CONVERSATIONS WITH QUEBEC'S REVOLUTIONARIES

PETER GZOWSKI September 7 1963

CONVERSATIONS WITH QUEBEC'S REVOLUTIONARIES

PETER GZOWSKI September 7 1963

CONVERSATIONS WITH QUEBEC'S REVOLUTIONARIES

PETER GZOWSKI

Behind French Canada’s angry public men are far angrier, younger men who make even their own leaders nervous. Here is what they are saying and doing now — and what we might be doing to help keep them from turning, in the end, to violence

ON THE DAY the government announced the personnel of its royal commission on biculturalism, I had lunch with a friend who works for a large financial organization in Montreal. This man is a French Canadian, now about thirty, who has worked out for himself exactly the kind of accommodation that English-Canadian businessmen often urge on all French Canadians. After finishing his undergraduate work at the University of Montreal, he studied law at McGill, so his English is nearly perfect. With his grey suit and his briefcase and his copy of the Montreal Gazette, he is now impossible to tell from the hundreds of youngmen-on-their-way who stream into the St. James Street area every morning from Westmount and the Town of Mount Royal. The language of his office is English and, though he still speaks only French with his wife and child, he has so anglicized his nine-to-five life that he automatically ordered his Cinzano-onthe-rocks and roast pigeon in English from a French waitress.

We talked of the new wave of nationalism and separatism in Quebec. Inevitably, we reached that wave s ugliest ripple, the terrorism of the FL.Q. I asked if he agreed with an opin-

ion I had heard from several other people: that the FLQ, while evil in itself, had had some good effects. “Yes, I suppose so.“ he said. Then he thought for a while and went on. as if talking to himself: “You know, they were wrong, those kids. They didn't know what they were doing. There wasn't any need for violence — the other channels hadn't all been tried yet. They still haven't. Of course, it may be that we won't win anything through the other channels, and maybe we will have to have violence. Even civil war if that's necessary. All I know is that we've waited six generations now and that’s long enough. Our children aren't going to have to put up with what we've had to. That's for sure."

Bitter and implacable as this statement is, the only surprising thing about hearing it in Quebec today is that it comes from the kind of person we might have supposed had forgotten about nationalism. Here is a man who, apparently at least, had come comfortably to terms with the fact of English domination in Quebec. Now even he is chafing. He wants to change the terms of his agreement. He has been willing to spend the first few years of his working life in English; now he wants to spend the rest of it in French, and he will insist that his children be able to do so. My own guess, from my knowledge of him, is that he will shrink from violence in the event. But a year ago, I would have bet against him even talking about such a possibility. Since then, he has changed his mind — not about what he wants, but about how deeply he wants it. He has now become a most powerful instrument of change: a revolutionary in a grey flannel suit, quietly but absolutely determined to change his world. And it is with him and the others like him that 1 believe English Canada ought now to be concerned.

Nearly all the momentum in the relations between the French and English in Canada now comes from the French, and it is a momentum of revolution. It is now an inescapable fact that we are headed toward separation into

two countries. If we are going to stop this momentum, or slow it down so it reshapes Confederation instead of destroying it. we. the English-speaking half of the partnership, are going to have to have something of a revolution of our own. French Canadians have moved so far in their way of looking at their problems in the past few years that we are going to have to move past them, or at least up to them, before there can even be the dialogue that is so desperately needed. We're going to have to leapfrog over some old stumbling blocks — such as the attitude that this is just another of French Canada’s periodic orgies of self-pity — and find new ground to negotiate from. And we will probably have to start by facing the fact that the 1867 basis of Confederation hasn't worked out to all the participants' satisfaction.

“I’M AFRAID TO COME OUT AGAINST SEPARATISM”

The lunch I had with the revolutionary in grey flannel was part of a trip I took recently from my home in Toronto to Quebec. I had covered that province for Macleans from 1961 until the autumn of 1962—some of the formative months of Quebec's "quiet revolution" — and my first sensation on returning was one of profound change. There is talk of nationalism everywhere in Quebec. The wave is so strong that the men who unleashed it four years ago, after the death of Maurice Duplessis, now seem only marginally in control. The talk has even swept over the bastions of English Montreal, whose establishment now seems for the first time aware that if things keep going the way they are, the real economic power in the province will change hands. The faster the Englishspeaking establishment makes token concessions — the more firms who rush to incorporate French names or appoint French-speaking directors, the more executives who rush to Berlitz to learn the language — the louder and more insistent the nationalists seem to grow. More and more of the most influential people in the province — including, for instance, the

