Tuesday, March 22, 2011

La Quête pour la Souveraineté: Québec’s Nationalist Movement by: Tristan Johnson

Since the 1960’s, the Québec nationalist movement has been a major movement, heavily discussed by both Québec and the rest of Canada. The movement has shaped Canadian politics from constitutional reform to the very unity of Canada itself. The movement declares Québec as a nation, a group of people unified by a common history and culture. Their goal is to preserve the customs and language of the French speakers of Québec as well as increase their living standards and economic standing through means ranging from protest to forming their own political parties. For the sake of understanding this movement, there are some key questions to ask. Where did the movement come from? After forming, what directions did it take to become such a powerful movement? And with the 1995 close referendum on separation failing, is that movement now finished?

While some sources claim that the idea of Québec nationalism date as far back as the 1920’s,[1] or even pre-confederation;[2] many see the beginnings of the Québec nationalist movement most familiar today with the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s.[3] The Quiet Revolution was a time period of the 1960’s and 70’s where the province of Québec went through severe economic changes, reduction of the church’s power, and social reformation within the French speaking population.[4] This was brought about by the competition between two reformative groups of Neo-nationalists and Liberals who had gained popularity after the Second World War.[5] The neo-nationalist movement sought to eliminate the old church-based nationalism of the past and enter a new focus on language rights and political autonomy. They no longer perceived their culture as sticking to traditions, but instead open to new innovations and shared political ambitions.[6] Around 1960, inspired by the decolonization happening in Asia and Africa at the time, the federalist pro-independence oriented Québec nationalists began to grow in number.[7] But how did this neo-nationalist idea evolve?

During the great depression of the 1930’s, the inequality between French and English speaking Québecers became much more obvious and after the Second World War, the French-Canadian youth began to criticize the way Québec managed itself in terms of education, politics, and economics. This criticism and discussion surrounding it is today considered the first Quiet Revolution. The old nationalism, the striving for a “refrenchification” of Québec had many currents of anti-Semitism and a mission for the “French-Canadian race” had become unpopular by the end of the Second World War and nationalists at the time sought a new movement to address the concerns of their inequalities.[8] In the 1950’s the young nationalists and working class nationalists began to become sceptical of the traditionalist leadership of their movement. Criticism of the church dominance of the movement became more and more commonplace. The traditionalists were also criticized for not really acknowledging the rapid urbanization of the 1950’s and ignoring industrialization. Urban industrial working nationalists began to also turn on the traditional nationalists due to this. The traditional movement also focused heavily on justifying their nationalism from a historical perspective and a juridical perspective. This however was not shared by the majority of nationalists at this time, mostly concerned with Canadian policies of language and educational rights. By this time the traditional nationalist movements of the first half of the century were considered outdated and in need of new leadership. In retort, traditional nationalists such as André Laurendeau argued that the movement was not political in nature. At this point the neo-nationalists led by Laurendau sought to abandon the outlook of their traditional past as well as disconnect French-Canadian nationalism from the Catholic Church.[9] “It was the full acceptance of an increasingly secular, democratic, and open society that forced neo-nationalists to redefine nationalism as an ideology of socioeconomic change and of individual and collective liberation for the French-Canadian people.”[10]

In the 1960’s the topic of language became the dominant discussion of the day. Fearing assimilation, the question of language divided Québec between the positions of a bilingual Québec versus a French Québec.[11] Confrontation broke out between a shrinking French-Canadian population and a growing immigrant population that chose English integration for the education of their children. Threatened that French might become a minority language in Québec, the nationalists pushed for change and eventually passed Bill 63 which offered choice of language classes, but incentivising French language schooling. Considered not enough by the nationalists, the pressure continued and eventually the incumbent Bertrand did fall in 1970 and the new Premier Robert Bourassa who promised a need for French to be the common language of Québec. He passed Bill 22 in 1974 declaring French as the official language of Québec and sought to keep it the primary language in the workplace. Only students with the ability to pass an English test would be able to get an English education, while any others had to enter into French schools.[12]

