Blair Fraser April 17 1965


Blair Fraser April 17 1965


Quebec is making a strong quiet drive to broaden contacts with France; French investors are putting money into the province, and there is a brisk two-way trade in culture. But this is no love affair: pure selfinterest, not sentiment about a common language, will govern how far each will go

Blair Fraser

AT TWO O’CLOCK one morning last month Quebec’s Premier Jean Lesage was still at work — though he had to be, and was, at his downtown office only six hours later for an early committee meeting. What kept him up late was an odd task for the head of a government. He was correcting the French style of a White Paper about to be issued by one of his government’s departments.

“It was full of anglicisms,” Lesage said ruefully to a friend next day. “Especially words spelled the same that have different meanings in French and in English — time after time they’d be used in the English sense. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past five years, but I’m still a long way from satisfied.”

This incident demonstrates one motive, and not the least important, for Quebec’s current drive to broaden and deepen all channels of contact with France. Sometimes the motive is obvious, as in the educational program arranged by Quebec and France in February: it provides among other things that some Quebec teachers of French will go to France for study, and French school inspectors and normalcollege professors will come to Quebec to advise the education department. It’s less obvious but equally true that even in purely economic matters, the same motive is present — Quebec’s implacable resolve to strengthen its position as a French-speaking province and the custodian of French culture in North America.

So far, results of the rapprochement between Quebec and France have included the following:

• Paris and Montreal will spend twenty million dollars on a “Paris-Montreal Monument,” a tower three hundred and twentyfive metres high, for Expo 67 in Montreal.

• France will spend twelve million dollars on its national exhibit, the largest yet announced by any country.

• French engineers helped design the Montreal subway, which will use French cars.

• Through a curious kind of partnership between Quebec's government-supported General Investment Corporation and two French motor-makers, a new assembly plant will soon turn out eight thousand Renault and Peugeot cars at St. Bruno, Que.

• French economists and engineers did the preliminary surveys for the two-hundred-million-dollar steel complex that Quebec will build, with a mixture of public and private capital, in the St. Lawrence Valley.

• French investors own fifty-one percent, Quebec's General Investment Corporation forty-nine percent, of a plant at Laprairie, near Montreal, making insulators for the recently nationalized Hydro Quebec.

• French capital has a share in a fertilizer plant at Valleyfield, Que., owned in equal proportions by French, Belgian and EnglishCanadian groups, and by Quebec’s General Investment Corporation.

• French art and theatre are being brought to Quebec in greater volume (most recent example: the largest exhibition of Rouault paintings and drawings ever shown outside France). At the same time, Quebec theatre groups are sent to France with financial aid from the Quebec government.

All this has led some observers to talk of a “love affair” between De Gaulle’s France and the quietly revolutionary regime that came to power in Quebec five years ago. The metaphor is ill-chosen. This is no love affair. Neither in Quebec City nor Paris is there any evidence of sentiment in the transactions between them. These are hardheaded deals of mutual interest, friendly but not altruistic.

René Lévesque, the fiery nationalist who is Quebec minister of natural resources, explained why he and his colleagues look oftener to France than to other sources of investment: “French Canadians should take control of Quebec’s economic affairs as soon as possible. One major factor is that our economy has got to become Frenchspeaking. French must become the working language. An obvious way to speed that process is to bring in French companies, French technicians, French advisers.”

Jean Paul Gignac, who heads Hydro Quebec, put the same thought even more bluntly: “French companies speak French. They might ... 1 won’t say force, but let’s say invite other companies in Quebec to do the same.”

Gignac says frankly he is using the buying power of Hydro Quebec to induce French companies to manufacture electrical equipment in the province. He and Gérard Filion, president of the General Investment Corporation, got French investors interested in the insulator plant at Laprairie; so far, Hydro Quebec is its only customer. Gignac also persuaded a French electrical firm to have some equipment made under licence by a French-C'anadian company at Sorel. Both projects originated at a French industrial exhibition in Montreal where, says Gignac, “I used the opportunity to speak to French industrialists about their attitude toward Quebec, ever since 1760!”

Apparently this attitude hasn’t changed as much as Quebec might L wish.

“That’s one hurdle we haven't yet cleared,” René Lévesque said with a wry smile. “As George Bernard Shaw said about the English and Americans, we have between us the barrier of a common language. And the few Frenchmen who think of Canada at all have an ingrained habit of turning to Toronto or St. James Street (Montreal’s financial district, dominated by English Canadians). Why deal with the hired hands when you can / continued on page 26

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deal with the boss? And of course the French still think we French Canadians are the hired hands, and English Canada the boss.”

But Lévesque is not discouraged about French interest in Quebec. French investors, unlike American, have no prejudice against the mixed projects, using both private and public capital, that Lévesque and his colleagues hope to promote. After mentioning several French financiers who have come or are coming to look into Quebec investments, Lévesque said, “This is more important than what the French think about us. It’s also more important than a lot of legendary stuff about our common origins — although that’s important, too.”

On the cultural side not much was done until Pierre Laporte, a Montreal ex-newspaperman, took over last September as Quebec minister of cultural affairs. He set up a six-man committee to plan a cultural program, which will be outlined in a White Paper, probably next month. “Then,” says Laporte, “we shall have a clearer idea what our relations with France should be.”

