REVOLT in QUEBEC
The second of a seríes of articles presenting a French-Canadian’s interpretation of Quebec’s reform movement and the viewpoint of French Canada toward Confederation
VICTOR C. SOUCISSE
IF THE reader has been alarmed by the title of these articles, let him be reassured that the “Revolt in Quebec” is an intellectual one; it will be fought with ballots, not with bullets. The constitutional means at the disposal of any group of Canadians will be used to attain the aims of this “revolt.”
Since I wrote the first article for Macleans on the situation in Quebec, the Taschereau Government has resigned. Louis Alexandre Taschereau, Premier for the last sixteen years. Member of the Cabinet for the past twenty-nine years, has retired in favor of the Minister of Agriculture in the late administration, the Hon. J. Adelard Godbout, whose Government will go before the people at a date somewhere around August 12.
With Taschereau out of politics, it became impossible to preserve the alliance between the two opposition leaders, Maurice Duplessis, head of the Conservatives, and Paul Gouin, chief of the insurgent L’Action Libérale Nationale. Their union dissolved in an exchange of accusations, Mr. Gouin declaring that Mr. Duplessis had broken an agreement not to oppose Nationalist candidates in sixty constituencies and was trying to resuscitate the Quebec Conservative Party behind the label of the National Union. To this Mr. Duplessis retorted: “Extremely unfair and for the most part contrary to the facts.”
This turned the election into a three-cornered fight with Mr. Gouin hurling defiance at “the two old Tory and ‘trustard’ parties, that of Hon. Mr. Godbout and Mr. Duplessis.” “Trustard” is a Quebec-coined word meaning supporter of the trusts.
To the unbiased observer it looks as if it might be a very hot summer in Old Quebec. ♦
Our concern at the moment, however, is not with the current political struggle but with the forces which have pushed that struggle into the foreground. The immediate cause of the downfall of the Taschereau régime was the disclosure of scandal within the administration; but the root causes go far deeper than scandal.
In the first article I pointed out that the attack on the Taschereau Government was merely a phase of a widespread reform movement which has both political and
economic aspects. On the economic side is a deep-seated resentment at the dominance of the economic life of French Canada by non-French capital; the feeling of the FrenchCanadian that he has been denied an equitable share in the control of the wealth of his own province. On the political side is the feeling that the Act of Confederation, as implemented in practice, has not given the French-Canadian his proper place in the Canadian sun; the feeling that the French-Canadian has not achieved the rights and privileges which he believes were guaranteed to him both by the letter and spirit of the Confederation Pact.
In short—and amplification of these points will be made later—-the French-Canadian believes that his province went into a Confederation the rights of which he was to share equally with his English-speaking fellows; that in matters of religion, schooling, language. Civil Service appointments, etc., his rights would be observed in all parts of that Confederation and not within the boundaries of the Province of Quebec alone.
In support of this contention the words of Sir John A. Macdonald are widely quoted:
“There are no victors, no vanquished . . .We have
now a constitution (the B.N.A. Act) under which all British subjects are at the present moment in a condition of absolute equality, enjoying equal rights in all domain: language, religious, property and personal rights.”
The school question looms large in the French-Canadian’s mind. In Quebec the English-speaking minority has absolute control of its school system. The French-speaking
majority has never even argued that French should be taught. In the other provinces there have been repeated struggles over the right of the French-speaking minorities to teach French in their own schools, despite the equal language rights guaranteed by the Confederation Pact.
The Civil Service is used as a gauge, and it is pointed out that instead of being represented according to numbers, in the ratio of thirty per cent of the total, the French-Canadian holds no more than sixteen per cent of the jobs and eleven per cent of the salary list.
In a word, the French-Canadian fears that he has become the forgotten Canadian—an alien in his own country — which is galling to a man who has always regarded himself as the first Canadian.
This feeling, coupled with the natural drive of a minority people’s racial and cultural aspirations, explains the characteristically "nationalistic” tenor of the whole reform movement. What is this nationalism? It is simply the desire to be oneself, the desire to retain one’s identity, one’s language, one’s religion. It is the same sort of desire as that which impels the Scotsman to insist on his right to wear the kilt, to skirl the bagpipes, to burr his speech. And at bottom, I think it is safe to say that the French-Canadian’s “nationalism” is no more un-British than is the .Scot’s.
