EDITORIAL

The hidden issue of 1963 is the decisive one: do we put Confederation back together?

KEN LEFOLII April 6 1963
EDITORIAL

The hidden issue of 1963 is the decisive one: do we put Confederation back together?

KEN LEFOLII April 6 1963

The hidden issue of 1963 is the decisive one: do we put Confederation back together?

EDITORIAL

If a government is not elected which can co-operate with Jean Lesage in controlling the centrifugal forces here in Quebec, the country as we know it is doomed.

This sentence is from a letter Hugh MacLennan wrote an editor of Maclean’s early in the campaign. MacLennan’s novel of eighteen years ago, Two Solitudes, was the best description in English of the gulf that separated the Canadian cultures at the time. The gulf was formidable, as MacLennan’s title indicated, but nobody, including him, suggested then that it was so wide and deep that it would not eventually be bridged. Now MacLennan and most of the other people in Quebec, French and English, whose opinions we respect highly, are convinced that bicultural Canada is at the hour of the last chance.

A young French-Canadian historian recently described the evolution of separatism to us this way: a year ago most of the students at Laval University were separatists and the faculty were indifferent; now the youngsters have lost interest and most of the professors are convinced separatists. The government at Quebec could not now ignore the rising demand for a fresh interpretation of Confederation even if it wanted to, and the truth is that neither Mr. Lesage nor his ministers want to. They are, in fact, part of the demand, although not part of the organized separatist movement.

The demand has always seemed a fair one to us, and moreover one that Ottawa and Quebec City might very well have negotiated point by point, as specific problems arose, over the last few years.

We doubt, and so do many French Canadians, whether separatism would have become much more than a local joke if Quebec had not come to feel, for evident reasons, that the most it could expect in Ottawa was polite conversation — in English.

Here is the hidden issue of the 1963 campaign: we are electing the government that will repair the Confederation of French and English in British North America, or almost certainly destroy it. But, because the French believe they have gone unheard in Ottawa during these crucial recent years, they are now telling us to come to them. If the observations of French-speaking Canada that these conclusions derive from are sound, and we believe they are, every voter in English-speaking Canada is under an ironic obligation. His political decisions are already pressing and personal to a degree rare in Canadian elections. There are hard choices to be made, among men and policies, that will almost certainly have a profound effect on everyone’s job, his income, his family’s way of living and his country’s standing among nations. But when he resolves these choices and casts his vote, he is also voting for or against Canadian Confederation’s last chance.

That French-speaking Canadians, if they finally come to believe they have been driven to break Confederation, will in the end be poorer in every way is surely true but, unhappily, beside the point. Almost every French-speaking Canadian of integrity and intelligence knows this as surely as anyone else. These men do not want to separate. But they are nonetheless determined to support separation if the next federal government can deal no more effectively with Quebec City than the last one has.

There are English-speaking Canadians, some of whom we know, who advocate letting the French hang by themselves if they won’t stand with us. There are others, and we are among them, who believe that this hidden issue by which Confederation stands or falls is the decisive issue not merely of 1963 but of the future course ol Canadian nationhood. KEN LEFOLII