Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Canada's fundamental fraud

The opponents of the political unification of the British colonies of North America wanted an economic development based along the North-South axis rather than along the East-West axis. 

The people never consulted, Quebec representatives divided

150 years ago, on March 10, 1865, an important vote was held at the Parliament of United Canada. The 124 members of parliament voted on a motion giving support to the Quebec Resolutions. Written at the Quebec Conference in the fall of 1864, they requested that the imperial capital proceed with the political unification of the colonies of British North America.

The vote resulted in 91 MPs voting in favor and 33 voting against. In Ontario, 54 MPs voted in favor, while only 8 voted against. In Quebec, 37 MPs voted favorably and 25 voted against. Of these opponents in Quebec, there were Reds, Violets (moderate liberals) and Blues. Ten Reds voted against; eleven of the seventeen Violet members also; and four of the thirty-five Blue MPs. 

Across all colors, the opponents represented ridings connected to US commercial trading routes. They came mainly from the Greater Montreal, Montérégie, Eastern Townships, Bois-Francs and Beauce regions. Many of them came from towns or villages on or near the border. Their constituents wanted an economic development based on north-south rather than east-west trade.

Basically, we can say that the vast majority of MPs from the ridings north of Yamachiche voted for Confederation in 1865. On this national issue, French Quebec was torn in two: Upper Quebec, Northern Yamachiche, was conservative; Lower Quebec was republican.

Opposition movements were organized in three of the founding provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Yet the founding fathers refused to consult the people. "At the bottom of the abyss stands democracy" declared George-Étienne Cartier, while for John A. Macdonald, "an election is a civil disorder."

Canadian historiography is little more respectful of the views of the opponents. It sees them as troublemakers, traitors and paranoid. Yet their arguments were sensible. The Quebec opponents made three types of arguments. Politically, they noted a decline in the quality of democracy. Several resolutions were criticized: the abolition of the elective principle for the Upper House; the monarchical character of the regime; weak provincial governments; the right of disavowal granted to the Crown.

Culturally, English and French opponents were divided about the guarantees promised by the resolutions. The English were worried that the new provincial government might interfere with the rights of the Anglo-Protestant minority; the French feared that the federal union might bring about the decline of the French-Canadian nationality. Beyond this disagreement, they agreed on this: the constitutional guarantees were vague. Domestic quarrels, far from fading, would be exacerbated with the birth of the new regime.

Economically, the opponents challenged the need to raise a standing army and build an Inter-colonial Railway, since the military threat was bogus. These public expenditures would create an endless spiral of public debt. And this astronomical public debt would require large increases in taxes and thus impoverish the working classes.

The Grand Trunk

Incidentally, the very birth of the Great Coalition occurred in suspicious circumstances. If George Brown's wife was the "mother of Confederation" as the historian J.M.S. Careless wrote, in the eyes of the opponents of Confederation in Quebec there was also a "Godfather" in the Mafia sense. And it was the Grand Trunk railroad. Thanks to its resources, this Godfather was able to constantly widen the circle of the family, by buying off the most recalcitrant.

This interpretation proposed by opponents is not far-fetched, although it was associated with a "paranoid style of thinking" by historians. The impetus for the Great Coalition had indeed come from London's financial community. They became very nervous, in 1862, with the coming to power of a government led by the Reformer John Sandfield Macdonald and the Violet Louis-Victor Sicotte who wanted to free United Canada from the tutelage of British financiers, advocating an "economic decolonization", i.e. stop stuffing the coffers of the Grand Trunk; reduce borrowing from London; control the public debt and balance the budget.

This strategy alarmed the financiers of London. In response to this political and financial uncertainty, they created a lobby group, the British North America Association (BNAA), which actively supported the political unification of British North America and the construction of a railway between Halifax and Quebec.

Before the coming to power of the Macdonald-Sicotte government, the Colonial Office was indifferent and sometimes hostile to the political unification of the colonies. A shift in colonial policy came after the British North America Association had called for a unification of the colonies. With the return to power of the Conservatives in 1864, the conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec were held.

When the contents of the Quebec Resolutions were known in London, the big British financiers reacted positively. The reaction of the City was crucial for the continuation of the project. If the financiers had been hostile, it would have been abandoned, as its implementation depended on financial guarantees.