While the question of the formation of the Québec nationalist movement actually dates back to before confederation, the nationalist movement of this half of the century has its roots in the time of the Québec Quiet Revolution. Great changes in social policy pressured a new nationalist movement no longer reliant on the church for guidance and instead became more of a political force, dedicated to increasing the economic and political condition of Francophone Québécois. So in the early 1960’s the movement evolved and in its first few years managed to pass some language based legislation and really improve the lives of the Québec Francophones. Language education becoming defaulted to French for immigrants who could not speak English was also a victory for preserving French as the first language of the province. These early successes for the movement allowed for the movement to grow and diversify, the nationalists began to branch off in different directions and result in major events in the evolution of the nationalist movement in the 1970’s. Anger over Bill 22 would radicalize parts of the movement and eventually lead to the election of the Parti Québécois and the 1980 referendum.

The Evolution of the Québec nationalist movement after its formative years in the 1960’s was an interesting combination of division and some radicalization. Major changed affected the movement leading up to the referendum of 1980. The 1970’s began with the flames of radicalization. The Front de libération du Québec or the FLQ had existed since the 1960’s with a series of bombings centered on the Montréal area. The group claimed that it was a revolutionary force willing to die for the independence of Québec.[13] In 1963, the first victim of the FLQ had been killed by a time bomb. As more victims either died or became crippled by the random FLQ bombings, the group took a stance of blaming the occupying forces and in the case of Sergeant Walter Leja, the FLQ said that the patriotic public should be fine with the death of a member of the enemy.[14] By 1970, the bombings had caused five deaths and four injuries.[15] The FLQ had been modeled off of the Belgian resistance of World War II and the Algerian National Liberation Front. A man named Georges Schoeters led the front and is considered the “father” of the FLQ.[16]

The climax of the FLQ’s actions in the October crisis of 1970 had taken authorities by surprise when British diplomat James Cross was kidnapped and attempted to be used for blackmail purposes.[17] In the middle of negotiations when the FLQ began to be giving the signs of giving in to negotiations, they kidnapped Pierre LaPorte who would later be found murdered in the trunk of a car.[18] The actions were denounced by most nationalists and this isolated group did not at all represent nationalism in the 1970’s. It was a sign that the movement was diversifying as it grew into different directions with different challenges.

A large part of the nationalist movement from the Quiet Revolution all the way to the referendum of 1980 was a challenge of trying to find a cohesive message and identity. One idea prevalent for most of the 1960’s included the idea of Québec nationalism as maximizing the independence Québec could have under the confederation of the British North America Act. During the time period, Québec had gotten many powers associated more with an independent nation-state than a province. In the 1970’s the idea of true independence began to spread throughout the movement. These ideas clashed within the PQ and when the party won a majority government in 1976 there was a degree of anxiety from the massive changes Québec had been through during the previous decades with the Quiet Revolution.[19] Founded in 1968, the PQ formed as the product of a merger of the Ralliement National and the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association. The idea of sovereignty-association became very popular among nationalists as it seemed rather ambiguous and nationalists of various opinions could feel it satisfied their goal. The PQ was also aided by the leadership of the very popular René Lévesque who led the PQ to their 1976 victory. The Party was also very popular amongst the young baby boom generation of the 1970’s. The PQ had managed to mix several factions of separatists including those against separation with the more activist members seeking either separation or sovereignty-association.[20]

The election of the PQ had been the first time a sovereignty party had been elected to become the government of Québec. It was then the proposal of sovereignty-association was put forward to Canada. It would allow Québec to have its own laws, taxes, and international relations and yet a common economic association with Canada complete with currency. The question had to be given to the people of Québec via referendum. The referendum had been called and was set for the date of May 20th, 1980. It led to one of the most heated battles of public opinion in Canadian history particularly between the PQ leader Levesque advocating for the yes position while opposing him the provincial Liberal leader Claude Ryan. Ryan had received much funding to run his campaign to keep the referendum from being passed. They appealed to Canadian solidarity and the risks of sovereignty. The federalists promised a new federal position and reform for Québec. On Election Day, the voter turnout of 85% voted no on sovereignty-association with 59.6% of the vote. Though, when breaking down the voting demographics the votes turned out to be turned by the voting power of Anglophones and ethnic minorities who all had voted resoundingly against sovereignty, while the Francophone vote was a no vote, but much closer in margins. Though winning a decisive victory again in 1981, the Levesque government quickly ran into trouble and popularity fell. The recession of 1981 forced the PQ to cut several programs and put the government at odds with unions and workers. After the failure of the PQ to gain victories during the drafting of the constitution and the resigning of Levesque; the Liberals eventually pushed the PQ out of power in the 1985 election.[21]

