One reporter's inquiry into the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Robert Fulford May 16 1964


One reporter's inquiry into the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Robert Fulford May 16 1964


That’s the task, in effect, that Davidson Dunton and André Laurendeau have set for themselves and their associates. And what ice’ll be paying over two million dollars to have them do. Here is how they arrived at their ambitious plans, and how those plans are working

ANDRÉ LAURENDEAU, the inventor, cochairman and resident philosopher of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, arrived one snowy morning this March at the slick modern entrance to the slick modern Faculty of Commerce building on the University of Sherbrooke campus at Sherbrooke, Quebec. Laurendeau was there, along with four other commissioners and half a dozen members of the royal commission staff, to open the latest phase in the latest campaign to save Canada. He could hardly have come to a more significant place.

The Faculty of Commerce building stands, with half a dozen other buildings, on a hillside that was raw land only a decade ago, when the Duplessis government created the university. Like most university architecture of recent years, it resembles a cross between an apartment house and the

headquarters of a rich corporation, but to an outsider it also looks like a nice symbol of the industrialized Quebec that is struggling to be born, the new Quebec that insists on the importance of those questions that Laurendeau and his fellow commissioners are assigned to investigate.

Inside the Faculty of Commerce building, ambitious students plan aggressively for a new social order in which they will be accepted, at the highest reaches of business, for what they are — that is, French - speaking Canadians who speak French all day long, not just at home in the evening. Down the hill, however, in the city of Sherbrooke, pop. 66.554, the French outnumber the English by nine to one but high-level business is conducted mostly in English, because Englishspeaking people own the factories and always have. In Sherbrooke, a French

Canadian who desires to advance himself must learn English; an English-speaking Canadian, on the other hand, learns French only if it pleases him to do so.

For generations the French Canadians accepted the second-class status of their language. Not now. Young people in Sherbrooke have begun to see it as intolerable, and among the most passionate young, separatism is a respectable notion and even the idea of banishing English and making Quebec a “unilingual state” is not unthinkable. Bilingualism is only an academic topic in many parts of Canada, but in Sherbrooke it immediately affects everyone: it is the central issue of this generation.

It is also a unique and elusive issue. in Sherbrooke and in the rest of Canada. For this reason the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Bi-

culturalism has chosen to deal with it in a unique and subtle way. “There are many problems about which Canadians have not wanted to ask each other,” André Laurendeau said in Sherbrooke, “because they know they are difficult problems.” The royal commission has decided to overcome this resistance in the most direct way, by asking the citizens to express themselves. Most of the three hundred royal commissions the federal government has appointed since 1867 have called witnesses and asked for various kinds of advice, but until now none of them has consciously plunged itself into the midst of the Canadian people. The commission headed by Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton has in effect declared that every Canadian is an expert on how he wants to get along with his neighbors, or should be. And so they have launched what is both a mass opinion-sampling project and a national experiment in adult education.

.From the middle of March until June, the Laurendeau - Dunton commission is holding a series of regional meetings organized as informal occasions on which Canadians can talk out the problems of bilingualism and biculturalism. They have turned themselves into a traveling seminar, one vast Couchiching Conference from sea to sea.

On March 18, Davidson Dunton, the former head of the CBC and the president of Carleton University in Ottawa, was leading one half of the royal commission in a regional meeting at Three Rivers; Laurendeau was with the rest at Sherbrooke. At 9.30 that morning Laurendeau walked through the lobby of the Faculty of Commerce building — walked past its white marble wall, its chic round coffee table, its turquoise and rust chairs on their aluminum stands—and into the auditorium. About two hundred people were there, most of them invited by the royal commission from Sherbrooke and the adjacent Eastern Townships: businessmen, trade union leaders, priests, university students. The TV cameras were set up at the front of the auditorium; so was an enormous rifle-microphone to pick up questions from the floor, and a tape machine. At the back of the room, in a glass booth, two young women sat before microphones, providing simultaneous translation; many of the peo-

One reporter's inquiry into the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Robert Fulford

pie in the audience wore that persistent symbol of Canadian biculturalism, the Enterprise de Conference Reg’d. breast-pocket transistor translation receiver: the bug in the ear of Canadianism.

Laurendeau addressed the audience before sending them off into small discussion groups to talk about their local problems.

“This is not an occasion for the presentation of briefs,” he said, “nor even for taking definite stands. It is rather a time to discuss problems, to assist in clarifying and defining them. We — the commissioners — want to sensitize ourselves to opinion in Canada.” Laurendeau looked down on the audience with the gentle tolerant smile of the natural aristocrat. He seemed to speak from some mythical Paris, some profoundly knowing world of the imagination. His eyebrows worked hard, and his hands gestured gracefully, shaping his thoughts in a small space before his chest.