The British financiers hoped that the unification project would appease the democratic tensions expressed in the colonial parliaments. They advocated the adoption of more stringent criteria to qualify to vote but the founding fathers adopted another way by proposing a highly centralized federal union, important decisions would be pushed to a more remote level of government, the federal level.

The City had initially expressed disappointment on learning of the proposed continuation of the provincial parliaments. But it was reassured upon learning of the division of powers proposed by the Quebec resolutions. It was now clear that the provinces would be little more than vainglorious municipalities, subject to the will of a powerful central government.

By Stéphane Kelly, Sociologist, professor at the Saint-Jerome CEGEP

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The PKP enigma in 11 points

"What do you think about Péladeau? "I think this question has been asked to me dozens and dozens of times in the past year. For some he's the great Sovereigntist Messiah with the stature of a head of state who will lead Quebec to independence, fist in the air. For others, he's the demon boss-man, the anti-union dictator in the pay of the 1%, the Berlusconi of Quebec.

He is neither the Messiah nor the devil.

I propose here to look at the PKP enigma in a few points, which are the questions that come up most often when people speak to me about the MNA of St-Jérôme and of the PQ leadership race.

1- The pro big oil candidate, who's in favor of the Energy East pipeline

"This Sunday, Mr.Péladeau unveiled his platform on the subject of energy in which he foresees Quebec's energy independence from oil by 2050. The candidate does not exclude the possibility of extracting the oil from Anticosti island or the oil off the shores of the Madeleine Islands. He's promising to consult the population in order to determine if this should or should not be used as part of Quebec's oil exit strategy. Mr.Péladeau spoke of Norway, where oil royalties have helped to establish a fund of $880 billion. Mr.Péladeau asserted, however, that the issues of environmental protection and social acceptability shall be taken into account when it's time to decide whether to go ahead with it. Still, Mr.Péladeau stressed the benefits of oil exploitation. "I consider it a major asset. It's a the major asset for Quebec sovereignty and we can't simply discard its enormous potential to make Québec a rich and prosperous country. "- Le Devoir, March 29, 2015

He doesn't seem to have sided with the TransCanada pipeline, he said that Quebecers should be consulted. But anyway, this is, for now, still a federal jurisdiction. So long as Quebec is stuck in the Canadian federation, it doesn't really need to be consulted. In any case, wanting to get out of oil is fine but it won't happen in a single day. In an independent Quebec, the production of oil could be considered, preferably in the context of nationalization or at least with the negotiation of generous royalties. So these revenues could then be used by the Quebec government to finance its energy transition towards clean energy and to reduce its dependence on oil. If we look at PKP's energy policy, this is pretty much what he is proposing with the example of the Norwegian Sovereign Fund, with his proposal about the  electrification of transportation, with his energy efficiency plan and his plan for the exit from oil:

"To achieve our energy transition, it is also important to reduce our oil consumption by all possible means. We need to consume less oil and consume our own energy when substitutes are possible. Everyone agrees that the oil produced in Western Canada is among the most polluting in the world and it  would be more  advantageous to rely on other sources  which would benefit Quebecers. Drawing on the best international practices, we want to develop an oil exit plan that would include a 40% reduction target in the transportation sector by 2030."

2- Tax Evasion

In his economic platform, Péladeau has seen fit to mention a plan to fight tax evasion. Meanwhile, Alain Deneault raised some important questions: "The conversion of Mr. Péladeau is nothing banal and raises legitimate questions. For example, Quebecor World had once created an entity called "Quebecor World Centro America SA" Panama, an opaque tax haven? " On this point, it must be said that some countries require the creation and registration of companies on their territory when it comes to doing business. Quebecor World, which in 2003 had just concluded a contract to print Reader's Digest Panama created Quebecor World Centro America S.A. in Panama. There's still the question of Delaware, where Quebecor defended wanting to evade its tax obligations, but Alain Deneault, who wrote the book "Offshore" about tax havens, is skeptical. It's likely that this story will be continued.

3- Lockouts

Some say that because of this past, PKP will have trouble getting the support of the unions. This is a legitimate concern. Yet what must be understood is that the greatest enemy of unionism is the federal government. Just look at Bills C-4, C-377 and C-525, as well as the way the federal government responded to the labor conflicts at Air Canada and Canadian Pacific. This is probably what motivated trade unionists to support Pierre Karl.

