CRISIS IN Quebec
JACQUES SAURIOL, a stocky young man with an engaging grin and a voice like an amiable foghorn, picked his way to the front of a crowded platform and began thus:
“Le Bloc Populaire is against the war—that’s clear. Law or no law, police or no police. The RCMP will have a hard time persuading us, at pistol point, that England is fighting pour la civilisation catholinue.” Applause burst from the languid crowd, almost the only spontaneous applause of the day. It was a blistering Sunday afternoon in St. Eustache schoolyard, and the 300-odd people huddled in its scanty patches of shade didn’t look like Bloc converts. I’d been watching their faces—they were farmers, a stolid and sceptical lot, and they didn’t seem to warm to these young city slickers who wanted to wean them from the traditional alternatives of Rouge or Bleu to the new nationalist party. But they did applaud those sentences about the war.
Just the day before I had spoken to a FrenchCanadian priest of great experience and wisdom. “Our people are averse to war,” he said. “This war, any war. They’re not convinced that it’s for the defense of Canada, and if it isn’t for the defense of Canada they’re not interested.”
This is not the official version of Quebec’s attitude. If you go to official sources you’ll be told, as I was: “Quebec is as war-minded as any province in Canada.” There’s little doubt that these spokesmen believe what they say, and no doubt at all that they think it’s in the public interest to say what they say. But outside official circles you’ll find few people in Quebec, if any, who agree with them.
No one there belittles Quebec’s achievement in this war. Compared to 1914-18 it is remarkable. Then we had one French-Canadian regiment overseas; now we have four, plus the Alouette squadron and others
Why riots in Quebec? Why the tension, bitterness? Herewith a frank report of the story behind the story of conflict in French Canada
in the RCAF and about 9.000 men in the Navy. Then, as now, enlistment statistics didn’t allow comparison between French - speaking and English - speaking recruits, but an official estimate in 1917 put the French-speaking at 14,000. This time Quebec has supplied 150,000 active service volunteers to the three armed forces. National Defense can’t even supply a guess at how many of these are French Canadians. But if even half of these are French-speaking, which is surely a conservative estimate, it means that the idea of fighting for Canada abroad, the idea that our frontier may be anywhere from Kiska to El Alamein, has been accepted by five times as many French Canadians as saw their country’s rampart in the Western Front 26 years ago.
Furthermore, the popular impression that our home defense conscripts, the so-called “Zombies,” are mostly French is not correct. According to National Defense spokesmen the Zombies are about one-third French, one-third recent European origin (Germans, Italians, etc.) and one-third English-speaking Canadians of British stock.
There are no precise figures on this because a man’s name is often a false guide to his mother tongue. But recruiting officers, who get weekly reports of conscript personnel from all over Canada, say the proportions are roughly equal thirds. French-speaking recruits are “certainly not as much as 40%” of the whole.
True, this equality is offset by the record of desertions. As of Feb. 29, when Defense Minister Ralston put the figures on Hansard, Quebec Province had more deserters from the Army than all the rest of Canada combined - 6,200 out of 11,094. Of the Zombie deserters Quebec supplied a little more than three quarters, 3,700 out of 4,700. But even when allowance is made for this, Quebec’s share of our 73,000 homedefense conscripts is far short of the “98%” that most people ascribe to it.
As a Laval professor remarked, only half ironically, “Quebec has the best war record of any LatinAmerican country.” But the best Latin-American record is a long way from “as war-minded as any province in Canada.” Every Gallup Poll on a warrelated subject has shown a basic difference of view between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Even casual conversations among the people will bear out this finding. The question for Canada to face is not whether, but why, French Canadians feel differently from the rest of us about the war.
First thing for an English Canadian to realize is
that to be antiwar a Québécois needn’t have horns and a tail. If you go out to lunch with Rene Chaloult, who stood trial on a sedition charge for denouncing “Imperial ties” two years ago, or with Dr. Philippe Hamel, another red-hot nationalist, you will find yourself talking to men of great personal charm and high intelligence—likable men. You’ll find them rather better read than their average opposite numbers among English-speaking lawyers and dentists. Their views on many subjects will strike you as broad and sound. But you’ll find it hard to discuss the war with them, or indeed with most French Canadians you meet, because they reason from a set of premises different from ours.
