for an empire that clearly held them in contempt. The infamous regulation 17 severely restricting French instruction in Ontario’s schools was passed in 1912 and was therefore still fresh in people’s minds. Campaigning against conscription was Henri Bourassa, founder and then director of Le Devoir, as well as a prominent Quebec City lawyer Armand Lavergne, who will play an important part in this story.

Naturally, the reticence on the part of Quebecers to go to France in order to inhale mustard gas for King George V aroused the hostility of Canadians. English newspapers were filled with Quebec bashing (a national sport, then and now). Some Orangemen MP’s in the House of Commons called for the arrest of Bourassa and the suppression of his newspaper. Rights and freedoms are great as long as they’re convenient (then and now). The Federal government tried to drum up support for conscription in Quebec through third parties. Military officers gave interviews in the press calling for or predicting conscription. They even offered to Lavergne the command of a battalion that he would recruit himself. Lavergne turned down the offer in an open letter published in Le Devoir on November 2, 1915. On June 11, 1916, the minister for the militia, Col. Sam Hughes, asked for and received the support of Cardinal Begin of Quebec City for conscription. The support of the Catholic Church for conscription shows the ambiguous role it played in Quebec society prior to the Quiet Revolution: on the one hand defending Quebec’s distinctly French and, especially, Catholic character, and on the other supporting the status quo and its own self-perpetuation.

Anti-conscription demonstration Victoria Square, Montreal, 1917
As can be expected, all this tension over conscription led to violent clashes. On August 23, 1916, the Federal government set up a recruitment center on Montreal’s Place d’Armes. The recruiting sergeants from the Irish Canadian Rangers thought they could increase recruitment by insulting people who happen to be passing by. A certain Mr. Pagé, a local hairdresser with oratory skills, worked up the assembled crowd against such treatment. Together, they demonstrated and forced the soldiers to retreat from the Place d’Armes. 

By late May 1917, with rumors of conscription becoming more persistent, large demonstrations took place in Montreal and Quebec City. During which, the offices of some francophone pro-conscription newspapers were attacked. This was because a certain francophone press, such as La Patrie, L’Événement and, of course, La Presse, were pro-conscription since they were more concerned with defending the interests of their rich owners than those of the population. Then as now, the corporate media was more concerned with forming public opinion than informing it.

The incident

It’s in this context of social tension and violence that the Borden government passed into law the Military Service Act on July 24th 1917. This bill called to arms all able-bodied men, single or widowed, between the ages of 20 to 35 years. Conscription was now in effect. Naturally, many men didn't want to go. If you didn't think you were fit for military service, you could make your case before a special tribunal in the hopes of obtaining an exemption. The judges on the tribunals, however, had a very restrictive view of what constituted unfitness. The population of Quebec City was shocked by several cases of virtual invalids being sent to the front.

The man charged with enforcing the Military Service Act in Quebec City was a Captain Charles Desrochers, an inspector for the federal police. He did this by hiring ‘spotters’, men of dubious reputations and questionable methods. These spotters weren't policemen, but rather former boxers or wrestlers, and sometimes figures from the criminal underground. The spotters were paid three dollars a day and may have been paid a bonus of ten dollars for each deserter recovered. Whether they really were given a bonus or not, they had a reputation among the populace as a bunch of bounty hunters.

As if this wasn't enough, even with a hard to get exemption you could still get sent to the front. Some young men who were asked to show their exemptions had it ripped up by the military police and then were accused of desertion. Some others, whose exemption request was still before the tribunal, were picked up off the streets and weeks later their parents would find out that their son was sent to Europe. Finally, on Thursday the 28th of March 1918, what had to happen happened. Around half past eight in the evening, a 23 year old Joseph Mercier arrived at a crowded bowling alley in the working class neighborhood of Saint-Roch where he met a friend. They saw three spotters enter the bowling alley. Although Mercier and his friend had their exemptions, they decided to leave anyway.

As they were leaving, the spotters blocked the door and asked them for their papers. Mercier’s friend showed them his exemption and was allowed to leave. Mercier, on the other hand, had forgotten his exemption at home. They detained Mercier at the bowling alley as they waited for the soldiers to arrive. Mercier asked if he could call his parents so that they may bring over his exemption, but the spotters refused without giving a reason.  As this was going on, the hundred or so young people at the bowling alley stopped playing and started watching the unfolding scene. Mercier then suggested that they escort him home, but the spotters refused again.  Word got out and a crowd started gathering outside the bowling alley. The chief of police, Émile Trudel, estimated the crowd at two thousand.

Finally, four rather large soldiers arrived. The spotters handed Mercier to them, who was then brutally manhandled to the Saint-Roch police station. “Let him go! Let him go!” the crowd chanted. When his father arrived at the station with Mercier’s exemption, he was released. While this was going on, two more young men were arrested at the bowling alley. The first one was let go after fifteen minutes, but the second was ripped from the hands of the soldiers by the enraged crowd. Before long, the crowd was in front of the police station, shouting slogans and throwing projectiles. At around ten o’clock at night, Captain Desrochers called the military commander of the Quebec City region, General Joseph-Philippe Landry, asking for a hundred men to rescue him from the crowd that he estimated at three thousand. Landry then calls the mayor, Henri-Edgar Lavigueur, who tells him the he will try to appease the mob. Chief Trudel and a few of his men tried that, but were met with flying debris. Landry then calls the Citadel, telling them to prepare their men, about four hundred of them.

Meanwhile, the mayor arrived at the scene and tried to placate the protesters by telling them that the spotters were no longer at the station house and that they should go home. At first the crowd seemed to be dispersing and satisfied with a job well done, the mayor went home. Not long after his departure though, according to the chief, the crowd  gathered again and were baying for the spotter’s blood. When word got out that Desrochers and his spotters slipped out the back, a chase ensued in the streets and alleys of Saint-Roch. The protesters eventually caught up with two of the spotters, Bélanger (who was especially detested in the neighborhood) and Éventurel. They were both beaten, Bélanger severely enough to require medical attention. And so ended the first night of what was to become known at the Quebec City conscription riots.

The escalation

The next morning, the events of the previous night were all over the newspapers. Rumors spread of violent mobs attacking key buildings. Rich citizens felt threatened and were asking for police protection. Chief Trudel, with a little over eighty constables at his disposal, was not ready to control a crowd of thousands, let alone protect a few over-privileged upper class types. The mayor asked Gen. Landry to deploy his men, but a procedural mix-up caused delays. Then, at around half-past seven in the evening, a crowd of about three thousand people left Saint-Roch and made its way to the upper city. Once there, they attacked the offices of the Chronicle and L’Événement newspapers by breaking their windows with projectiles. As it happened, the mayor, the chief of police and the army commander were in the post office across the street and saw the whole thing.

The crowd, by now numbering about eight thousand, moved to the auditorium where the files for conscripts were kept. The few policemen guarding it were overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, which quickly began throwing rocks through the windows. Protesters then entered the auditorium and headed to the second floor, where they overpowered two detectives guarding the files. They then proceeded to rip up files, throw them out the window and ripped out a light fixture which started a fire. The flames rapidly spread and soon the entire building was on fire. Twenty minutes later the firemen showed up and the riot is effectively over. Finally, the mayor, having worked out the paperwork allowing him to take command, arrives on the scene with a battalion from the Citadel in an attempt to disperse the crowd, now estimated at twelve to fifteen thousand. The sight of the soldiers, along with Lavigueur’s attempt to reason with the crowd, brought an end to the second night of the riots.

