For the sake of argument

The astonishing attitude of the English in Quebec

For the sake of argument

The astonishing attitude of the English in Quebec


The astonishing attitude of the English in Quebec

For the sake of argument


Three years ago, I spent a few months traveling west of Quebec, from Toronto to Vancouver. I met all kinds of people and heard a lot about many topics, one of which I was not investigating: my own province and Mr. Duplessis.

During this trip. I don't think I met one person really sympathetic to the Duplessis regime. Even Conservatives took pride in underlining that they were Conservatives of a very different brand.

Having been an adversary of the regime since its beginning, I was pleased with this reaction. And then 1 became less pleased. And at the end, not pleased at all. First, because it was clear that most of my interlocutors totally identified Mr. Duplessis with French Canada. Secondly, because the criticism itself was so much exaggerated that it missed the point. I had to become a defender of certain aspects of the regime. I had to say: “No, you go too far. it is not as bad as that: we certainly are allowed to attack the premier in Quebec. Duplessis is not a Fascist," and so forth.

“A subtle but evident complicity”

I came back home with the feeling that it was nearly impossible to speak English and have the slightest admiration for Quebec’s premier. ! began once again to read the Montreal dailies, including the Star and the Gazette. And I soon received a start.

It was, of course, a rediscovery, but you get accustomed to surprising things. Now the Gazette and the Star had become astonishing again. Astonishing because while the English-language press in the rest of Canada constantly exposes Mr. Duplessis’ shortcomings, these two pillars of the English-language press in Mr. Duplessis' own province are among his strongest supporters. Sometimes the support they give him is open and sometimes it is only tacit. But it seldom

wavers and in this respect it is the same as the support Mr. Duplessis receives from the wealthier elements of the English - speaking community as a whole.

The contrast between this attitude and the attitude of the rest of English Canada brings to mind a question: “Have we in Quebec a special brand of English-speaking citizen? Have we somehow contaminated our English - speaking neighbors?"

As I continued my rediscovery of Quebec’s English-language press I found no denunciations of Mr. Duplessis. No echoes of the attacks I had heard in Ontario and Western Canada. Gentle editorials. Scarce and supergentle critics. An instinct to discover Mr. Duplessis’ enemies and hit them firmly or firmly ignore their existence.

Little by little I came to the conclusion that the attitude of Quebec's English press toward Mr. Duplessis could be summarized only by one word: complicity. A constant, generally subtle but, at all times, evident complicity. Reading regularly this otherwise excellent and expert press is like inhaling an anesthetic calculated to paralyze the natural distaste of English minds toward Mr. Duplessis.

The system allows, here and there, a backfire. But on the whole, it works smoothly and effectively. Here are, not proofs, but just samples of what I mean.

The citizen of British descent is, on the whole, more sensitive than others to violations of parliamentary freedoms. Take the pipeline affair, and the way it was handled in Parliament by the Liberals: everybody protested, and René Beaudoin, then Speaker of the House, thought that by his attitude at the time, he had ruined his political career.

Now, abuses of that kind are customary in the Quebec Legislature under Mr. Duplessis. They have becontinued on page 97


For the sake of argument

Continued from page 8

come so usual that the premier is probably not aware of them anymore. He sincerely thinks that his will is the best set of rules it is possible to find. This attitude tends to transform any speaker into the sheepish servant of his desires. I have heard him twice, from the other side of the Assembly, order one of his ministers; “Sit down, Onésiphore"; and Onésiphore sat down. In such an atmosphere, arbitrary decisions are common and, of course, there is always a majority to guarantee their efficacy

So you would expect our English press to crusade day after day against these encroachments on legislative freedom. Up to now, I haven't read a single real protest. This makes a long and a big silence.

This first example is negative. There is one of another kind, in municipal affairs. Jean Drapeau had been elected mayor of Montreal after a revolt against municipal corruption. His regime was, of course, debatable, and after two years there was a case against him as there would have been against any mayor. The English dailies never gave him a chance. Then, at the last moment, it became evident that his adversaries were Duplessis' men. Against him. there came Senator Sarto Fournier, a noisy nobody. It was nearly impossible to choose Fournier against Drapeau, at least for a community with a civic mind—which the English-speaking population generally possesses to a larger extent than French Canadians. Still, the English press helped Fournier and Duplessism to come to power. 1 have the conviction that the English-speaking electorate could not know the implications of the fight; but the press knew what it did. From a civicpoint of view, this was disgraceful.