The plan for the day, as prepared by the professional community organizers who recently joined the royal commission staff, called first for a general meeting, then for small group discussions on local problems, then for a general meeting before lunch to report on the small group discussions; then for the same procedure in the afternoon, and finally another general meeting in the evening, open to the public, at which commissioners and local citizens would question each other. Two weeks earlier, Laurendeau and Dunton had completed their trip across Canada to visit the provincial premiers and ask for their help. Laurendeau had already found it educational. “I am discovering how vast this country is, how varied it is,” he told the opening session at Sherbrooke. “I thought I knew how big it was but I am learning all over again.”

In the next twelve hours, Laurendeau and his fellow commissioners learned a great deal more. Laurendeau has always been a French-Canadian nationalist — he led the Bloc Populaire party in the Quebec legislature from 1944 to 1948, he was an eloquent anticonscriptionist in wartime, and since 1948 he has been first assistant editor and then editor and then publisher of Le Devoir, the intellectual nationalist daily which many Canadians, French and English, regard as the most brilliantly written

paper in Canada. But Laurendeau’s nationalism and the nationalism of the new Quebec are strikingly different.

Laurendeau’s paper may flirt with separatism, and he himself can write in a tough and angry style, but he believes profoundly in Canada. “I have lived in this country fifty years,” he says, “and I love it dearly.” Many young people in Quebec have lost this commitment, or never acquired it. They made this painfully clear at Sherbrooke, in the private panel discussions and in private talks with Laurendeau. Their contempt expressed itself in a dismissive attitude; they kept saying that they didn’t really want to talk seriously about biculturalism, since it had obviously failed and since, as one student put it, “Around here, the English language is a tool of exploitation.”

T J ike some of Canada’s national leaders, Sherbrooke politicians have tended to believe that they could create good French-English relations simply by saying that they existed; as a result, Sherbrooke has enjoyed seeing itself, in public, as a model of tolerance. But the discussions held by the royal commission revealed that this tolerance depended on an unspoken agreement of the two groups to avoid each other. Students at Bishop’s University (English) and the University of Sherbrooke (French), a few miles apart, almost never mingle, and attempts to bring them together have failed. High school sports between the two groups were started only in recent years, and are regarded as a modest accomplishment in biculturalism. Even Roman Catholics of the two languages worship in isolation and rarely meet through their churches.

“The English own and the French work,” a union leader told the commission, and another said, “The English have the money in their hands.” In Sherbrooke the French know the English mainly as managers, and the English know the French mainly as workers. The bitterness of some mature French Canadians at the meeting, including some who were obviously expressing themselves to Englishspeaking people for the first time, differed from that of the young people only in its lack of stridency.

To some English-speaking Sherbrooke people (they could be identi-

fied, in many cases, by the wire running from breast pocket to earpiece) these views were entirely new: the English, more than the French, had swallowed the myth of happy biculturalism. When one university student expressed some strikingly separatist views in a private meeting, an Englishspeaking schoolteacher wheeled on him in astonishment. He could hardly have been more surprised if the student had declared himself an Algerian nationalist.

But the English, too, expressed resentment, and in the same way this surprised some English Canadians. The English felt pushed around. Their people, after all, had settled this area, before any French came, and they still couldn’t adjust to the French majority. They realized that in the politics of the district — Sherbrooke has a Social Credit MP in Ottawa— they now meant nothing at all, and one man said, “I dislike being a cipher.” But many of them expressed the wish to improve both the relations between French and English and the status of the French. “I want a bilingual child,” one woman said earnestly, and an English-speaking high school student declared that all the English of the district should learn French right away — he had, and it was easy.

Through all of these private meetings, of fifteen or twenty people each, Laurendeau and the other commissioners sat among the citizens, listening to their ideas and their grievances, occasionally offering comments. But that evening the special character of this royal commission was even more apparent: it is a royal commission that the citizens feel free to attack even before it has done anything.


_L he commissioners sat on one side of the platform in the auditorium, and five Sherbrooke citizens sat on the other side. That night the Leafs were playing the Canadiens, but more than three hundred people had deserted their TV sets to listen, take part, and applaud. And now, in a curious way, the commission itself seemed to be on trial. A French-Canadian businessman put directly to the commission what many French Canadians have believed since the commission was appointed last summer: wasn’t the royal commission really just a face-saving operation by the Pearson government, intended to appease Quebec? Frank

Scott, the dean of the McCiill law school and a member of the commission, answered that no, it wasn't, that he and the others were under no political pressure, were in fact free to do just as they pleased. Later a man rose from the floor of the auditorium to accuse André Laurendeau himself. “I think you arc actually in favor of the status quo," he said, and a few people applauded him. Laurendeau said that no, he was not.