One nationalist summed it up this way: “Show me an Englishman who lives in a part of the world captured by a German Empire 200 years ago and who now is compelled to put on a German uniform, take orders in German, which he doesn’t understand, and be sent off to a foreign country to fight and die for the triumph of that German Empire. I would like to meet that Englishman. We’d understand each other perfectly.”
Sense of Grievance
NEXT thing for an English Canadian to get into his head is that French Canadians hold their views with a sense not of guilt but of grievance. Profoundly and with the utmost sincerity the habitant feels he has been betrayed by les Anglais.
“They promised us a moderate war effort,” said a rural curé indignantly, “and look—expenses are extraordinaire.” Everywhere in Quebec you hear bitter references to our “exaggerated” effort. Statements about Canada’s “second to none” contribution are picked up in Quebec and repeated not as a boast but as a reproach. “They say we’re doing more than anyone else,” says Jean Baptiste, “and still they’re not satisfied.”
Criticism focuses on les taxes, rationing, control of wages and farm prices, and especially on what’s al ways called “the gift of two billions to England.” Typical reaction: “That’s a lot of money, deux milliards, and those English are richer than we. We can’t afford that.”
When discussion turns to actual military service the first complaint is about “injustice” to French Canadians in the forces. The French Canadian holds it as one of his dearest rights that his language, officially at least, enjoys equality with English in Canada. In the
armed services there isn’t even a pretense of equality. Navy and Air Force use nothing but English. In the Army, into which French Canadians are drafted for home defense, instruction may be given in French but all orders are in English.
Québécois will tell you bitterly of the young naval officer, back from the Battle of the Atlantic, who was cut off by the Halifax telephone censor for talking to his mother in French. They will tell you, too, of Army officers and others telling French-Canadian recruits to “speak white” when they use their own tongue.
I couldn’t run down any example of this in an active service unit, but Rene Chaloult has a heap of letters from home-defense conscripts in British Columbia garrisons. These men are convinced—and they’ve pretty well convinced Quebecthat they’re being deliberately maltreated. Official denials don’t sway that conviction.
“You tell us this conscription is only for home service, that we haven’t got conscription for overseas,” says Jean Baptiste. “Why then do you sneer at and bully recruits who take you at your word? Is this so-called ‘home defense’ a mere fiction? We thought so !”
Until recently, though, the conscription issue itself had been relatively dormant. It came back to life in a particularly ugly form last May withl the killing of Georges Guenette in the little village of St. Lambert on the Chaudière River.
Guenette was a conscript who had been a deserter for three years. He was also suspected of complicity in obstructing the law and helping another lad to evade callup, a year ago. A warrant was issued charging him with conspiracy to that end, and on May 6 an RCMP squad came to St. Lambert to arrest him for it. They made a surprise sortie on his father’s farm, early in the morning of May 7, and the young man was shot dead as he tried to run away.
rI wo of the officers are on trial for manslaughter. At the preliminary hearing there appeared to be some doubt about the manner of the shooting. Some witnesses indicated a belief that shots had been fired in the air and into the ground; the local coroner accepted the view that the fatal bullet was a ricochet. Two Crown witnesses, neighbors of Guenette, testified the shot was aimed at Guenette, though they couldn’t say which of the officers had fired it.
No such uncertainties cloud the folk tale about the Guenette affair which is now widely current in Quebec. 1 heard a full story, very dramatically acted out with sound effects, from a young man who had been born in the village, and also from many others. And always the narrator’s tone is in harmony with the bitter words that Guenette Père, a 68year-old farmer, spoke to the police over his son’s dead body: “Ah, there’s one you won’t have for the war!”
IT GOES without saying that nobody deplores the Guenette tragedy more deeply than the Government. It was a thing no authority could either sanction or prevent. But such considerations have not quelled popular wrath. Even the soberest men are saying, “How can you pretend it isn’t conscription when a boy is killed because of it?”
And if it is conscription, to Quebec that means it’s betrayal. French Canadians consider that the no-conscription promise, made when war was declared, was made to them— not to les Anglais, who were conscriptionists anyway and wanted no such promise. Therefore, they say, the 1942 plebiscite gave the Government no release because Quebec, to whom the promise was made, said “No.” As Maxime Raymond puts it, “You can’t wipe out a debt by consent of the debtor only.”
