Mark Wegierski considers Canada’s future
An essay in two parts
The results of the provincial election in Québec, on April 7, 2014, were unexpected. It was a huge win for the Liberals led by Philippe Couillard, which won 70 seats. The Parti Québecois was crushed, winning only 30. The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) won 22 seats, while the left-wing Québec Solidaire, won 3. Given this strong majority, another election was unlikely to occur for at least four years.
The 2014 election results were in marked contrast to the 2012 election results. In the provincial election in Québec, on September 4, 2012, the Parti Québécois won 54 seats; the Liberals, 50; the new, right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), 19; and the left-wing Québec Solidaire won 2 seats.
CAQ is basically a successor to the ADQ (Action democratique du Québec), which largely collapsed in the December 8, 2008 provincial election. In that election, the Liberals won 66 seats; the Parti Québécois, 51; the ADQ, 6; and Québec Solidaire, 1. In the earlier, March 26, 2007 provincial election, the Liberals had won 48 seats; the ADQ, 41; and the Parti Québécois, 36.
This essay places these election results in the context of long-term trends in politics in Québec and Canada. One should begin a discussion of Québec by looking its role in federal elections. Since 1896, in federal elections, Québec almost always voted for the Liberal Party. At the federal level, Québec was a Liberal Party stronghold, until the emergence of the Bloc Québécois in the 1993 election.
Indeed, English-speaking Canada, as a whole, had voted Liberal only once in the 1960s to 1980s period, in the 1968 election (and by a very narrow margin, in that case), as Peter Brimelow noted in The Patriot Game. Without their Québec bastion, the Liberals would have been a minority party in Canadian federal politics, perennially losing federal elections. From 1896 until the 1993 federal election, Québec and the federal Liberal Party were inextricably intertwined, as the prominent Canadian Tory historian Donald Creighton noted. Québec ensured the perpetuation of the Liberal government in Ottawa, while the Liberal Party ensured an increasingly eminent position for Québec in Confederation.
Brimelow addressed the dynamics of Québec in Canada. He distinguished between the Liberal “Federalistes” in Québec (who aspire to give the French-Canadians a semblance of power from coast to coast) – and the more honest Québécois nationalism. One of the main reasons that long-serving Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was a committed “Federaliste” was because he feared that real Québec nationalism would move into more right-wing channels, as had been the case under Maurice Duplessis, known as “Le Chef”, who had kept the liberals and socialists at bay in Québec for over a quarter-century, and had delivered the Québec vote to the staunch Canadian Tory Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in the federal election of 1958.
In 1987, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the Meech Lake Accord with the provincial Premiers. In exchange for Québec acceding to the Constitution Act, 1982 (whose most salient aspect was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), there would be another document incorporated into the constitution, whose main point was the recognition of Québec as “a distinct society.” Québec had hitherto refused to accede to the Constitution Act, since it considered that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would undermine its “collective rights” in a distinctive, French-speaking society in Québec.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister from 1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-1980, argued against the Meech Lake Accord because from his perspective it could weaken over-all French power in Canada (i.e., the “Federalistes”), while strengthening the Québécois position (“Separatistes” – “a distinct society”). Trudeau preferred a liberal-socialist Québec dominating and deriving economic benefits from a continent-wide polity, as opposed to an “ourselves alone” (and possibly right-wing) national state limited to Québec.
It should also be noted that a more traditional, Catholic, and inward-looking Québec would have a far greater chance of survival in North America, than the cosmopolitan, wide-open, and socially liberal one which left-wing Québec intellectuals have striven to create. For with the decline in traditional values, the hitherto high Québec birthrate has plummeted, and abortion rates have soared. French Québec had earlier celebrated its demographic triumph as “the revenge of the cradle” (against the British conquest). But because of the demographic collapse, the Francophone (French-speaking) leadership is forced into ever more drastic, and increasingly artificial, “social engineering”-type measures, to maintain “the French fact” in North America.
In 1986 and 1987, there was a revolt against John Turner, the leader of the federal Liberal Party, led by the Québec wing of the federal Liberal Party. It arose mostly from Turner’s perceived conservatism (at least apropos his image), as well as from the fact that Francophone Liberals were not particularly willing to accept anyone who was not a full Francophone (or Trudeau loyalist), as leader of their party, regardless of his fluency in “Paris French” — as opposed to the colourful Québec dialect of French.
