The French language in Canada
The valley of the St. Lawrence River, first explored by Jacques Cartier during his second voyage to North America in 1535, was colonized by France during the 17th and 18th centuries. The first French settlement was established in 1605 at Port-Royal, near present-day Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. In 1713 France permanently ceded to Britain most of the territory known as Acadia but maintained its hold over New France. As the territorial struggle continued, the British were increasingly frustrated by the reluctance of the Acadians, also referred to as the “neutral French,” to pledge allegiance to the British regime, and between 1755 and 1762 approximately 10,000 Acadians were forcibly deported. With the fall of the city of Quebec in 1759, the British gained control of New France. When the Treaty of Paris in 1763 officially confirmed British rule over New France, the predominantly Roman Catholic population of more than 60,000 persons spoke a language that was already a blend of several French dialects, although French was then not yet standardized in France itself.
After 1763 immigration from France virtually ceased, but the number of French-speaking inhabitants continued to increase. Today about five-sixths of Canada’s Francophones live in the province of Quebec. The remainder form a linguistic minority among predominantly English-speaking communities in other provinces. In many cases they have established vibrant, culturally active subcommunities, most notably in the Maritime Provinces, particularly New Brunswick, which is officially bilingual; in northern Ontario; and, to a lesser extent, in the western provinces. As Quebec nationalism led the province’s inhabitants to adopt the term Québécois to describe themselves from the 1960s, the term French Canadian was increasingly applied primarily to the Francophone minorities outside Quebec. (Today, however, many Canadians outside Quebec use the term French Canadian to refer to all French-speaking Canadians.) Although French Canadian literature is often considered separately from Quebec literature, this article examines both.
The French regime, 1535–1763
During the two centuries of French rule, not a page of French was printed in New France; there was no printing press in the colony until after the establishment of British control. The substantial colonial literature written in and about New France was published in France for a European audience. It included accounts of discovery and exploration, official reports and correspondence, travelers’ narratives, annals of missions and religious communities, and histories of the colony. Credit for the first theatre production written in New France belongs to Marc Lescarbot, whose pageant Le Théâtre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France (The Theatre of Neptune in New France) was presented at Port-Royal in 1606. On his return to France, he published in 1609 Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (History of New France) and Les Muses de la Nouvelle France (“The Muses of New France”), the latter containing his poetry and drama. The most important of the missionary annals is Les Relations des Jésuites (1632–1673; The Jesuit Relations), which gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of the missionaries and their relationship with Canada’s native peoples. Also of interest are the writings, particularly the correspondence, of Marie de l’Incarnation, the first mother superior of the Ursuline nuns of New France. The colony also possessed an abundant oral literature composed of folk songs, folktales, and legends. Considerable scholarly effort has been expended on the recovery and study of the rich heritage of oral traditions and literary works surviving from the French period.
After the British conquest, 1763–1830
After the devastation of the Seven Years’ War, intellectual life was for a time inconceivable. During the first 70 years of British rule, journalism was vitally important to the French-speaking majority. The bilingual Quebec Gazette (1764) and, later, French-language newspapers such as Le Canadien (1806) and La Minerve (1826) offered the only medium of mass communication, of contact with Europe and the United States, and of political expression at home. The first scattered indications of literature (anecdotes, poems, essays, and sermons) appeared in their pages, as did the verses and songs of two French immigrants, Joseph Quesnel and Joseph Mermet. Quesnel, French Canada’s first significant writer, also composed dramatic texts for amateur actors; his comedy Colas et Colinette (1808; Eng. trans. Colas et Colinette), first acted on stage in 1790, was revived as a radio play in 1968.
Early literature, 1830–60
Publication of French Canadian literature in Canada began in the 1830s. The first collection of verse—Epîtres, satires, chansons, épigrammes, et autres pièces de vers (“Epistles, Satires, Songs, Epigrams, and Other Pieces of Verse”) by Michel Bibaud—appeared in 1830; the first novel—L’Influence d’un livre (Influence of a Book) by Philippe-Ignace-François Aubert de Gaspé—was published in 1837. In drama two works of note were the comedy Griphon; ou, la vengeance d’un valet (1837; “Gryphon; or, The Vengeance of a Valet”) by Pierre Petitclair, the first play published by a native-born French Canadian, and Le Jeune Latour (1844; “The Young Latour”) by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, Canadian theatre’s first tragedy. This literary development reflected in part the gradual organization of primary and secondary education and the increasing availability of French books and periodicals even before the resumption of commercial relations with France in 1855. More important was a growing sense of national identity, apparent in the campaigns for responsible government that preceded and followed the ill-fated rebellions against British rule in 1837 and 1838. The principal publication of the time, François-Xavier Garneau’s Histoire du Canada depuis sa découverte jusqu’à nos jours (1845–48; History of Canada from the Time of Its Discovery Till the Union Year [1840–41]), embodied the new spirit of nationalism.
The literary movement of 1860
Under the Act of Union (1840), the peripatetic parliament of Upper and Lower Canada moved in 1859 to Quebec city, along with its clerks and public servants. The capital, being also the seat of the newly founded Laval University (1852), was an ideal setting for French Canada’s first literary grouping, sometimes referred to as the École Patriotique de Québec (Patriotic School of Quebec) or the Mouvement Littéraire de Québec (Literary Movement of Quebec). Often congregating at the bookstore of poet Octave Crémazie, its dozen members shared patriotic, conservative, and strongly Roman Catholic convictions about the survival of French Canada. Their spokesman, Henri-Raymond Casgrain, promoted a messianic view of the spiritual mission of French Canadians in North America, now that postrevolutionary France had fallen into what he perceived to be godlessness and materialism. Only a few French Romantic writers were admired and imitated. Philippe Aubert de Gaspé’s historical romance of the period of British conquest, Les Anciens Canadiens (1863; The Canadians of Old); Gérin-Lajoie’s colonization novel, Jean Rivard (1862–64; Eng. trans. Jean Rivard); and numerous collections of verse by Pamphile Lemay (Les Gouttelettes [1904; "The Droplets"]) and Louis-Honoré Fréchette (La Légende d’un peuple [1887; “The Legend of a People”]) illustrate the nostalgic and didactic preoccupations of the time. More original works were nevertheless attempted: Eudore Evanturel’s Premières poésies (1878; “First Poems”) broke with conventional imagery, and Quebec’s first woman novelist, Laure Conan (the pen name of Marie-Louise-Félicité Angers), published a sophisticated psychological novel, Angéline de Montbrun (1881–82; Eng. trans. Angéline de Montbrun).
The Montreal School, 1895–1935
By the end of the century, Montreal had become the province’s commercial metropolis, and the next literary movement was founded there by Jean Charbonneau and Louvigny de Montigny in 1895 with the École Littéraire de Montréal (Montreal Literary School). The society continued to exist, although intermittently, for nearly 40 years. Its members published extensively, mostly in verse; organized four large public sessions in 1898–99; and issued two collective volumes of their writings, in 1900 and 1925. Their literary doctrine was eclectic, although chiefly influenced by the Parnassian and Symbolist movements in France and Belgium.
The Montreal School included the first French Canadian poet who can be compared favourably with his French contemporaries. Émile Nelligan, indisputably a genius, composed all his poetry during his teens (1896–99) before lapsing into insanity. His intricate sonnets and rondels were published in 1903 by the critic Louis Dantin (the pen name of Eugène Seers). Another Montreal School poet of note was the invalid Albert Lozeau (L’Âme solitaire [1907; “The Solitary Soul”]).