Quebec’s opposition to conscription is deeper than its opposition to war. You could find French Canadians in Normandy or Italy who would vote against la conscription, like the Irish RAF pilots who between bombing missions will
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argue fiercely in favor of Eire’s neutrality. But at root the two oppositions are one. They are part of an isolationism deeply rooted in the emotional and intellectual fabric of French Canada.
It’s a commonplace among les Anglais that Quebec’s attitude to war, indeed most Quebec attitudes, are due to “ignorance.” This notion has little foundation in fact.
True, the unlettered habitant has a strong prejudice against being sent off to fight in places he has never heard of, for causes he doesn’t understand. But this instinctive reaction is endorsed by many of those to whom the habitant looks for leadership. Among the isolationists are some of the most intelligent, most cultured French Canadians. In some circles it almost seems that the better educated a man is the more fiercely nationalist he becomes.
You may remember that the bombshell maiden speech of Senator T. D. Bouchard last June was primarily concerned, not with the secret Order of Jacques Cartier, but with the way history is taught in Quebec. He said the teachers had “insidiously instilled racial hatred into the souls of French Canadians.” I put it to a distinguished French-Canadian churchman whether the Bouchard charge was true. He said he thought the Senator exaggerated, but he added:
“There are two schools among our historians. There is the school of Sir Thomas Chapais, which presents the English regime in a fairly sympathetic light. There is the school of Canon Groulx, where selected facts are arranged to show the English as monsters. I admit, the Groulx school is dominant in our classical colleges.”
Canon Lionel Groulx is a strange figure, doubtless a sincere, but from the Canadian point of view a sinister, molder and leader of French-Canadian youth. Even more than Henri Bourassa he is the spiritual father of all modern nationalist movements in Quebec, from the youthful Jeunes Laurentiens to the Bloc Populaire and the Jacques Cartier Order. He is a convinced racialist, a former pupil at Fribourg in Switzerland of Gonzague de Reynold, who in turn was a pupil of Count de Gobineau, founding philosopher of all modern racialist theories, including Hitler’s. Groulx is a separatist—wants Quebec to withdraw from Confederation—and although he’s wary about expressing this dream too bluntly, he has said in public, “We shall have it, our French State!” He is the coiner of a slogan for Quebec nationalists which is full of significance: “ Notre maître le passé—
Our master, the past.”
Now 66 and in frail health, Canon Groulx makes an impressive picture on the occasions, now infrequent, when he speaks in public. Still erect, wax pale, his white hair stiffly en brosse and his face shining with an inward glow, he has the communicable fire of the real orator. I’ve heard him rouse a crowd to wild enthusiasm with a speech about political struggles of a century ago—a
speech that would put an Englishspeaking audience to sleep.
A friend of mine once remarked of Groulx: “His greatest achievement has been to supply a myth in which French Canadians can believe and take pride.” Briefly, and shorn of the subtlety with which the master himself would present it, here’s the myth as it translates into popular belief:
New France was a spiritual enterprise, intended to spread the Catholic faith in the New World. The French pioneer was a lay missionary; the English, a covetous trader lusting for furs, defiant of legal right and backed by English sea power. While France was engaged in a European war Wolfe took the chance to capture Louisburg and Quebec after laying waste the countryside and desecrating churches and holy places. After Wolfe’s victory the secular leaders of French Canada were deported, with the process so arranged that most óf them perished by shipwreck. English military rulers set about to grind the faces of French Canadians, Gestapo fashion, but the clergy came to their rescue and won their flock a guarantee of rights and privileges in the Quebec Act of 1774. Thereafter, led always by their clergy, French Canadians fought steadily against English encroachments on those rights and in defense of their cherished “faith, language, laws, customs.” Of the liberties they now possess, nothing was ever given, nothing achieved by amicable cooperation-all was won in a conflict which was usually, but not always, bloodless. So it went through the “pact” of Confederation— which was a treaty between peoples, not the Constitution of a unified nation—to the present day.
That, in thumbnail summary, is what the average graduate of a Quebec classical college believes is his history. But before English Canadians wax too indignant or smug about it, they should check a few facts about their own knowledge of Canada’s past.
