What Now, Jean Baptiste ?
War cracked Quebec's isolation and set new ideas against old. Here's the story of a province in ferment
Maclean’s Ottawa Editor
OUTSIDE Quebec City two students of Laval University asked me for a lift to Montreal. Both were French-Canadian war veterans with overseas service. On the five-hour drive upriver they talked of their college and their country with equal dislike.
“I have no patriotism for Canada,” one boy said. “Maybe I’m cowardly, but I want to get out. I’m going back to London.”
Strange words for one who’d spent most of his adult life fighting for Canada. But he meant them —and after wandering up and down the province, talking to people of all ages and classes, I could understand why. His sick disillusion was one of the symptoms of a change taking place in the whole community of French Canada, a break with the ways of the past and a seeking for new directions not yet located.
For these Laval boys the break was complete. They had turned their backs on all that their people have stood for. They were scornful of their classical education—“six years studying dead languages.” Against the traditional Quebec Catholic faith they had a bitter rancor that cropped out in all they said on almost any subject.
War hadn’t caused this—they had enlisted because they were rebels—but war confirmed their heresies. It had shown them an outside world where, as they had suspected, all was not as they had been taught.
But disenchanted as they were with their own heritage, they could find nothing in North America to take its place. After eight years’ immersion in the classical humanities, North American culture seemed to them shallow, childish and empty.
“Toronto, Vancouver, any place you like,” one of them declared, “they’re all just like the States. The only place for us is Europe.”
Even at their own French-Canadian Laval they felt rootless and excluded. Of their fellow students, some were bewildered young cynics like themselves. Others, the majority, had become naive, fanatical nationalists who dissolved all their doubts in hatred of “the English.”
Of one such, my young ex-serviceman remarked: “He thinks Joan of Arc should not have been burned, and that we should take revenge for it now.”
Red Left or Black Right?
YOU meet dozens of such young nationalistic firebrands in Quebec. I’d picked up one of them the day before, hitching from Montreal to Drummond ville. He was no fanatic, this boy; he had a good mind, and his own dash of cynicism. But he was obsessed with an implanted fear of “Communism”—by which he meant any thteat, however minute, to Quebec’s established ways.
Yet this lad said, with no prompting, that “80% of the people of Quebec are anticlerical, even if they don’t know it.” He said University of Montreal students didn’t talk much nationalism nowadays, as they used to; today it was more “a kind of Communism” that came out in student bull sessions. He, as well as the young rebels of Laval, could feel change in the air.
You feel it at all levels, cultural and economic. And always the same opposite trends can be seen— —away from the mild middle toward extremes of Right or Left.
Liberal Party canvassers, during the by-election campaign in the slum riding of Montreal-Cartier, reported that 25% of the French-Canadian voters in Cartier declared themselves Communist. In the home riding of Maxime Raymond, leader of the nationalistic Bloc Populaire, Communist organizers led the most successful strike that Valley field textile workers ever waged.
And out on the opposite political fringe a new and gross variant of French-Canadian nationalism is growing. It’s called Credit Social, lately organized as V Union des Electeurs, but it bears only a faint
resemblance to the Social Credit of Alberta. Instead of being imperialist, it’s isolationist; instead of bearing down hard on monetary cures for social ills, it presents a mystical mixture of nationalism and Catholicism. “To be a good Creditiste is to be a better Catholic”—that’s the propaganda line.
Protestants should realize that this would-be crusade does not have the blessing or the backing of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec. In 1941 the late Cardinal Villeneuve delivered a stinging rebuke to the Creditistes for their attempt “to convey the impression that they have the approbation of the Church, and that their movement is a religious crusade.”
“The Church must disengage itself from such charlatanism, and I do so openly,” said His Eminence. He forbade any clergyman in the Quebec archdiocese to take any part in Social Credit meetings and activities.
But 1941 seems a long time ago, and Cardinal Villeneuve is dead. Even before his death le Credit Social was doing business at the old stand.
On the day after the Pontiac federal by-election last September, which was won by a Social Créditer named Real Caouette, a Progressive Conservative organizer caught the bus at Rouyn for Montreal.
Hardly were they out of town before several passengers took out their beads and began prayers in which the rest of the bus load, being reasonably pious, presently joined. Always led by the same group of people, they prayed all the way to Montreal.
Finally the politician asked his seat-mate, “What is this, a pilgrimage?”
“Non, • m7sieur“ was the reply. “We are Creditistes and we are giving thanks for our great victory.”
Some ugly things have also cropped out lately.
Anti-Semitism, for instance. The Social Credit
organ, Vers Demain Continued on page 70
Continued from page 9
(Toward Tomorrow), recently published the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” serially in its pages, giving a new circulation to this oldest of all Jew-haiting lies. For doing so the Creditistes were denounced in the semiofficial Catholic paper, The Canadian Register.