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Laval University professor and former Conservative MP Jean-Noël Tremblay — arc now out-and-out separatists, and those who are not seem to grow closer to separatism every day. Out of half a hundred similar statements, here is one from the normally conservative Jesuit magazine Actualité, published last month and signed by the magazine's editor, the Rev. JeanLouis Brouille:

"As a group, French Canadians have decided to stand on their own feet . . . We have decided to save ourselves, to fight our own battles . . . We have made up our minds that we will occupy the place that is ours by right. Will this place be in the bosom of Confederation — or independence? The answer depends on our partners. For ourselves, we know' what we want."

But the greatest energy is generated by people who have scarcely been heard from — yet. The arguments go on more violently in restaurants and living-rooms than in the halls of the legislature. “Things are moving so fast that a lot of political leaders are afraid to take a stand on separatism for fear of being left behind," says a University of Montreal professor, and a member of the provincial cabinet has confessed privately: “1 don’t like all this talk about separatism, but I'm afraid to come out publicly against it now.”

Separatism, of course, is still a long way from obtaining the support of the majority. There are still many people in the boondocks who haven't ever heard of it. But nationalism seems everyone’s cause, and it is increasingly difficult to tell the believers in one from the believers in the other. Together, they are certainly the most vital social force now at w'ork in Canada.

There are a few good signs too: the beginnings of counteraction to the momentum toward separatism, not the least of which is the new royal commission on biculturalism. But these counter-movements are still far too small and far too few. In English Canada, there is still no group of people prepared to carry on

our half of the dialogue. Until the creation of the commission, in fact, there has scarcely been anyone listening to the other half.

The people who have been doing the talking for French Canada have been, at least until very recently, the representatives of two camps at opposite extremes of the nationalist wave. The first is that of the senior statesmen of the “quiet revolution”: men like René Lévesque, the brilliant and aggressive minister of natural resources, or André Laurendeau, the editor of the nationalistic newspaper Le Devoir, who is now co-chairman of the royal commission he was the first to propose. These are the men who have moved their province so far since Duplessis’s death. But now many of their battles have been won: while they sound angry to the rest of us, they are among the least strident voices of the movement they helped to launch. Lévesque, who is generally regarded as the most outspoken nationalist in Jean Lesage's cabinet, has himself said: “I am a moderate. There are young men behind me w'ho make me feel nervous.”

The fight against cotton wool

Some of these young men, of course, are the terrorists of the FLQ. The most complete report yet published on these people is an article in the September issue of Le Magazine Maclean, the French-language counterpart of Maclean's. An adaptation of this account is published on the opposite page. It is a fascinating and revealing story. But perhaps even more fascinating and revealing — and certainly more important — is the story of some of the other young men Lévesque professes to fear.

My friend the revolutionary in grey flannel is far from alone in his sympathies. The young, serious nationalists like him, w'ho stand midway between the extremes of the elder statesmen and the youthful terrorists, are less patient than their elders but more realistic than the bomb-throwers. They look on men like the editors of Le Devoir as correctly motivated hut tired; they see the purveyors of violence also

as properly motivated, but as martyrs to a situation not of their own making. A group of these businesslike nationalists recently formed a committee to raise funds for the FLQ "political prisoners.” To these people, violence is a last resort, but so deep is their sense of injustice and indignity that they can understand why some of their less sophisticated compatriots might take to it.

On the evening after I lunched with my businessman friend, I attended a gathering of these nationalists, brought together for my benefit in the apartment of one of the editors of Le Magazine Maclean. They were a widely assorted group. Two were separatists: a young poet whose first published volume had been a sort of cheer-from-the-sidelines for the FLQ, and the soft-spoken, persuasive vice-president of one of the largest separatist ralliements. The others ranged in their political views and professional backgrounds from Left to Right and from the federal civil service to the academic world; about all they had in common was their nationalism. When I came in, the conversation was in full flight. They were talking about ways of making the new revolution: where the energy might spring from, what the obstacles were, and how long it might take. Because of the participants’ assorted points of view, there wasn't enough agreement on any of these points to be worth reporting, and for a while I missed the most significant fact of the conversation: there was complete agreement about the fact that a revolution had to be made. Only two of those present — a journalist and the civil servant — took issue with the term at all, and they did so on the grounds that to have a revolution you have to have a solidified and concrete opposition, whereas French Canada’s fight, as they saw it, was an eternal pushing up against cotton wool. But this was purely semantics. There was a fight to be won and they knew it.