Quebec’s Education Department recently completed a survey of all school history textbooks now in use anywhere in Canada—10 in English, seven in French. Of the French it makes sharp criticism, citing omissions, bad emphases, even distortions. “They are wrongly entitled ‘History of Canada,’ ” is the conclusion, “for they are really only histories of Quebec.”
But in English histories of Canada it discovers similar faults. Three of the 10 don’t mention the founding of Montreal; seven omit Madeleine de Vercheres; three ignore the military feats of d’Iberville. Events unfavorable to the English, the survey remarks, are treated briefly. Nothing at all is said of some things which French Canadians regard as fundamental to the political issues of today. “Only four manuals treat, in hasty fashion, the Manitoba schools question; those of New Brunswick and Ontario are passed over in silence.” Finally, the survey quotes a sheaf of references to French Canada, and their tone is certainly smug, patronizing and contemptuous.
So the two sections of our population are facing each other with different and often contradictory notions of their country’s past and with a prejudice they owe in part, at least, to their
schooling. Of the two the English are perhaps the more ignorant—Canada’s history is probably taught more skimpily in theirs than in the French schools, where it is a major preoccupation. But, unhappily, the French Canadian is likely to be the more biased the more deeply versed lie becomes in the popular histories of his own land.
Historians like the Abbé z\rthur Maheux, the Laval University professor whose bilingual radio series, “What Keeps LJs Apart?” won nationwide attention a year or two ago, and who attacks the French-Canadian myth as a distortion, have been successfully smeared as renegades and Quislings. Not long ago, when Abbé Maheux was to speak at a Montreal meeting, proprietors of the hall got a flood of warnings that unless the meeting was cancelled it would he smashed. Organization of this threat—which, by the way, failed to prevent the meeting—is credited to the Jacques Cartier Order.
Those Bouchard Charges
Senator Bouchard called the Jacques Cartier Order a secret society of “fanatics . . . active agents of destruction” which is working underground— with frightening success, he thought— to disrupt Canadian unity. It is an order whose membership is believed to run between 15,000 and 18,000. Originally founded as a mutual back-scratching club of civil servants, it is now dedicated to the ideal of smashing Confederation and setting up a French Catholic State on the banks of the St. Lawrence—a nation “Laurentia,” which shall be separate from the rest of a Godless continent. It is known that the Jacques Cartier Order uses the Communist “cell” technique—planting members in key posts of other organizations. Senator Bouchard believes that “nearly ¡ill St. Jean Baptiste Societies, Catholic syndicates, city school commissions, municipal councils and junior hoards of trade are under the direct influence of this secret order.”
Are (lie Bouchard charges accurate?
I found it hard to get a reliable answer to that question. Some people say flatly “No.” These are the simpler people of country or town on the one hand, and the ultranationalist elite on the other. Others say Bouchard’s facts are right enough, though they deplore the time and place he chose to reveal them. But everyone, including a surprising number who believe the Senator was right in letter, agrees that the effect of his speech was to exaggerate the reality.
They suggest, as an example, that if a shorthand transcript of discussions at an Ontario Orange Lodge were published it might well make French Canadians’ hair stand on end. But would it really mean their safety was menaced?
Something like that actually happened last winter in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Some EnglishCanadian businessmen are said to have met in a hotel room from midnight to 2 a.m. to discuss “what we’re going to do to protect our race and our capital in this province.” A travelling French Canadian who was in the room above heard all through a floor grating, and published it in the Jesuit monthly review Relations. The editors solemnly speculated, in a footnote, that this was probably just one cell of a Masonic plot.
Another thing widely misunderstood about Quebec is the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. True, Canon Groulx is a cleric, and among FrenchCanadian clergymen hLs disciples are many. True, French-Canadian Army officers make no bones, in private talk, of their belief that the parish curé Ls a major obstacle to recruiting.
Rut except in matters of faith the Roman Catholic Church does not act as a unit. In Quebec the higher clergy have given constant and loyal co-operation in the war effort, but they have done so at great cost in personal popularity.
Le Bloc is supposed to be the clericalist party, but Henri Bourassa at a Bloc meeting last fall said: “There’s no
dissimulating that even among excellent and fervent Catholics there has been a remarkable loss of confidence in the clergy and ecclesiastical leaders. One cause,” he added, “is the attitude adopted by our bishops in regard to the present war and the last war.”