X he latest version of Quebec nationalism may have outrun even André Laurendeau’s enthusiasm, but in fact he has been dissatisfied with the status quo in Quebec for a long time, and his dissatisfaction led directly to the royal commission. His editorial, “Pour une enquête sur le bilinguisme,” in Le Devoir on January 20, 1962, first proposed such a commission. It said that the French-English conflict was now “abandoned to the separatists; the others content themselves by saying that Confederation will have to be reformed; but no one says how or how far.” He addressed himself to “all English Canada.”

The possibility of a commission became a live issue in Ottawa soon alter Laurendeau suggested it, but it was not until December 17, 1962, that it became Liberal policy when Lester Pearson, as opposition leader, gave a speech which was prepared with Maurice Lamontagne, his principal adviser on French Canada, in which he said there should be a thorough examination of the issues.

Last summer, Pearson, as prime minister, and Lamontagne, as president of the privy council, together set up a royal commission of ten, chaired jointly by Laurendeau and Dunton, assigned “to inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races . . .”

As Laurendeau has remarked since then, the terms of reference were broad enough to permit almost any interpretation. Only the Massey Commission in the late 1940s was comparable in breadth; but even its mandate was more specific, being limited to the arts and social sciences, two fields in which there were established continued on page 57

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Behind the commission: people who believe a panel discussion is the solution to any problem

institutions and individual experts. Laurendeau and Dunton found themselves confronted with a problem that could conceivably involve every aspect of Canadian life, from qualifications for the civil service to the teaching of history in elementary schools. Where to begin? The commissioners looked around for advice.

The first significant help turned up in what might seem an unlikely place, a little magazine called Continuous Learning, published in Toronto by the Canadian Association for Adult Education. The executive director of the CAAE, and the magazine's editor, is Alan Thomas, a social psychologist. In the issue for September-October, 1963, Thomas wrote, under a pseudonym, “Saxon Rollando,” that this royal commission should be (as his title said) "Pas comme les autres." He said that “a royal commission which contents itself with a number of dramatic public hearings, and the publication of one or more impressive volumes of evidence . . . will be, in our opinion, a waste of energy and time.” What needs to be changed, he said, is not legislation but rather the attitudes and practices of individual citizens. “This can only happen by means of a lengthy, carefully fostered and maintained national discussion . . . the procedures of the royal commission must be themselves as educational as possible, and must engage in debate and discussion as many elements and individuals within the Canadian population as possible.”

Thomas had suggested nothing less than the entry of a federally appointed commission into the field of adult education, and this was a radical departure. Royal commissions are normally educational: people who prepare briefs must educate themselves first and form their own thoughts. But education is usually an accidental byproduct of the commission’s main product, the report to the government. This time, according to Thomas, education should be made an important part of the commission’s purpose, from the beginning.

On November 28, 1963, the commissioners sat in Toronto with representatives of fifty - eight of the organizations that belong to the Canadian Association for Adult Education; the United Church was represented, the CBC, the Canadian Citizenship Council, and many others. Most of them pressed the same viewpoint Thomas had expressed, but Davidson Dunton resisted it. He said it was not the commission’s job to make or lead Canadians to do specific things, only to uncover the facts. The job of adult education, he said, belonged to the organizations represented at the meeting, not to the Laurendeau - Dunton commission. But earlier that same month, at a two-day meeting in Ottawa called by the commission to hear advice on its proper conduct, several speakers had urged the commissioners to get out and hear the views of

as many citizens as possible, before receiving briefs.

Within the commission an argument developed. Laurendeau and Neil Morrison, the former CBC and university executive who was appointed co-secretary of the commission by the federal government, favored the approach of the adult educators. Dunton and Paul Lacoste, the Frenchspeaking co-secretary, leaned toward a more traditional approach. Laurendeau is supposed to have said at this point: “The axis has developed; it is Morrison and Laurendeau versus Lacoste and Dunton.” But Lacoste changed his views after the November meetings, when he, Morrison, Laurendeau and Dunton went out to meet the provincial premiers. It was Lacoste’s first trip to the West Coast, and he realized as never before that, in Laurendeau’s phrase: “Concerning the question of the two cultures, different parts of the country are living in different eras." The commission has now obviously set out to tell various parts of the country about each other, through public discussion.