There came the natural-gas affair. The newspaper Le Devoir accused eight provincial ministers of having had interests in the company which had recently bought a gas system from the publicly owned Hydro-Quebec. 1 don't intend to dwell upon the “scandal" here, nor to say that Le Devoir was right. I belong to its staff, and anyway, the matter is sub judice. But it can and it must be said that the affair made a great commotion in the province — except, editorially, in the English press.

Of course, Mr. Duplessis strongly dislikes Le Devoir. A few weeks after the natural-gas storm broke he publicly ex-


The trouble with bores Is my feeling that I’m Delayed in my efforts To waste my own time!


pressed his feelings in having a provincial police officer expel this paper's reporter from a general press conference in his office. The reporter had simply come in with his colleagues and had not uttered a word; his very presence was too much for Mr. Duplessis. But the eviction was hard to swallow. Three groups of independent journalists strongly protested against it. and newspapers wrote that freedom of the press implies freedom to attend the official sources of information. After some time, the Gazette, in the middle of an article full of

the nicest things about Mr. Duplessis, let pass a very cold protest against the expulsion, and the Star found it more unskillful than blameworthy.

The natural-gas affair was still rolling on last September. Important groups and papers asked from the government a full and official investigation. But not the English press. The farthest the Gazette felt it could go was to suggest libel suits against Le Devoir. That, and that only, was done by government members. The affair is now sub judice.

Here is a last example. It may seem

fragile, but I feel it is significant.

The Supreme Court of Canada condemned Mr. Duplessis to pay $33,123 in damages to Frank Roncarelli, a Jehovah's Witness, for having cancelled Roncarelli’s liquor permit twelve years ago, thus depriving him of his main source of revenue.

Would Mr. Duplessis appeal to the Privy Council? He had the right to do it. but decided to abstain. Instead he appealed to “the grand tribunal of publicopinion in the province of Quebec." This he did in a public statement which was

reproduced word for word, and on their front pages, by most of the Quebec French dailies. The Gazette, on page one. and the Star, on page thirteen, used the Canadian Press summary of this declaration—thus cutting half of it. In the unprinted half. Mr. Duplessis decided that the Supreme Court judgment was an “extraordinary” one. and that “without any doubt, it cheered and encouraged the Jehovah's Witnesses.” He took ironically for granted the "sincerity" of the judges, including “the Honorable Justice Abbott, who. in 1954, abandoned his functions of federal minister of finance” to sit on the magistrate's bench.

Then Mr. Duplessis proceeded to an electoral recount of all the judges who have had to render a decision about this affair in three different courts. Adding the individual votes given in the Supreme, Appeal and Superior Courts, he implied that, though losing in the Supreme Court by six to three, he nevertheless won on the whole by a nine-to-six margin. Did Montreal's English-speaking press regard this as a very peculiar way of speaking of the Supreme Court, for a man w'ho is attorney-general of his province and is always urging respect for authority in general and “his" magistrates in particular? Anyway their reports left all this aside, and, presumably out of a sense of delicacy, they were silent in their news column. And so the urge to comment editorially became weaker. As a matter of fact, there was no editorial comment.

So, where are we? Still in English Canada with its pride in liberty and its respect for our institutions of justice? Or what happened to our Englishmen, at least to their leaders?

Because, once and for all, let me state that I am putting a case against the leaders of English - speaking Quebec, not against the people. People know what they arc told; they can’t guess what their papers systematically hide.

There must be an explanation somewhere.

When a British or French colonialist came into Africa, he often had the wisdom to let the Negro king live and to respect the customs of the natives. Of course, in such a bargain, the interests of the local ruler are sacred, and so are those of the colonialist. Authority, pride and money thus assured the Negro king is free. He can cut heads if such is the tradition. He may have slaves if he does it with enough circumspection. He is permitted and even encouraged to keep things unchanged; this is wise for both the colonialist and the Negro king.