There even are priests and brothers in Quebec who are vigorous anticlericals—they want to see the clergy withdraw from secular activity into its proper sphere of faith and morals. Most famous of the “clerical anticlericals” is the late Brother Marie-Victorin, the only French-Canadian scientist of international renown. He was killed in a motor accident a few weeks ago. He risked his great prestige by calling publicly for secular education in Quebec, and attacking as obscurantist the present clerical control of schools and universities.
Almost as prevalent as the idea that Quebec is “priest-ridden” is the idea that Quebec today is seething with pent-up violence.and is even “on the verge of civil war.” It would be idle to pretend that either of these beliefs is wholly groundless. But both, in the opinion of level-headed Quebeckers, are exaggerated.
Recent outbreaks of violence against servicemen in Quebec have been numerous and ugly. It is true that boys in uniform have been beaten up on the streets after dark. It is extraordinarily difficult to get official admissions of any specific instance, but anyone can track down eyewitnesses or even victims of single cases.
Trouble has been reported from many parts of the province, but the only large - scale outbreaks were in Montreal and in Valleyfield during June.
In Montreal the clash was between servicemen, mostly sailors, and “zootsuiters.” The popular idea that “zoot suits had nothing to do with it” is incorrect—the civilian gangsters did wear this weird garb. A Montreal-born seaman, who grew up in the Italian quarter there, has testified that at least several dozen of the rioters were Italian boys he knew-—boys whose fathers and elder brothers had been interned in 1940. These boys, he said, used to wear black shirts in the days when Mussolini’s “Casa d’Italia" was the community centre of northeastern Montreal. Lately their uniform had become the zoot suit.
These hooligans had been making sporadic attacks on suitably outnumbered servicemen for months. Last straw came when four hoodlums attacked a seaman and his wife in the very centre of town. They struck down the sailor from behind, kicked him as he lay on the ground, and when his wife tried to stop them they kicked and punched her, too, besides subjecting her to obscene insults. Completely enraged by this incident about 600 sailors went out the following week and “took the town apart.” They combed the dance halls, beat up several hundred civilians and tore zoot suits off the backs of a few dozen whom they then turned naked into the streets.
Naval officers in Montreal make no attempt to hide their sympathy with the sailors’ feelings and actions. Provocation, they feel, was extreme, and they're loud in their praise of the
“perfect” discipline their men maintained before and after the big freefor-all.
But even speaking off the record and with profane frankness, Navy men say they don’t think racial tension was the prime factor in the Montreal trouble. They’re convinced these clashes were carefully organized and that they were literally Fascist in inspiration.
At Valleyfield the situation was different.
In official quarters the version for export is that in the first place there were no incidents (except, of course, the one that got in the papers) ; and in the second place these incidents had nothing to do with racial prejudice. In Valleyfield, however, airmen and civilians of both languages will tell you this is nonsense.
Hostility between RCAF men and the local populace, they say, had been building up for months. Valleyfield is a tough industrial town. Its textile mills have had trouble over wages and working conditions, and since the mills are under English-speaking ownership and management, workers’ resentment tends to crystallize in feeling against Ies Anglais. Nationalist feeling is high there anyway—Valleyfield is part of the riding of Maxime Raymond, national chief of Le Bloc Populaire. Finally, Valleyfield’s numerous taverns are not quiet peaceful resorts. Conversation in them is conducted in shouts, and beer is ordered in quarts, even at noon on a Saturday. When I asked innkeepers about the fight that started a riot on June 20, they all said, “That’s exaggerated. It was nothing-—we have fights like that every night.”
Into this milieu came a campful of RCAF boys near the last stage of training, almost ready for the Battle of Berlin. They, too, were pretty tough lads.
Airmen and English - speaking civilians will tell you of case after case when servicemen were insulted, even assaulted, without immediate provocation. French-speaking civilians relate equally likely stories of indiscreet languages and conduct by RCAF men. A French-Canadian clergyman said, “They despise us French Canadians. They came here calling us dam’ peasoups, and, of course, our people didn’t like that.”
An English-speaking airman who had been through the whole thing said, “We don’t hold any grudge against the local people. Frankly, there was fault on both sides. But we do resent the way the police acted. They never tried to find out who was right—they just arrested the airman, and generally they beat him up as well.”