These of course are only the lunatic fringes of politics. Communists are a tiny minority, even the Creditistes are not expected to show much real strength, though they’re potent in “frontier” ridings and in the more remote countryside.
The great bulk of the population has not yet turned in any new direction, politically. They go on voting against the Tweedledum who happens to be in office, and for the Tweedledee who happens to be out. But these voters feel neither enthusiasm nor trust for the men they continue to elect. They cast their ballots with no faith, no hope and very little charity.
“The people are fed up with us,” said a veteran Liberal in the Montreal Reform Club. “They’re fed up with both the old parties. Just now they’re quiet, because they still have jobs and there’s plenty of money around. But wait until the next depression.”
In Montreal I went to one of Paul Massé’s biggest campaign rallies in Cartier. Massé is a Bloc Populaire man; in this by-election he had the backing of both the Bloc and the Duplessis machine, and he did very well indeed his 7,000 votes represented a vast majority of the French j I Canadians in that polyglot riding, j But though Massé did get the votes.
[ he didn’t seem to get the enthusiasm of
yore. One of his speakers that night was Paul Bouchard, a fiery nationalist and excellent orator. Yet the crowd was small and decorous, and the applause was with gloved hands. Orthodox nationalism, like orthodox Liberalism or Toryism, no longer seems to strike fire as it once did.
“We’ve Been Fooled”
At the Massé meeting I sat beside a young French-Canadian “engineer” ~ technical school graduate, that is—who was a Massé supporter. He would vote Bloc, if at all. But he had no heart for it, no interest or faith in any politician.
“We don’t care about these fellows,” he said. “We don’t care for King, we don’t care for St. Laurent, we don’t care for Duplessis either. The people are fed up with them all. French Canadians have been fooled once too often.”
That’s a phrase you hear repeatedly: “We’ve been fooled. We’ve been duped.” It’s the root of the new apathy toward politics, the distrust of established leadership. It’s the reason intelligent men in the older parties, and in the clergy, fear the next depression.
It’s part of the Quebec myth that French Canada is rural, that the habitant is typical of his race. Not for 30 years has this been true. Quebec is the most urbanized province in all Canada, with only a third of her people on the land. During the war the flow to the cities was enormously speeded. From 1941 to 1944 the rural counties lost 85,000 people, of whom 58,000 went to metropolitan Montreal, 16,000 to other Quebec cities or towns, and 11,000 left the province altogether.
All this, on top of the years of depression, has meant the formation in French Canada of an industrial proletariat. For the first time a solid FrenchCanadian working class is aware of its own existence, becoming aware of its own size and strength. And this working class is beginning to feel that French-Canadian tradition holds no solution to its problems.
They’re asking why, if their work was so needed for war, it’s of no use in peace? Quebec City, where 10,000 people were employed in 1939, saw that figure tripled to a wartime peak of 34,000. Now the shipyards are nearly closed—2,000 instead of 10,000 jobs there; the chemical industry is down from 14,000 to 500. For thousands of unskilled workers, who live in the slums of Lower Town, there’s little work.
True, similar questions are being asked in some other parts of Canada. But, outside Quebec, no one has ever purported to know all the answers— not with certainty. In Quebec the leaders have always assumed the authority of a father; they do know all the answers. So the people want an answer now.
They want to know why, in the second manufacturing province of Canada, factory wages should be the lowest of any province except povertystricken New Brunswick?
They want to know why so few French Canadians hold good jobs in industry, even in their own province? Why so few of their young men seem to be qualified for the high-salaried posts that need technical skill?
Quebec’s Chinese Wall
The questions are being asked with a new insistence. Thousands of young French Canadians are back from overseas. Thousands more had military training in many parts of Canada. Still more thousands, of both sexes and all ages, gained a new sophistication in the war plants of Ontario and of
Montreal. All these people have seen the outside world now.
Quebec's isolation had been threatened before; its bastions have been crumbling for a generation or more. But World War II crashed like a battering ram through the Chinese Wall that surrounded the province, and changed the whole social picture in French Canada.
Among the leaders the reaction has been of two kinds. One is to retreat still farther into nationalism. In politics there is the “autonomism” of Premier Maurice Duplessis, the choice of a separate Quebec flag, the sedulous treatment of Ottawa as if it were a foreign emdash; and hostile emdash; capital. In social life there is a new demand for isolation - Bishop Desranleau of Sherbrooke forbidding his flock to join “neutral” organizations like Rotary or Kiwanis; Jesuits fighting tooth and nail to keep the co-operative movement “confessional,” i.e., limited to Catholics. These people would repair the breach in the Chinese Wall and build it higher than ever.