At certain points Turner was close to being ousted. According to the conventional wisdom of that day, only a Québecker could compete with another Québecker for control of that vital province in federal politics, without whose support no Canadian government could really be considered as fully “legitimate” — setting aside what the other three-quarters would ever want or decide. When, in the 1990s, the Reform Party used a highly-charged political advertisement, objecting to the election of “another politician from Québec” as Prime Minister of Canada, the negative fall-out against the Reform Party continued for years. The fact that Brian Mulroney’s stance towards Québec was seen as highly partial generated much dislike for Mulroney in English-speaking Canada.
Viewed in the context of the debate between the “Federalistes” and Québécois nationalists, Mulroney’s attempts to disentangle Québec and the Liberal Party, by offering even more benefits to Francophones everywhere in Canada, and even more bilingualism in the federal civil service, and in every English-Canadian province, were futile. These efforts only confirmed the viability of the liberal “Federaliste” option in Quebec, and also alienated much Progressive Conservative party support in English Canada, particularly in the Western and Atlantic regions. However, the Meech Lake Accord, by strengthening the “collective rights” of Québec and pointing towards arrangements where Québec could exist within a far more decentralized Confederation, seemed to be a helpful evolution.
In the 1980s, one rarely discussed issue was the approximately 20% (combined Anglophone — persons whose first language is English — and “Allophone” — persons whose first language is neither English nor French) minorities in Québec. Québec Anglophones were practically the only minority group in Canada that were not encouraged to assert themselves vis-a-vis the majority community. Indeed, they were made to feel uncomfortable in a Québec dominated by regnant Québécois nationalism. This minority was at that time larger in absolute numbers than any comparable Francophone minority in English-speaking Canada, and percentage-wise, was second only to the Acadian French minority in fully and officially bilingual New Brunswick (35%). Ontario is only about 5% Francophone, but its administration moved to de facto bilingualism (with a wide range of government services and publications available in both official languages) as early as the 1970s, and became officially bilingual in the 1990s. In Québec, it is illegal to put up a sign in English only, and the Protestant/English education system had for a long time been under pressure. The Québec civil service in the 1980s employed virtually no Anglophones (a total of 1.6%), and even in the Québec federal civil service, a similarly low ratio had existed. In Ontario, on the other hand, fully 5% of the provincial civil service was Francophone by the 1980s (figures cited by Peter Brimelow, p. 208, op.cit.)
Canada today is thus characterized by extensive coast-to-coast official bilingualism — and official French unilingualism in Québec itself. This creates a disjunction in what purports to be a free and pluralistic society. Can one imagine equivalent measures being introduced by an English-Canadian Premier — a legal, formal ban on public signs in languages other than English?
Furthermore, the huge preponderance of Liberal seats in Québec (apart from rare instances) has allowed for a skewing of the democratic process against the legitimate interests and desires of English-speaking Canada. Until the definite movement in Québec federal voting patterns that began in 1993, it was difficult, if not impossible, for English-speaking Canada to elect a government in accord with the beliefs and interests of the majority of its inhabitants. As Brimelow has pointed out, English-speaking Canada, taken as a whole, has voted again and again for the Conservatives, only to find that the Liberal preponderance in Québec gave the over-all federal victory to the Liberals.
In the case of a long-serving Liberal Prime Minister like Mackenzie King, and a Liberal Party that could be called “centre-traditionalist” or “traditionalist-centrist” – the consequences of Liberal government were more-or-less acceptable for most Canadians. However, from 1963 onward, the federal Liberal Party came under the spell of revolutionary-transformative ideas. Indeed, some have argued that Trudeau “hijacked” a “centre-traditionalist” Liberal Party as a vehicle for his agenda of radical transformation. In the years 1968 to 1980, it was highly significant whether Trudeau’s party continued to win elections. Unlike governments that come to power with modest goals, Trudeau’s every year in office was driven by a wide-ranging, thoroughgoing program of radical social and cultural transformation. Almost everyone in Canada now exists within Trudeau’s social, cultural, political, and juridical matrix – which some critics have termed “the Trudeaupia”. Québec continued to overwhelmingly vote for Trudeau over the five most critical federal elections of 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, and 1980.
In hindsight, the formal construction of Canadian Confederation was faulty from the start – as a “dualist” concept of two separate Parliaments – one for Québec, one for the rest of Canada – might have worked better. Nevertheless, the consequences of the Québec Liberal bastion in federal elections, could be seen as one in which three-quarters of the country had largely been submerged into a system which they, for the most part, did not vote for, and fundamentally disagreed with. This makes a mockery of the ideal of Canada as originally founded as a partnership of the French and the British.