Still, Dunton doesn’t like to admit this is anything more than a traditional royal commission, and he grows nervous when someone suggests that he and his fellow commissioners have in effect set up a kind of temporary institute of bicultural relations. And yet the people who are running these meetings are the adult educators, the same people who have always run Citizens’ Forum, the Couchiching Conference, the Duke of Edinburgh Conference, the Canadian Citizenship Council, the Canadian Centenary Council, the CBC farm programs, the National Federation of Canadian University Students — and, of course, the Canadian Association for Adult Education.

Encourage the fanatics? Blasphemy

They are people who believe profoundly in the value of exchanging ideas, stimulating discussion, clearing the air. To an outsider it sometimes seems that their only impulse, on confronting any problem, is to organize a panel discussion. But to them, the idea that the discussions conducted by the royal commission might do more harm than good — by bringing the fanatics out of the woodwork and hardening hostile attitudes — is unacceptable, unthinkable, even blasphemous.

Neil Morrison has himself been deeply involved with the adult educators since 1939, when he went to work for both the CBC and the CAAE to study the use of radio in adult education. He ran Atkinson College, the new night school in Toronto, from 1961 to 1963. When the cable came from Lamontagne, offering the royal commission job, Morrison was on the northwest frontier of Pakistan as co-director of the World University Service International Student Seminar. Morrison, in fact, is the complete adult educator.

In February Morrison set up the commission’s “Program and Liaison department,” and nominated an old associate, Arthur Stinson, to run it. Stinson, too, is a practised adult educator. Among other things he organized the liaison program for the

Duke of Edinburgh’s study conference. As Stinson’s associate director Morrison hired Antonin Boisvert, a social psychologist and a C'BC executive. Within a month, Stinson and Boisvert had expanded their staff to include full-time and part-time sociologists, press officers, content analysts (to analyze what the royal commissioners heard at the meeting), program organizers, researchers, and one man who did nothing but line up travel arrangements.

The adult educators soon were busy about their work, writing and phoning people in Fredericton, Rimouski, Calgary and Edmonton — people who might provide some ideas, help organize a meeting, or simply show up on the day the barnstorming royal commissioners came through.

If the ideas of Alan Thomas started the commission on the road to adult education, then the ideas of another Toronto man, Paul Fox, helped to shape the enormous research program that has become the other half of the commission’s work. Fox is the editor of the Canadian Commentator and an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. Last summer he wrote in the Commentât or: “If the commission confines itself to relatively petty problems, such as bilingualism in the civil service, it will miss the great opportunity of service in this decade. We desperately need a full scale, wide-sweeping investigation into our dual culture, and the Commission is the obvious instrument. It could be as important to this generation of Canadians as the Rowell-Sirois Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations was to the previous generation . . .”

The Rowell-Sirois commission sat from 1937 to 1940 and called on the best scholars in the country. Ever since then, the wide-ranging papers those scholars produced have provided a basis for Canadian study in political science and economics. After Fox’s article appeared, Morrison spoke to him and then began gathering a group of university people, including Fox, to advise the commission on research. In January the commission hired a full-time director of research, Michael Oliver, of McGill University, and a part-time research consultant, Léon Dion of Laval University.

“The Rowell-Sirois Report is undoubtedly in all our minds,” Oliver told me when I spoke to him in March. And Paul Lacoste had said earlier that Laurendeau - Dunton would probably involve more research than Rowell-Sirois. There has been very little serious research on FrenchEnglish relations and bilingualism in Canada, and from the social scientists’ viewpoint, most of the people who talk about it are talking off the top of their heads.

Oliver and Dion have recently been mapping out and assigning research projects. They have no shortage of junior researchers — indeed, applications have been flooding in — but senior men are hard to find. Laurendeau has pointed out that “the RowellSirois commission had an easy time of it — there were a lot of professors available then.” Now all the professors are busy — setting up new universities. working for other royal

commissions, working for industry, appearing on TV. Still, it seems likely that the Laurendeau-Dunton scholars will soon be involved in the most important social research project in Canadian history. They will eventually examine all the obvious aspects of the question — bilingualism in the civil service, teaching of French in the English schools and English in the French schools — but they also expect to report on how biculturalism or multiculturalism works in countries like Belgium and Switzerland, how English-speaking people feel about French Canadians in places where they mix (and the reverse), and why French Canadians don’t often go to the top in big corporations. The commission may spend $100t00() on a national public opinion poll that will analyze views on biculturalism in various parts of Canada. They may look into such things as the ways in which the two Canadas receive their news of the world. “The commission will provide a terrific impetus to research in the social sciences,” Oliver told me. “I think it’s having a good effect on the academic community.”