The other reaction has been to tear down the wall altogether, once and for all, and make Quebec a part of Canada, its culture not a worship of the past, but a living contribution to 20thcentury life.
in practice this fight, now as always, becomes a fight against the domination of the French-Canadian clergy in secular affairs. Usually in the past the men who tried to break that control have gone too far, lost the sympathy of their compatriots and ended by condemning themselves as “renegades.”
This time there is a difference. The “anticlerical” movement in Quebec today is working not against the Catholic Church, but within it. Among its leaders are the Archbishop of
Montreal, Mgr. Charbonneau; the Provincial of the Dominican Order, Very Rev. P. M. Gaudrault; the dean of social science at Laval University, Very Rev. Georges-Henri Levesque.
Father Gaudrault, in a recent pamphlet, spoke out against clerical domination with astonishing frankness. “A great imprudence,” he called it, “from several points of view:
“First, it wearies a great many good Catholics, many more than is supposed, who in their own secular domain feel themselves encircled, in tutelage, treated like minors. They want air. When we are told this by the members of Action Catholique, we can realize how widespread is the malaise . . .
“Secondly, it exasperates many of those other Catholics who already are too much inclined to criticize the church and the clergy. Unhappily the number of such Catholics is growing continually . . .
“Some time ago a Catholic of good education, a man whose work takes him among all ranks of society, said to me, ‘Father, you don’t hear what’s being said everywhere, what’s ccoking in the pot. But people talk freely before me, and the clergy would be frightened if they could hear the talk of some reputedly gocd Catholics. These people are only waiting for an occasion to reveal themselves in the full light of day; then, some fine morning, you’ll wake up and find yourselves in Spain. And this is true from top to bottom of society.’ ”
Seventeenth Century Schools
Needless to say, talk like that doesn’t go unchallenged in Quebec; the liberal Catholics are meeting the bitterest opposition. But they are impressed by the urgency of the times,
the desperate need for a new deal in Quebec, and they are pressing forward on all fronts.
Perhaps the most important front in this war is education.
Up till lately, to get into a FrenchCanadian university you had to be a graduate of a college classique. These colleges are private schools, 25 or 30 of them, which take a boy at 11 or 12 and give him a stiff classical and religious education. Although the graduate receives a B.A., this is not college education as English Canadians understand it. It is secondary schooling; the first half of the cours classique compares, in the age of its students at least, to our high schools. Boys go to college on leaving primary school, which has seven grades.
English Canadians have no right to be as scornful and patronizing as they are toward the classical schools of Quebec. At McGill University a professor of engineering once told me that French Canadians are his best students. They have an intellectual maturity, he said, a broad background of culture that a boy doesn’t get in the educational assembly lines of Ontario and Protestant Quebec.
“With all its faults the cours classique does turn out a cultivated mind,” said an Irish teacher in Montreal. “The French Canadians have produced more and better artists, writers and musicians than we have. Their appreciation of beauty is real and deep —it makes us look like Dead End Kids beside them. And an educated man speaks French a lot better than we speak English.”
But in spite of advantages that we could well envy, Quebec’s classical education has drawbacks that grow increasingly grave as time goes on.
To call the collèges classique old-
fashioned is an understatement. They are shrines of ancestor worship. The historian, Canon Lionel Groulx, coined a slogan for French-Canadian nationalists: “Notre maître, la passé” (Our
master, the past). And in Quebec “the past” means not 20, not 50 but 200 to 300 years ago. The course of study in the collèges is based on the “humanities” as understood when the Séminaire de Quebec was founded in 1663.
This has serious consequences for the young graduate. For one thing he finds himself with a B.A. which is recognized by no universities except his own -Montreal, Laval and Ottawa. If he wants to go to McGill he finds he has to go back to second or third year Arts.
He knows enough of Latin and Greek to rate an honor degree. But his mathematics are sketchy—about highschool level; his science, if any, is worse; his history, though extensive, is curiously unlike the history his contemporaries have learned.
For eight years the student has lived in isolation, not only from the EnglishCanadian world but from his own world as well. “I was a day boy at my collège,” said a graduate. “We were forbidden to speak to the boarders in the school. We came from outside—a contaminating influence. I don’t think you’d find anything as extreme as that today, but the underlying attitude is the same.”
The Lucky Two Per Cent
Small wonder that the boy coming out of collège, and even out of university, feels himself naked in an alien world.
But at least the educated French Canadian has something we English Canadians lack. He knows it and is
proud of it. Even my young Laval student, hard and bitter as he was, said, “I am glad I went through college, it gives your mind a background.”