Major-General Lessard
Over the course of the 29th, the chief showed a marked reluctance to order his men to fire on the crowd. He would later explain at the inquest that women and children were mixed in the crowd and he didn't want to hit any of them. Nevertheless, his unwillingness to shoot his own people clearly troubled the Canadian authorities. That’s why on the morning of the 30th, Gen. Landry informed the mayor that he received new orders from Ottawa. He was to take control of all means to restore order. The mayor meekly acquiesced and placed the municipal police under the army’s control.  From here on, law and order was a strictly military affair. Train stations in Toronto and even Winnipeg were asked to facilitate the transport of troops. And one Major-General François-Louis Lessard was ordered to get to Quebec City urgently. Lessard rose through the ranks due to his enthusiastic service crushing striking workers in 1878, the Métis out West in 1885, and the Boers in South Africa 1900-1901. Basically, he went wherever the Empire thought the natives were restless, and they were certainly that in Quebec City.

The army was on alert and patrolling the city. During the afternoon a business center was sacked, but the real incident took place in front of the Manège militaire (the army’s horse riding school) at around nine o’clock in the evening. A large crowd gathered there and was shouting at the soldiers guarding the building. Their commanding officer ordered his men to fix bayonets and then shouted insults at the crowd. A certain senator Philippe-Auguste Choquette was present and tried to diffuse the situation. He seemed to be succeeding when soldiers on horseback strode into the crowd waving some kind of club (described by witnesses as pic or axe handles) and almost knocking the senator down in the process. The cavalry managed to push the demonstrators out of the square and onto St-Jean Street. The demonstrators countered by throwing rocks and chunks of ice. This startled the horses and stopped the cavalry in its tracks.

The deal

March 31, 1918 was Easter Sunday and Quebecers were flocking to their churches for the morning Mass. Cardinal Begin wrote a pastoral letter to be read at every Mass in his diocese. It said that a Christian conscience disapproves of the recent troubles and that the Church forbids them. However, many of the parish priests, who witnessed the suffering of their parishioners, blamed the federal forces for the unrest and said as much after reading the Cardinal’s letter. And more unrest was yet to come. During the afternoon, there were rumors that protesters were going to loot hardware stores and take the rifles inside. As a result Gen. Landry sent a regiment of the Eight Royal Rifles to confiscate the weapons in a Saint-Roch hardware store. On their way back to the Citadel with the weapons, they were met with two to three thousand people throwing rocks, bricks and ice. The soldiers responded with a salvo, wounding three people and intimidating the protesters, who let them pass.

Over the afternoon, about two thousands heavily armed soldiers were arriving by train in Quebec City, Major-General Lessard along with them. When news of this got out, it provoked anger in many people and a crowd was gathering in the lower city. On that day Armand Lavergne was resting at home with the flu. At around seven in the evening he received a call from Alleyn Taschereau of the federal ministry of justice and an old friend, exhorting Lavergne to meet him in his room at the Chateau Frontenac. Lavergne protested he had the flu, but Taschereau insisted and Lavergne relented. At the Chateau Frontenac, Taschereau introduced Lavergne to Lieutenant-Colonels H.A.C. Machin and G.A. Carruthers.  The three men explained to Lavergne that they want him to talk to the crowds. They’re convinced that Lavergne had enough influence among the population to prevent any more unrest. Lavergne wasn't sure what influence he had, but that he would try on the condition that the spotters and the army were withdrawn from the city. Machin promised to fire the spotters.  As for the army, he said he didn't have the authority but that he would do his best and offered his ‘moral certainty’ that they would be withdrawn.

Armand Lavergne
Lavergne set off to find a crowd about to make trouble. After some wandering he eventually came upon a large crowd, he estimated it at four to five thousand, at Place Jacques-Cartier. It was about nine o’clock in the evening. He delivered an impassioned speech telling the people of the deal between him and the army. He told them that if they returned home and remained calm, there would be no more soldiers on the streets the next day.  And he said that if the Canadian government did not keep its word, he would be with them tomorrow. The crowd gave him a long ovation and then started to disperse. Lavergne returned to the Chateau Frontenac where he reminded Machin of his promise.  “I’ll do my very best!” he replied. On his way out of the Chateau, Lavergne passed Gen. Lessard. He reminded the General how important it was that there should be no troops on the streets tomorrow, but Lessard didn’t acknowledge him as he rushed past. About half an hour later, Machin leaves the Chateau, suitcase in hand, for the midnight train to Ottawa. Lavergne, who stuck around to converse with some people who recognized him, saw Machin leaving. He asked him if he had spoken to the General.  Machin answered “I think everything will be all right” as he flew past.

Shoot to kill!

April 1st was Easter Monday and, ironically, April fool’s day. Lavergne, upon reading the morning newspapers notices without surprise that the pro-conscription newspapers blasted his intervention of the previous night, L’Événement going so far as to call him an “impostor with a Bosh mentality”. On his way to the mayor’s residence to recount the previous evening’s events to him, he noticed that the Place Jacques-Cartier was crawling with soldiers. He told the mayor that the sight of these soldiers were contrary to what he promised last evening and could provoke further unrest. The mayor told Lavergne that he would talk to Lessard about it, but Lavergne decided to take matters into his own hands and see the General himself. When he arrived at the Chateau Frontenac, Lavergne was made to wait outside the General’s office in the company of representatives of Quebec City’s various newspapers. Lessard was going to ask them for the support of their editorial pages. A free and independent press is fine as long as it does what it’s told (then and now).

When Lavergne got to see Lessard, he repeated to him that the sight of all these soldiers might provoke trouble. He also said that the men need only be kept out of sight, inside the buildings. Should anything happen, they could intervene at a moment’s notice. But the General would have none of it. “I have the power and I am using it!”, he repeated that exact phrase no less than three times during the exchange. Given Lessard’s career, that sentence could serve as his epitaph. He then warned Lavergne not to return to Saint-Roch. It turns out that as soon as Lessard got off the train, he ordered detectives to follow Lavergne, and they would have arrested him if he had gone there that evening.

After Lavergne left, Lessard told Landry to put the men on high alert. Lessard also had a notice posted on the walls of the city and printed in the newspapers saying that it would be dangerous for citizens to wander the streets and that they should stay home. This notice was not the Riot Act, nor did it expressly forbid public gatherings. But most strangely of all, it was unsigned. It did not carry the coat-of-arms of the Canadian government or anything else. Lessard would later testify at the inquest that he was not obligated to publish such a notice and that he only did it to prevent bloodshed, and that in the context of the time it was clear what it meant. Nevertheless, the notice clearly carried no legal weight and probably just added to the general confusion more than anything else.

At around eight o’clock that evening, a crowd was gathering at the Place Jacques-Cartier. The army surrounded the Place with bayonets fixed and emptied out the bowling alleys, pool halls and the clubs. But the people there, who may have resented having their evenings cut short, weren’t dispersing quickly enough. It was then that the cavalry strode onto the sidewalks, sabres drawn. In so doing they knocked over some women and children who didn’t get out of the way rapidly enough. This enraged the crowd who started throwing rocks, bricks and chunks of ice at the soldiers. Meanwhile, in the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood soldiers emptied out a popular pool hall, whose disgruntled patrons started throwing projectiles at the soldiers. A cat-and-mouse game between the protesters and the soldiers ensued. Protesters would throw rocks at the soldiers then slip into back alleys. Groups of soldiers would run after them only to be cut off from the main group and surrounded by protesters. Some people observing the mayhem from their balconies would join in. The soldiers would tell them to go home, in English, only to be told: “Parlez français!

Sometime past ten in the evening, this entire sorry episode came to a tragic conclusion. In the Saint-Roch neighborhood, corner of Saint-Joseph and Couronne, a concentration of 1200 to 1500 troops was spotted by protesters. The troops reported hearing shots coming from the crowd. A certain Major Mitchell orders the crowd to disperse, in English.  Seeing that this had no effect, and that his men were being pelted by debris, Mitchell ordered his men to open fire. Between salvos, the soldiers shouted obscenities at the crowd. Finally they opened up with Lewis guns, bipod-mounted drum-fed machine guns used on the Western Front. The result was about seventy wounded and four dead, who were just trying to get home. The next day, the soldiers were given a simple order: “shoot to kill”.