During the first decade of the 20th century, two main literary groups emerged, the aesthetes (exotistes) and the regionalists. The aesthetes, among them René Chopin, Marcel Dugas, Paul Morin, and Robert de Roquebrune, had studied in Paris and were fascinated by contemporary French literature and culture. They founded a short-lived artistic magazine, Le Nigog (“The Harpoon”), in 1918, but they remained a tiny minority, often denounced as dilettantes. It was the regionalists (Gonzalve Desaulniers, Albert Ferland, Charles Gill, and later Alfred DesRochers, Claude-Henri Grignon, and Blanche Lamontagne-Beauregard) who became the dominant group over the next 30 years. Their preference for local subject matter and language, as expressed in their magazine Le Terroir (founded 1909; “The Land”) and encouraged by the critic Camille Roy, complemented the French Canadian nationalism then being promulgated by Henri Bourassa and Lionel-Adolphe Groulx. Paradoxically, the regionalists were proposing rural and agricultural themes when Quebec society was becoming urban and industrial. The French authorLouis Hémon’s novel Maria Chapdelaine (1914; Eng. trans. Maria Chapdelaine), set in the rural Lac Saint-Jean region of Quebec, though grudgingly accepted by the Québécois at first, quickly became an important classic very much in tune with the predominant agriculturalist ideology. However, Quebec authors such as Rodolphe Girard (Marie Calumet [1904; Eng. trans. Marie Calumet]) and Albert Laberge (La Scouine [1918; Bitter Bread]), who portrayed country life too realistically, were censured and ostracized. The one poet who anticipated future trends, Jean-Aubert Loranger (Les Atmosphères [1920; "Atmospheres"]), was ignored.
World War II and the postwar period, 1935–60
By the mid-1930s Canada’s economic depression, Quebec’s socioeconomic development, and European political events were making Quebec’s regionalist literature obsolete.
In fictionJean-Charles Harvey attacked bourgeois ideology in Les Demi-Civilisés (1934; “The Half-Civilized”; Eng. trans. Sackcloth for Banner and Fear’s Folly), which was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in Harvey’s being fired from his job at the journal Le Soleil. Three years later Félix-Antoine Savard’s Menaud, maître-draveur (Master of the River) deplored in lyrical language Anglo-American takeovers of Quebec’s natural resources, and in 1938 Ringuet (Philippe Panneton) traced the decline of Quebec’s rural economy in Trente arpents (Thirty Acres). After the interruption of the war years (1939–45), French Canadian fiction became increasingly urban. Having moved to Quebec in 1939 after a stay in Europe, the Franco-Manitoban Gabrielle Roy drew a convincing portrait of working-class Montreal in Bonheur d’occasion (1945; The Tin Flute), for which she received the Prix Fémina. She also wrote much autobiographical fiction set in rural Manitoba. Roger Lemelin’s Les Plouffe (1948; The Plouffe Family), a family chronicle set in the poorer quarters of Quebec city, spawned a popular television serial.
Not all novelists were attracted to the social realism embodied by Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion, however. Some, such as Robert Charbonneau, André Giroux, and Robert Élie, wrote first-person introspective fiction influenced by Georges Bernanos, François Mauriac, and other Roman Catholic novelists of France. Others, such as Germaine Guèvremont in Le Survenant and Marie-Didace (1945 and 1947; translated and published together as The Outlander), continued to examine rural society, though with greater detachment. One of the most prolific novelists, Yves Thériault, found new subjects among Quebec’s native peoples in Agaguk (1958; Eng. trans. Agaguk) and Ashini (1960; Eng. trans. Ashini).
In poetry Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau’s unrhymed metaphysical poems (Regards et jeux dans l’espace ; “Glances and Games in Space”) introduced a new era. Four poets subsequently dominated the 1940s and ’50s: Garneau, Alain Grandbois, Anne Hébert, and Rina Lasnier. Although each employed distinctive techniques and images, all expressed their sense of solitude, alienation, frustration, or despair. Each, especially Grandbois, influenced younger writers; for the first time, poets of Quebec, rather than poets of France, served as models for the next generation—the Hexagone poets.
A literary group and publishing house, L’Hexagone (founded 1953) became a major force in Quebec poetry. It published dozens of elegantly printed volumes of verse, launched literary magazines such as Liberté (1959; “Liberty”), and organized annual conferences of Quebec and international writers. Its leading figures—Gaston Miron, Jacques Brault, Gilles Hénault, Fernand Ouellette, Jean-Guy Pilon, and Michel Van Schendel—were both theoreticians and practicing poets, writing interpretive essays as well as polished poems.
Simultaneously, Quebec theatre assumed its modern form. A Montreal company, Les Compagnons de Saint-Laurent (1937–52), created a taste for professional performances of contemporary French plays. Two playwrights, Gratien Gélinas and Marcel Dubé, began writing in colloquial language about the problems of living in a society controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and by a paternalistic Union Nationale government. Permanent theatres and professional companies sprang up, their personnel often supported by part-time work with Radio-Canada or with the National Film Board of Canada.
In 1948 the painter Paul-Émile Borduas, one of the group of artists known as Les Automatistes, repudiated Quebec’s Jansenist past in the revolutionary manifestoRefus global (1948; Total Refusal). Poet and playwright Claude Gauvreau, one of the signatories of the manifesto, transposed the group’s principles to the written word, while poet and engraver Roland Giguère began writing poetry inspired by both Surrealism and Quebec nationalism. On the political front, in 1950 Pierre Elliott Trudeau and others founded Cité libre (“Free City”), a journal of social and political criticism. The “quiet revolution” was not far away.
The "Quiet Revolution"
During the 1960s Quebec society underwent the greatest upheaval of its history. A new Liberal government set about modernizing the province, revamping the educational system, and creating a powerful Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Campaigns for the independence of Quebec were launched by separatist organizations that coalesced in the Parti Québécois (founded 1968), which became the provincial government in 1976. Intellectuals became vocal, and literary production more than tripled during the decade. A group of writers, including André Brochu, Paul Chamberland, and André Major, founded the magazine Parti pris (1963–68; “Position Taken”) and a publishing house of the same name to press their demands for a secular, socialist, and independent Quebec. The Parti pris writers politicized joual, the Quebec working-class dialect, by using it to express their alienation in works such as Major’s short-story collection La Chair de poule (1965; “Goose Bumps”) and Jacques Renaud’s novel Le Cassé (1964; Broke City, or Flat Broke and Beat). In 1968 the young playwright Michel Tremblay revolutionized Quebec theatre with Les Belles-Soeurs (“The Sisters-in-Law”; Eng. trans. Les Belles-Soeurs), which was first read at the Centre d’Essai des Auteurs Dramatiques (Centre for Dramatic Authors), established in 1965 to give a forum to Quebec playwrights. The “new Quebec theatre” ushered in by Tremblay was characterized by experimental approaches, including improvisation and collective creation; by proletarian language (Tremblay, Jean-Claude Germain, and Jean Barbeau); by parody (Robert Gurik, Hamlet, prince du Québec [1968; Hamlet, Prince of Quebec]); and by audience participation (Françoise Loranger, Double jeu [1969; “Double Game”]).
In poetry the territory of Quebec (referred to as le pays) was rediscovered in Paul-Marie Lapointe’s Choix de poèmes: arbres (1960; “Selection of Poems: Trees”) and Gatien Lapointe’s Ode au Saint-Laurent (1963; “Ode to the St. Lawrence”). Nationalism adopted revolutionary language in Chamberland’s Terre Québec (1964), and personal rebellion triumphed in the avant-garde magazines La Barre du jour (founded 1965) and Les Herbes rouges (founded 1968). A preoccupation with freedom of expression (la parole) revealed itself in titles such as Giguère’s L’Âge de la parole (1965; “The Age of Speech”) and Yves Préfontaine’s Pays sans parole (1967; “Speechless Country”). Perhaps the most influential collection was Miron’s L’Homme rapaillé (1970; Embers and Earth: Selected Poems), a poetic record of the search for a Quebec identity. Michèle Lalonde’s ironic “Speak White” condemned the Anglo-American economic exploitation embedded in the racist jeer “Speak white,” often hurled at Québécois who chose not to speak English; the poem was first recited at a 1968 show and again at the Montreal cultural event Nuit de la Poésie ("Night of Poetry") in 1970 and was published in 1974. With chansonniers (singer-songwriters) such as Gilles Vigneault, the “Quebec song” became the poetry of the people. Fusing elements of traditional Quebec folk music with politically charged lyrics, the Quebec song gained new importance at this time for its role in sustaining political fervour and national pride. Vigneault’s music incorporated many elements of traditional Quebec folk music but was also influenced by contemporary French music.