Meanwhile Laporte has been helping Quebec theatre groups to visit France. One, Le Rideau Vert, visited Paris a year ago and was invited again last season; it was enabled to accept by a Quebec grant of forty thousand dollars. Another Quebec venture into the Parisian theatrical world was the visit of Félix Leclerc and his Petit Bonheur troupe in December. Leclerc’s comedians got rough treatment from the Paris critics, but, says Laporte, “we think we should send our artists to France anyway, even if they are criticized harshly, so they can learn what real French theatre is like.”

Laporte thinks that in doing so. and in bringing things here from France, he is serving all Canada: “I believe we arc a bicultural country, and it’s Quebec’s responsibility to give Canada the best possible French culture. The source, naturally, is France, but I hope to bring French culture to all ten provinces. Certainly we arc willing to spend Quebec money to send French-speaking groups across Canada.”

This willingness has already been proved. When students at the University of Alberta organized a “French Canada Week” two months ago, Laporte’s department spent five thousand dollars to send them an exhibit.

But except for incidental strengthening of the French language in Canada, Quebec has no more interest in investment from France than from other European countries (though there is a definite intention to offset the predominance of American and British capital). “I think our best source of money is West Germany,” one Quebec civil servant said. The man who looks after economic affairs at the Paris Maison de Québec, a French Canadian with the splendidly

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bicultural name of Pat Hyndman, is responsible not only for France but for the whole European Common Market; he’s about to open a branch office in Milan. Gérard Filion, president of the General Investment Corporation, said “The reason we tend to concentrate on French investment is that there is so little of it now!” (Total French investment in all Canada is little more than a hundred million dollars, compared to ten billions for the U.S. and a billion and a half for Britain. Business between Canada and France has doubled since 1955. but it's still only about one percent of Canada's foreign trade.)

“Our financiers have only limited interest in Canada,” a Paris official said, “because they see few opportunities for adequate earnings.” A Quebec official put the same thought the other way round: “The French are hard bargainers, and they expect a higher and faster return than we are accustomed to pay.”

France has also disappointed the more nationalistic Quebeckers in the one field where they most counted on French cooperation — the field of international affairs. Since 1961 the Lesage government has greatly enlarged its activities abroad, and some officials would like to think Quebec has acquired a special international status, approaching that of a sovereign nation. They hoped France would help them establish this impression, but they hoped in vain.

The impression is false. Quebec’s agent-general in London has exactly the same status as the five other provincial agents-general, who have been established there for years. Quebec opened a similar mission in Paris in 1961, but the French gave it no official status whatever until Ottawa made the request on Quebec's behalf, whereupon it was granted immediately.

Two years ago, at Quebec's request, France agreed to accept some Canadian students each year at the Ecole Nationale de l'Administration, a state institution for training high-level civil servants. But before the deal was completed, Paris let Ottawa know what was afoot. Ottawa not only approved, it joined the project: along with eight from Quebec went two federal civil servants. One was a young man whose first language is

English: to Ottawa’s well-concealed delight, he led his class.

Another example of Quebec's bid for international status was the educational agreement (or entente, as Ottawa insisted it be called) that was signed in Paris on February 27.

This program had been under negotiation for nearly a year. Ottawa heard about it last June. In September. Paul Martin, Canadian minister of external affairs, spoke to Paul Gérin-Lajoie, Quebec minister of education, and told him no province could make a formal agreement with another country except through Ottawa. The Quebec government didn't appear to like this stipulation much. Negotiations with France were completed in November, and Premier Lesage, returning from a trip to Paris, told newsmen there would soon be “an agreement” between Quebec and France for educational exchanges — a significant development, he said, since it would be the first ever signed between a Canadian province and a foreign country.

But after that, nothing happened for nearly four months. The French were well aware of Canada's constitutional structure, and “we are not going to be drawn into your family quarrels,” a French foreign office official told me at the Quai d'Orsay in February.

By then it w:as clear that unless there was an exchange of notes between Paris and Ottawa, explicitly giving Canada's blessing to this arrangement with a province, no deal with France could be made. Reluctantly, Quebec accepted Ottawa’s approval, including the stipulation that the arrangement be called an “entente,” not an “agreement.” Ottawa thought that “agreement” sounded too much like “treaty.”

It's true that General de Gaulle has gone out of his way to be cordial to Quebec visitors. He had Premier Lesage to lunch last November (without inviting the Canadian ambassador) and Gérin-Lajoie to tea in February. Evidently the general believes a French-speaking enclave in North America is some addition to the grandeur of France.

Also, Quebec has promoted its "international status” by appointing, as representatives overseas, men of personal distinction. The Quebec agentgeneral in London is Hon. Hugues Lapointe, son of the great FrenchCanadian leader Ernest Lapointe and himself a privy councillor with a distinguished record of his own. To head the Maison de Québec in Paris, the Lesage government got Jean C'hapdelaine, then Canadian ambassador in Cairo. In both cities, relations between the Maisons de Québec and the Canadian-government missions are uniquely close. Hugues Lapointe sat in the St. Laurent cabinet with the present Canadian high commissioner to Britain, Lionel Chevrier. Jean Chapdclaine and Jules Léger, Canadian ambassador to France, have been close friends as well as colleagues for the past quarter century in the department of external affairs.

At the working level, therefore, Quebec’s relations are good with all three governments — French, British and Canadian. And for all practical purposes, it's the working level that counts. ★