Summing it all up

There were some aggravating factors on the day of the shootings. There was a thick fog. Mitchell thought someone else read the Riot Act, which would have given him the authority to open fire, but witnesses don’t recall the Act being read. There was talk that some protesters had hunting rifles, but according to some testimony they claimed they were filled with blanks. We do know that the five soldiers who were injured that day were hit by flying projectiles, none were shot.

But the biggest aggravating factor that day was the Canadian imperial system itself. Its unrelenting drive for cannon fodder fed popular resentment. It imported a large number of English speaking troops from Ontario and the West who could be counted on to fire into a crowd of unarmed people they despised. Above all, the worst thing the Canadian imperial system did was putting François-Louis Lessard in charge of this fiasco.

Indeed, as an ambitious francophone in the deeply Francophobic Canadian army, Lessard knew the only way to make General was to exploit the “niche”. That is, to crush his own people with zeal whenever the Empire demanded it, thereby giving it a thin veneer of legitimacy while advancing his career. This niche started in 1759 and continues to this day with the likes of the reptilian Pierre “War Measures Act” Trudeau and the rodent-like Stéphane “Clarity” Dion.

The niche also explains Lessard’s strange behavior with respect to the deal struck with Lavergne, starting with his absence from the meeting between Lavergne and the slippery Col. Machin. Was Lessard too busy to attend a meeting that Machin was not authorized to hold, as he said at the inquest?  Perhaps. Or maybe Lessard knew perfectly well what Machin was up to, but decided not to attend so that he would not be obliged to honor any promises made. We know that after repeatedly assuring Lavergne that no soldiers would be visible on the streets the next day, Machin was urgently sent to Ottawa where he couldn't testify at the inquest, thus leaving Lessard free to tell the official story without fear of being contradicted by an underling under the pressure of a withering cross-examination.

But the worst thing about Lessard that day was his deliberately provocative attitude, starting with the posting of the ambiguous notice meant more to excuse him in the event of bloodshed than to prevent it, and ending with the open parading of troops in the city. The deal between Lavergne and the army may not have been officially sanctioned, but it was in effect and seemed to be working. Going along with it would have cost Lessard nothing, as he could simply have hid the soldiers in the buildings, to be deployed at a moment’s notice should anything happen.

So why didn't he go along with it? Because any concession to the “rabble”, no matter how small, would imply that they had a say in what happens to them and that, to a United Empire Loyalist like Lessard, was completely unacceptable. Besides, Lessard had no personal incentive to be reasonable since the killing of a few “frogs” could only enhance his standing in the army. The protesters, on the other hand, were essentially a group of people without leaders, without organization and without a well-defined strategy. Day after day, they expressed their outrage at the injustices, humiliations and servitude of their daily lives. Naturally, they never had a chance.

Printemps Érable, 2012
It’s clear that the Quebec riots of 1918 weren't about the arrest of Joseph Mercier. He was just the catalyst that unleashed the pent-up resentment of the population. And while the riots were mainly about the war, there was more to it than that. It was also about Quebec’s colonial condition within the Canadian empire. This is the thread that ties all of Quebec’s large demonstrations, riots and unrest in its turbulent history. From the Printemps Érable of 2012, to the large demonstrations of the 1960’s and even to the Rebellions of 1837-38 (that started with a large political rally which the British felt compelled to attack), the underlying cause of all these events, beyond the specific issues of tuition hikes, the protection of the French language or responsible government, was the occupation of Quebec by the British/Canadian empire. Only independence will put an end to these recurring cycles of unrest and make Quebec a normal country.


Provencher, Jean, Québec sous la loi des mesures de guerre 1918, Lux Éditeur, 2014.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

English versus French

A comparison of vitality in Quebec and Ontario yields surprising results

Camille Laurin’s dream 

Quebec should be as French as Ontario is English.” This phrase was heard repeatedly from Dr. Camille Laurin, then Minister of State for Cultural Development in René Lévesque’s freshly elected Parti Québécois government, as he sold his Charter of the French Language to Quebecers in 1977. 

Laurin’s daring new language policy, more commonly known as Bill 101, was the second stage in a thorough revamping of Quebec’s language regime, following closely on the heels of Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s groundbreaking Bill 22. Passed in 1974, Bill 22 had already proclaimed French Quebec’s official language. It had also begun promoting French as language of work as well as streaming the children of wayward francophone parents and of all newcomers whose mother tongue was neither French nor English through Quebec’s French-language school system. Bill 101 pursued similar objectives, only more firmly. More generally, Laurin’s charter aimed at making French “the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.” In short, French was to become the langue commune of Quebec society – the default language to be used between people of different mother tongues. 

The vision was certainly clear. But some 30 years down the line, the best available data show just as clearly that Laurin’s dream is not coming true.

A few years prior to Quebec’s “French first” language policy, Canada had already put its Official Languages Act to work, with the aim of bolstering both the status of English in Quebec and that of French in the rest of Canada. So while comparing the status of French in Quebec with that of English in Ontario, in this article I also assess how well English is faring in Quebec and how French stands in Ontario. Here, too, the data clearly show that the result for French is below par. 

As far as language behaviour in the home environment is concerned, traditional Canadian census data on mother tongue indicate roughly what language respondents used most often at home in their early childhood. Since 1971, the census has also gathered information on what language respondents speak most often at home. I use the results from the 1971 census as benchmark for the status of French and English in Quebec and Ontario homes at the time of the Official Languages Act and just before bills 22 and 101. Data from subsequent censuses then provide adequate means for monitoring language behaviour at home through 2006. 

Though the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism – the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission – had suggested in the 1960s that future censuses include a question on principal language spoken at work, Statistics Canada put off collecting such data until the census of 2001. As the span of time between 2001 and 2006 is very short, I limit my observations regarding English and French in the work world to the 2006 census data, supplemented by some recent and telling survey results.

To put things in good perspective, we must take into account the main demographic factors which affect the official-language makeup of Quebec and Ontario. This can best be done by first examining the mother-tongue and home-language data separately. Then I analyze the information on mother tongue, home language and language of work jointly, in order to see how sociolinguistic factors such as the vitality of French and English at home and at work also influence the language situation in both provinces.

Mother-tongue trends since 1971

Table 1 presents a quick look at overall trends since 1971 in terms of mother tongue. From this standpoint, Quebec has become somewhat less French and much less English, whereas Ontario has become both much less English and much less French. This general trend toward a drop in relative weight of Anglophones and francophones in both provinces can be attributed in the main to their inadequate fertility since 1971 and to heavy allophone immigration. 

A closer examination, however, reveals that the two provinces’ official-language minorities show the sharpest declines in weight. Quebec’s anglophone minority has even lost out in absolute numbers, to the tune of some 180,000 members. This results from the additional impact of heavy net losses through out-migration of Quebec anglophones to Ontario and the other provinces. 

The exodus of Anglo-Quebecers was already in full swing by the 1960s, in the thick of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. During the first 20 years of interprovincial migration on record, between 1966 and 1986, the censuses totalled a net loss for Quebec of more than 250,000 anglophones who moved to somewhere else in Canada – mainly to Ontario.  During the next 20 years, between 1986 and 2006, the corresponding net loss amounted to fewer than 80,000, with a record low of only 8,000 net anglophone out-migrants from Quebec to the rest of Canada between 2001 and 2006. 

In contrast, the sharp drop in weight of Ontario’s francophone minority, also evidenced in table 1, cannot be explained by interprovincial migration. Indeed, it can be estimated that Ontario gained a net total of more than 20,000 francophones who moved out of Quebec between 1971 and 2006.  The decline results instead from the inadequate intergenerational replacement of Ontario francophones, due to their low fertility and to their low maintenance of French as main language spoken at home – and subsequently transmitted as mother tongue to their children. I discuss this process at greater length below.