During the 1970s poetry was less political and more experimental: the concerns of American counterculture were adopted in the works of Lucien Francoeur and Raoul Duguay. Committed to the notion that there exists an essential harmony between music and poetry, Duguay founded the Infonie group and dedicated himself to the performance of his poetry (Or le cycle du sang dure donc [1967; “So the Cycle of the Blood Endures”]). Pierre Morency’s poetry embraced a holistic vision of life that found its expression in a celebration of nature (Le Temps des oiseaux [1975; “The Time of the Birds”], Quand nous serons [1988; “When We Will Be”]). Michel Beaulieu (Pulsions [1973; “Urges”]) created a poetry of intimacy and desire rooted in everyday life. But as published poetry became more esoteric, the general public turned to chansonniers such as Robert Charlebois, whose American-influenced rock was just as concerned with Quebec identity as Vigneault’s music.
Since the 1970s, feminism has been a potent force in French Canadian literature. In contrast to their Anglophone peers, who took much of their inspiration from the social criticism of American feminists, Francophone feminists primarily turned to the literary theory of French critics. Important in the realm of theoretical explorations was the work of Nicole Brossard (L’Amer; ou, le chapitre effrité [1977; These Our Mothers; or, The Disintegrating Chapter] and Picture Theory [1982; Eng. trans. Picture Theory], both works of theory and fiction). With Le Désert mauve (1987; Mauve Desert), her feminist fiction was made more accessible to the general public. The gender assumptions embedded in the semantic and syntactic conventions of language as well as in the conventions of literary form were exposed in quite a number of works; of note in this endeavour was the work of Madeleine Gagnon (Lueur [1979; "Glimmer"]), France Théoret (Une Voix pour Odile [1978; "A Voice for Odile"]), and Yolande Villemaire (La Vie en prose [1980; “Life in Prose”]). In her utopian novel L’Euguélionne (1976; The Euguelion), Louky Bersianik (pseudonym of Lucile Durand) used the conventions of the fantastic to conjure up alternatives to the existing social structure and verbal discourse, and in Tryptique lesbien (1980; Lesbian Triptych), a mix of poetry, essays, and dramatic writing, Jovette Marchessault envisioned a society of women free from male domination.
An important part of this polemical movement was the emergence of women’s theatre, performed by groups such as the Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes and featuring controversial plays such as Denise Boucher’s Les Fées ont soif (1978; The Fairies Are Thirsty) and Marchessault’s La Saga des poules mouillées (1981; Saga of Wet Hens). Dramatist and novelist Marie Laberge continued the tradition of feminist theatre with, for example, C’était avant la guerre à l’Anse à Gilles (1981; "Before the War, Down at l’Anse à Gilles"), a historical drama centring on women’s rights in the 1930s, and L’Homme gris (1986; "The Gray Man"; Eng. trans. Night), which explores the issues of spousal abuse, eating disorders, and incest.
The Quiet Revolution of French Canadian minorities
Influenced in part by Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, Francophone minorities outside Quebec began to experience a surge in literary production in the 1970s. This surge was aided by the 1969 federal policy that made French and English Canada’s official languages, which fostered the development of publishing houses such as Les Editions d’Acadie in Moncton, N.B., Prise de Parole in Sudbury, Ont., and Les Editions du Blé in Saint Boniface, Man. New Brunswick novelist and playwright Antonine Maillet played an important role in the evolution of modern Acadian literature. Creator of the immortal Acadian charwoman La Sagouine in the play by the same name (1971; Eng. trans. La Sagouine; “The Slattern”) and recipient of the Prix Goncourt for Pélagie-la-charrette (1979; Pélagie: The Return to a Homeland), an epic novel about the fate of Acadians after the deportation of 1755, she created an awareness of Acadia and its history. Her novel Les Confessions de Jeanne de Valois (1992; “The Confessions of Jeanne de Valois”) reviews the 20th-century history of Francophone New Brunswick through the fictional autobiography of a teaching nun. Inclined to reject the more folkloric aspects of Maillet’s writing, the new generation of Acadian writers includes poet and playwright Herménégilde Chiasson (Mourir à Scoudouc [1974; “To Die at Scoudouc”], Conversations [1998; Eng. trans. Conversations]) and postmodern novelist France Daigle. Acadian literature excels in lyric poetry, represented by authors who include Raymond Leblanc, Dyane Léger, and Serge Patrice Thibodeau.
Franco-Ontarian culture underwent tremendous revitalization in the 1970s, particularly in northern Ontario with the development of regional theatre in French. André Paiement, one of the founders of the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario in the early 1970s, achieved popular success with his musical comedyLavalléville (1975). Continuing the theatrical tradition into the 1980s and 1990s, both Jean Marc Dalpé (Le Chien [1987; “The Dog”]) and Michel Ouellette (French Town ) won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for drama in French. Poet Patrice Desbiens explored the alienation of the Francophone minority in his bilingual poetry collection L’Homme invisible/The Invisible Man (1981). Novelist and short-story writer Daniel Poliquin has taken a more playful, satiric tone, most notably in his novel L’Ecureuil noir (1994; Black Squirrel) as well as his polemical essayLe Roman colonial (2000; In the Name of the Father: An Essay on Quebec Nationalism). Contemporary writers of western Canada include novelist Marguerite A. Primeau (Sauvage Sauvageon [1984; Savage Rose]), editor, poet, and novelist J.R. Léveillé (Une si simple passion [1997; “Such a Simple Passion”]), and poet Paul Savoie (A la façon d’un charpentier [1984; “In the Manner of a Carpenter”]). In 1993 Alberta-born author Nancy Huston, who has lived much of her adult life in France, caused a considerable stir when her novel Cantique des plaines (1993), written first in English as Plainsong and then re-created in French, was awarded the Governor General’s Award for fiction in French, raising questions about the very definition of French Canadian literature.