The distinction between nationalists and outright separatists now seems a lot smaller than it was a couple of years ago. At that time, with

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QUEBEC’S REVOLUTIONARIES

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After four years of progress in their own province, they see no signs of recognition from us

Quebec only half out of its cocoon of Duplessism, it was possible to be a French-Canadian nationalist and have as your ultimate aim a slow evolution into economic and cultural equality. Now, it seemed to me as I listened to the tolk and as I thought back over the other conversations I had listened to during my trip back to Quebec, many nationalists are convinced that slow, effective evolution is simply not going to come. As Quebec did emerge, and as the voices demanding respect for its new condition grew clearer and more noticeable, no one seemed to be listening. After four years of progress to self-respect inside their own province, the French Canadians can now see only the faintest glimmerings of recognition from ow/side. The Diefenbaker years produced only such token steps as a French-Canadian governorgeneral, simultaneous translation in Parliament, and bilingual cheques. Ottawa remained a foreign capital to them, demanding that they work in a strange language, cutting them off from the upper echelons of power. As a result, the young French Canadians have given up on Ottawa and have turned all their allegiance to Quebec. Even such a non-nationalistic Quebecker as Eric Kierans, the economist of Irish descent who has recently re-

signed from the presidency of the Montreal and Canadian stock exchanges to run for the provincial legislature, now feels that the only way to get Quebec’s grievances answered is to work from Quebec City. Of twenty-three graduates in political science from the University of Montreal this year — the kind of French Canadian who is badly needed in Ottawa — only one even bothered to write the federal civil service exams. Quebec is now their capital, and that is where they are turning.

The first few months of the Pearson administration have seemed to promise little more. Even the commission on biculturalism has not calmed many of the ardent nationalists. They see it only as an excuse to stall off any real progress for years. (Neither of the chairmen, André Laurendeau nor Davidson Dunton, has said how long he thinks the commission will last, but one member, Jean-Louis Gagnon, a prominent journalist and member of the Académie Canadienne-Française, told La Presse last month that he thought the work could be, cleaned up in three years, in order to have the report in the hands of the present government before its term expires.) Many French Canadians who looked on the new Liberal government as a source of new sympathy for their cause have been more than disappointed. They feel that such legislation as that concerning municipal loans (as it was first proposed) and portable pensions, is a cold, if uncalculated, affront. If Ottawa knows anything about Quebec, they maintain, it should know that the provincial government

believes that control of new, large amounts of money that are to be spent in Quebec must be held in Quebec. It cannot settle for less. The Pearson government’s ready and co-operative assent to the concessions demanded by Quebec and other provinces on the municipal loan and development fund, hailed as it was by Premier Lesage, was not welcomed by all the nationalists. The provincial opposition party, the Union Nationale, which has been an inch or so ahead of the Liberals on nearly all nationalistic matters, complained about the compromise program, and even Le Devoir grumbled: “(It may be) palpably diminished, but Ottawa’s interference in this domain still persists . . . Doubtless, the worst has been avoided . . . but the struggle for autonomy is still on.”

But if concessions as clear as those made by Pearson won’t satisfy the nationalists, what will? What is it going to take to make them stop complaining? It is to these questions that English Canadians—when they bother with the matter of Canada’s bi-nationalism at all — constantly return. To French Canadians, the fact that these questions have still to be asked is as frustrating as the apparent lack of answers sometimes seems to us. To them, the answer is eminently simple: they want to run their own nation, to decide their own fate. They want to

be, not a minority, but partners in Canada - - or they want a country in which they can be the majority. And they cannot understand why the Toronto Globe and Mail, to name only one of the places where they are always being asked to lay their cards on the table, cannot regard this as a simple and specific request.