A closer look at table 1 also reveals a substantial difference in the two provincial majorities’ growth rates. Quebec’s francophone majority increased by slightly more than one million people over the 35-year period, while Ontario’s anglophone majority increased by well over 2.3 million. In terms of relative increase since 1971, Ontario’s anglophone majority has grown almost twice as fast as Quebec’s francophone majority.

In addition, Quebec’s anglophone exodus has become such a thing of the past, and the power of assimilation of English has remained so superior to that of French in the province, that Quebec’s anglophone minority has begun to grow once more in absolute numbers. Between 2001 and 2006, it grew just as fast as Ontario’s anglophone majority.

Quebec’s new language dynamic

On December 4, 2007, the first results of the 2006 census were released, and they ran through Quebec like a shock wave. Between 2001 and 2006, the relative weight of the French mother-tongue majority had dropped as never before in Canadian history – in the whole period starting with the census of 1871. The majority had lost 1.8 percentage points provincewide, and 2.6 points in the Montreal metropolitan area.

Moreover, throughout Quebec as well as in the Montreal area, the anglophone minority had grown much faster than the francophone majority. The first half of table 2 sums up this initial wave of news as regards the census mother-tongue data at the provincial level.

Things look even less rosy for French as compared to English in Quebec now that estimates for the population missed at both censuses have been published. At any given census, a small percentage of the population misses being enumerated. Based on other sources of information such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Statistics Canada is able to estimate the number of people missed in each province as well as their mother tongue. As a rule, immigrants and allophones turn out to be overrepresented among the population missed.

However, over the last two censuses, the number of people missed in Quebec took on a special twist. According to Statistics Canada’s estimations, some 86,000 francophone Quebecers were not counted in 2001, as compared to a scant 11,800 missed in 2006. This means that most of the 114,800 numerical increase in Quebec’s francophone majority between 2001 and 2006, as shown in the first half of table 2, simply derives from the fact that francophone Quebecers were enumerated more exhaustively in the 2006 census than in 2001.

The second half of table 2 consequently shows the mother-tongue trends for French and English in Quebec once the comparability of the data has been improved by adjusting them to take into account this disparity concerning seniors, as well as the population missed at both censuses.

As far as trends in weight are concerned, the adjusted data yield a slightly different picture from the one given by the initial census data. The drop in relative weight of Quebec’s francophone majority comes a bit closer, in the second half of table 2, to two full percentage points. What is more instructive is that its anglophone minority entirely holds its ground. Ever since 1871, from census to census Quebec’s anglophone minority had always decreased in weight. The 2001–06 period marks the first time this is not so.

Equally instructive is the difference in growth rates in the second half of table 2.

The unadjusted data in table 2 represent a growth rate of 2 per cent for Quebec’s francophone majority over the 2001–06 period, which is almost double its 1.3 per cent growth rate for the preceding 1996–2001 period. The adjusted data, however, spell a decline in its growth rate to only 0.5 per cent for 2001–06. This is in line with the steady slowdown in growth rate of the francophone population in Quebec since 1951. It also fits demographic forecasts of negative growth for the francophone majority in the near future.

By contrast, the 3.4 per cent growth rate for Quebec’s anglophone minority since 2001, according to the second half of table 2, is seven times that of the francophone majority. Indeed, during 2001–06 the anglophone minority in Quebec grew just as fast as the anglophone majority in Ontario, which also boasted a 3.4 per cent growth rate over the same period. Is Laurin’s dream turning into a nightmare?

Home-language trends since 1971

The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission rightly judged that the information provided by the mother tongue data is “a generation behind the facts,” and suggested adding to the census a question on principal language currently spoken at home. Table 3 shows how the official-language makeup of Quebec and Ontario has changed in terms of the resulting census information on current home language.

The official-language populations have, as a rule, better maintained their relative weight in terms of main home language than in terms of mother tongue. Ontario’s French-speaking minority is a striking exception here, its weight having been practically cut in half between 1971 and 2006. By French-speaking and English-speaking I mean people whose main home language is French and English respectively.

The improved showing of three out of the four official-language populations in table 3 (main home language) as compared to table 1 (mother tongue), and the worse showing of French in Ontario, are due entirely to the process of assimilation in terms of language behaviour in the home environment. Both French and English benefit from being assimilating languages in Quebec, whereas English stands alone as the uncontested language of assimilation in Ontario, to the detriment of French and nonofficial languages.

It is worth noting, in particular, that over the 35 years in play in table 3, Quebec’s English-speaking minority decreased in absolute numbers by exactly 100,000 – notably less than the corresponding decrease of 180,000 in terms of mother tongue observed in table 1 – whereas Ontario’s French-speaking minority dropped by 47,800. These represent decreases of 11 per cent for English as main home language in Quebec as against 14 per cent for French in Ontario. In other words, Ontario’s French-speaking minority has lost proportionally more through the assimilation of francophones to English than Quebec’s English-speaking minority has lost through the anglophone exodus.

As for the official-language majorities in both provinces, Quebec’s French-speaking majority increased by somewhat more than 1.2 million since 1971, whereas Ontario’s English-speaking majority grew by well over 3.2 million. With respect to their initial sizes, the English home-language population in Ontario grew almost exactly twice as fast as the French home-language population in Quebec.

The increase in weight of Quebec’s French-speaking majority in table 3 is, moreover, somewhat misleading. Fuelled by the exodus of anglophones, the weight of French as main home language in Quebec actually rose to a peak of 82.7 per cent in 1986. It has been decreasing at each census since then.  And the decrease has picked up steam between the last two censuses. This is worth looking at more closely.

Quebec’s present home-language dynamic

The 2006 census’s bad news for French as mother tongue in Quebec was accompanied by the release of similarly alarming new data regarding main home language. According to the 2001 and 2006 census data, the weight of French in Quebec as language spoken most often at home plunged as it never had before.

In stark contrast, between 2001 and 2006 the weight of English rose for the first time in the whole period in which home-language data have been collected (from 1971 on). The upper half of table 4 sums up this further census information.

As was the case for mother tongue, the news for French is even more disquieting once the 2001 and 2006 data have been adjusted to improve their comparability, by including people missed at both censuses and excluding seniors counted in 2006 but not in 2001.

This can be seen by comparing the upper and lower halves of table 4.

Improving the comparability of the data confirms, in particular, that Quebec’s English-speaking minority increased in weight for the first time since 1971. It also establishes that it didn’t just grow twice as fast as Quebec’s French-speaking majority over the 2001–06 period, as the census data in the upper half of table 4 lead one to think: the adjusted data show that the English-speaking minority grew more than four times as fast (a growth rate of 5.6 per cent as compared to 1.3 per cent).

This cannot be explained by demographic factors, such as a difference in birth rates between Quebec’s two official-language populations. Nor can it be explained by interprovincial migration, for Quebec lost about 8,000 anglophones to the rest of Canada between 2001 and 2006 while gaining some 5,000 francophones. The real key to Quebec’s new language dynamic is the persistently superior vitality of the English language per se, as compared to that of French.

Vitality of English and French in the home environment

The vitality of a language is best measured by the extent to which it is used.  In the home environment, the extent to which a given language is currently used depends on how many of its native speakers persist in speaking it as main home language, a behaviour known in sociolinguistics as language maintenance, together with how many native speakers of other languages adopt it as their new home language, which is called language shift.

In this light, census data on mother tongue and current home language are tailor-made for measuring language vitality in the privacy of the home. We will use the vitality index of a given language, obtained by dividing its home-language count by its mother-tongue count, as a handy gauge for the language’s vitality in the home environment. Depending on whether the result is greater than, equal to or less than one, the language’s vitality may be considered high, average or low.