Written in 1840, Lord Durham’s famous Report had presciently warned that Canada in future might consist of “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state”. Canadian Confederation was originally established on the premise of two nations joining together in a state-structure, but retaining their prior cultural traditions, heritage, and identity. Québec was the centre of the French nation, and the rest of Canada, of the English. (Or what can be functionally considered to be “English” or “British”, in the North American context.) The unifying factors were to be the federal structure of the country, the state symbols and institutions (including the Monarchy, an institution considered at that time as standing above any particular nationalism), and the necessity of uniting against the American behemoth to the south. While minorities in the two parts of the country would have certain well-delineated rights, there would be no question as to any dominant culture. Canada could only properly exist and thrive as a country as a partnership between two equally strong and vital nationalisms, the British and the French, both warily co-operating with each other for the sake of avoiding absorption into America, while extending a reasonable tolerance to their respective minorities.
The evolution of the Liberal Party and its co-optation of Québec had allowed, by the 1980s, for a fundamental dislocation of the premises and underpinnings of Confederation, along with the shift of most federal political power to the Liberal Party and Québec. In the 1990s, further lines of fracture opened, with the intensifying of multiculturalism in English Canada, and the rise of radicalism among the Aboriginal peoples. All these forces are attenuating the traditional sense of national identity in English-speaking Canada.
In the 1990s, just as their influence in Québec waned, shifting mostly to the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals were able to establish a new bastion – Ontario. The Liberal triumph in Ontario was based mainly on three factors – the annihilation since the mid-1960s of “Tory Toronto” through mass, dissimilar immigration and cultural fragmentation; the deep suspicion of most Ontarians of the new Reform Party, which was considered as far too Western-Canadian-based, right-wing, and anti-Québec; and many Ontarians’ desire to vote for the party that they believed would have the best chances of accommodating Québec, and of “keeping the country together.” As the political seismic shifts of the 1990s and early 2000s have continued, it is clear that the federal so-called “Centre-Right Opposition” have become far more astute in their policies towards Québec.
With the Bloc Québécois supporting the Conservative federal budget in 2007, it appeared that Québec had become at least somewhat friendly towards the federal Conservative Party. The emergence of the ADQ (Action Democratique du Québec) in the provincial election of 2007 constituted the rise of a centre-right Québec party that could hopefully negotiate with the federal Conservative government a more “autonomous” status for Québec, without having to go down the more potentially disruptive statehood/sovereignty route. The ADQ at that time consisted largely of “non-separatist nationalists” that resented the increasingly “anti-nationalist nationalism” of the 2007 Parti Québécois (especially that articulated by PQ leader Andre Boisclair in his speeches about “inclusiveness”). Insofar as ever greater degrees of leftism and “political correctness” had overtaken the Parti Québécois, to that extent it had become less and less attractive to its nationalist core base, especially in rural and suburban areas.
In earlier years, the Québécois nationalists had declared that “the social question is the national question.” Insofar as the bureaucratic structures of the Québec provincial administration, Hydro-Quebec, and the Caisses depot (Québec credit unions), manifestly served so-called “old stock” Québécois, and attacked the status of the long-time anglais “exploiters”, Québécois nationalism could clearly be seen as having discernible traditionalist elements. Now, however, when Montreal has been almost as demographically changed as Toronto, it is perceived that an extensive welfare-state is increasingly operating on behalf of the newcomers – very few of whom have any interest in Québécois nationalism. That may be one reason for an increasing interest in “the free market” in Québec.
While, in earlier decades, Québécois nationalism was one of only a few nationalisms in the Western world that were valorized by the Left – there has been a considerable shift from the 1990s onward. Overwrought accusations were made in the 1990s that Québécois nationalism represented something like “Catholic tribal racism”. As successive waves of “political correctness” rolled over the Western world, the Parti Québécois increasingly embraced anticlericalism and multifarious minorities – until it had by 2007 embodied what could be called an almost entirely “anti-nationalist nationalism.” This gave an opportunity to the ADQ to portray itself as less self-hating than the PQ – something which would naturally appeal to the more authentic Québécois nationalists.
While rejecting the drive for full statehood/sovereignty – which it perceived as chimerical — the ADQ was working towards policies that would ensure a more socially and culturally substantive Québec – a Québec that would retain at least some relation to the historic Québec nation that has existed for four previous centuries. Clearly, national preservation is one of the goals of any authentic nationalism. In 2007, the ADQ, although non-separatist, was more Québec-nationalist than the Parti Québécois.