After the formative years of the 1960’s, the nationalist movement began to grow and evolve in different ways as it freed itself from the leadership of the church. The increasing political nature of the movement led to a much more public realm nationalism that spans from political power like the election of the PQ to majority, and the radicalization of members such as those involved with the FLQ. The movement was growing and with it its aspirations; the PQ once elected had moved towards the first referendum in 1980 on sovereignty-association. Though the referendum was defeated, this did give a sort of ultimatum to Ottawa and meant that the nationalist’s grievances would need to be looked at in a much more serious light.

The return to power of the PQ did not happen again until the 1990’s and by 1994 the plans were in motion for another referendum. The decision to push another referendum had been inspired by the failure to pass constitutional reform via the Charlottetown Accord.[22] Though the polls did not show a favour to the separatist cause, the leadership was handed to the political trusted by many Lucien Bouchard. The campaigning really began for the proposed referendum in September of 1994, at first the federalist side held a solid lead on the public opinion polls yet this was not for long. The yes campaign focused on things such as the politics of identity, the inflexibility of the federation and addressed issues of economic damage from separation. One of the early strategies of the PQ included asking the government of France for recognition after the referendum which actually played a role in the French presidential election. Another preparation involved securing Québec a place in NAFTA. During the campaign, Bouchard had contracted a normally fatal illness and when the news announced that he would recover, there was a huge pouring of sympathy to the nationalist cause.[23] By August of 1995, the opinion more or less tied on the question of separation. While the Federalists campaigned on the same ideals, hoping the undecided voters would vote for the status quo when cornered. The separatist side attempted to polarize the people of Québec and by September neither side had really achieved their goals.[24] The campaigns continued to stay neck and neck with the side coming out on top changing on a nearly daily basis until election day when by the tiny margin of 49.4% yes and 50.6% no.[25] The close margin of the referendum made some think that separation was inevitable and that it would provoke another referendum before too long. The small victory was likely caused by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s promise of constitutional reform if Québec would stay in the nation and it won the tiny victory,[26] but was this just delaying the inevitable?

News reports in the weeks after the referendum spoke of the result showing that Québec’s separation would be inevitable. Again as with the 1980 referendum French speakers came out with much more support for separation than Anglophone and Allophone Canadians[27] and the demographic research turned out to be quite depressing for federalists across the country:

The elderly are disproportionately federalists. They are dying;

Youth votes are disproportionately separatist. They continue to join the electorate;

The youth who supported "yes" in the 1980 referendum appear to have supported "yes" in the same percentages in 1995. They did not become more "conservative" (i.e., federalist) over time;

Immigrants strongly support federalism, but immigration is declining; and

Federalists continue to leave Québec. If the roughly 200,000 Anglo-phones who have left Québec since the mid-1970s had remained, the 1995 "no" margin would have been much stronger.[28]

The prospects seemed quite sure that it would be a matter of time before Québec got itself a new seat in the UN and went on its own merry way. Yet, this has not happened yet, in fact the movement has been losing steam. For example, in the 2007 Québec elections twelve years after the referendum the PQ holding third place in number of seats in Québec’s provincial parliament.[29] A poll of Québecers on the topic of sovereignty in 2009 showed that 74% of Québecers do not believe separation would happen. The poll also showed that 54% of those polled clearly stood in favour of staying in Canada while 34% were clearly in favour of sovereignty.[30] The movement has indeed cooled off. The movement however seems to not be dead as some might claim; the fact that the nationalist party of Québec still holds 28.32% of the popular vote and the poll from 2009 shows that most respondents claimed they still felt unhappy with the current Canadian constitutional status shows definite signs that the movement is likely just dormant and a large enough event or leadership that threatens Québec enough could bring the topic of referendum back into the news again.