In this sense, nationalism is fundamental. This is the fundamental force which explains the seemingly sudden rise of Paul G ouin and his fellow nationalists to pre-eminence in the political life of their province. Nationalism in Quebec is not something new. It has always existed in French-Canada. Gouin is its current man of action.
How, then, do the nationalists of 1936 interpret nationalism? How do they propose to implement it in action?
Says the manifesto of L’Action Libérale Nationale, spearhead of the movement:
"The present crisis is in great part due to faulty distribution in the economic domain, to the greed of high finance, and to the abuses of all kinds which have crept into the present application of democracy. It is useless to hope that equilibrium will be re-established of its own volition and without the aid of a well defined plan of action. The necessity for political evolution as well as economic evolution is evident. In the United States, the Democratic Party actually tends toward this double transformation. “We believe that a political evolution is necessary in our country and in our province, so as to assure the 1 utting into execution of the doet riñes elaborated by cur economists. . .
"L’Action Libérale Nationale was lx>rn of the necessity for this evolution.”
More than fifty specific proposals are contained in the detailed programme, which covers a wide range of economic, financial, industrial, political and judicial reforms.
Here are the principal items:
“The breaking by all possible means of the hold of the great financial institutions, the hydro-electric trust and the newsprint trust on our province and our municipalities.”
Investigation by commission of the advisability of the province acquiring existing electrical plants by purchase and “the development by the province as need arises of water powers not yet leased or developed.”
“The combatting of the coal trust, the gasoline trust, the bread trust, resorting to state competition if necessary.”
“The combatting of the milk trust by uniting in a closed association all the milk producers of the province.”
Correction of overcapitalization of utility companies. Tightening of anti-combine legislation.
Rural electrification on the lines of the Ontario system. Revision of interest rates on mortgages.
Reduction of bank interest as a stimulant to trade and commerce.
Conversion of the provincial debt at the lowest rate possible.
A uniform and more stringent company law for the whole of Canada.
Transformation of the Legislative Council (Quebec’s second chamber) into an economic council.
Transfer of the functions of the Lieutenant-Governor to the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal.
The compulsory vote. (This proposal subject to plebiscite).
Slum clearance and the construction of workmen’s houses.
Extension of the regulation of hours of work.
Revision and extension of the minimum wage law. Priority of wages over dividends.
A progressive agricultural programme under the direction of an Agricultural Commission.
No doubt the English-Canadian reader will say to himself: “Can this be the Province of Quebec? Can this be the yeast that is brewing in the traditional stronghold of conservatism?”
Yes, this is the positive side of the attack on Taschereauism. This is the programme which explains the strength of a movement strong enough to send a Taschereau tottering into retirement.
This is Quebec's new “nationalism” in action.
There is no mention here of separatism. I have spoken already in a previous article of left-wing groups who do talk of separation, but it is not their voice which is heard in the programme of L’Action Libérale Nationale.
The Effect on Business
WHAT HAS been the effect of the Nationalist campaign on business? Strange as it may seem, there were English-speaking leaders in Montreal, who until recently were almost wholly unaware of the movement. This can be understood only when one realizes the enor-
mous gap that exists between the English and French communities in that city.
English-language newspapers had reported little or nothing at all of the Nationalistic up-surge; thus, when the Taschereau Government was almost shaken off its foundations in last fall’s provincial election, the event came as a startling shock to a great proportion of the English-speaking community of Quebec.
On the other hand, a number of alert and ably managed English-speaking business concerns have been alive to the situation for some time. For months these firms have been using advertising and other means of publicity to show that they had always kept the doors of opportunity wide open to tlie French-Canadian community.
One large tobacco (inn has been using four-color advertisements in the photogravure section of the French language press to show that seventy-five per cent of its labor force is French. It has featured names and photographs of French-Canadian employees and made every effort to demonstrate to the French public that the firm was not an alien institution but an integral part of the French-Canadian’s economic life.
Similarly one of the largest department stores in Montreal has been including biographical sketches of its outstanding French-Canadian employees in its daily advertising in the French press. The reader is told of the success which has attended the efforts of this or that employee to advance himself in the service of the store. 11ère again the effort has been to show that the institution realizes its obligation to the French-speaking community.
One of the large electric service cor|X) rations is issuing a monthly magazine written entirely in French, “as a gage of friendship and glt;xxl will to a race which all Canadians recognize as destined to play, as time goes on, an increasingly important part in the development of the industrial possibilities of the Dominion."