Clearly, the Parti Québécois drew some lessons from its third-place finish in 2007, and re-fashioned itself in a direction that could appeal far more to its core nationalist base. The Québécois nurse a number of grievances against what has ironically been dubbed “TROC” (“the rest of Canada”). “Troc” means “rump” in French. The term has an interesting significance – giving the impression that Québec wants to see itself as both the most quintessentially important part of Canada – as well as separate from Canada. It also points to the unwillingness of TROC to call itself “English Canada” or “English-speaking Canada.” Indeed, the term “English Canada” is frequently rendered in quotation marks in many of the more recent Canadian English-language political works, as it would today be considered presumptuous to assert the existence of such an entity, considering the supercharged multiculturalism that especially characterizes such megalopolises as current-day Toronto and Vancouver.
As in the case of most so-called “recognized minority” groups today, the Québécois have amplified in their collective memory a long catalogue of wrongs that were committed against them by the anglais. However, the Québécois cannot just be seen as a “recognized minority” – they have a huge area of land to which they could be considered “native” – they are a nation – and, were they to separate, they would form a territorial nation-state.
For the Québécois nationalist today, everything bad begins with the battle of the Plains of Abraham, and the resulting conquest of French Québec by the British in 1759. This primal wound has haunted French-English relations in Canada. However, the French of an earlier Québec reconciled themselves to their fate. The British had ironically been relatively tolerant to the institutions of Ancien Québec, especially to the Roman Catholic Church – something virtually unheard of in most British realms. Some may remember the phrase from an American Revolutionary ditty – “if Gallic Papists have the right, to worship their own way, what hope then, for the freedoms, of poor Americay.” George III’s toleration of Roman Catholicism in Québec was included in as an article of indictment against him in the Thirteen Colonies.
From the 1960s onward, as modern, progressive-minded nationalists, the Québécois have repudiated much of their earlier, Catholic-centred, rurally-focused history, and blamed this backwardness on the English. The artifact which fulfills this function is the idea of the so-called “roi negre” (which could be politely translated as “local chieftain”). It is assumed that first the prelates of the Church, and then such figures as Duplessis (a long-serving Premier of Québec in the 1930s to 1950s, somewhat similar in style to America’s Huey Long), were actually tools of the English in maintaining social control over Québec. The English were not interested in improving Québec society, so long as they had a “local chieftain” they could rely on to enforce order among the locals. The English dominated commerce and industry in Québec up to the 1950s, largely confining French-Canadians to the rustic life, but it is not often acknowledged that many at that time preferred such a life.
Relying on a solid bloc of seats from Québec, and a minority of seats from English Canada, the Liberals have almost always formed the government of Canada in the Twentieth Century. While Québec remained a very conservative society until the so-called “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s, it generally voted Liberal federally. This trend was continued with its support of the chameleon-like Pierre Elliott Trudeau. English-Canadians believed that Trudeau would “put Québec in its place”, while French-Canadians voted for him because he was seen as a “native son”. The idea of Trudeau’s toughness against the Québec separatists was reinforced by his declaration of martial law in Québec in October 1970, against a small, extremist separatist faction, that had kidnapped (and later murdered) the Québec Minister of Labour.
In Trudeau’s vision of Canada, the common ground on which French and English Canada would meet would be the rights of the individual. Early in his career, Trudeau had written: “There is some hope that in advanced societies, the glue of nationalism will become as obsolete as the divine right of kings”. (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Federalism and the French-Canadians. Toronto: Macmillan Press, 1968, p. 196.)
Ultimately, however, the Trudeau regime had negative effects on both French and English Canada. Trudeau enacted the policy of coast-to-coast bilingualism (French and English), which was said to be the price of keeping Québec in Canada. Ironically, the Québécois nationalists cared little for bilingualism, and moved to make their province unilingually French. Trudeau’s individual rights, multiculturalism, and aboriginal rights policies came to be seen as diluting and undermining the now undisputed place of French-Canadians as one of the “two founding peoples” of Canada.
The 1980 Québec referendum on “sovereignty-association” failed by a ratio of 60 to 40. In 1982, Trudeau “patriated” the Canadian Constitution, including within it the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Parti Québécois provincial government, led by René Lévesque, which had just lost the referendum, refused to accept this. The so-called “patriation”, and the maneuvers of Trudeau and the other Premiers concerning its initial announcement to the public, are often seen as an anti-Québec conspiracy, sometimes described in Québec as “the Night of the Long Knives”.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto based researcher