The dominant genre in Quebec and French Canadian literature since the latter part of the 20th century has been the novel. In the 1960s, works of fiction reflected the turmoil of the Quiet Revolution in their radical, often sexual, themes and in their unconventional structures, derived in part from the French nouveau roman of the previous decade. The Quebec “new novel” began with Jacques Godbout’s L’Aquarium (1962) and reached its high point in the brilliantly convoluted novels of Hubert Aquin that followed his Prochain épisode (1965; “Next Episode”; Eng. trans. Prochain Episode). Marie-Claire Blais’s Une Saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel (1965; A Season in the Life of Emmanuel), which won the Prix Médicis, presented a scathing denunciation of Quebec rural life, and Godbout’s Salut, Galarneau! (1967; Hail, Galarneau!) described the Americanization of Quebec. Blais went on to receive critical acclaim for Soifs (1995; These Festive Nights), while, 26 years and several novels after Salut, Galarneau!, Godbout produced the sequel Le Temps des Galarneau (1993; The Golden Galarneaus). Constantly renewing himself, Gérard Bessette moved from ironic realism in Le Libraire (1960; “The Bookseller”; Eng. trans. Not for Every Eye) through stream of consciousness in L’Incubation (1965; Incubation) to symbolic narrative in Les Anthropoïdes (1977; “The Anthropoids”) and semiautobiographical diary fiction in Les Dires d’Omer Marin (1985; “The Sayings of Omer Marin”). The poet Anne Hébert achieved success with her novel Kamouraska (1970; Eng. trans. Kamouraska), won the Prix Fémina for Les Fous de Bassan (1982; In the Shadow of the Wind), and won a Governor General’s Award for L’Enfant chargé de songes (1992; Burden of Dreams), although the latter was less successful than her Le Premier jardin (1988; The First Garden). Louise Maheux-Forcier scandalized certain readers in 1963 with Amadou (Eng. trans. Amadou), a poetic novel about lesbian love. Réjean Ducharme in L’Avalée des avalés (1966; The Swallower Swallowed) and other novels presented the disenchantment of young people in the nuclear age. Other popular novelists of the later 20th century include Jacques Ferron, who poked fun at Quebec institutions, particularly in Le Ciel de Québec (1969; The Penniless Redeemer); the author and publisher Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, with his continuing saga of the Beauchemin family; Roch Carrier, who mocked biculturalism in La Guerre, Yes Sir! (1968; Eng. trans. La Guerre, Yes Sir!); and Jacques Poulin, whose early novels, set in the old city of Quebec, are comic visions of life (Mon cheval pour un royaume , Jimmy , and Le Coeur de la baleine bleue ; translated into English under the title The Jimmy Trilogy). His novel Volkswagen Blues (1984; Eng. trans. Volkswagen Blues), although set mostly in the United States, is ultimately a quest for Quebec identity. In the 1980s the success of Yves Beauchemin’s Le Matou (1981; The Alley Cat) and Arlette Cousture’s historical novelLes Filles de Caleb (3 vol., 1985–2003; Emilie) suggested a return in favour of plot-driven narrative.
The political tone of the novel had greatly diminished by the end of the 20th century. In contrast to the hard-edged contestation of the 1960s novel, Jacques Godbout’s Une Histoire américaine (1986; An American Story) testifies to the discouragement of many Quebec intellectuals after the defeat in 1980 of the referendum on separation. The failure of various attempts to negotiate an understanding between Quebec and Canada after Quebec was the sole province not to ratify the Canadian constitution in 1982, as well as the narrow defeat in 1995 of a second referendum on sovereignty, took their toll. The relationship between personal and national identity is often explored through the irony of the postmodern novel, such as Madeleine Ouellette-Michalska’s La Maison Trestler; ou, le 8e jour d’Amérique (1984; “The Trestler House; or, The Eighth Day of America”) and Acadian novelist France Daigle’s 1953: Chronique d’une naissance annoncée (1995; 1953: Chronicle of a Birth Foretold), both of which combine fiction, biography, and metahistorical commentary. Contemporary fiction tends to favour the personal, hence the prominence of fictional autobiographies, autobiographical novels, and diary and epistolary fiction. Madeleine Monette’s Le Double suspect (1980; Doubly Suspect), Anne Dandurand’s Un Coeur qui craque (1990; The Cracks), and Jacques Brault’s Agonie (1984; Death-Watch) all have elements of fictional diaries. Reworking Montesquieu’s Persian Letters (1721), Lise Gauvin used in Lettres d’une autre (1984; Letters from an Other) a Persian narrator who comments naively and honestly on Quebec society. Michel Tremblay’s early novels, such as La Grosse Femme d’à côté est enceinte (1978; The Fat Lady Next Door Is Pregnant), are set in the working-class neighbourhood of his youth. With La Nuit des Princes Charmants (1995; “The Night of the Princes Charming”; Eng. trans. Some Night My Prince Will Come), he gives a very candid account of the coming-of-age of a young homosexual. Sometimes referred to as Generation X writers, Louis Hamelin (La Rage [1989; “Rabies”]) and Christian Mistral (Vamp ) began in the late 1980s to focus literary attention on the social concerns of their age.
Another development in fiction has been the increasing prominence of the short story and novella, particularly with the establishment of the literary review XYZ and publishing house XYZ Éditeur in the 1980s. The short story lends itself to many literary themes: science fiction and the fantastic, with works such as Gaétan Brulotte’s Kafkaesque Le Surveillant (1982; The Secret Voice), Jean-Pierre April’s Chocs baroques (1991; “Baroque Shocks”), and Esther Rochon’s Le Piège à souvenirs (1991; “The Memory Trap”); the erotic, with works such as Claire Dé’s Le Désir comme catastrophe naturelle (1989; Desire as Natural Disaster) and Anne Dandurand’s L’Assassin de l’intérieur/Diables d’espoir (1988; Deathly Delights); and the quirky realism of Monique Proulx’s Les Aurores montréales (1996; Aurora Montrealis).
Contemporary poetry has been marked by a return to lyricism with poets such as François Charron (Le Monde comme obstacle [1988; “The World as Obstacle”), whose themes range from politics to sexuality and spirituality. The emphasis on the personal is particularly poignant in the posthumous collection Autoportraits (1982; “Self-Portraits”) by Marie Uguay, stricken at a young age by cancer. Surrealism remains an important influence in Quebec poetry, particularly in the expression of eroticism, as, for example, in the poetry of Roger Des Roches (Le Coeur complet: poésie et prose, 1974–1982 [2000; “The Complete Heart: Poetry and Prose, 1974–1982”). Homosexual eroticism and the impact of AIDS are important themes in André Roy’s poetry (L’Accélérateur d’intensité [1987; “Accelerator of Intensity”]). Other poets have tended to integrate poetry and narrative—for example, Denise Desautels in La Promeneuse et l’oiseau suivi de Journal de la Promeneuse (1980; “The Wanderer and the Bird Followed by Journal of the Wanderer”). Elise Turcotte published her poetry collection La Terre est ici (1989; “The Earth Is Here”) before creating the brief poetic novel Le Bruit des choses vivantes (1991; The Sound of Living Things). Similarly, Louise Dupré established her reputation as a poet before writing the well-received novel La Mémoria (1996; Memoria). Suzanne Jacob has excelled in poetry with La Part de feu (1997; “The Fire’s Share”) and in fiction with the novel Laura Laur (1983). Although poetry no longer enjoys the influence it once did as a vehicle for the expression of collective identity, events such as the annual International Festival of Poetry in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, launched in 1985, attest to its vitality.
The second half of the 20th century saw an impressive growth in Quebec theatre and dramatic writing, with several dozen original plays being performed each year. In Le Vrai Monde? (1987; The Real World?), perhaps his best play, Michel Tremblay explored the ambiguous relationship between life and its representation in art. His libretto for the opera Nelligan (1990) was a departure from his previous work: it studies Quebec through its most tragic voice, that of poet Émile Nelligan. Jean-Pierre Ronfard, one of the founders of the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental, created a defining moment in Quebec theatre with La Vie et mort du roi boiteux (1981; “The Life and Death of the Lame King”), a six-play cycle whose performance in 1982 lasted more than 10 hours and treated its spectators to a parodic look at the works of Shakespeare and other great authors of the Western world. Since the 1990s, a younger generation of playwrights has often concerned itself with exploring marginalization, sexuality, and violence in society. Such writers include Normand Chaurette with Provincetown Playhouse, juillet 1919, j’avais 19 ans (1981; “Provincetown Playhouse, July 1919, I Was 19 Years Old”), René-Daniel Dubois with Being at Home with Claude (1986), and Michel Marc Bouchard with Les Feluettes; ou, la répétition d’un drame romantique (1987; Lilies; or, The Revival of a Romantic Drama). One of the most prominent members of this generation is playwright and filmmaker Robert Lepage, whose performance-based plays are influenced as much by modern technology as by Shakespeare and Japanese theatre: his productions include Les Plaques tectoniques (first performed 1988; “Tectonic Plates”), Elseneur (1995; “Elsinore”), and Les Sept Branches de la rivière Ota (first performed 1995; The Seven Streams of the River Ota), written with Eric Bernier.
"Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" was Lord Durham's assessment of the relationship between Lower Canada's French Canadian and British Canadian communities in the 1830s.
"Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" was Lord Durham's assessment of the relationship between Lower Canada's French Canadian and British Canadian communities in the 1830s. It was an appropriate assessment given that their relationship had turned violent in the Rebellions of 1837-38, which were quickly suppressed by the British military. Observers of the continuing debate over Québec's role within Confederation, and particularly the contemporary Québecois secessionist movement, might be tempted to believe that Durham's assessment can be applied as a general principle to the entirety of the Canadian experience. In fact the character of francophone-anglophone relations over the past 200 years has ebbed and flowed in response to changing socioeconomic, political and ideological factors as well as to the commitment of Canada's majority and minority francophone communities to survival and equality.
Any search for a theme to francophone-anglophone relations must take into account the fact that the francophone community constitutes a linguistic and cultural minority of some 6.5 million people. Today, francophones comprise only 24% of the Canadian population, a decline of nearly 6% since 1900. This is mainly because the majority of immigrants are non-francophone and the birth rate among francophone women has declined. Nevertheless, francophones continue to constitute 82% of Québec's 6.2 million citizens despite the out-migration of nearly one million francophones in the period between 1870 and 1930.
Now that the birthrate among francophones has dropped below the replacement level, contemporary Québecois nationalists feel that their majority position is threatened by an English-speaking minority that constitutes 35% of the population of metropolitan Montréal. Furthermore, when the intellectual and political elites of both communities have proposed and then attempted to reach divergent rather than co-operative social and political goals, the relationship between francophones and anglophones has been severely strained. Francophone and anglophone relations are currently experiencing a degree of tension not seen or felt since the Rebellions of the 1830s.
Relations with the British Colonial Rulers
From 1763 to 1800, the relationship between the British colonial rulers and the traditional clerical and seigneurial leaders of French Canada was tense yet cordial. They shared the same commitment to Ancien Régime values and institutions. Both the Quebec Act of 1774 and the Constitutional Act, 1791 were deliberate attempts to reinforce the existing colonial social and political structures. However, this social contract began to break down after 1800, when Québec's economy and social structure were altered in fundamental ways. By 1820 Montréal was no longer the centre of the fur trade, and the wheat economy of Lower Canada was in the final stages of decline.
The seigneurial class, lacking its traditional access to wealth in the army, in the bureaucracy and in commerce, declined very rapidly after 1800, and the Catholic Church was unprepared at this time to assert control over Québec society (seeSeigneurial System). It was into this unstable context that a new francophone professional middle class emerged. This ambitious new class used the ideologies of nationalism and political liberalism to gain control over the Assembly of Lower Canada by 1810, and then began to push for full control over the office of governor and the legislative and executive councils.
When successive governors, with the support of the Anglo-Scottish merchants, refused to share power in any meaningful way, the francophone middle class, under the banner of the Parti patriote, advocated political reforms that would grant it full control over the appointed councils. When British colonial officials rejected these reform proposals, the Parti patriote attempted (1837-38) to seize power through arms. They intended to create an independent French Canadian republic under the presidency of Louis-Joseph Papineau.
The revolt failed because it lacked popular support and strong and courageous leadership, and because of the quick and harsh counter-offensive of well-armed British troops (seeRebellions of 1837). The Parti patriote was left in total disarray and the separatist option was discredited for generations.
In the aftermath of the rebellions, the Durham Report and the Act of Union of 1840 (proclaimed February 1841), which united Upper and Lower Canada in the Province of Canada and placed French Canadian society firmly under the control of an anglophone-controlled assembly and executive councils, the francophone professional middle class divided into 2 groups.
One group, under the leadership of L.H. LaFontaine and E. Parent, pursued a strategy of maximizing the autonomy of French Canada's cultural, social and religious institutions, hoping thereby to undermine the assimilationist intentions of Lord Durham and the British colonial officials. In order to achieve their goal they co-operated with Upper Canadian reformers in the struggle for and achievement of responsible government in 1848.
The second group, comprising remnants of the Parti patriote and a younger generation of nationalists in the Institut canadien and the Parti rouge, rejected the Act of Union and campaigned for its repeal. As committed political nationalists they fought for the creation of a politically autonomous, secular and democratic Québec nation-state.
After the achievement of responsible government in 1848, the reform party of LaFontaine and Parent evolved into the Parti bleu, which under the leadership of Joseph-Édouard Cauchon and George-Étienne Cartier became part of the Conservative Party.
The Conservative Party, with the full support of a reinvigorated Catholic Church, sought to enhance the autonomy of French Canada's cultural, social and religious institutions within the Union of the Canadas. The party also co-operated with the Anglo-Scottish bourgeoisie, represented by the Liberal-Conservative Party of John A. Macdonald, in the pursuit of economic development through the building of railways and the expansion of trade with the US and Great Britain.
By 1865 a political deadlock developed in the Assembly because an increasing majority of Upper Canadians, led by George Brown and his Clear Grit faction, wanted out from under the yoke of a Union dominated by anglophone Montréalers and Cartier's bleus. The deadlock was broken when all members of the Assembly, except those belonging to the rouge movement, agreed to pursue the implementation of a federal system for Upper and Lower Canada or for all the British North American colonies.
Creation of the Province of Québec
After a lengthy and at times heated debate in the Assembly of the Canadas in 1865, the Québec resolutions, which called for the creation of a central government and a number of provinces, including Québec, were passed. Members of the rouge movement objected to the new constitution because, they claimed, it was too centralist and did not guarantee the survival of the francophone community. A slight majority of francophones, convinced by the Conservative Party and a very cautious Catholic Church that the new constitution did offer a significant degree of autonomy to the francophone nationality, supported the federation of 3 British North American colonies into a federation of 4 provinces with the central parliamentary institutions to be located in Ottawa.
During the 1867 federal and provincial elections, the Conservative Party gained 45 of the 65 seats, a clear demonstration of the general support for the new constitutional arrangement. French Canadian secular and clerical leaders were beginning to participate in a small way in the commercial and industrial development of Québec. The modernization of the agricultural sector as well as the industrialization of the province in the last quarter of the century helped the francophone community pursue and achieve some of its cultural, social and political aspirations.
Within 30 years of Confederation, Québec's francophone majority developed a new attitude toward the Canadian federal system, for 2 reasons. First, there was a growing sense of confidence based on economic, cultural and religious renewal and the remarkable demographic expansion of the francophone community in Québec as well as in adjacent communities in the New England states and Ontario.
Second, there was the increasingly difficult plight of the francophone minorities outside the province in New Brunswick, the North-West Territories and Ontario. Discrimination and threats to their continued survival were evidenced by the 1871 abolition of the informal separate schools used by New Brunswick's Acadians; the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885 (which both English- and French-speaking central Canadians interpreted as a struggle between French Catholics and English Protestants over who would determine the character of the West); the 1890 decision of the Manitoba Liberal government to abolish funding for Catholic schools recognized under the Manitoba Act of 1870 (seeManitoba Schools Question); the curtailment of public funding for separate schools in the 1905 Act creating the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan; and, finally, Ontario's Regulation XVII, which undermined an informal system of bilingual separate schools by outlawing the use of French as a language of instruction until the late 1920s (seeOntario Schools Question).
As a result of these crises, Québec's francophone majority increasingly identified with the beleaguered francophone minority communities as they came under attack from an aggressive and vocal English-speaking Canadian society determined to create a strong and homogeneous British Canadian national state.