4- He doesn't answer questions and his plan for independence is unclear

This is not something that worries me and I will explain why in point 11. Anyway, since Parizeau left the PQ, we have seen some fine speakers with nice plans...on paper. Like for example, the popular initiative referendum with the 850,000 signatures threshold plan proposed by Bernard Drainville in 2012, which was never really implemented. The kind of plan that Alexandre Cloutier seems to be proposing but would, this time, require one million signatures.

5- His media

Many people wonder if PKP, who was the CEO and remains the owner of one of the largest media companies in Quebec, will benefit from a Quebecor Media bias. I see no evidence that this would be the case. Let's not forget that at the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec, there are a lot of federalists columnists who take pleasure in denigrating the independence movement. Of course, the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec can claim to be representing a plurality of views, but I am skeptical that these papers would help Pierre Karl in an election or a possible referendum. Never mind the airtime that TVA grants to Jean Lapierre during election campaigns. Add to that Sun News, which Quebecor recently got rid of... It did give me a good laugh to see the Sun News journalists have to defend themselves for working for a "separatist" after PKP made the jump to the PQ.

6- His lack of experience in politics

We often hear that after Pierre Karl says something, he often has to explain his comments or clarify his position. This happens precisely because he lacks experience and he has not yet mastered the famous vacuousness of political speech. In a sense, it can harm him because today more than ever the media can create a tempest in a teacup from a trivial statement. On the other hand, his straight talk, which can sometimes create the impression that he made a gaff, could probably help him. Remember that Jean Chrétien, who could outdo anyone in terms of gaffs, was three times prime minister of Canada.

Parenthesis: take the controversial statement of PKP on immigration. The statement is rather awkward and there is a chance that, come election time, they will try to corner him with it, just like Parizeau's statement, which is still used by federalists as a scarecrow, but it puts the finger on something real. PKP eventually retracted it, but it is in the details of Maka Kotto's comments that we find an interesting element: "There is a system that ensures you when you come from abroad, all the symbols that are forced upon you inculcate into you, subliminally I would say, a notion of belonging to Canada, not Quebec."

Two other things: Immigration is still a taboo subject here, everyone walks on eggshells for fear of being called a racist or of offending someone, and because of this we can never have a real debate of any kind on the subject. Furthermore, the independence movement should not single out the immigrants as the sole source of its misfortune. Instead of pointing the finger at immigrants and saying "immigrants vote no," the PQ must initiate a genuine dialogue with the various cultural communities and must convince them of the viability of Quebec independence and the contributions each of these communities can make.

Personally, I've been having this dialogue for years. It works when you take the time to discuss, ask questions and explain. I went to high school in St-Michel, so I rubbed shoulders with Quebecers of all origins. I have friends from Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Haiti, Argentina, France, Belgium, Chile, Vietnam, etc. And contrary to what we are led to believe, the independence option is relatively alive among the children of Bill 101, the sons and daughters of immigrants. End of parenthesis.

7- Is the PQ the right vehicle?

On this point, I tend to agree with the analysis of Jacques Parizeau, for several reasons. The secularism charter was a serious strategic error on the part of the Parti Quebecois and it will continue to feel the repercussions over it for a while. While human beings have been killing one another on religious grounds for a long time, the PQ decided to make religion an election issue. On the PQ and what it has become, I had questioned Jean-François Lisée at the time. I still think the same way. And that was not counting the endless debate on secularism and the electoral drubbing last year. The Parti Quebecois is not a very popular party among young people and among immigrants. The independence option is currently more popular than the party. There is certainly a lot of work to do on this front. As for those who are serious about independence, they no longer believe the empty promises of this party. How could anyone blame them. Personally, I'm sick of hearing the interchangeable heads of the PQ proclaiming loudly that they will do everything in their power to bring about the independence of Quebec once a year at the party convention. Then, 2 or 3 YouTube videos, a powerpoint, a hollow formula like "popular initiative referendum", the "tool box" or a "White Paper on sovereignty" and when election time comes around, they avoid the issue. So on this point, I'll wait and see.