For example, the data for 1971 in tables 1 and 3 yield an index of 1.13 (887,900/788,800) for English in Quebec, which marks its already high vitality in Quebec homes at the time. At the same census, an index of 0.73 (352,500/482,400) for French in Ontario signals its low vitality in Ontario homes in 1971.

Figure 1 charts the vitality trends of English and French in Quebec and Ontario homes through 2006, as based on census sample data. The persistently superior vitality of English as compared to French is evident in both provinces.

In Quebec, the vitality of English has furthermore been increasing more rapidly than that of French throughout the 35 years at stake. This is notably so during the 2001–06 period, by the end of which the vitality index for English had risen to 1.30, compared to only 1.03 for French.

Moreover, the vitality index of English calculated at any given census underestimates the language’s true degree of vitality within Quebec society. Francophones and allophones who have shifted to English as main home language while living in Quebec are, just like anglophones, more prone to migrate to Ontario or to other provinces. Those who leave are, at the following census, no longer present to bear witness to the vitality of English in Quebec homes.

Conversely, the vitality index of French substantially overestimates the language’s power of assimilation within Quebec at the more recent censuses, because much of the increase in the vitality index for French after 1981 is due to Quebec’s selection, following the 1978 Cullen–Couture Agreement, of allophone immigrants who had already shifted to French as main home language abroad, before they had even immigrated to the province. It has been estimated that no more than half of all shift to French as main home language reported by allophone immigrants actually occurred during their stay in Quebec, and the immigrant contribution to overall allophone shift to French is by far the main determinant of the increase in the language’s vitality index in Quebec since 1981.

All in all, it should be kept in mind that comparison of the vitality indices for English and French in Quebec homes at recent censuses systematically underestimates the advantage enjoyed by English in language behaviour maintained or acquired while living in Quebec.

Vitality of English and French at work

The superior status of English as compared to French in both provinces’ work worlds is arguably the main reason for the superior vitality of English in Quebec and Ontario homes. Just as the vitality index for a given language in the home environment can be calculated since 1971, as of 2001 the census data provide the means to calculate a vitality index for any given language in the work world, obtained by dividing its main language of work count by its mother-tongue count.

On the basis of the 2006 census sample data, the vitality of English at work was quite high in both Quebec and Ontario, with indices of 1.87 and 1.39 respectively. In both cases, the vitality of English at work was distinctly higher than the vitality of English at home which, as may be calculated from tables 1 and 3, had grown by 2006 to 1.30 in Quebec and 1.18 in Ontario.

Evidently, for francophones as well as allophones, working in English in Quebec or Ontario does not automatically spell adopting English as main home language. But it certainly helps.

In contrast, the vitality of French at work was just 1.05 in Quebec and only 0.39 in Ontario. Small wonder that French trails far behind English in terms of vitality in Quebec homes, where it crept up to a mere 1.03 in 2006, and that the vitality of French in Ontario homes is firmly caught in a tailspin, falling to a new low of 0.60 at the last census.

A major survey conducted in 2001–02 by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française also bears witness to the superior status of English in Quebec’s work world. Though provisions of Bill 101 promoting French as language of work apply with full force in large companies with 100 or more employees, in companies of this size in the Montreal metropolitan area francophone employees still use English slightly more often than French as main language of communication with their anglophone coworkers. French is no doubt even further from becoming “the normal and everyday language of work,” or the langue commune used between people of different mother tongues, in smaller companies where Bill 101 is either applied less stringently (companies with 50 to 99 employees) or not at all (those with 49 employees or fewer).

A further indication of the dominant status of English in Quebec’s work world is the marked disproportion between the total population studying in English-language postsecondary institutions and these institutions’ “natural,” English mother-tongue clientele. Though anglophones make up no more than 9 per cent of the total postsecondary student body in Quebec, twice as many college-age students – 18 per cent – currently choose to study in English-language colleges (Cégeps). A full 25 per cent of all university students likewise choose to study in English-language institutions. The above-mentioned 2001–02 survey confirmed the relevance of these stark disproportions to our present discussion by showing directly that the link between language of work and that of postsecondary education is quite real.

While Bill 101 ensures that all children of recent immigrants to Quebec must attend French primary and secondary schools, immigrants who arrive beyond school age are not directly obliged to speak French, or even to learn the language. As could be expected, after Bill 101 the adoption of French as new home language among allophone immigrants who arrived in Quebec at or before school age rose sharply, to the detriment of English. However, notwithstanding the provisions of Bill 101 fostering the use of French at work, census data show no improvement in the status of French relative to English as home language among allophone immigrants arriving at a more advanced age. Here again, insofar as the adoption of a new main home language by allophone immigrants reflects their language of work, Bill 101 does not seem to have made a significant impact on language use in Quebec’s immigrant work world.

A longitudinal survey of adult immigrants carried out by Statistics Canada during 2001–05 found, in addition, that after four years of residence in Quebec, ability to speak English was associated with a higher employment rate than was ability to speak French. This can be seen from figure 2. Figure 2 shows as well that a higher competence level in English was associated with a higher employment rate, as can reasonably be expected. But such was not the case for French.

The same survey also found that among immigrants who were employed after four years’ residence in Quebec, average or above average competence in spoken English was associated with a higher hourly wage than was a comparable competence level in French (figure 3). It was also observed that, as could be expected, average hourly wage grew with increasing competence in English, whereas this was again not true for French.

Overall, for immigrants to Quebec, knowledge of English still offers better odds of getting a job than knowledge of French, and greater mastery of English still paves the way to more satisfactory, better-paid jobs, whereas greater competence in French does not. French simply has not replaced English as the key to success for allophone newcomers in Quebec’s work world.

Superior vitality spells demographic advantage

The superior vitality of English in the work world in Quebec and Ontario no doubt largely explains its superior vitality in both provinces’ homes. The superior home vitality of English, in turn, generates a distinct demographic advantage for the anglophone populations in both provinces. In particular, this fuels Quebec’s new language dynamic. But let us first examine this process in Ontario, where the high vitality of English at home and the low vitality of French combine to give its anglophone majority a staggering demographic advantage over its francophone minority.

The mechanism is quite simple. Many francophone and allophone parents who shift to speaking English as main home language transmit English as mother tongue to their children. The consistently high vitality of English in Ontario homes is thus a constant source of additional anglophone children, who just about entirely make up for the anglophone majority’s inadequate birth rate.

Figure 4 illustrates the successful intergenerational replacement of Ontario’s anglophone population nowadays. Despite this population’s inadequate total fertility rate of 1.54 children per woman between 2001 and 2006 – 27 per cent less than the 2.1 children per woman that demographers view as the requirement for a stable population – figure 4 shows that the number of young anglophone children aged 0 to 4 in 2006 is only 2 per cent less than the number of young anglophone adults aged 30 to 34, who are most likely to be their parents.32 This means that the high number of francophone and allophone parents who shifted to speaking English at home in Ontario generated enough additional English mother-tongue children between 2001 and 2006 to erase nearly all of the anglophone majority’s “biological” intergenerational deficit.

The francophone minority’s biological deficit in 2006 was likewise 27 per cent, since its total fertility rate between the last two censuses was 1.53, almost exactly the same as that of the anglophone majority (as it has been for the past 15 years). But some 40 per cent of young francophone adults in Ontario currently shift to English as main home language, causing an additional loss of francophone children who are brought up with English as their mother tongue instead of French. Assimilation to English thus worsens the francophone minority’s intergenerational shortfall, which stood at 39 per cent in 2006, as figure 5 shows.

Comparing fertility rates and age profiles in this way brings out the overwhelming demographic advantage that Ontario’s anglophone majority gains over its francophone minority through the high vitality of English and the low vitality of French in the province. Similar comparisons establish how the superior vitality of English in Quebec gives its anglophone minority a kindred advantage over its francophone majority, which led to the stunning language dynamic observed in Quebec during 2001–06.