In fact, many French Canadians felt their society was being forced to choose between provincial rights and minority rights, a choice that was simply not acceptable because provincial autonomy was considered the very root of the survival of the francophone nationality in Canada. In order to resolve this dilemma, a number of prominent francophones, led by Judge T.J.J. Loranger and the journalist and politician Henri Bourassa, began to supplement the "compact of provinces" theory with a "compact of nationalities" theory. It was argued that the concept of 2 nations, or 2 founding peoples, constituted the heart of Confederation.
Consequently, francophone leaders responded to the minority-rights crises by appealing to the federal government to enforce the Constitution; only the full acceptance of a bilingual and bicultural country could prevent renewed and politically divisive attacks on francophone minorities. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier attempted to apply the "2-nation" concept in his 1897 agreement with Premier Thomas Greenway of Manitoba. The agreement, which provided some restitution for Manitoba's rural Catholics, was abolished in 1916 by the Liberal government of T.C. Norris.
There was even less agreement between French- and English-speaking Canadians over foreign policy, especially the issue of Canada's role in the British Empire. From 1900 to 1920, French Canadian and British Canadian nationalists clashed repeatedly. French Canadian nationalists, led by Henri Bourassa, objected vociferously to Canada's increased participation in imperial schemes, whether economic, political or (especially) military.
Bourassa strongly opposed the participation of Canadian troops in the South African War on the grounds that all forms of imperialism were immoral and that the incident would serve as a precedent for future participation in other British imperial wars. Laurier tried to hold the moderates of both communities together by avoiding commitments and by creating, in 1910, a Canadian navy that could be put at the disposal of the Royal Navy in times of war, but this strategy merely aroused the ire of the nationalists on both sides and contributed to Laurier's downfall in the 1911 election.
The inevitable clash between the 2 sides reached its climax in the 1917 conscription crisis and was symbolized by the formation of Borden's Union government that same year. The conscription issue divided the political parties along ethnic lines, as the vast majority of English-speaking MPs supported conscription and the Union government, while all French Canadian MPs were re-elected as anticonscriptionist Liberals.
The impact of this crisis on anglophone-francophone relations was devastating, especially for the intellectual and political elites of both communities. For the federal Conservative Party it proved a long-term disaster. French Canada's nationalists turned inward, away from Bourassa's laudable goal of achieving a bilingual and bicultural country.
Canon Lionel-Adolphe Groulx and his nationalist colleagues in Action française focused their attention on protecting the French Canadian society of Québec from the onslaught of rapid industrialization and urbanization. They began to think seriously about the growing economic inferiority of French Canadians as individuals and as a collectivity.
The French Canadian professional and commercial middle classes encountered increased competition from English Canadian and American conglomerates. On occasion, out of desperation, Groulx and his colleagues dreamed of an independent, traditional and rural French Canadian nation. Much of their desperation stemmed from the fact that the majority of French Canadians supported the Liberal government's policy of economic expansion through the development of Québec's abundant natural resources, particularly its forests, minerals and hydroelectric potential.
With the Great Depression, the serious economic disadvantages of French Canadians as a community and as individuals were made clear to the public. Some middle-class French Canadians reacted by advocating socioeconomic and political reforms, eg, the creation of co-operatives, state support for francophone entrepreneurs, nationalization of the anglophone hydroelectric companies, regulation of large corporations and "buy-French-Canadian-made-products" campaigns. These measures, they claimed, would shore up traditional French Canadian society while giving middle-class French Canadians greater control over the economic development of Québec.
The Conservative Nationalism of the Union Nationale
The Union Nationale under Maurice Duplessis - made up of old-line Conservatives, disenchanted Liberals and traditional nationalists - took advantage of the nationalist reawakening created by the Depression to defeat the Liberal Party in 1936. Despite English-speaking Canadians' fears, Duplessis, who was essentially a constitutional nationalist, refused to proceed with the economic nationalist reforms championed by the nationalists inside and outside of the party.
His party was defeated in the 1939 provincial election, which he chose to contest on the use of conscription, by the direct intervention of the Liberal Party of Mackenzie King and Ernest Lapointe, King's French Canadian lieutenant. Lapointe and his francophone colleagues had threatened to resign and allow the conscriptionist Conservative Party to take over the federal reins if French Canadians refused to turf out the troublesome Duplessis. In return for a promise of no conscription for overseas service, French Canadians reluctantly agreed to Canadian participation in WWII.
With the fall of France in 1940, the demand for conscription from parts of English-speaking Canada intensified. Prime Minister King hoped to undermine the conscriptionist movement, especially its Tory leader, Arthur Meighen, by holding a plebiscite in which all Canadians would be asked to relieve the federal government of its pledge of no conscription for overseas service. Haunted once again by the threat of conscription, various French Canadian nationalist movements came together in the League for the Defence of Canada to campaign vigorously and successfully for a No vote in the April 1942 plebiscite. An impressive 80% of francophones voted No while nearly as high a percentage of English-speaking Canadians voted Yes. Canada was again divided between 2 linguistic and cultural communities.
King heeded the message and declared that there would be "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription." His government was able to delay the implementation of limited conscription until late in 1944, when a vocal Cabinet minority and rebellious military officers forced King to consent to conscript 16 000 of the home-defence forces, referred to pejoratively as "the Zombies." French Canadian nationalists were incensed, but the decision had come too late to help their movement, the Bloc populaire canadien, during the 1944 provincial election. In the 1945 election, French Canadians helped re-elect the Liberal government.
Anglophone-francophone relations had weathered both the Depression and the war. Both communities had continued to play by the rules established in 1867, while nevertheless continuing to challenge the interpretation of those rules, especially in the areas of taxation and social policy. Between 1945 and 1975 this situation changed dramatically as a result of several factors.
The most important political factor was Ottawa's postwar decision (which was supported by a new generation of English Canadian nationalists) to forge ahead with the creation of a centralized welfare state. Ottawa's predominantly anglophone politicians and bureaucrats argued that the federal government needed full control over all forms of direct taxation to ensure stable economic development and to defray the cost of programs such as employment insurance, family allowances, old-age pensions, and hospital and medical-insurance schemes.
While many provinces rejected Ottawa's proposed new federalism, they were slow to make counter-proposals. Indeed, polls demonstrated that the voters wanted these new programmes. In Québec, however, the French Canadian nationalist movement exerted sufficient pressure on the Duplessis government to ensure that it would reject Ottawa's tax-rental scheme and its more audacious measures, such as federal grants to universities.
For a younger generation of French Canadian nationalists Duplessis's defensive strategy was insufficient. These "neo-nationalists," as they came to be called, led by André Laurendeau, Gérard Filion and Jean-Marc Léger and supported by a new francophone middle class educated in the sciences and social sciences, advocated the creation in Québec of a secular, interventionist state which would undertake the development of natural resources by French Canadians for French Canadians.
Only an active nationalist state could help create an appropriate environment for the emergence of a strong francophone industrial and financial bourgeoisie. In order to ensure that a sufficient number of francophones were prepared to assume control of a modern secular society, the state would proceed with comprehensive modernization of education at all levels, and to ensure that the welfare-state apparatus as it affected Québec was controlled by francophones, neo-nationalists proposed that all social programs be taken over by the Québec government. This exercise of Québec's constitutional prerogatives, both established and new, would require a significant increase in the province's ability to collect taxes.
The socioeconomic changes in Canada that were caused by growing industrialization and urbanization and the influx into Canada of thousands of immigrants who spoke neither English nor French created new strains on French Canadian society. At the heart of the tension lay the realization by francophones that the Catholic Church and the rural way of life could no longer serve as bulwarks against assimilation. They realized that their economic and social future was urban and industrial. The francophone community's search for survival and equality clashed with the postwar national aspirations of English-speaking Canadians, and the stage was set for conflict over available resources and jobs. Moreover, with the rapid secularization of French Canadian society, Catholicism no longer distinguished French Canada from the rest of North America.