A large brewing corporation is sponsoring two series of radio programmes entirely in French. It may interest those who follow amateur programmes on the air to know that one entirely French amateur hour arranged by this company brought in 78,000 votes, and sixty telephone operators were required to handle the calls.
There is as yet no conclusive evidence of the result of the “Buy-at-Home” movement, but the action of the firms cited above indicate that the more alert English-speaking executives feel that it is a force to be reckoned with.
Position of the Church
AND WHERE does the Church stand in relation to all ■**this?
It might be a good idea first to get a clear idea of just what is “the Church.”
In this case it is, of course, the Roman Catholic Church which is meant. To loosely apply the term “the Church” in connection with any statement made or movement featured by some member of the clergy is misleading, inasmuch as the different members of the clergy and the different orders which make up the Church have far greater latitude in the conduct of their affairs than is generally understood by people accustomed to Protestant rigidity and love for definite and absolute rules.
To differ in opinion within the ranks of the Church, except in matters of dogma and articles of faith, is in keeping with the correct definition of catholicity. For a priest or a higher dignitary to utter an opinion, even joolitical, does not in any way commit “the Church.” and if the parish priest sincerely believes that his guidance will help his flock, there is no church law which forbids his taking part, within his rights as an individual, in any movement which may seem to him in the interest of his jxjople.
Á point to remember in this connection is the division of the Church into many orders, each of which is devoted to some special type of work. In addition to the secular clergy who carry on the great bulk of parish activities are the Oblates, who were originally missionaries and of whom Cardinal Villeneuve is a member, the Jesuits especially devoter! to teaching, the Dominicans, the Sulpicians and a number of other orders. Among the nuns there are the Grey Nuns with hospitals throughout America; the teaching orders such as the Sacred Heart.
As to the official position of the Church in Canada, it can be stated in these words: It will honor its obligations as it always has in the past.
In 1776 at the time of the American Revolution, in 1812 in the war against the United States, during the rebellion of 1837, the Church has always respected its British allegiance. Following the receipt of the news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, the Bishop of Quebec had a Tc Deum sung in all the churches.
“The Church,” being the church of all parties, has not taken an official position in regard to the current controversy. This, however, has not prevented many of its clergy and some of the orders from taking a position in regard to the economic inferiority in which the FYench-Canadian finds himself.
Until recently the general attitude has been that honest labor would secure its just reward—better pay, better
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conditions, promotion, and a fair share in the management according to ability and faithfulness. Co-operation was the watchword.
In the main, the relations between English-speaking capital and French-Canadian labor in Quebec have been ideal. Certainly so for capital. The parish priest has blessed the Protestant-owned plant because his people were to labor there; he has prayed for its prosperity.
The employers were accepted as friendly neighbors; strikes have been avoided, and settled in some cases directly from the pulpit.
I myself have heard men convinced by their parish priest that it was better to have continuous employment throughout the year at $20 per week than to strike for an extra $2 per week and lose $180 during a two months strike in an attempt to get an extra $100 a year.
If the strike was justified, however, the men often found their parish priest mediating for them.
The men who make up the Church take the long view; they try to hit a happy medium at all times.
The Abbé Groulx, professor of history at the University of Montreal, in one of his late addresses has warned, however, that the time will come, if it has not already arrived, when it will be impossible and illogical to continue advocating resignation and meekness to a people who in their dealings with English-speaking employees feel they have not had equitable treatment. There are, as in every case, outstanding exceptions, but these exceptions do not prove a rule.
The Jesuits, under the leadership of the Bishop of Montreal, have taken a prominent part in the study of social problems. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation by the Jesuits of a school of thought called “L’Ecole Sociale Populaire,” which is best explained by saying that it was founded to popularize the need for social reform. Its activities consist of printing in pamphlet form, to be sold at popular prices, the writings of the leading authorities on a wide range of subjects.
The published works can be divided into twelve general classifications and each classiiication contains hundreds of titles. Here are the titles of a few of the recent volumes. The Socialist Utopia, The Soviet Offensive, Russia in 1930,Famine in Russia. The professional fields as well as technical training are covered by leading FrenchCanadian authors. Agriculture as a Caieer was written by the Hon. Adelard Godbout, the new Premier of Quebec, Minister of Agriculture in the late Taschereau Government. There is hardly a subject which is not covered by this extensive library.