Stéphane Dion had compiled a bunch of predictions from the think tanks and academics from around the world to try and put a hypothetical outcome had that vote turned into a victory for the separatists. The outcome was largely fit into two major camps called by Dion “impossiblists” and “inevitablists”. Both thoughts predicted a major economic crisis for Québec and Canada as foreign investment and the process of transition would cause the dollar to drop rapidly. They both also predicted that the result of the yes vote would likely be extremely contested and issues over the rights of the Federalist minority and the position of natives would cause territorial disputes and Québec would likely not have the same borders the province has today. The only major difference being that the impossiblists predicted that these hardships would cause Québec to eventually decide against leaving the nation or at the very least call another referendum while the inevitablists predicted that the two nations would try to quickly settle the issues with separation to prevent a crippling economic crisis in both nations.[31]

The nationalist movement made a huge breakthrough since the early days of separating from the church to become a movement of political and social change for Québec. The formation began in the 1950’s and 60’s with the great increase in social programs and the decline of the church’s role in Québec society. The movement quickly flourished, increasing the economic condition and standard of living for Francophone Canadians. The language of Québec remained as primarily French. As the movement grew, it moved into larger areas be it the radical elements like the FLQ or the political ambitions of the PQ as it became elected to form Québec government. The movement resurfaced again in the 1990’s in response to failed constitution reform in the form of not just a sovereignty-association, but a separation referendum that by a mere 54,000 votes were able to stop Québec from leaving confederation entirely. Was this defeat the end of nationalism? Likely not, but it would take a major event or a long period of bad events to bring the sleeping beast back to life today.

Works Cited:

Behiels, Michael D. Prelude to Québec's Quiet Revolution: Liberalism versus Neo-Nationalism, 1945 - 1960. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985.

CBC, "Québec Votes 2007." CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/Québecvotes2007/ (accessed November 10, 2010).

Clift, Dominique. Québec Nationalism in Crisis. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1980

Durocher, Linteau, Ricard, Robert, Québec since 1930. Robert Chodos and Ellen Garmaise, trans. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, Publishers, 1991.

Québec: State and Society. Alain G. Gagnon. Toronto: Methuen Publications, 1984.

Jones, David T. "An independent Québec: Looking into the abyss." Washington Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1997): 21-37.

Laponce, J. A. "The Québec Sovereignty Referendum of 1995: how not to manage a multinational polity." Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 26, no. 1 (1999): 103-120.

Morf, Gustave. Terror in Québec: Case Studies of the FLQ. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1971.

Pelletier, Gerard. The October Crisis. Joyce Marshall trans. Toronto: McClelland and Steward Limited, 1971.

Québec Media Inc., "Separation unlikely: Québec poll." Edmonton Sun. June 10, 2009. http://www.edmontonsun.com/news/canada/2009/06/10/9746701-sun.html (accessed November 7, 2010).

Trofimenkoff, Susan M. Action Francaise: French-Canadian Nationalism in the Twenties. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1975.

Young, Robert A. The Secession of Québec and the Future of Canada. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1998.

[1] Trofimenkoff, p.3

[2] Gagnon, p. 2

[3] Ibid, p. 3

[4] Linteau, Durocher, Robert, Ricard, p. 307 - 316

[5] Behiels, p. 271

[6] Lintear, Durocher, Robert, Ricard, p. 499

[7] Ibid, p. 500

[8] Behiels, p. 20, 21

[9] Behiels, p. 46 - 48

[10] Ibid p. 59

[11] Linteau, Derocher, Robert, Ricard, p. 436

[12] Ibid, p. 442 - 444

[13] Morf, p. 2 - 5

[14] Ibid, p. 8 - 10

[15] Pelletier, p. 79

[16] Morf p. 20

[17] Pelletier, p. 87

[18] Ibid, p. 93 - 101

[19] Clift, p. 86 - 88

[20] Linteau, Durocher, Robert, Ricard p. 524, 525

[21] Linteau, Durocher, Robert, Ricard, p. 536 - 539

[22] Jones

[23] Young, p. 265 - 267

[24] Ibid, p. 280

[25] Ibid, p. 265

[26] Ibid, p. 311

[27] Jones

[28] Ibid

[29] CBC

[30] Quebec Media Inc.

[31] Young, p. 312 - 319

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