From 1981 through 2006, Quebec’s anglophone minority has been just as inadequately fertile as its francophone majority. Between 2001 and 2006, the anglophone minority’s total fertility rate even fell to a record low of only 1.44 children per woman. Its corresponding biological deficit was 31 per cent, a record high.

However, as we have seen, the vitality of English in Quebec has, at the same time, remained distinctly higher than that of French. As a result, the age profile of Quebec’s anglophone minority closely resembles that of Ontario’s anglophone majority (compare figure 6 to figure 4). The anglophone minority’s intergenerational deficit was only 5 per cent in 2006, thanks to English’s formidable power of assimilation in Quebec.

Given that Quebec’s anglophones and francophones have been inadequately fertile for so long and to precisely the same degree, were the vitality index for French in Quebec homes identical to that of English, the francophone majority’s age profile would also be practically identical to the anglophone minority’s. However, the vitality of French has persistently been much lower than that of English in the province’s homes. As a consequence, unlike the anglophone minority’s age profile, the base of the francophone majority’s profile has been eroding.

Quebec’s francophone majority suffered a substantial 17 per cent intergenerational deficit in 2006, as can be seen from figure 7. Comparison of figures 6 and 7 sums up the fact that the superior vitality of English in the province has given its anglophone minority a distinct demographic advantage over its francophone majority, thus setting the stage for Quebec’s new language dynamic.

A rude awakening

Today’s Quebec is definitely not becoming as French as Ontario is English. Stretching the point the better to drive it home, in the light of vitality indices and age profiles, Quebec rather looks as English as Ontario.

Wrapped in Camille Laurin’s dream, Quebec’s francophone majority has slept soundly for some three decades. By the mid-1990s it had already become evident that French had ceased to progress in Quebec’s work world and that the gains of French as language of assimilation were due more to the selection of immigrants than to the power of attraction of French within Quebec society. The Larose Commission of 2000–2001 and the Bouchard-Taylor Commission of 2007–08 chose not to pull the alarm. Quebec agencies like the Office Québécois de la Langue Française and the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française likewise avoided rocking the boat.

But the last census undeniably confirmed that the basic sociolinguistic factors constantly at work within Quebec society are geared to making Quebec less French and more English. The scant 2001–06 out-migration of Quebec anglophones to the rest of Canada simply served to make this crystal clear.

As a result, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois now seems poised to extend Bill 101’s provisions on language of education and language of work to Cégeps and smaller companies. The PQ’s desire to act is driven above all by the situation unfolding in the Montreal metropolitan area, where the disparity between the vitality of English and French, and the resulting demographic dynamic, are even more pronounced than the provincewide results presented above.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A few important facts about Quebec

1. Québec's French-speaking majority is a multi-ethnic community

Québec's French-speaking majority is a multi-ethnic community, just like Canada's English-speaking majority. Francophone Quebecers cannot honestly be described as a simple homogeneous ethnic group or even as a homogeneous cultural group.

The community of descent comprised of people who can trace some ancestry to the French settlers of New France is vast and dispersed in the whole of North America. A great percentage of those people are today native English speakers living outside Quebec and have no or little connection with the culture of Quebec. Unlike some other ethnic communities, there is nothing solidly uniting North Americans of French descent.

There is however, in Quebec, a community whose members share a common identity based on language and culture: They are Francophone Quebecers. The members of this community are not united by ancestry but by shared culture and language. This identity can be adopted by anyone who wishes to learn French and become Québécois and has in fact been adopted by many people from Ireland, the United States, Scotland, England and Germany during the 19th century and by people of an even greater number of origins during the 20th century. Quebec culture does not begin and end with Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault, it includes people from a wide variety of backgrounds, for example: Émile Nelligan, Mary Travers (La Bolduc), Jim Corcoran, Serge Fiori, Normand Brathwaite, Gregory Charles, Kim Thúy, Alain Stanké, Marina Orsini, Kim Nguyen, Dany Laferrière, Naïm KattanBoucar Diouf ... just to name a few!

Quebec nationalists want this identity, socially transmitted from generation to generation, and passed on to immigrants and their children by assimilation, to keep existing and thrive. We feel that this identity is vulnerable due to our minority status in Canada and even threatened since the people who make it exist can only govern their common destiny by the means of a provincial government, whose status as a national government is denied by the central power in Ottawa.

In addition to the main French-speaking national group, Quebec is home to ten distinct Amerindian nations, the Inuit nation and a minority of Anglophones who tend to identify as Canadians first. Despite the plurality of identities found in Quebec, all its citizens are de facto and de jure part of the same political nation as the laws adopted by the National Assembly of Quebec apply to all. The same goes for all citizens of the Canadian federation who are de facto and de jure a part of the same political nation whether they identify with it or not. The two nations overlap.

The advocates of Quebec independence argue for a free Quebec State that would grant citizenship to all current residents of Quebec. Of course, there is no point in denying that one of the central reasons for the creation of this new independent State is to allow its people to govern themselves freely through political institutions that give control to the majority of them. It is the right of Quebecers as a people to determine, in full freedom, "when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development."

2. The people of Québec were never consulted on the adoption of any of the constitutional acts enforced to rule them

The people of Québec were never consulted on the adoption any of the constitutional acts enforced to rule them. Quebec has yet to democratically choose its constitution. As a people, Quebecers can legitimately claim the right to self-determination just like all the other peoples on Earth. Read Article VIII of the Helsinki Act.

The British North America Act was the work of British imperialists and would have been rejected by Quebec at the September 1867 election if it had not been for blatant electoral fraud. In order to create the confederated Dominion of Canada, the non-elected colonial government first had to neutralize the elected leaders of Lower Canada (Papineau and the Parti Patriote) and unite the two Canadas (Upper and Lower) with the 1840 Act of Union, hence forcing the Canadiens to become a politically weakened minority destined for assimilation in the new political system of the colony. The constitution of 1867 changed nothing of this reality.

On October 27, 1864, after the signing of the confederative pact, George Brown, founder of the Toronto Globe and one of the "Fathers of Confederation", wrote a note to his wife while packing his things before leaving for Toronto: "All right... Constitution adopted - a most creditable document - a complete reform of all the excesses and injustice we have complained of: Is it not wonderful? French Canadianism entirely extinguished."

The Indirect Rule and the massive immigration of British subjects to Canada were still in effect under the centralizing Federation disguised as a Confederation. From a democratic standpoint, the legitimacy of the Confederation can be considered null. Even worst, in 1982, the constitution was amended and "repatriated" without the approval of the National Assembly of Quebec. Quebecers are, therefore, governed by a constitution that they officially rejected.

3. The majority of Québec's independentists favour a republican form of government

The majority of Quebec's independentists favour a republican form of government, an elected President and a modern and truly representative voting system to elect the National Assembly's representatives. Basically, we want the real democracy that our people have been dreaming of for over a century and a half.

4. The majority of the independentists recognize the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit

The majority of independentists recognize the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit. They are to be a part of all negotiations between Québec and Ottawa in the advent of secession. Despite Indian affairs being a federal jurisdiction, the Quebec government has worked with native communities to help them strengthen their economic, social and cultural autonomy. See the various agreements achieved between Quebec and the Amerindian peoples and the Inuit people over the past years.

Following recent developments in international law, Quebec independentists have recognized the right to autonomy of the Amerindians and the Inuit inside Quebec. Some adversaries of Quebec's independence have threatened to partition Quebec by playing the right of Quebecers as a political nation against those of Aboriginals. This strategy is both hypocritical and dangerous. Recognizing the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit does not mean recognizing the right of Ottawa or anyone else to unilaterally partition Quebec along arbitrary lines. Of course, this right is only cynically attributed to the Native peoples of Quebec by the opponents of Quebec independence. This same right is never granted to the Native peoples outside of Quebec.  