Their most crucial political requests are — or should be — already well known: tax reform, to restore to Quebec what Quebec sees as its own constitutional rights; and constitutional reform, to give Quebec the status of partnership. Elere, for instance, is the way one young journalist — who is not regarded by his fellows as a separatist — sees the case for the second of these two vital points.

“In the first place,” he told me when the gathering at the apartment broke into smaller groups, “Canada was made by a pact between the English and French peoples here, between Quebec on the one hand and Ontario and two small Maritime provinces on the other. You may not see it that way, but we do. Quebec is not ‘une province comme les autres’ and I believe we would separate rather than be treated that way. In any case, from either point of view, you can't deny this: from 1867 on, everything that’s been added to Canada has been English. First Manitoba. We can't ignore the fact that Manitoba was at first

supposed to be a bilingual province. You, or someone — we must take part of the blame — quickly looked after that, by taking away French schools. Then Canada moved farther and farther west and east, adding new English-speaking provinces like new skins to an onion, until we became minority in the middle. Nothing that been added since 1867 has been French. So that whether or not Confederation was a pact between two more-or-less-equal people when it began, it certainly isn't now. It is your government telling us what to do with our affairs. If it had always been good government, we might not have case. But it has not done well for us. We have twice as much unemployment as any other province. Our average income is twenty-eight percent lower than Ontario’s. So if that’s the way you run things for us. we'd rather do it ourselves. We've had enough. We want to start over again, and whatever we work out now, we ve got to feel that we, the French Canadians, will be making the decisions that affect Quebec in the future.”

I asked him what solution he might consider workable.

‘‘Well, English Canada already has a government of its own,” he said. “Ottawa. I think it should continue as the government of English Canada. Quebec has a government too. Quebec City. And it should continue for us. What we need is a third, new government — it doesn’t matter if it’s in Aklavik — a sort of super-government that will deal with the joint problems, defense, foreign trade, and the rest. The national governments, in Ottawa and Quebec, would deal with all the others. I don’t see how, in the light of what's happened in the past, we can work out our problems with anything less drastic.”

In the light of what has happened in the past. We tire now paying, in other words, for our part in breaking a bargain that many English Canadians are still not prepared to admit ever existed. We’re paying for the Manitoba school crisis, and for Ontario’s notorious Regulation 17, which also cut off French public schools, and for ramming conscription down Quebec’s throat in two world wars. We’re paying for the fact that the French-Canadian minority in Ontario is virtually ignored by the provincial government, while the smaller English-Canadian minority in Quebec has been well and equitably treated. And the price, as far as these young, determined people arc concerned, is high.

It may be, of course, that it is too high: that the concessions — if that is the right word for returning to original commitments — wouldn’t be worth the reward, which is the preservation of Confederation. For, I believe. even such young men as the journalist who now says his minimum demand is twin states and the businessman who says he can imagine civil war — and they are only two examples from several dozen I could have chosen out of one brief trip — can still be satisfied within our present framework. But if Confederation, or some form of it, is worth saving — as surely most of us believe it to be — hadn’t we better start trying to save it? If we’re going to catch up with the fierce momentum of French

Canada, hadn’t vvc better acquire a little momentum of our own?

In a few places, movement is already starting. A number of influential periodicals — the Canadian Forum being perhaps the most notable — have recently been paying a great deal of highly enlightened attention to Quebec, which cannot help but have some effect on at least the intellectual community of English Canada. And the rush by businessmen to learn French and to promote French Canadians can’t be entirely shrugged off. As well, several small groups are beginning the dialogue that will be so necessary. In Toronto, a few journalists and academics have started something called the Committee for Canada, which, however pretentious its name, is doing the eminently necessary work of bringing a few French Canadians to Ontario to speak their minds to businessmen and others: it may come as a shock to some Torontois actually to meet a live French Canadian, but it can do nothing but good to have them listen to him. In Montreal, the social science faculties of McGill and the University of Montreal are trying to work out a system by which they would meet jointly on a regular basis to thrash out their views on such problems as the portable pension scheme.