In one afternoon in Valleyfield I located a civilian who said he had seen police officers beating up an aix-man who was tipsy but not disorderly, and two airmen who gave me the name and rank of a man who, they said, had been beaten up by constables when he was cold sober. At Ottawa, however, RCAF provost officers said all this was “news to them,” and that their relations with civilian police chiefs “everywhere in Canada” were excellent.
“Came to a Head”
At any event the Valleyfield situation came to a head June 20. A mob of 200 airmen marched into Valleyfield and forcibly released from jail a member of the force named Primeau, who had been arrested after a fight with a civilian named Tremblay. The RCAF boys were all confined to barracks after that, for the 10 days the caxnp remained open, but they’re convinced that their officers sympathized with them for all that.
You’ll hear a good many reports
about similar trouble in other parts of Quebec. None have got into the papéis as far as I know. Probably a good many of them are true, but I did find that it’s unsafe to believe any story that doesn’t come at first hand. For example, I was told by a quite high official in the Navy Department that the attack on the seaman and his wife, which precipitated Montreal’s riot, had blinded the seaman and caused the death of his wife. There was no truth in this whatever. Both the man and wife were able to testify at an enquiry 10 days after the assault and neither mentioned any serious or permanent injury. Needless to say, the official thought he was telling me the truth. It shows you how these stories can grow in a few tellings.
Another significant point:
In Victoriaville, which like Valleyfield is a little industrial town in tlie heart of rural Quebec, the RCAF has a school for 1,000 men and they’ve had little or no trouble, according to Service Police on the spot. I asked why they’d had it so much easier than Valleyfield. “Well,” said the SP, “this town is practically dry.”
Drinking, if not drunkenness, has been a factor in most of the disturbances.
Few people seem to think these things are a very deep symptom. Hooliganism, violence, dark criminality like the arson which did $3,000 damage to the hew Beth Israel Synagogue in Quebec City on the eve of its formal opening—these things are alien to the spirit of Quebec.
True, Quebec has not the tradition of “free speech for saint or devil” to which lip service, at least, is paid in the rest of the country. Newspapers like Action Catholique and Le Soleil will condone, for example, the relatively innocuous student mob which suppressed a Communist meeting by singing “O Canada” over and over so the speakers could not be heard. Similar “violence” has heen obligingly supplied by the students for years, giving the authorities a pretext to forbid meetings they don’t wish to permit. But real violence, no. Respect for law, if not for the right of assembly, is still basic in the French-Canadian tradition.
But this does not mean there is no crisis in Quebec. In the opinion of some close observers there is grave danger there—danger not of “civil war” but of a quiet, permanent alienation of sentiment which could mean political paralysis in Canada after the war.
Most Quebeckers think superficial bonne entente gestures are useless, or worse. We can’t bridge the gulf between us, they say, by after-dinner speeches in bad English and worse French. Neither do they put much stock in the notion that bilingualism would solve all our troxxbles—that “we’d be all right if the English would learn French as readily as the French learn English.” To begin with, according to the 1941 census, this idea is I based on misinformation— 29% of those persons of British origin speak French in Quebec, says the census, j while only 26% of the French speak ' English. But anyway, the Irish are \ the most bilingual of all groups—nearly ! two thirds of them speak both lan! guages—yet anti-French feeling is as strong among the Irish as among any other English-speaking group, if not stronger.
What, then, is to be done?
Question of Equality
First thing, perhaps, might be recognition of Quebec’s sense of grievance. The French Canadian demands equality. Tell him he has equality now, and he’ll laugh without much mirth—
67% of Quebec’s w'age earners got less than $950 a year in 1941, and 36% Jess than $450. Ontario’s percentages were 55% and 26% respectively. At the other end, only 1.8% of Quebec’s workers earned more than $2,950; and anyone familiar with the Quebec industrial picture will agree that of that well-paid handful, the vast majority would be English-speaking.
In housing, the census showed the same picture. No other cities in Canada, not even war-jammed Halifax, had as high a percentage of overcrowded dwellings as Hull, Three Rivers and Quebec City. In Hull, 34% of all dwellings had more than one person per room, 18% had no private flush toilet, 57% had no bath or shower.
