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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The National Policy and Canadian Federalism

The last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1885

The National Policy was introduced by the government of John A. Macdonald in 1879 and remained, in one form or another, government policy for a long time. Understood in its broadest sense, the policy contained three parts: 

  1. the building of the transcontinental railway - the CPR;
  2. strong immigration policy to fill the West; 
  3. the protection of the infant Canadian industry with high tariffs

The plan was a comprehensive one and each of its parts provided an impetus and a justification for the other parts. The aim of the policy was to create a true country with a national economy. Macdonald thought that while a political framework had been created in 1867 the dreamed up union could only last if it was cemented by the creation of a strong national economy - one that would run east-west rather than north-south. The future of Confederation, he thought, hinged upon the development of the West. Without such development, the Americans would take over the West, encircle Canada and inevitably bring about its annexation. 

Macdonald perceived the occupation of the vast plains of the West as vital national interest. The building of the CPR would assure the sovereignty of Canada over the territory and eastern industry would have access to the resources and the customers of the West. The immigration policy was designed to maximize the investment in such an expensive railway and to provide customers for eastern industry. The high tariffs would ensure the development of a Canadian industry and assure a better standard of living and jobs for Canadians.

At first glance, the policy seems a remarkable one but upon closer examination one has to recognize many difficulties and consequences for the future. The first thing to note is that the national policy was not a "national" policy in some important respects. In an age of mounting imperialism, it was an imperialist policy. The heart of Macdonald's country was essentially Ontario and, to a lesser extent, Quebec where the important Anglo Montreal financial interests were found. The Montreal-Windsor axis was to be the heart of the country, its pole of development, and the policy was specifically designed to benefit its population. The Maritimes, and most of Quebec, would not benefit greatly from the policy. Their contribution would be largely to export men and resources to the center of Canada while importing its expensive industrial products. Railways would cross their territories but they would not be particularly designed to develop them. They would be called to pay taxes to buy the West and to subsidize heavily the building of the CPR, but would receive very little benefit from such undertakings.

It was hoped that immigrants by the hundreds of thousands would be attracted to the West. For that purpose, Canada eventually had hundreds of immigration officers, although nearly all of them were to be found in Great Britain, Ireland and in the United States. So while thousands of Québécois (close to one million from 1830 to 1930) emigrated to the United States, Canada hoped to recruit large numbers of British, Irish and American immigrants to fill the West. It was plain for everyone to see that the federal government did not care sufficiently for the fate of the Quebecois and made no effort to repatriate them. Immigration from Europe was subsidized (each immigrant received free land and, by the 1920’s, a train ticket for the West; Quebecers who wished to go west had to buy their own tickets).

John A. Macdonald
Macdonald's purpose was not to develop viable, autonomous communities in the West. This had to be avoided at all cost: industries were not to locate in the West, they would only compete with eastern ones; railways were not to be established unless they were controlled by the CPR and they were not to link the West to the USA. Macdonald feared that Western farmers might buy their products there. Provinces were not to be created because the federal government would lose control of the whole operation. When the local indigenous population (Indians and Métis) protested the establishment of the newcomers on their land, they were pushed aside; the West was not to exist for its own sake but only as a useful appendage to Central Canada.

Nevertheless, provinces had to be created eventually and the federal government lost part of its control over the territory; natural resources were withdrawn (until 1930) from the control of the provincial governments in the West and the federal right to reservation and disallowance was used heavily to support the National Policy. As one author has written: "One of the most significant factors which emerges from a study of disallowance is that the power has been used primarily against the West... The West has always been Canada's empire. The expansion of Western Canada provided the life-blood of Eastern commerce, finance, manufacturing, and transportation. It furnished the market for the goods and services which, by permitting the economies of large-scale operations, made Eastern undertakings successful. To put it crudely, as Macdonald did, the Dominion had purchased the West and was entitled to the profits of its exploitation." [Alan Wilson, "Disallowance: The Threat to Western Canada," in Saskatchewan Law Review, Vol. 39 (1974-75):180-181].

What makes an examination of the operation of the National Policy so important and vital for the study of Canadian Constitutional history is the fact that it became a permanent factor in Canada's development. Could post-Macdonald governments deny the reality of the policy and undermine its economic objectives (as objectionable as they might have been in some respects) when it seemed that the economic well-being of Central Canada - jobs, profits, standard of living - came to be dependent on high tariff industries and the exploitation of entire regions of Canada (West, Maritimes and most of Quebec)? 