The real trouble with the FrenchCanadian school system is that it serves only a tiny minority. The collège classique is virtually the only road to university and to community leadership. And it is open only to those who can pay. A boarder’s fees run between $25 and $40 a month.
Only a pathetically small group pass through the narrow portal to learning and leadership—12,000, just now, out of the school population of 600,000. The Department of Public Instruction, Quebec, estimates that about five per cent of French-Canadian boys apply for admission to collèges classique and about two per cent actually get in.
For those who can’t afford collège fees in most parts of the province there is nothing else. The 1941 census showed that in the 15-19 age group, only 25.2% of Quebec children are in school; the average for Canada was 35%, and British Columbia has 48%.
In the larger cities there are French high schools, but high-school graduates do not matriculate. They can go to technical school or to business college, they can qualify for some of the humbler kinds of white-collar job. That’s about all.
Within the last few years one important step has been taken toward opening the higher ranges of education to the boy who had to go to public school. At Laval the science faculty has heen opened to non -collège boys who will take a preparatory, “prescientific” course, and about half the students now taking science at Laval are highschool products. The University of Montreal has had similar arrangements for a somewhat longer time, but seems to have made rather less use of them.
This change is the work of the liberal Catholics. They are now pressing for another reform of still wider implications, one that would open not only science but all university faculties to the sons of the poor. They want to establish a new course in the highschools which would lead, at the age of 16 or so, into the second half of the cours classique. This would cut in half the cost of an Arts degree, and bring it into line with English-Canadian practice. »
Quebec Labor Grows Up
At the same time a wide and coordinated effort is being made to improve the lot, and end the isolation, of the man whose schooling is behind him.
In the labor movement the National Catholic Syndicates used to be regarded more or less as “company unions.” Their hostility toward the international federations far exceeded their pugnacity in collective bargaining or their vigilance in defending the rights of labor.
This condition has changed very sharply in recent months. At the last Syndicate elections the old-line leaders were defeated in spite of a vigorous campaign, and a group of active labor -organizers took their places. The results are already beginning to show.
Early this spring the Duplessis Government produced a draft of a new labor law. It has never been published, but its contents became fairly well known after the draft had been shown to labor leaders. The bill would have provided for compulsory arbitration, would have barred non-Canadian union organizers from Quebec, and would have disqualified from all union offices anyone who had ever been convicted of any offense, at any time, by any court, j
The National Catholic Syndicates
took the lead in denouncing this proposed legislation. Premier Duplessis withdrew the bill. But meanwhile the new solidarity between the Syndicates and the international unions has become permanent; a continuing liaison committee has been set up for common action in matters of this sort, and the old hostility has been replaced by cooperation. It looks as if the “divide and rule” policy, which has kept Quebec labor docile and cheap, is at an end.
A third field in which strong and successful combat is being waged against the Chinese-Wall school of thought is the co-operative movement.
The village of St. Anselme, 20 miles south of Quebec City, has a population of 1,900. Nine out of every ten farmers there belong to one or more of the following:
A credit union or co-operative bank, the Caisse Populaire; a housing cooperative; a hatchery, egg-testing station and poultry abattoir; a bakery, a creamery, a consumer co-operative and a pool arrangement for buying and selling farm products.
Not all Quebec villages have gone this far. But there are in the province 500 farm co-operatives, 125 for consumers, 305 mutual insurance organizations and 25 unions of fishermen. It’s all part of an adult education program which has transformed the rural slums of Gaspé, the dreary outposts of “colonization” areas and many a run-down older parish into prosperous communities.
Recently Father Levesque published an article contending that co-operatives should be “non-confessional,” should bear no religious label, but be open to all races and creeds. At once a storm broke over his head. The Jesuits denounced him in their magazine, Relations. In the Council of Bishops there was a demand that he be rebuked; when the bishops did not act the article was taken to the Vatican with a request that it be condemned by the Holy See.
No such condemnation came—the Vatican saw nothing wrong with Father Levesque’s position. It was a major defeat for the conservatives. But it was by no means a final defeat.
Change is not willingly accepted by men who glory in the motto, “ Notre maître, la passé.” Theirs is not the merely complacent inert conservatism that we know in English Canada. It has its own emotional drive; its sources are in the spirit.
Indeed, so great are the odds against reform that to a casual glance they appear overwhelming. The gulf looks too broad, the entrenched opposition too strong and too militant. But the “liberals” have one trump card, and that is the new feeling of the people. Disaffection has spread slowly, like fire in a peat bog, but it seems to have taken firm hold. Unchecked, it might burst into a ruinous flame. That’s why the question is no longer, “Shall there be change in Quebec?” but “What kind of change shall it be?”
Something old is dying in French Canada today; something new is struggling to be born. Whether it can win to life and growth, our sons will know, if