“Is this equality?” the French Canadian asks.
Classic rejoinder, of course, is that it’s the fault of Quebec education. French Canadians admit there’s some truth in this—but not enough truth to explain all the inequality.
For instance, they want to know what courses in an English school, omitted in a French school, fit a man to be a foreman in a textile plant. In one factory surveyed by Everett Hughes in his book, “French Canada in Transition,” the staff below the rank of foreman was 88% French. Above the rank of foreman it was 96% English. The foremen themselves, and their assistants, were 70% English and only 30%; French.
No amount of argument will convince a French Canadian that inequality on this scale is a matter of education. He says it’s prejudice— ¿es boss Anglais won’t promote one of les nôtres.
Experience of the Aluminum Company at Arvida seems to bear out the argument that education need not be the deciding factor. This company does have trouble finding French Canadians with engineering or scientific training of university level. But its ordinary supervisory staff, foremen and such, is almost entirely French.
All these grievances—the temporary hut recurrent ones of war, the seemingly permanent ones of peace— are factors in the state of crisis now impending in Quebec. They’re exerting a profound influence on the political picture there. But it’s important to remember, too, that they are very imperfectly represented in the party structure of the moment.
This year the Quebec elector has Hobson’s choice. In the provincial campaign just ended he had his pick of three evils: Whether to retain
Godbout at the risk of seeming to endorse a war effort without reservation; or to take a chance on the doctrinally attractive but riven and inept Bloc Populaire; or to switch to another “devil we know” and vote for the personally unpopular Duplessis. No hasty, and above all no optimistic, conclusion should be drawn from any electoral result in Quebec. Win, lose or draw, the Quebec Government elected this year has a mandate of discontent and precarious popular backing.
But this, on the other hand, needn’t cause too black a pessimism either. Outside politics altogether, forces are at work in Quebec for improvement, for social and economic progress, for a kind of interracial collaboration which has never yet been tried—not the formal alliance of “entente'’'’ but a functional comradeship.
For instance, at Laval University’s now faculty of social sciences —itself a great step forward—they’ve recently set up a department of industrial relations. On its advisory hoard they have persuaded to it not merely employers and employees, French and English, but representatives of the
AFL, CCL and Catholic Syndicate labor organizations.
Another thing worth noting is the Superior Council of Co-operation which has co-ordinated half a dozen cooperative movements. Its manifesto proclaims the co-operatives “nonconfessional, politically and ethically neutral”—a direct slap at the racial and religious exclusionist who would keep a Chinese Wall around Quebec.
Quebec’s whole co-operative movement has made tremendous strides in the last five years and is full of hopeful significance. The .number of consumer co-operatives has been multiplied 10 times; members have quadrupled.
Father Georges Levesque, o.p., director of Laval’s faculty of social sciences, deserves perhaps more credit than any other individual for this work, as Brother Marie-Victorin deserved the credit for great reforms in science instruction at the sister University of Montreal. But one must beware of giving any French Canadian too much praise in English. The applause of Toronto is ruin in Quebec—it has ruined Abbé Maheux and Senator Bouchard; it could ruin anyone.
This is not race prejudice pure and simple. The French Canadian suspects anything smacking of “Anglicization.” He is passionately, irrevocably determined to remain French—not only because it is his own cultural tradition and he naturally regards it as highest and best, but because he has a particular revulsion and contempt for the American and English-Canadian cult of business.
To the educated French Canadian the average North American businessman appears as a Philistine, a George F. Babbitt. He is resolved above all things not to become like that and not to let his sons be tempted by material advantage to sell their cultural birthright. He is coming to agree that his educational system should be revamped, brought more into line with 20th century needs and, above all, made available to a greater proportion of his people. But nothing would induce him to convert it into an assembly line for engineers and bond salesmen. He is trying to work out a means of training a boy for earning and for living in a spirit that will remain both French and Catholic.
Despite the current crisis, things that all Canadians can applaud are growing today in Quebec. Under the strife and the bitterness, the name-calling and the bigotry and the violence, men of good will are building what may be a new basis for unity. But these men say: “Hands off. Don’t be misled by wellmeaning enthusiasm into praising us, or joining us, or—above all—subsidizing us. If you want to help, you Anglais must do the hardest thing of all—just let us alone.”