5. Quebec nationalism stems from an old desire for national liberation

Quebec nationalism, in the context of British imperialism, must be understood for what it is: a desire for national liberation. The starting points of our movement are the American revolution and the ideals of the Enlightenment of the 18th century which were mainly expressed in French at that time. The Patriotes Rebellion of 1837-1839 was in essence an attempt to bring about an American-style Republic in Quebec (then known as Lower-Canada). These ideal are still what motivates Quebec independentists today.

Attempts to discredit the sovereignty movement by linking Québec's nationalism to reactionary 20th century "right-wing" movements is part of something called Quebec Bashing. The whole thing has reached near hysterical proportions since the near-victory of the sovereignists in 1995.

6. The word "Québécois" is not an invention of the Parti Québécois

The word "Québécois" is not an invention of the Parti Québécois. It has been used to designate the citizens of Quebec since the confederation and also the citizens of Quebec City long before. The French-speaking majority of Quebec has not always used this term when referring to themselves and the English-speaking minority never did, except when deprived of its very meaning. As a term referring to a political nation, it only appeared when the French Canadians of Québec chose to adopt it as their main defining identity during the Quiet Revolution. The main cultural group constituting the Québécois are the descendants of the 19th century French-speaking Canadiens and immigrants who have integrated this people. Canada used to be the name of what is essentially the two shores of the St-Laurent river, where the most important settlements of New France were located. Today, this land is called Québec, so we call ourselves Quebecers (in French Québécois).

7. The Parti patriote had wide support among Lower Canadians of all origins

The Assembly of the Six Counties
In the 19th century, the Parti patriote of Lower Canada had the support of an overwhelming majority of the Canadien population, including a significant number of English-speaking subjects, especially of Irish and American origin. The Patriotes movement is nothing marginal in Québec's history. The leaders of the time, who very often spoke both French and English (along with Greek and Latin), were not completely disconnected from the world. On the contrary, they had read the literature of the American and French revolutions and were aware of the various other liberation movements in other parts of the world. The Canadien people wanted to establish a free and democratic Republic that would have been one of the most egalitarian state of its time. See the Declaration of Independence by the Patriotes of Lower Canada (1838).

8. The repression of the Lower Canada revolution was massive

The arrest warrants issued against the patriot leaders were illegal. The massive repression of Lord Seaton (called "Milord Satan" by the Canadiens) was proportionally much worse than the repression ordered by the Comité du Salut Public in France during the period of the French revolution called La Terreur.

9. Québec is a nation in both the sociological and political meanings of the word

Québec is a nation in both the sociological and political meanings of the word. In the English language, nation comes from Old French nation which itself comes from Latin natio which means "to be born". This word is unfortunately vague for it can designate different ideas or concepts. Nation can mean a people or a nationality which is a human group who shares some or all of the following attributes: customs, culture, religion, institutions, language and history. That is the United Nations's definition at least. A more modern definition is the political nation, a human group that is politically organized under a single government, i.e. the government represents the whole people. These two definitions are not in contradiction with each other; as a matter of fact, they often complement one another: you typically have a nation (people) under a national government (state) for example.

Another meaning of the word nation in English is an independent country. Often, people will say that Québec is not a nation, meaning that it is not an independent country and in fact is just a province, a federated state inside Canada. They are absolutely right on this. That is precisely why there is an independence movement in Québec.

10. The Quebec State is much older than the Canadian federal State

The Parliament of Quebec, created in 1791, is much older than the federal Parliament of Canada, which the Parliament of the United Kingdom "created" in 1867.

The existence of a political nation within Québec goes back to at least 1663 when New France was made a royal province of the Kingdom of France. With the cession of 1763, this provincial state, its code of law and some of its key civil institutions, were detached from the Kingdom of France and attached to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The French Province of Canada became the British Province of Quebec.

In 1774, the Quebec Act created a crippled Parliament consisting of an unelected Legislative Council. A minimum of 17 and a maximum of 23 Councillors were appointed by a Governor, himself appointed by the British government.

In 1791, the Constitutional Act divided the territory of the Province of Quebec in order to create two distinct colonies. A new Province of Upper Canada and Parliament of Upper Canada were created to meet the demands of the United Empire Loyalists who started colonizing the Ottawa region in 1785. The territory of Upper Canada corresponded to the vast area North of the Great Lakes.

The rest of the Province of Quebec, to the East of the Ottawa river, was renamed Lower Canada. This territory, the St. Lawrence river valley, corresponded to what was previously French Canada and included Québec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montréal. The crippled Parliament of Quebec was modified to include an elected Legislative Assembly. (Upper Canada received corresponding institutions.)

In 1792, the Lower Canadian population elected its first representatives to the Parliament of Lower Canada. The Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, located in Québec City, was the only institution representing the people of Lower Canada, in the majority French-speaking and Catholic. This representation was totally powerless, as was the corresponding representation in Upper Canada.

In 1837, the non-elected colonial Executive government of Lower Canada, feeling it had lost control of the majority of the people, ordered the arrest of the Parti patriote leaders. An armed conflict broke out. Following the military repression of the people who resisted, Lower Canada was annexed to Upper Canada through the Union Act of 1840. Despite the fact that the population of the late Province of Lower Canada constituted a numeric majority over the population of the late Province of Upper Canada, both sides were given an equal representation in the new Parliament.

The union succeeded at 1) turning the national representation of the people of Lower Canada into the representation of an artificially-constructed national minority, and 2) breaking the previously unbreakable solidarity of those who considered themselves the elected leaders of la nation canadienne.

Indeed, the forced legislative union caused the disunion of the Parti patriote leaders, who became divided into those who sought reforms within the new union framework and those who wanted to repeal the Act of Union. The conquered people of the late French Canada were finally divided. But the political agitation was far from being over and the stability of the new union regime proved uncertain. The federal system, presented to the electorate as a "confederation", became a reality in 1867, with the adoption of the British North America Act. This Act of the UK Parliament created a new Parliament for a new Dominion federating all British American colonies. This federation was given the name of "Canada". The late provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were re-separated as "Ontario" and "Quebec". The people of Quebec, thus finally obtained a full Parliament. Unfortunately, this one came without the full legislative powers needed by Quebecers to control their own destiny. Conflicts of jurisdictions between the federal State of Canada and the provincial State of Quebec have been a permanent issue ever since.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jane Jacobs on Quebec: Independence or Decline

Commenting on Jane Jacobs’s book on Quebec sovereignty, the architect Joseph Baker wrote in The Gazette on March 22, 1980: "If I were René Lévesque, I would buy all the copies of Jane Jacobs's book and I would hand it out free of charge to everyone west of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. I would even translate it and take back the white paper." This was two months before the 1980 referendum.

What exactly is it that Jane Jacobs, the famous urban planner, said about Quebec that was so original that it brought this eminent citizen of Westmount and future president of the Quebec Order of Architects to make such a proposal? And, are Jane Jacobs’ thoughts on the matter still relevant today?

In The Question Of Separatism - Quebec And The Struggle Over Sovereignty, Ms. Jacobs says that the economic development and prosperity of Montreal necessarily entail an independent Quebec. Without this political sovereignty, Montreal will lose its role as a metropolis and will slowly become a satellite of Toronto, its economy becoming increasingly subservient to that of the chosen "Canadian metropolis". And in the end, all of Quebec will lose out. Montreal will play the same role in relation to Toronto as Lyon to Paris, Glasgow to London, Melbourne to Sydney, in short, a city receiving whatever the greater metropolitan city is willing to grant it.

