WHAT YOUNG FRENCH CANADIANS HAVE ON THEIR MINDS
When all the talk about whether Confederation can be saved is over, the people who will have to make it work are the young adults of todaymost particularly the French. What are they like?
Flow do they feel about the church? Nationalism?
Flere, in a Maclean’s panel, five of them, with one Anglais for leaven, speak out
“WHAT HAS CHANGED is that there are more educated people, more people able to express themselves with more means of expressing themselves. There was in, say, 1936, not a single French Canadian on the stock exchange who could have made the point about wanting to work in his own language.” The words are those of Gérard Pelletier, aged forty-three, a former union worker who is now editor of the big Montreal daily newspaper, La Presse. He was speaking to the Maclean's panel you see above— five young French Canadians and one bilingual English ('anadian, with Pelletier in the chair. Maclean's brought them together to talk about themselves, the younger generation in Quebec. We asked Pelletier to have them discuss such mat-
ters as their relationship with the church, their attitude toward business and their liking for—or dislike of — English-speaking Canadians. Their conversation, w'hich was recorded in French, went on for more than two hours. Later, many of the points they raised w'ere thrashed out less formally over cocktails and dinner. I sat in on both sessions, and this report is taken from the tape, from notes of my later conversation. and written against the background of half a hundred similar conversations I took part in during a recent year I spent in Quebec.
The young people on the panel are not “typical” of all young French Canadians. They’re not intended to be. They are, for one thing, much better educated than any cross section of their own generation, which is between twenty-
five and thirty-five, would he. They arc the people “able to express themselves” whom Pelletier was talking about, and what they have to say is of vital importance to all of Canada. This is the generation that is just below the rim of pow'er in Quebec. A decade or so from now, it will take over. These young people did not forge what is often called the "quiet revolution” in their province—men like Pelletier did that—-but they are the ones who will carry it on. It will be up to them, and of course to their counterparts in English Canada, whether the two races that made Confederation nearly a hundred years ago can carry it successfully past its current troubled period.
None of the people on our panel are separatists, although it would have been eminently easy to find enough separatists of the right age
to fill every spot. We chose instead to set down the views of people who have not given up on Confederation, who feel they have as much interest as any Canadian in making the deal work. Yet our panelists are, virtually without exception, “angry”—in the sense that the Angry Young Men of Great Britain were angry a few years ago: they’re not happy with the way things are going now and they want to change them.
The point about working in one’s own language, which Pelletier commented on, for instance, was made by Robert Demers, a twenty-fiveyear-old law graduate who does work on the Montreal Stock Exchange. "French Canadians will see to it that in the next few years French becomes a necessary language for business in Quebec,” Demers said. “We have tremendous
"hi our way of Ufe, we are really A mer ¡cans "
"Rationally, i am a Canadian, but in my heart my allegiance is to Quebec"
"Our generation is much too preoccupied with the future to centre its interest on the past"
"My students seem to be entirely preoccupied with money’
Demers has many characteristics of a new breed in French Canada — a breed significantly unlike French Canadians as they have been thought of in earlier years. He is fluently bilingual, articulate, ambitious. practical. He was at his best in the tape-recorded discussion
steps to take. Even in a city like Three Rivers where ninety-seven percent of the population is French, I believe the administration ol American companies, or FnglishCanadian ones, is carried out in English. I don't think young French Canadians are ready to accept the fact that just because we’re in a hig confederation the whole administration of industry in Quebec should be in English.”
when the talk turned to business.
On the same subject, Julien Chouinard, a Rhodes scholar who now practises law in Quebec City and lectures at Laval University, had this to say: “We do have a long way to go until the road to success in business is as open to French Canadians as it is to English-speaking ones. If we could get more control of business in our own province. French Canadians would seize the opportunities to advance. They'd showmore interest in business. We do have an interest in it now, but we’re discouraged by the difficulties in getting ahead.”
Pelletier then asked the others what they thought inhibited French Canadians in business.
Demers said: “It seems to me we have always been good at storting businesses, but when it comes to amalgamating several small companies and making one good average one, which potentially could become a big thriving enterprise, that's where we fail. There are lots of small industries and small companies in Quebec."
Chouinard: "Isn't it a lack of capital that has produced this situation?"
Demers: "There’s been a real change in the past two or three years. I think seventy-five percent of the French Canadian companies that are listed now on the stock exchange have come on in that time.”