All these flickers are the beginnings of what is needed most: interest and understanding. Perhaps the DuntonLaurendeau commission will be the biggest step forward yet. This commission’s worst danger, of course, is that it may provide a sounding board for all the tired, old positions on both sides. But even this may not do much harm. Le Devoir in particular in French Canada has always had sensitive antennae attuned to any antiFrench statement in English Canada, and there are few insults that will come as news to the French. For our part, a few violent denunciations from

such groups as the now nearly separatist St. Jean Baptiste Society should at least be refreshing. In the meantime, I'd like to end this report with some modest proposals of my own. I claim no expertise, except that I am a citizen of a country with two languages and two cultures and I’d like to keep it that w'ay. Many of my proposals were other people’s first, and some of them have been set out before. A few of them are wildly impractical, which is why I think we should consider them. Since the conventional ideas have broken down in getting our two nations working together, it may be about time we started taking a look at some unconventional ones.

I’d like to see the government immediately use the talents of some of the truly articulate French Canadians in its own party, by putting them in senior and responsible positions and listening to them. I am thinking of men like Guy Favreau, who already has a fairly important job but could do with a bigger one, and Maurice Sauvé and Jean-Luc Pépin, who haven’t important jobs. And I’d like to see more English Canadians who really comprehend the French fact in Canada — men like John Turner, the young Liberal MP from Montreal — get into politics. With a few more men of this calibre and these interests in Ottawa, perhaps the government could, without waiting for the predictable recommendations of its royal commission, get about its business of forcing bilingualism on the civil service. Such an act wouldn't be nearly as difficult as it sounds if it were done over a period of, say, five years, and it would at least convince the French Canadians that we are acting in good faith.

Though I personally couldn’t care less about a national anthem or flag, I’d like to sec the government realize that some people do, and simply go

and get one of each. What’s the matter with O Canada anyway? And surely someone can design a flag that won’t make anyone hut the bigots angry. The French Canadians aren’t asking for the tricolore, after all.

I’d like to see a great deal more interplay between the press, radio and television of the two languages. I'd like to see several other big newspapers follow the example of the Toronto Globe and Mail — which, though it often infuriates French Ca-

nadians with its editorials, at least does them the courtesy of covering their capital — and establish bureaus of their own in Quebec. This arrangement could work both ways, of course. The Toronto Star could have a man in the office of La Presse, and vice versa, and each of them could pick up news from the host paper and file it to his own. And since we are fortunate enough to have a CBC, why don't we use it as the unifying force it could he? With all the avail-

able frequencies on radio, oughtn’t it (o be possible for a man to hear the news in his own language, English or French, wherever he is in Canada? There are already enough English TV stations in Quebec for French Canadians to be able to see as many of our programs as they want, but I’d like to see at least one variety show in French — and perhaps more than that — on the English network every week. And why don’t some" English stations pick up the superb French movies —

even if they have to superimpose subtitles — that are on Radio-Canada every Thursday evening at ten? It's a very pleasant way to learn a language.

I’d like to see a new philosophy of teaching languages in the public schools. Not only an earlier beginning, which is already being instituted, but why not have French taught conversationally by French Canadians? Even if it were true, as it isn’t, that everybody in Quebec speaks jouai isn't the purpose of learning a language to communicate in it? And who are we supposed to be talking to with our high - school French? Charles de Gaulle? I’d also like to see someone listen to the excellent idea set out hy a young Montreal advertising executive named B. Alfred Warkentin in an upcoming book: that we commission, say, Abbé Lionel Groulx, the leonine old nationalist, to write a history book for English schools, and someone like Donald Creighton to write one for French schools, so that we can bring a little closer together the divergent views of Canada’s history implanted in children.

At the university level, I like an idea that’s been put forward by another young advertising executive, Alan Scott of Toronto. Scott has suggested that with government assistance the universities could have a massive exchange program based on the successf ul Visites Interprovinciales. Visites takes English-speaking highschool students and sends them into French homes where there's a child of the same age for half the summer, then the two come back to the English home for the second half. This year, there’ll be seven hundred such exchanges. Why not, Scott asks, do the same thing with university students, only for the whole school year? Perhaps we could transfer entire classes between the Universities of Montreal and Toronto. Scott says we could make the program our own version of the Peace Corps, and think in terms of thousands of exchanges.

And I’d very much like to see people like the premier of Alberta, who doesn't see any need for biculturalism, and the Scarborough, Ont., taxpayers, who telephoned their municipal offices when they heard they were going to have to look at Arrêtez, on their Stop signs — I’d like to see these people shut up for a few years so the people who obviously do care about keeping Canada together can get on with doing it. ★