Proof of Ms. Jacobs’ predictions abounds in the media. In fact, Canadian newspapers are filled with articles where commentators go on and on about the plight of Montreal without ever proposing a convincing solution. The blame is always attributed to political instability, language laws, our lack of collective daring, unions, and so on. Yet the most important urban planner of the twentieth century, Jane Jacobs, wrote this in 1980:
"Montreal cannot afford to behave like other Canadian regional cities without doing great damage to the economic well-being of the Quebecois. It must instead become a creative economic center in its own right.
"Yet there is probably no chance of this happening as long as Quebec remains a province of Canada. The Quebecois themselves seem unaware of the nature of the problem which looms in their future, and given the prevailing assumptions, they may not come to understand it. But they will understand this: things are not going well.” 
That is why the issue of sovereignty for Quebec, now that it has been raised anew as a possibility, is not going to evaporate. Inevitably, whether or not they could do better on their own, the Quebecois are going to think they could, and many of them are going to want to try. We may expect the question of separation to be raised again and again in coming years until it is finally settled either when Canada accedes to some form of sovereignty for Quebec or when the Quebecois accept the decline of Montreal and become resigned to it and to its repercussions.
She wrote this in 1980 and repeated it in an interview in May 2005. Some argue that in taking a position in favor of Quebec independence in 1980, Jane Jacobs lapsed into a secondary domain, straying away from the main subject of her work which was cities and their economies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her position on Quebec is in tune with the rest of her work, both by its content and by the weight of its arguments.

Her book on Quebec is the logical continuation of her previous two books, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and The Economy of Cities (1968). The first book revolutionized urban studies worldwide. Champion of urban diversity, social as well as economic, not out of altruism but for the sake of economic vitality, she explained how the majority of urban planners despised everything that was urban and showed a total unawareness of the sources of vitality that make a big city. Fifty years after its publication, this book still is a bedside book for any serious urban planner.

She brought more depth and insight into the economy of cities in her second book, published in 1968, by explaining how urban economies begin, grow in population, and expand economically. She contrasts cities that grew brilliantly only to fall due to their own success, and cities that managed to maintain a more economically viable foundation upon which to grow and prosper through changing times. She also suggested new development paths. She was already predicting the huge economic potential of recycling municipal waste, alas a field still underdeveloped to this day.

What brought about her book on Quebec? CBC Radio had offered her the prestigious forum of the radio series entitled The Massey Lectures. Free to choose her subject, Jane Jacobs titled the series “Canadian Cities and Sovereignty–Association”, which was to become the heart of her book on Quebec. Without the research and reflection on the concrete case of Montreal and Toronto, she would never have been able to write her other ground breaking book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984). In that book, she amply shows the terrible effect of demobilization and economic slowdown in major cities like Montreal, which must comply with the requirements of a “national” logic which imposes a so-called national metropolis.

Eloquent examples

Montreal Stock Exchange Tower
Four years after the 1995 referendum, Montreal almost entirely lost its stock exchange due to a reorganization that still left it with the exclusivity of derivative products for a period of ten years. Six years later however, seeing Montreal’s success in this area, Toronto tried at all costs to get its hands on this exclusivity. It threatening to launch its own derivatives exchange to compete with the Montreal Exchange if it refused the merger deal that the “Metropolis” was offering. Toronto, of course, had the support of Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who was formerly the Ontario Minister of Finance.

The same trend can be seen in the regulation of financial markets. In June 2006, a committee appointed by a minister of the Ontario government, recommended the creation of a single "national" body to regulate financial markets in Canada, thereby eliminating the AMF in Quebec. Jim Flaherty took up the ball and in the name of our "national" economy, supported the creation of a national regulator, which of course would necessarily be in Toronto. This plan is still in the works. Thus, the dismemberment and destruction of all the Montreal's financial sector continues inexorably by the closures the Montreal Exchange, by the concentration of these activities and related transactions (management of mutual funds, etc.) in Toronto and increasingly in Western Canada.

Mirabel: Trudeau's white elephant
Possibly the best example of Montreal's subordination to Toronto can be seen in the realm of air transport. Things started out well enough in the late sixties when Pierre Trudeau announced that Montreal would be "the main gateway to air traffic in Canada, only 60 minutes to New York, three hours to Nassau, six hours to Paris, Brussels or Madrid.” Building a new airport for Montreal was probably the most important federal decision on the physical development of Montreal since 1945.

However, the decisions regarding this airport were made against the expressed will of the government of Quebec, which wanted to build the airport to southeast of Montreal. In short, Ottawa chose the Mirabel site to promote the development of the Montreal - Ottawa axis and the east-west "national" corridor of Windsor - Toronto - Ottawa - Montreal. Ottawa was thus ignoring the development perspective advocated jointly by the Quebec government and the City of Montreal which was to favor the economic and urban development within the triangle formed by the cities of Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

In the end, following some political maneuvering for a “national” gateway endorsed by the Canadian government, Toronto’s Pearson airport was deemed better suited to become the main "gateway" from which international flights would depart. Therefore, Montreal, whose Dorval airport was renamed the P.E. Trudeau airport (hard not to see the twisted irony in this), has become completely insignificant to air transport, a mere satellite airport serving the chosen "Canadian metropolis”. Trudeau's Mirabel airport, which cost over $500 million to build in the 1970s, is currently being demolished.

Profitable flights transferred to Toronto 

This subordination continues today. Many profitable and regulated international flights have been transferred to Toronto and they're not done, more continue to be transferred every year. The Toronto International Airport has become the first airport in Canada, Vancouver's Airport is now second (not too surprising considering its advantageous geographical position for flights to Asia). Montreal ranks third, its business consisting mainly of local flights feeding the Toronto Pearson Airport. According to an article published in Le Devoir, even Calgary may soon overtake Montreal in terms of international flights.

The transfer of most international flights to Toronto is of course a deliberate choice. After all, is Montreal really too small a city for all of these international flights? Toronto is a city of over 6 million people, compared to 4 million for Montreal.  Let’s look at the importance of numbers.

There are several cities larger than Toronto that find themselves in the same situation as Montreal. For example, the city of Qingdao in the Shandong region of China, is a wealthy city of almost 9 million people and yet its airport plays a regional role, like Montreal. On the other hand cities much smaller than Montreal such as Zurich (400,000 inhabitants), Dublin (500,000 inhabitants) or Copenhagen (2 million) are hubs for international flights. In short, the size or even the economic importance of a city does not necessarily explain its importance as a flight destination. It’s the political status of a city within its own country that explains the importance of some cities and the insignificance of others. 

The smaller size of Montreal to the more populous Toronto does not explain the decline in international flights. The reality is that Montreal has become, over time, a city at the service of Toronto. Head offices move to Toronto, the Montreal Stock Exchange has been swallowed up by Toronto, the largest banks now operate from Toronto and Montreal has no choice in the matter but to cow-tow to Toronto. Like many other major cities, Montreal lives in the shadow of its government chosen State metropolis. 

For, while less wealthy and populous cities around the world play much more important roles than Montreal, within the Canadian "national" logic, Montreal finds itself in an almost neocolonial situation. Like other cities that are rich and populous, such as Marseille, Qingdao, Kaohsiung, San Diego and so on, Montreal was simply not chosen by its state to be the star city. As the metropolis of an independent state however, Montreal would have far greater importance. Jane Jacobs was therefore quite right in saying that without independence, Montreal would be transformed it into a satellite city, and it has.


We pay the price of dependence every day. Whether it is the takeover of the Montreal Stock Exchange by Toronto, the control of our businesses by Bay Street, or the decisions taken by Ottawa that go against the will and well-being of our nation, being the province of another nation is debilitating or as Jane Jacobs said "dependence is stultifying." But on the other hand, she continues by saying that "sometimes the obverse is also true. That is, sometimes independence releases new kinds of effort, opens up formerly untapped funds of energy, initiative, originality and self-confidence." For the future and prosperity of Montreal and of all of Quebec, we need to try the second option: independence, since the first option: dependence, has clearly not been working for us.

Based on articles by Robin Philpot and Maxime Duchesne