With the increased assimilation of francophones outside Québec and the overwhelming integration of all immigrants into Québec's English-speaking community (located primarily in metropolitan Montréal), it was inevitable that language and a new sense of political identity would become the dominant issues in contemporary Québec.
The Quiet Revolution
The defeat (1960) of the Union Nationale by the Liberal Party of Jean Lesage ushered in the Quiet Revolution, which signalled the beginning of a dual struggle: one involving the new middle class's political and socioeconomic battle for greater control over Québec's economic resources, and another involving a bitter and divisive attempt to redefine the role of the francophone society within Canada.
Since the early 1960s successive Québec governments have tried to change the socieconomic relationship between that province's francophone majority and its English-speaking minorities. In the first stage of the Quiet Revolution, the Lesage government modernized and expanded the public and para-public sectors to provide employment for the postwar baby boom generation of highly educated francophones.
The Lesage government then took aim at the predominantly anglophone-controlled large private-sector corporations. In 1964 it nationalized all private hydroelectric companies. As a result, Hydro-Québec (established 1944) became one of the largest crown corporations in North America. Francophones were able to work entirely in French and to develop their technical, scientific and managerial skills, a process which also occurred in the fields of education, social welfare and health services, and in the government bureaucracy in all departments and at all levels.
French Canada's attempt to redefine its role within Canada has produced vigorous public debate and considerable political turmoil over the past 4 decades. In their 1965 royal commission preliminary report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the commissioners stated that Canada was in the midst of its most serious political crisis since Confederation. Beginning in 1963, several bombs had been set off in Montréal mail boxes, and 2 separatist parties were successfully recruiting francophone university students. By the mid-1960s a wide variety of proposals for restructuring, renewing and even dismantling the Canadian federal system were forthcoming.
Drawing upon the recommendations of the Tremblay Commission Report of 1956, many Québec neo-nationalists advocated the entrenchment, in a renewed Constitution, of "special status" for the province of Québec, while others demanded a form of "associate-state" status. In fact, by 1966 the political parties were leapfrogging one another in a desperate attempt to keep pace with the nationalist momentum sweeping Québec.
Daniel Johnson, the leader of the Union Nationale, issued an ultimatum to Ottawa in a small pamphlet entitled "Equality or Independence." Special or associate-state status would entail very extensive decentralization of what was considered by many Canadians already a far too decentralized federal system. In reaction to this cool response, a significant number of neo-nationalists began to claim that only outright independence of Québec could ensure the survival of the francophone nationality.
By the mid-1960s, the neo-nationalists encountered opposition from all national parties and a number of prominent francophones such as Jean Marchand, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Gérard Pelletier. These so-called "wise men" had been recruited by the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Lester Pearson to enhance francophone participation in the national government and help Ottawa head off potentially dangerous political clashes with Québec's increasingly neo-nationalist-inspired, and in some cases separatist-oriented, political parties and successive governments.
The federal forces, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, proposed a 2-fold strategy: to enhance the full participation of francophones in all national institutions through a policy of official bilingualism and to insert into a renewed Constitution a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would guarantee individual rights as well as the rights of Canada's 2 official linguistic communities. The first goal was achieved in 1969 with the passing of the Official Languages Act; the second objective was accomplished with the Constitution Act, 1982 (seePatriation of the Constitution), which incorporated a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a general amending formula based on 7 provinces comprising over 50% of the Canadian population.
Québec presented the major obstacle in the path of a renewed Constitution. The new liberal leader and premier of Québec by 1970, Robert Bourassa, attempted to secure increased provincial powers in the area of social policy in return for his government's consent to patriate the Constitution with a limited Charter of Rights. When Bourassa failed to accomplish his goal, neo-nationalist pressures forced him to reject the 1971 Victoria Charter.
The Parti Québécois
In 1976 the Parti Québécois, committed to the achievement of political independence for Québec, was elected. The PQ government moved quickly to accomplish its election promises, especially in the highly sensitive area of language legislation. When it had become apparent by the late 1950s that room for expansion in the public sector was not infinite, pressure had begun to build in nationalist circles for language legislation making French the dominant language of work in both the private and public sector.
In 1974 the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa implemented Bill 22, under which French was declared the official language of Québec and all immigrants arriving in Québec were enrolled in French-language schools. While this legislation was considered too radical by Québec's anglophone and allophone communities because it rescinded their longstanding freedom to choose, it did not go far enough for an increasingly vocal minority of francophones who claimed Bill 22 had too many loopholes which allowed allophone parents to send their children to English-language schools and did little to ensure that French would become the effective language of work for all Québec's citizens.
In response to strong and widespread nationalist pressure inside and outside the party, the Parti Québécois-dominated assembly passed Bill 101, known as the Charter of the French Language, which made French the only official language of Québec, established a schedule for making French the dominant language of work and stipulated that all immigrants entering Québec from other parts of Canada and the world must enrol their children in French-language schools.
These developments considerably heightened the tension in anglophone-francophone relations, not only in Québec but throughout Canada. The federal Liberal Party, after its re-election to office in 1980, campaigned hard to ensure a defeat of the PQ-sponsored referendum requesting that Québecois grant the PQ government a mandate to negotiate Sovereignty-Association.
The Trudeau government's decision to pursue the patriation of the Constitution with an amendment formula and an entrenched Charter of Rights was prompted by the victory of the federalist forces in the Québec referendum campaign. The Constitution Act, 1982 was approved by Ottawa and all the provinces except Québec. Secessionists charged that Québec had been stabbed in the back by Ottawa and the provinces. This erroneous but powerful myth further soured what were already very tenuous relations between francophones and anglophones.
The tragedy was that, in the process of political manoeuvring, the Québec government of René Levesque had agreed with 7 other provinces to relinquish its traditional veto over constitutional changes crucial to the survival of the French Canadian nationality. A process of constitutional renewal set in motion largely in response to the new needs of Québec resulted in an agreement which could, under the appropriate set of circumstances, create new tensions and even overt hostility between Canada's 2 linguistic communities.
Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords
While the PQ government was re-elected in 1981, it was weakened by internal battles and was soundly defeated by Robert Bourassa's Liberal Party in 1985. Bourassa committed his government to signing the Constitution Act if certain demands were met by Ottawa and the provinces. These 5 minimum demands included the constitutional recognition of Québec as a "distinct society" with the right to protect and promote that distinctiveness; the right to opt-out with full financial compensation of all national programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction; an amendment formula giving Québec a veto over all major constitutional reforms; a guarantee of increased powers over immigration; and finally, some input into the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.
On 30 April 1987, after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government announced the Meech Lake Accord (seeMeech Lake Accord: Document). The Accord, which granted all the provinces 4 of Québec's 5 demands, was pronounced acceptable by the NDP and Liberal parties but was vigorously denounced by ex-PM Trudeau and several regional and national organizations. For the latter, the Accord diminished the prerogatives of the national government, undermined Canadians' sense of patriotism and set in motion an irreversible trend toward increased provincial autonomy with "special status" for Québec.
To take effect, the Accord required ratification by all 10 provinces and both Houses of Parliament by June 1990. Governments in 3 provinces - New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Manitoba - changed hands, and their newly elected premiers, respectively Frank McKenna, Clyde Wells and Gary Filmon, refused to ratify the Accord unless substantive amendments were accepted by all governments. Within 2 years, Premier Wells of Newfoundland had become the lightning rod for widespread public outrage at the Accord's process and its contents, especially the interpretative distinct society clause, which Canadians feared would allow successive Québec governments to achieve through Supreme Court decisions constitutional special status for Québec.