8- The economy

PKP's economic prestige and his ambitious economic plan will surely allow him to get votes from the CAQ and give him a chance of convincing those who believe that a sovereign Quebec would not be economically viable. It could also help him convince people from the business world as well. In his platform, there are two points that I find particularly interesting, and that's not counting his regional development plan and his manufacturing policy. First, the strategy of buying locally, which he calls the concept of "préférence québécoise". Then his desire to create a Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence. This institute will "analyze the economic dimensions of the national independence project".

9- Federal control over vital sectors

I must say that I'm glad to finally hear someone make this point. Shipping, rail, air transport, the CRTC, etc. Economically speaking, the Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence should demonstrate how these "federal jurisdictions slow or disadvantage Quebec." Furthermore, I would also suggest that this Institute focus on the ideological control of the federal government on thought and culture through what Heritage Canada funds; Telefilm Canada, the CRTC, the Canada Council, Museums and Parks Canada, CBC Radio and Television, the NFB, in addition to some other areas such as university research or amateur sport.

10- The glamour

This is obviously not something that reaches me personally but it's still significant that PKP and Julie Snyder form a glamorous couple. Besides, Julie Snyder is a brilliant woman, with an ability to rally people to her. I see her political involvement in a favorable light. And if in addition, it can attract the sympathy of the people who watch La Voix or Star Académie, and convinces them to vote "Yes", then I'm all for it.

11- Has Pierre Karl Peladeau really entered politics for Quebec independence?

This is the crucial question. First, it must be said that never before has a businessman of his importance taken a stand in this way. The Canadian establishment will never forgive him for it. Yes, in Quebec Quebecor is big, but if you look at the largest companies in Canada, Quebecor Media ranks 94th, and Quebecor Inc. ranks at 96th place. Its media competitors, that is to say Power Corporation, Bell and Rogers, rank respectively in the 3rd, 17th and 33rd places.

In addition, by placing his company in a blind trust he is placing himself in a very risky position. Not only will the Canadian establishment do everything, including all of the low blows unimaginable to weaken his business, he will be a victim of media persecution by the competitors especially at election time. When we look at the recent history of Quebec, particularly in regard to the political struggle against the independence of Quebec, the federal government and the Canadian establishment spared no means to get their way. The Brinks job, Operation Ham, the Samson Case, and the underhanded methods used during the 1995 referendum (see for example the book by Robin Philpot "Le Référendum volé").

Why take that risk? I believe Pierre Karl knows what he is exposing himself to and how it exposes the company he inherited from his father. Being aware of these risks, he must succeed in a certain sense. It's all or nothing, really. He's taking a calculated risk because, firstly he must really want Quebec to achieve its independence and, I believe, he also wants to make history. He wants to be the one who will create this country. He wants to be what René Lévesque and Jacques Parizeau could not be. And he is not afraid. This, I believe, can only do good to the PQ of recent years.

I have often complained about people who refuse to take a stand, Pierre Karl has, he is putting his company at risk and doing it fearlessly. I won't spit on that. So, I choose to support him. There, it's said. However, in regards to the PQ as a whole, I still remain skeptical. I'll wait and see how things change. Substance. Audacity. Vision...

Well, there it is. It's a decision long reflected on. A rational and thoughtful decision. And for those who will to see in this support an inconsistency with my usual positions, I say this: I'm still leftist, I'm the same dirty red square leftist who mourned Hugo Chavez, who was in the streets in 2012, the same leftist who supports the striking students and the same one who writes columns on the growing the police state we live in. But I'm an independentist first. I, therefore, only see consistency in supporting PKP. I do not accept any nonsense under the pretext that it is leftist, just as I do not reject any idea on the grounds that it is from the right. I analyze and evaluate ideas according to my first objective; the independence of Quebec. And I recognize, more than ever, the urgency. We must exit Canada quickly. Because meanwhile, a police state is being built up around us and our social gains are being eroded. La Caisse de dépôt is being hijacked and our natural resources are slowly being plundered for a song and without any long term vision. Quietly our Crown corporations such as Hydro-Québec and the SAQ will be privatized...

Quebec independence is not an end. It's a start. It is the first step towards liberty.