Few of the taxpayers who provide the funds for royal commissions are aware of just how much they do and how much they cost. A major royal commission begins by setting up office space. The Laurendeau-Dunton commission, after existing for a couple of months in temporary quarters, moved last November into parts of two floors in the IBM building on Laurier Avenue West, in that part of downtown Ottawa that always looks as if it were recovering from a bombing. The commission will he there for the two or three years of its life (Laurendeau has said we can't expect a report before late 1966), but already it’s running short of space: the second thing a royal commission does is start hiring its staff. It sometimes hires people outright, sometimes borrows them from government departments or universities, sometimes simply inherits them from royal commissions that are dying. At last count Laurendeau-Dunton had forty - five employees, including those who are part-time, and it was still hiring relentlessly.

How much it will all cost no one knows. A royal commission operates as a government department in all respects but one: it has no budget.

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Whenever it wants more money it asks Treasury Board to give it some, and though the board’s scrutineers may try to shave some expert’s salary from $100 to $80 a day, they are usually accommodating. Rowell-Sirois cost the taxpayers a little more than $500,000, and was worth every nickel; but all costs, including even professors’ salaries, have greatly increased in the last quarter of a century. The Gordon commission (on economic prospects) cost $1.5 million, the Glassco com-

mission (on government organization) $2.8 million. The country will be very lucky indeed to get Laurendeau-Dunton for two million dollars.

“A ROYAL COMMISSION is not an advertising agency,” André Laurendeau said in a speech last November. “It will not be able to take sides, except in its conclusions. But it has the right to hope, as I am hoping, that an honest and serious debate on the crisis through which we arc passing

will spread from one end of the country to the other.”

If the debate does not spread, then surely it will not be André Laurendeau’s fault. A week after the meeting at Sherbrooke, Laurendeau was in London, Ont., at another regional meeting (Dunton had his half of the commission in Sudbury the same day).

In the way that Sherbrooke’s Faculty of Commerce building implies the new Quebec, the gaudy Holiday Inn in downtown London suggests

something of the present direction in English-speaking Canada. It is, of course, American-owned, part of a chain of hundreds that is slowly spreading from the United States into Canada. It has a marquee out front, and on March 25 the marquee proclaimed: “BIENVENU M. ANDRE LAURENDEAU.”

If the Sherbrooke meeting resembled at times a congress of young socialists, the London meeting suggested a convention of hardware merchants. The general meeting — in the Holiday Inn's blue and gold banquet room— was unexcited. Its tone was amiable, its seats half-filled. The people talked about better teaching of French in the schools and better relations with Quebec, but of course there was no passion in their discussions, and no hostility — rarely anything more than a generalized resentment that somebody from outside was rocking the boat. Dr. E. G. P 1 e v a, the distinguished University of Western Ontario geographer, said that Ontario wasn’t really against Quebec. “Much that is interpreted as anti-Quebec is really antieverything.” Ontario just doesn’t think much of non-Ontario things or people, he said. “This strong feeling may be one reason why there is a Canada, but perhaps we should now re-examine it.” His listeners heard this accusation of monumental bigotry and provincialism in relaxed silence; no one agreed, or disagreed.

Laurendeau told the general meeting about his experience in Sherbrooke, and in the afternoon he joined a discussion group of a dozen people. He had said earlier that he was surprised when he first heard an Englishspeaking Canadian say that the whole issue had been settled, once and for all, on the Plains of Abraham, but now he was ready for anything. Sitting beside the bureau in a tiny Holiday Inn bedroom, he didn’t flinch when a quiet-spoken minister in a discussion group said, “Canada has ten children, and one of them is acting like a spoiled brat.” Nor did he wince when another man said, in effect, that Quebec should declare its loyalty to the Crown. He merely explained that republicanism means nothing in Quebec because it is irrelevant. Laurendeau patiently explained the social forces that brought about Quebec’s emergence, the relationship between church and state in the province, even the subtle fact that Quebec now has two societies, the young people and the rest. The people in London listened carefully, for Laurendeau is a persuasive and eloquent speaker, a kind of evangelist of moderation and civilization: it is hard for anyone to remain completely unreasonable in his presence. It occurred to me that if the royal commission does nothing else it will have helped the country by exposing a few thousand Englishspeaking Canadians to Laurendeau.

At London he talked as much as he listened, speaking always with a kind of nervous urgency. But he listened, too. and very carefully, for he is learning as much as anyone from the national psychoanalysis he has helped to start. “We are much more aware of the complexity of the problems now,” he said at one point. “It would have been easier to w'rite a report a few months ago." ★