Political considerations must not be discounted either: the exploited regions were also the politically powerless ones while the benefiting regions actually controlled the majority of seats in the House of Commons. So the policy was maintained by successive administrations. Maritimers lost their natural New England market and sank economically into oblivion. For a long time, in fact until the development of the oil and gas industry, the West was condemned to virtual economic stagnation and its farmers were forced to buy expensive eastern products, thus lowering their standard of living (an author estimated, in 1934, that the tariff in effect subsidized each person in Ontario by $15.15 a year but cost each person in the other provinces as much as $11.67 in Nova Scotia or $28.16 in Saskatchewan - the average personal income of a Canadian at the time was around $300 a year). Montrealers benefited from the policy but the rest of Quebec stagnated; rural depopulation was the result. Only Ontarians were fully satisfied with the policy as 68% of the most highly protected industries were located there.

So the country developed unequally under the National Policy and it gave rise to all sorts of regional problems: Westerners became alienated and have complained of unfairness since. Maritimers lost their traditional prosperity and with it their proud heritage of vigorous and autonomous government. Too poor to afford the social services to which we have all become accustomed, they have had to support centralization of powers in Ottawa in order to receive some of the benefits of Confederation. For them, economic development has been replaced by social welfare. Many Quebecers have argued the necessity of the break-up of Confederation on grounds that the system (National policy) profited Ontario at the expense of Quebec. 

In the past seventy-five years there has been recognition of the problem: Royal Commissions were established (Duncan Report, 1926; White Report, 1935; Rowell-Sirois Report, 1940) that considered the economic problems of Canada or some of its regions and provinces and which pointed to the National Policy as partly the root-cause. 

Federal equalization grants were instituted in the late 1950's to, at least, lessen the burden which inevitably befell the citizens of low growth regions in Canada. In 1969, the federal government created the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE) that distributes grants to overcome regional economic disparities. But, by and large, such policies were much too timid: they did not fundamentally seek to solve problems by creating regional growth centers but, rather, aimed at lessening the most obnoxious effects of the National Policy. Many experts see the solution to the problem of regional economic disparity in massive federal involvement but this can only be done, ultimately, at the expense of weakening provincial control over local economies and societies - in other words by undermining even further Canadian federalism.

In the end, only free and self-reliant people can happily accept to collaborate and live in harmony with other people. The nation of Quebec must declare itself to be sovereign in order to break free from these patterns of dominance and exist as a free and self-reliant people. We cannot afford to completely melt into a centralized Canadian economy without losing who we are and assimilating. To exist as a distinct nation and thrive economically we must become independent and prioritize our own economic interests. That is the only sensible road to prosperity for Quebec.

 Based on a text by Claude Bélanger, Department of History, Marianopolis College, Montreal

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting Past Survival

For more than a century, survival was the principal theme of Quebec’s view of its own history. Beginning in the 1950s, Quebec intellectuals came to a different understanding of their past, one that demystified the ideology of survival and required a break with it. But now it seems they are returning to survivalist mode. This has a high social cost, which almost no one talks about. The way out of this trap is through independence, which would allow Quebecers, once having acquired political control of their own nation, to cease being nationalists.

What has happened to us? Where are we now in our history as survivors, we whose beginnings were so poorly assured, so badly rooted, in the political sense of the term, that to justify the paradox of our presence, and our French persistence, we had to manufacture mythical heroes and invent for ourselves a providential mission on this continent? To explain this crutch from the imagination, the sociologist Fernand Dumont even went so far as to speak of aborted origins, a “childhood trauma” that occurred long before the English conquest of New France. It’s hardly a recipe for stable kids.

And yet, here we still are, in the precarious equilibrium between the YES and the NO that history has given us, hanging on in our survivors’ way.

We came here 300 years ago and we stayed here. Those who brought us here could return without bitterness or sorrow, for even if it is true we have not learned much, one thing sure: we have forgotten nothing [ ... ]. Of ourselves and our destinies, we have clearly understood only the following duty: persist ... Keep on ... And we have kept on. So well that in a few more centuries the world may turn to us and say: This people belong to a race which does not know how to die ... What we are is a witness.