"It is very difficult to start a revolution. It is even more difficult to continue it. The most difficult of all is to win it. And it is only there that the real difficulties begin"- Larbi Ben M'hidi from the film The Battle of Algiers

By Jules Falardeau, April 22, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The blind spot in our history

The 175th anniversary of the Act of Union

John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham
Federalist propaganda is preparing us for the celebration in 2017 of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. In 1867, an Act of the British Parliament, the British North America Act, replaced the 1840 Legislative Union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada and its single parliament with a broader federal union of four colonies. The birth of this new country is presented to us as harmonious and in the interest of the "two founding peoples" by underlining the alliance of conservatives Macdonald and Cartier. They forget that the first Union was brutally imposed by London in July 1840 after the harsh military repression demanded by the British merchants of Montreal. And it's this first union that made the union of 1867 possible.

2015 marks the 175th anniversary the abolishment by the British government of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, our separate Parliament which had existed since 1791 and the establishment of a new political entity, the Province of Canada. This Union laid the foundations of the British nation of North America, known today as Canada. The union of the two colonies had been called for as early 1810 by the British merchants of Montreal. Quebec historians need to remind people of 1840, this fundamental date of our too often forgotten history. For 1840 is the real political conquest of French Canada following the British military conquest in 1760, it is the blind spot in our history, even paradoxically for some Sovereignists.

We must remember that, in 1839, Lord Durham, who was sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Lower Canada Rebellion, wrote in his report that he initially envisioned a federal union as a permanent solution to the crisis. But he was finally convinced that only a legislative union without provincial parliaments was possible. For Durham, the urgent priority was to first make French Canadians a minority in a union Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada. He believed that a parliament made up of a French majority would only slow down the economic development of British North America. In his view, the liberal solution of responsible government could not apply to the separate Lower Canada. He clearly stated the need to promote English immigration and to entrust the administration to a legislature dominated by the English. The legislative union was therefore required and it was done in the interests of English colonization.

He concluded that a federal union was not possible at that time, as the British merchants of Montreal would never submit to an Assembly, even a provincial one, which was dominated by a French majority. Moreover, he believed that a legislature granted to a provincialized Lower Canada as part of a federal union would use the limited power it possessed to paralyze the central government.

Instead, Lord Durham proposed:

  1. to Unite Upper and Lower Canada into a single province to stimulate the economy and create conditions of prosperity as well as to reduce to dominant position of the French, render them increasingly politically powerless and, eventually, assimilate them.
  2. to institute Responsible Government so as to remove a major source of friction that had existed between the government and elected officials prior to 1837.
  3. to assimilate the French.

It was evident that one of the purposes of the Act of Union was to remove from the French the little amount of self-government, of control over their political institutions, that they had had between 1791 and 1837. It was also evident that various clauses in the Act aimed at assimilating the French or introduced a threat to their survival in the future. Especially objectionable to Quebec were the following clauses:

  • The debts of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were now merged into one. Upper Canada had a large debt when Lower Canada had an accumulated surplus.
  • The Union Act provided for equal representation of the two parts of the new province in the new House of Assembly when in fact Lower Canada contained 60% of the population and Upper Canada had only 40%. This had been done to ensure an English majority in the House of Assembly right from the start of the Union.
  • The financial requirements to vote in elections, or to be elected, had been raised making it more difficult for the poor to exercise their franchise. As the French tended to be poorer than the English, more of them were adversely affected by this.
  • There was no requirements for French to be used in the laws and by the government of the Province. French could be used in the debates of the House but was slated to disappear within 15 years.

The Act of Union sealed, for more than a century, the destiny of the French-speaking nation, reducing it to minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French Canadians henceforth conceived of themselves as a national minority, developing complexes about disadvantages and the economic and political leadership set over them, to the extent that they became afraid to make claims for themselves. The governing elite pronounced them to be inferior, and French Canadians adapted to a world in which their exclusion from certain circles and executive positions was almost a given, to the point of interiorizing some of these complexes. This inferiority complex had not yet crystallized before the failure of the Rebellions and the ensuing annexation of 1840, which may therefore be regarded as a turning point.

We must reread the work of the historian Maurice Séguin to understand the beginnings of the political annexation of French Canada. According to him, the Fathers of Confederation were, despite their speeches, the implementers of Lord Durhams project, who saw in the history of Louisiana a good example of the way a majority can erase the national distinctions of a people and realize its smooth assimilation.

Based on  a text by historian Robert Comeau, February 7, 2015

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.