The men behind “L’Ecole Sociale Populaire.” profound students of social conditions, believe that capitalism has reached a point where it must reform itself and help social evolution if it is to avoid socialistic revolution. Their attitude is that social reform, economic reform, the lowering of interest rates, the re-scaling of capital structures may hurt a little—its “buzz” may sound somewhat like the dentist’s drill—but they believe it is the only way to save the tooth.
WE COME now to one of the outstanding personalities in the group of i intellectuals behind L’Action Libérale
Nationale—the Abbé Lionel Groulx, professor of history at the University of Montreal.
I found him at his summer retreat at Vaudreuil near the beautiful Lake of Two Mountains, a short distance from the old paternal home where he was born.
The Abbé Groulx, a man in his late fifties, sits at his desk in a room which is typical of the writer and the student; piles of magazines have to be moved so that the visitor may be made comfortable. He is dynamic; his handshake is positive; his eye is as clear as his thought.
After discussing the political events of the day—the radio has just announced the resignation of Mr. Taschereau as Prime Minister—we turn to the subject of our interview.
“What relation is there between the Confederation Pact and the unsatisfactory position of French-Canadian commerce and industry? What immediate relation is there between the political and the economic problem?”
“The answer to those questions,” stated the Abbé Groulx, “may be put under five heads as follows:
“In the first place, it is understood, I think, that we are living in a Confederation. But who is responsible for this Confederation? I have often said it: We, the French-Canadians, alone or almost alone.
“We asked for it; and this type of political structure was designed for us.
“And here is the second fact just as obvious: We asked for a federal constitution not from motives of the economic or political order, but primarily for reasons that pertained to the spiritual and the national.” (L’Abbé uses the word “national” in the racial sense. The FrenchCanadians are a people; as a people they have “national” traditions, “national” aspirations.)
“The survival of our language, of our culture, of our historical, judicial and religious traditions necessitated, it was thought, a certain political and national autonomy.
“The third fact is that this federal form of the Canadian state which implied the political and national resurrection of our province, was accepted unanimously by all the contracting parties to the Act of 1867.
“The Imperial Parliament ratified this acquiescence just as it bowed to our wishes. Lord Carnarvon in the House of Lords on the 19th day of February, 1867, stated the case exactly: ‘Lower Canada is jealous and justly proud of its customs and ancestral traditions; it is attached to its particular institutions and will enter into the union only with the clear understanding that these will be preserved. . . The Paris Custom is still the recognized foundation of their civil code, and their national institutions have been respected as well by their English compatriots as they are cherished by themselves. It is with these sentiments and on these conditions that Lower Canada consents to enter into Confederation.’
“These words,” continued the Abbé Groulx, “cannot be misinterpreted.
“They allow me to state a fourth fact. We have asked for a federal constitution; we did so entirely from motives of a national order; this wish and these motives were understood and agreed by all. It follows that in 1867 it was unanimously agreed that this province constituted, within the framework of Confederation, a national state, a French state.
“1 add my fifth point in conclusion: To
this French State one must concede without doubt the right to all the organs that will make this State a thing of life; and it will be admitted that spiritual life needs material backing. There is a necessity for a certain economic independence to assure the conservation of national culture. This necessity is well understood in these times, when economic factors are in the ascendancy and have revealed themselves as allpowerful over the political, the social, the intellectual and the cultural life of a people. So one must admit that the only people, the only State, which is truly living, which is master of its destiny, is the people, the State, which is master of its economic life.”
The Abbé Groulx realizes that to play their part to the full, young French-Canadians must be prepared to enter business life as well equipped as any. He is one of the foremost exponents in favor of the highest efficiency possible in our technical and business schools.
When I mentioned the Buy-at-Home Movement, the Abbé expressed the opinion that wherever possible French-Canadians should help and patronize their own merchants and manufacturers, but he— and any responsible French-Canadian—is against any idea of a boycott or any semblance of it.
“A French-Canadian policy is not necessarily one of aggression or of injustice toward anyone or any group. It is not our purpose to despoil anybody. However, we do not intend to let ourselves be despoiled by anyone either. We do not interfere with anyone’s right to live; but we also intend to live ourselves. I consider that it is not taking another’s place to take one’s own.”
Editor's Note.—This is the second of three articles on nationalism in Quebec by Mr. Soucisse. The third and concluding article will follow in an early issue.