Madeleine Gobeil, a school teacher (she teaches literature at the only collège classique in Quebec that isn’t entirely staffed by the clergy) was able to underline the growing economic interests of the younger French Canadians too. “My students seem to be entirely preoccupied with money,” she said. "They are always asking me questions like: ‘Did Stendhal have much money?’ They’re fascinated by it. which seems foreign to me. They w'ant power and they see the w'ay to get power is through money.” Miss Gobeil represents another kind of new breed in French Canada. Like many people who matured in Quebec after World War II. she has spent much of her time as
"I’d be bored to death to be an
"/ would like French Canadians to be a little more competent and less attached to the church"
" When we organized a conference on Confederation, word got out that all the
Englishspeaking students at Laval were separatists"
a young adult in France. Without being affected, her French sounds more Parisian than what we who don't speak French well call Québécois. (An aside: Few myths dear to the hearts of English Canadians arouse the anger of these bright young people more than the one that they all speak bad, or patois, French. They feel that most of the people who tell them they do—and as one who learned his lesson the hard way I agree—do so because their own French isn't good enough to understand them. In fact, the kind of people represented on this panel probably speak French “better" than their contemporaries in other parts of Canada speak English. in the sense that their language is closer to the standard tongue in modern France than ours is to the standard in modern England.)
Miss Gobe il fits neither the
cliché about the shy, family-dominated young canadienne who wants only to be married and have a dozen children or the one about the gay, champagne-drinking flirt. She is serious, clever, frank and, above all, emancipated. She is, for example, unafraid to say publicly that she no longer believes in her church.
“Unafraid” is the right word, too. In the less formal conversation that followed the panel, Jean David, who is a journalist (he is an assistant news editor of Pelletier's paper, La Presse) and a former national president of the Young Liberals, described leaving the church—which he has done— as “the most important decision a young French Canadian can make.”
Some others in the group joined in with loud and bitter denuncia-
tions of the way the church has been able to dominate so much of French Canadian life—even to the point, in some small towns, where a merchant might be nearly boycotted if he became known as a militant non-believer.
“But even that is changing,” Robert Demers said. “I was told when I finished law school that if I ever took a divorce case I couldn't practise law in Quebec. That was only a few years ago, and I have gone into business instead of practising law at all, but I know young lawyers recently who have taken divorce cases and nothing has happened to the rest of their practice.”
During the tape-recorded discussion, David said: “I think what distinguishes us from preceding generations is that were not prepared to accept religion the way it’s been laid down in French Canada.
We're asking ourselves if we can't have a spiritual life outside the Roman Catholic church. For a long time there have been Catholics in name only in Quebec, but they stayed on — in name only — out of fear.”
Demers: “I think there is a profound indifference to religious iife among the people who arc coming out on top. There was a survey at the University of Montreal not long ago, and it found that eightyfive percent of the students said they were believers. But if you look at the leaders of the various student groups, and the editors of their publications and things like that, you’ll find that almost invariably they belong to the other fifteen percent.”
During this part of the discussion. Pelletier, who is, like many of the men
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who have helped to create the new climate in Quebec, a profound Catholic. seemed a little uncomfortable— as if he were watching some unexpected chickens coming home to roost. The new freedom he has helped to create has, in a sense, released such pent-up emotions among the young that they have swung, in many cases, to the extremes of anti-Catholicism. Pelletier finds this a hard fact — it it is a fact — to face. After the panel,
I asked him what had surprised him most. "I was surprised that they talked like such unbelievers," he said. "I don't think they feel that strongly, but on the panel they thought they ought to be representative, and 1 think they went farther than they really meant to."
The most carefully phrased answers to all the questions on the panel came from Albert Breton, an economist at the University of Montreal who also works with the Groupes des Recherches Sociales, some young Montreal academics who have done a great deal of original research about the make-up of the province. As fluent in English as in French (he was raised in the west and his brother teaches at McGill), Breton is an incisive thinker in the abstract terms that seem to appeal to French Canadian professors even more than they do to their English Canadian colleagues. A few years ago, a man like Breton would probably not have been asked on a panel of this sort. For one thing, the social sciences, such as the one he works in. were much less noticed than they are in English Canada. Now, the intellectual has an important voice in public affairs; the Groupes des Recherches Sociales did some surveys that are regarded by political pros as the basis for Jean Lesage's upset of the Union Nationale in I960. For another, Breton’s politics, like those of most Quebec intellectuals, are those of the "left” (although he has not long ago left the New Democratic Party in dismay at its Quebec wing's insistence on a “two-nation" theme, which he doesn't believe in). It is only a few years since young men like him, the lawyer and economist Pierre Elliott Trudeau for one, were unable to hold jobs in places as dependent on government support as the University of Montreal.
Pelletier asked the panel to talk about English Canadians. Did they feel they know them? Did they like them? How did they feel English Canadians liked them?
Breton: “I can't say I know very many English Canadians, but I can't say 1 know very many French Canadians either. The term ‘to know’ is equivocal. You can't really say I "know someone because he s a French Canadian or an English Canadian. I know several French-Canadian economists — most of the economists I
know are English—who are far more boring than their English Canadian colleagues."
David: "None of us seem to be willing to accept the fact that we can’t be either a hundred percent French or a hundred percent English ('anadian. We should try to derive the best we can from both worlds.”
Miss Gobeil: "The question is how do we find out how to know the English Canadians. I've lived with some English Canadian families but that
doesn't mean I know them well."