Despite majority public opposition to the Accord, Mulroney and 7 premiers pressured the 3 premiers at a June 1990 meeting in Ottawa to accept the unaltered Meech Lake Accord with the promise of future amendments. To everyone's surprise Filmon was prevented from ratifying the Accord in the Manitoba legislature by a Native MP, Elijah Harper, who denied the necessary unanimous consent for procedural changes. Once the Accord died in the Manitoba assembly it was futile for Wells to pursue ratification. The Accord's contradictory "provincial" and "2-nations" compacts were rejected by the public on the grounds that one or both of the theories would render the federation virtually ungovernable.
The Accord's demise set off a momentous political crisis in the province of Québec. The Québecois nationalists and secessionists blamed English-speaking Canada for its demise. The crisis was accelerated when Mulroney and Bourassa decided to support and use this erroneous but highly dangerous interpretation of events to force reluctant Canadians to accept a new and expanded version of the Meech Lake Accord.
Bourassa directed the constitutional committee of the Québec Liberal party to produce a constitutional blueprint, known as the Allaire Report, which promoted a wholesale devolution of powers to the provinces. He also created the bi-partisan Bélanger-Campeau commission, which quickly became dominated by the Parti Québécois and other secessionist appointees. The commission recommended that the government hold forthwith a referendum on the secession of Québec from Canada. To regain control over the situation, Bourassa had the National Assembly pass Bill 150, which called upon the government to hold a referendum in October 1992. The referendum question would be on independence or on an acceptable package of constitutional reforms from the rest of Canada.
Despite the public's clear objection to another round of mega-constitutional politics, Mulroney renewed his alliance with Bourassa in late 1991 and opened negotiations with a new set of proposals entitled "Shaping Canada's Future Together." Eventually a Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate produced a report in February 1992 called "A Renewed Canada." The report proposed an expanded version of the Meech Lake Accord. Joe Clark, minister of federal-provincial relations, chaired a volatile series of multilateral meetings on the Constitution, including Ottawa, 9 premiers and representatives from Canada's 4 national Aboriginal organizations. They cobbled together what became known as the Pearson Report in early July 1992. The report was a combination of a revised Meech Lake Accord with an elected but powerless Senate and a separate comprehensive Aboriginal constitutional package. Bourassa agreed to sign onto the Charlottetown Consensus Report in September 1992 when he was granted in perpetuity 25% of the seats for Québec in the House of Commons, the Québec government's right to appoint its own senators and some limitations on the Aboriginal package.
The first national referendum on the amendment of the Canadian constitution was held on 26 October 1992. By early October it was clear that the Charlottetown deal was doomed. Bourassa lost the support of the nationalist wing of the Liberal Party, which joined the Parti Québécois and Bloc Québécois secessionist No forces led by Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. They scored political points by demonstrating that the new accord offered far less than the Meech Accord and that the Aboriginal organizations had obtained a form of sovereignty-association denied to Québec. In the rest of the country, the Charlottetown deal was rejected in most provinces for the same reasons Canadians had rejected the Meech deal. As well, the West had failed to obtain its Triple "E" Senate while having to accept a guarantee of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons to Québec.
Just at the moment when the tide was turning against the Charlottetown deal, Trudeau entered the national debate by denouncing the new accord and accelerating the public's move to the No side. Despite a heavily funded Yes campaign and a disorganized and underfunded No campaign, the Charlottetown package was defeated by 54.4% to 44.6%. It was rejected by a majority of citizens in Nova Scotia, Québec, and 4 western provinces while Ontario voters were evenly split.
It was the second major humiliating defeat for the Mulroney-Bourassa alliance and sealed the political fate of both leaders. An ailing Bourassa left political life, ill with terminal cancer, and shortly after died. Mulroney was forced to step down as prime minister in 1993. His successor, Kim Campbell, took the brunt of the public wrath in the October 1993 national election in which the Conservative party was reduced from 169 to 2 seats.
The gulf between anglophone Canadians and francophone Canadians was wider than at any other time since the Conscription crisis of 1917. In Québec, Lucien Bouchard's secessionist Bloc Québécois won 54 of the province's 75 seats, undermining the old Liberal bastion and destroying Mulroney's fragile Tory coalition. Conversely, Preston Manning's neo-conservative and populist Reform Party, with its roots in the political culture of Western alienation, elected 52 MPs mostly in British Columbia and Alberta.
In 1994 Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau easily defeated the Québec Liberal Party led by Daniel Johnson, even while promising to hold a referendum on the outright secession of Québec within a year. When it appeared that Parizeau's hard question on secession would be rejected by francophone voters, Lucien Bouchard - with the support of Mario Dumont, the former Québec Liberal turned founder of the Action Démocratique du Québec - convinced Parizeau to hold a referendum on the concept of sovereignty-partnership with Canada in the fall of 1995. If Canada refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Québec following a majority vote then Québec would unilaterally declare its independence from Canada.
At the outset of the referendum campaign it appeared that the federalist forces were set to win by a significant margin. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien gave control over strategy and tactics to the No committee headed up by Daniel Johnson and Jean Charest. Convinced that the secessionist forces faced a humiliating defeat, Parizeau allowed Bouchard to take charge of the Yes campaign and named him chief negotiator with Canada if the secessionist forces won. Within a week of the vote private polls showed that the secessionist forces were leading by as much as 56% to 44%. The federalist forces were in total disarray as political observers predicted that Parizeau would move quickly to declare Québec's independence. A shocked Chrétien took charge of the campaign, promising the Québecois a veto over all major constitutional changes and recognition of Québec as a distinct society. When Québec citizens cast their votes the result was a veritable cliff hanger: Just over 50% voted No while just under 50% voted Yes, with some 50 000 votes declared invalid for a variety of questionable reasons. A dismayed and angry Parizeau declared that "money and the ethnic vote" had robbed Québecois of their independence. Discredited in the eyes of many francophones, Parizeau was replaced by Lucien Bouchard as head of the Parti Québécois government.
The Chrétien government belatedly realized that it had to be much better prepared to deal with the secessionists and their more than formidable leader, Bouchard. The federal government tried to patch up relations with Québec's francophones by passing a bill that granted all 5 regions of Canada, including Québec, a veto over all future constitutional changes. The government also passed a resolution supporting the concept of Québec as a distinct society. Chrétien also urged the premiers to pass the Calgary Declaration, which recognized Québec as a unique society. They complied but added the important prerequisite that all provinces were equal and that whatever the Québec government might get through the interpretative unique society clause they would also receive.
After much hesitation, the Chrétien government agreed to refer Québec's claim to an absolute right to declare unilaterally its independence to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Québec did not have the right either under Canadian constitutional law or under international law to secede unilaterally from Canada. The 9 justices did, however, offer the opinion that if Québec voters demonstrated a clear, and not just a simple, majority on a straightforward question on outright secession, then Ottawa and the other provinces would have an obligation to enter into negotiations with the government of Québec. They also pointed out that there was no guarantee that such negotiations would succeed or that the territory of the province of Québec would remain intact if the negotiations succeeded since the rights of the majority had to respect those of the various minorities.
In was in this highly charged context that Premier Bouchard sought a renewed mandate for his Parti Québécois government on 30 November 1998. The election results illustrated once again the reluctance of the Québecois to experience another divisive and most likely inconclusive referendum. The Parti Québécois, facing a divided and somewhat disorganized Québec Liberal party led by Jean Charest, won 77 seats with only 43% of the vote. Charest's Liberals won 47 seats with over 44% of the vote. The spoiler was Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique party whose 125 candidates garnered nearly 12% of the votes, primarily from disenchanted Parti Québécois voters. Only one seat was won, however, that of Dumont. A dispirited Bouchard declared that he did not foresee the holding of another referendum for at least 2 years and would, in the interim, focus his energies on balancing the Québec budget and restoring funding to education, social welfare and health programs.
See also October Crisis; Québec Since Confederation.