That’s the personification of the country in Maria Chapdelaine: I must admit I can never reread these lines, written in 1912 by a Frenchman visiting the “country of Québec,” without emotion. They evoke the long winter of our survival, the quiet resistance of those people who came from France during the 17th and 18th centuries and, following the Conquest, had to learn to survive as a distinct “race.” It was a hazardous apprenticeship, which went mostly unrecorded. We mustn’t believe that our ancestors (who in 1760 were no more than 70,000 people spread over a vast territory) came equipped with a collective survival plan. If survival was not the “miracle” that everyone claims, neither was it, at least not at the beginning, a national project (un projet de société). It was, rather, a second-best solution, a patchwork program: Survival was the response to an historic dead end. The French community in Canada faced both the threat of assimilation and the conqueror’s refusal to welcome it as an equal partner in new political arrangements. Powerless to use these arrangements to create a republic — as witness the failure of the Rebellion — it was reduced, after the Act of Union of 1840, to seeking its raison d’être in the preservation of its language, its religion and its lifestyle. The road to political freedom was impassable, but that to survival remained, and the community ended up making this its avocation: Survive and be witness.

But surviving is not living, as the historian Michel Brunet liked to say. This had been recognized by Lord Durham himself, a century before. In his famous report, he had argued that the French in Canada, if they survived, would become vulgarized, and he therefore recommended assimilation. As shocking as this conclusion is, we are forced to recognize the soundness of the argument on which his recommendation was based. When French Canadians left their farms and their parishes at the end of the 19th century to go and live in the cities, they effectively became, as Durham had warned, mostly unskilled workers employed by English capitalists — that is, a proletarian people, the same proletarian people whose docility Maurice Duplessis proclaimed to English and American capitalists, even when he had to impose it with his policemen’s clubs.

Michel Brunet, historian and essayist
We had to wait until the mid-1950s before we could start to see the real political causes of French Canadians’ economic inferiority. The names of three great historians of “the Montreal School,” Maurice Séguin, Guy Frégault and Michel Brunet, are associated with this new awareness. During the profound transformation then taking place, one that waylaid traditional ideologies, these three authors produced a complete reinterpretation of our history, based on the Conquest and on the crushing mortgage it still imposed on the future of the nation and the individuals who comprised it. The new historiography challenged the compensatory myths (equality of both founding peoples, the French mission in America, etc.) that until then had nurtured nationalism and survival, but despite that it did not conclude that nationalism should be jettisoned — as the intellectuals of Cité libre concluded during those years — but instead laid the foundations of an integrating nationalism that was economic, political and cultural at the same time, and to which a large proportion of Québec’s intelligentsia were to rally during the 1960s and 1970s.

Almost 50 years after the birth of this new type of nationalism, and nearly a quarter century after the election of the first Parti Québécois government, it seems to me that, contrary to what some would have us believe, not only are we not yet out of the survival period, but we may be in the process of forgetting why we had to undertake the Quiet Revolution to escape from it. This oblivion represents a collective memory crisis in which both the identity and the future of the nation are at stake.

Our former name of “French Canadians” provided a simple definition for us: Our language, our religion, our customs told us what we were. Anyone could recognize him or herself as a member of a nation whose distinctive characteristics were, above all else, crucial to preserve. Defined on the basis of strictly cultural criteria, this French Canadian identity allowed for a division between the cultural nation and the political nation. More precisely, it assumed that the French Canadian nation could survive as a minority cultural nation within a political nation over which it had no control. Pierre Trudeau — no more than Laurier or Saint-Laurent before him — did not challenge this assumption. His personal success had the effect of, once again, mystifying us by masking the political and collective reality of a problem which this success in itself claimed to solve. According to Trudeau, the problem was due more than anything else to an outdated way of thinking that had to be changed. In a Machiavellian way, Trudeauism thus exploited the French-Canadian voluntarism from which it had itself descended.

French Canadian.” During the 1950s intellectuals, especially poets, began to suspect that this name was only, and had always been, a decoy, a mirror used to attract larks (“Alouette, je te plumerai, etc.”). The agony of French communities outside Québec amply reveals that O Canada, whether sung in French or in English, is a bell that tolls for the French language and culture in America. The substitution of the word “Québécois” to replace “French Canadian” at the turn of the 1960s showed that people had woken up to this “velvet genocide” and resolved to put an end to it before it was too late. The new name involved the death of the old one, and of all things Canadian: The concept of country had to be less encompassing if it was to be understandable, if we were finally to become “masters in our own house,” as the political slogan of the Quiet Revolution claimed.