David: “That’s what I mean. Sometimes l think I don't understand them and I tell them so myself. 1 say, ‘1 would be bored to death to be an English Canadian.' I think perhaps that's what makes me a French Canadian.” Miss Gobeil: "I find them boring too. They have nothing interesting to present. They aren't really very good conversationalists."
Pelletier: “Even in Montreal where there is a fairly large minority of Eng-
lish Canadians who represent an important part of every profession, each of us knows hundreds of Frenchspeaking Canadians against a few contacts who are English Canadians. 1 think there are four or five Englishspeaking people in Montreal whom l can call friends and these four or five 1 rarely see. Our paths just don't cross."
Chouinard: "I think most of us speak better English than preceding generations."
Pelletier: “A few weeks ago one of my English-speaking colleagues said to me: 'I agree your schools are taught in French, but when your children get out of school and arc playing, surely they speak English among themselves.’ It is this kind of total ignorance from a man who is in the business of communications that seems to me to establish a difference between the understanding of one group as opposed to another.”
At this point in the discussion, Peter White, the only English-speaking member of the panel, leaped in. Peter is just finishing his third year of law and he is, with a handful of other English Canadians, studying at the French-language University of Laval. “I don’t think the attitude Mr. Pelletier has described is a representative one at all,” he said.
David: “But even in Montreal,
French is a ‘second language.’ If you remember the poster . .
White: “I know what you’re talking about. That advertisement. That’s certainly an example of something French Canadians are apt to jump on.”
For the next few minutes, White turned out to be right. Earlier in the winter, TCA had published an advertisement in an American magazine which offered as one of the enticements for visiting Montreal the fact that French was “the second language.” Most of the conversation that followed was between David and White—but it is interesting to note that ( 1 ) David is an ardent antiseparatist, as are most of the other members of the panel and (2) there were nods of agreement as he talked. In other words, if I may base a generalization on so small an incident, these young people are prepared to be partners in confederation, but they want to be equal partners.
David: “I don’t go for that. As Mr. White said earlier, his job was to inject. the English point of view—but if the attitude is that we’re just being touchy, I won’t go for it. When an enterprise is a crown corporation and it publishes a notice that says French is a second language in Montreal, the second largest French city in the world, with French as the mother tongue of seventy-five percent of the population, I protest.”
White: “I agree with that from one point of view, and 1 think in a sense it’s inexcusable. But it was done through ignorance of the reaction it would incur, and with no malice.” Pelletier asked later: “Is your first allegiance to Canada or simply to Quebec?”
Breton: “I am a North American. In our way of life, we’re really Americans.”
Demers: “Rationally, I’m a Canadian, but in my heart my allegiance is to Quebec.”
David: ‘‘I would say I’m a French Canadian before I’m a Canadian.” Miss Gobcil: “Maybe it's because I come from Ottawa, but I feel I’m more Canadian. I see a whole generation of people my age who, instead of working and becoming competent in their own field, sit around discussing things like separatism.”
White: “This may be a family discussion, but the mention of separatism does remind me that when we organ-
ized the first Laval Conference on Canadian Affairs in 1961, and there were a few of the English-speaking students involved in the organization, everyone in Montreal said that we had become—and we had names like White and Meighen and Mulroney— that we had become separatists too. Any discussion of the future of confederation, which in a way was what the first conference was about, seems to bring that on.”
Pelletier then said that it was a common feeling among English Canadians that one of the main differences between the two cultures is that French Canadians tend to look to their past more than English Canadians look to theirs. Is this true of younger people, too, he asked.
Chouinard: “I think our generation is much too preoccupied with the future to have much of an interest in the past.”
Pelletier: “What do you want for the future?”
Miss Gobeil: “I’d like to see French Canadians be more intelligent, a little more cultivated, a little more competent, a little stronger, a little more sociable and a little less attached to the church.”
Demers: “I think the greatest problem of this generation, the one that will stir up the most controversy, is the economic question. That and the question of language. I don’t think my generation accepts an obligation to work in English. I think we’re going to try to turn French into our language of work.”
Breton: “I think if we didn’t have the problems of language, and problems like it, that we’d seek out others. The real issues are economic: unemployment, the dollar problem. I don’t think we’re ready to tackle the serious problems of making considerable changes in the economic structure, not only in Canada but in North America. The other problems are only excuses.”
White: “I don’t agree. I think the problems between the two races are more acute than they have ever been.”
Pelletier: “Let me make a generalization here about people of your age. Many people of my age are preoccupied with the feeling that Canada is coming apart at the seams. It worries us a lot, but such a theory really doesn’t hold water. In terms of what the English call ‘common purpose,’ on an economic basis, culturally, the way we deal with outside forces, Canada is not coming apart. That’s what we really think. One part of the people in their twenties, and perhaps younger, think that Canada is coming apart too. They don’t think in terms of Canada at all, so that if it were to come apart they’d just take their own piece and look after themselves. I think you’re different. You’re between the two.” ★