Two things are required from the Negro king; that he be respectful toward the colonialist and strong against the natives. There is no deep loyalty toward him: if he is dethroned, a new Negro king will gather the same advantages. But. provided the contracts are fulfilled, the colonialist will not help in dethroning the old monarch. You never know where these revolutions could bring you. Only a British liberal—and unfortunately there arc British liberals even in the colonies — would be innocent enough to spill some of his indignation over the acts of the Negro king or over the misfortunes of his subjects. A deep and secret pity is usually substituted for real indignation.

Under such an arrangement how could a decent British citizen expect the natives to build a decent democracy? It denies them the dignity of behavior and the high moral standards that are commonly found in a British community.

Let us be frank also, and sincere, and even generous. Natives have their own utility. When properly handled, they become excellent servants. And they have the special charm of quaint old things.

They sing and dance very well under the moon. Ah! the lovable creatures: it is refreshing to look athem an hour or two. But there are hard facts that you have to take into account. Don’t let your heart go too far. A native is a native, a wealthy Briton is a wealthy Briton; such is the will of the Lord.

Consequently, the rights of a native always remain hypothetical. He often looks like a human being; in a restrictive sense he even is, but of a peculiar species, like a child condemned to childhood for his whole life. Never give too much freedom to a primitive population: they have developed a kind of social equilibrium that it is perilous to change. The old Negro king knows how to treat them. He may look barbarian, but he inherited a wisdom and he has developed tricks of his own. When his whip whistles over the shoulders of his subjects, it is hard for a civilized colonialist not to intervene. The best thing is to close your eyes, to refuse to hear, to go play cricket somewhere else, and to pretend that it's all liberal propaganda and nonsense.

Of course, such a topic is becoming delicate in the tw-entieth century. Better never formulate principles like that. So you never do, even to yourself. You simply act according to them. It is the unwritten code: Live — and let live the Negro king.

I take for granted that, on the whole. English - speaking citizens in Quebec should react the way they do elsewhere in Canada: that is, have strong community feelings and loyalty, a great attachment for parliament and its normal procedure, and a greater one for freedom. As they do not. at least publicly, then we must conclude that Quebec is a colony. and that the wealthy leaders of English Canada deal with the Duplessis regime as they would deal elsewhere with a Negro king — mutatis mutandis of course.

And that is what many French Canadians have come to think, after carefully reading the daily press of these important businessmen. They believe that the colonial era has not quite ended here. Something of it manages to survive under new and more complex forms.

In practice, big money is, here much more than elsewhere, on the side of conservatism, of tyrannical tendencies, of political corruption. No one could expect it to be crusading for political and social progress. Is it not a little sad to think that, in provincial politics, it has become an iron curtain against progress? There seems to be an unwritten contract between Big Business and the Negro king.

They probably despise him in their minds, despise his tough methods, despise the majority that tolerate him. Nevertheless they consolidate his power. The result is disastrous for every Quebecker, including a majority of the English-speaking Quebeckers, who are not wealthy, and simply share the political consequences of a vicious deal.

Most probably also, the wealthy leaders and their press are afraid of the Negro king and his political power; they simply pay him back for what they get. (I'm talking of the wholesale operation, and not of the personal interests of Mr. X or Z.) This may seem normal. If it is. then democracy is just a question of knowing what is the price of a man. Those who get a better price for their silence or their active complicity make more money, and shall be more respected citizens; but they lose the right of despising the small man who sells himself for a glass of beer.

Of course, nobody can dictate the editorial policy of a paper, except those who own and manage it. But we are permitted. I believe, to state what we think that policy is.

And having in mind the attitude of Canadians outside Quebec, perhaps I may add: You would be pleased if we got rid of the Duplessis regime. Many French Canadians think the same way. though not necessarily for all the same reasons. But one of the strongest supports for this regime is Quebec’s wealthy and. most of the time. English-speaking economic leaders. It is a fact. It expresses itself in a press which seldom attacks the Duplessis regime, often covers it. defends it and propagates it so that, when you're up against the Negro king, at the same time you're up against his associates, the modern colonialists. ★