This control of self, this political independence, is taking a dangerously long time to come about. Forget for a moment the rather volatile results of the last referendum and consider the current state of Québec nationalism. What’s most striking is the growing indifference of those we now call “francophones Québécois” regarding the question of their national identity — as if the question was drifting further and further from common culture and political controversy, and floating off into the rarefied air of philosophical debate among university-specialists-in-the-national-question; as if, on the other hand, Québec intellectuals believed they could (finally) “ponder the Québec nation” in complete objectivity, setting aside the fact that they themselves belong to it. No doubt they can, but at what price? What is hidden behind this epistemological rupture whose consequences fill the shelves of our libraries? Shame of being ourselves? Shame of our past? Shame of the Groulx who may well still slumber inside us? Things were not always so.

Gaston Miron, poet and writer
The intellectuals of the previous generation (the Fernand Dumonts, the Gaston Mirons, the Pierre Vadeboncoeurs, etc.) never placed themselves above the throng, never set themselves apart from the collective adventure. They took up the unhappy conscience of their nation as if it were their own. (“I tie myself to everything, even to garbage, if I must,” wrote Miron the Magnificent). Their assumptions and their aims were ethical above all, even before being political. And so they never believed that to start thinking about the future of their nation, they had to make a clean sweep of the past. Nor did they believe that it was sufficient to dismiss “our master the past” no longer to be its prisoner. Instead, they backed the “future of memory,” hoping it was possible to cull new meanings from the past, meanings until then forgotten, repressed or censored. Paul Ricoeur wrote somewhere that “Memory has two functions. It ensures time-related continuity, allowing us to move along the time axis; and it lets us recognize ourselves, and say ‘me’ or ‘mine’.”

Does historical memory not fill analogous functions for a nation, by allowing those who are part of it to recognize themselves as such and to say, without shame, “we” or “us”? Denial and shame of the past also proceed from memory, but from a memory burdened by what Freud called “repetition compulsion,” a memory haunted by the remembrance of our past defeats and humiliations, a memory that is missing what the very same Ricoeur called “active forgetfulness” and the “work of remembering.” This work is not the exclusive jurisdiction of certified intellectuals. It relies on a collective education to which all those in charge of a soul are invited. Our identity has to be re-made. It is often said that this identity is now just a question of language. But language is not solely a tool of communication. It also carries memory, whose updating depends in turn, and in large part, on the mastery of language. We will only be masters in our own house when we have won our language back. This was well understood by the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada but also, in Québec itself, by the William Johnsons and Howard Galganovs.

Fernand Dumont, sociologist and philosopher
Fernand Dumont was roundly criticized when he wrote in Raisons communes that there is no Québec nation in the cultural sense of the term — which actually seems pretty obvious to me. What there is, he said, is a French nation, or a French-speaking nation, that constitutes the majority nation within a Québec society in which there are also other, minority nations. An independentist from the very first day, Dumont was also a humanist, and always deeply respectful of the other person in what makes him most “other”: his language and his culture. Moreover, Québec independence needn’t give birth to a new nation-state, but to a new political community (or nation, if you wish) based on the equality of all citizens, whether francophone, anglophone, allophone, or Native. In other words, the reconciliation of the cultural and political nation which Dumont wished for at the end of his Genèse de la société québécoise did not in his mind require them to be one. Dumont used to say that if he was a nationalist, it was from necessity, and that he would never have been one had he been born the citizen of a great nation sure of itself and its future. For him, nationalism was nothing but a means — the means, in this case, that our little nation needed first to survive and then to try to get past the survival in which it had vegetated for more than two centuries. Because survival has its price, a very high price. The fact that nobody talks about it, or at least not any longer, says a lot about the depth of our social failure and the censorship that our privileged cultural class exercises over our culture. Will they ever forgive Dumont for bypassing this censorship and brutally asking the question, “Is a nation such as ours worth continuing?

For me, to be a nationalist today in Québec means answering YES to this question — in the hope that one day our children will not have to ask it, will not have to be nationalists, and can finally, simply, belong to their own nation. As for what’s ahead for us: I am no better able than anyone else to guess the consequences of events taking place during my own life — in which I am participating fully, with my own biases, hopes and fears. To know the meaning of history, as so many 20th century intellectual oracles have boasted, begins with a more or less conscious willingness to escape to the darkness in which De Tocqueville saw “the man of the democratic centuries” advancing, when the past does not shed any light on the future. It is a pitch darkness indeed. Let us not search for new alibis to justify our old fears. Let us interpret it instead as a call for new challenges — the unavoidable challenges that confront small nations who want to go on living in the era of globalization. We will take on these challenges with the same courage we summoned before, during the darkest hours of our survival.

By Serge Cantin, lecturer in political philosophy at l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 2000.