MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

How Quebec’s three wise men have laid their careers on the line

Blair Fraser May 2 1966
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

How Quebec’s three wise men have laid their careers on the line

Blair Fraser May 2 1966

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

How Quebec’s three wise men have laid their careers on the line

Blair Fraser

so FAR, English Canadians have had nothing but praise for the three newcomers from Quebec to Ottawa, Jean Marchand, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and Gérard Pelletier. They have comported themselves modestly and well, yet they have managed to move quietly into positions of leadership in the Quebec parliamentary group. They demonstrated this at the founding conference of the Quebec w'ing of the federal Liberal Party three weeks ago —where also they uttered almost the first bold challenge yet heard in French to the quasi-separatist doctrines more usually proclaimed by spokesmen of French Canada. All this has won them an unbroken beam of editorial approval from the Englishlanguage press.

Jt is less widely realized in English Canada that these three, and the other able French Canadians in federal politics, are at a critical moment in their careers. If they fail it will be more than a merely personal failure; it will

be a blow to the whole ideal of national unity and inter-cultural cooperation. Not only will they themselves

probably withdraw from politics (or at least from the federal field) but the chances of recruiting comparably respected men to replace them will become extremely remote.

The occasion of this critical moment is the government's new policy for bilingualism in the civil service. The policy itself is far from revolutionary —indeed, to Quebec it will seem too timid a step toward a goal to which all parties pay lip service. But it does at least establish the principle that a command of both official languages is an advantage in the civil service, one that will increase the probability of promotion and otherwise bring tangible reward.

This is not a mere device to provide more jobs for French Canadians. It offers no special favors to either mother tongue. Its purpose is twofold: first, to make the federal government’s services available in their own language to Canadians of either language group, in any part of Canada —not of course in every village post office, hut in any place where French or English is spoken by a substantial number of people.

Second (and this is even more important w'ithin the civil service) it means that men in executive posts, who wield the power of selection and promotion, shall be able to communicate with subordinates in either tongue. Meanwhile an individual in the public service in Ottawa will be able to work in his mother tongue and be judged solely on his merit.

Neither of these goals will be achieved overnight. For one thing there are not enough bilingual people to go round. For another, no discrimination is intended against unilingual people who already hold senior jobs, or have already earned the right to be promoted into one. Only a first

short step has heen taken toward an ultimate objective.

But it’s already obvious that even this will raise a considerable fuss— that any step, however modest, to give bilingual civil servants an advantage will be furiously resented by those who speak English and believe other people should do the same. And if the government shows any sign of flinching before this storm, or of wavering in its resolve to put the policy into effect, the position of its newest and ablest Quebec members will become untenable. This is what Jean-Euc Pepin, the young minister of resources and energy, meant by his so-called “threat to resign” if bilingualism were not introduced. It wasn’t a threat or even a promise, just a statement of probability.

These men have wagered their political future, and their status in their own community, on the belief that there is a place for French Canadian in the Canadian federal system. They have rejected the separatist notion that only within Quebec, only with a French-speaking majority, can the just aspirations of French Canadians be achieved. But some are beginning to worry that so far. at least, they have little clear evidence to cite in support of their Canadian convictions.

Claude Ryan, editor of the Montreal paper Le Devoir and a stout foe of separatism, put it this way:

"We in Quebec have demonstrated that w'hen we are using our own grammar, and playing by our own rules, we can produce as effective a government as anyone else. Our provincial cabinet is as good as any in Canada, and so regarded by all.

“But when equally competent men come to Ottawa, they seem to fail. Those who have succeeded in the past, the Lauriers and the St. Laurents, were men w'ho had learned your

grammar, adopted your rules so thoroughly as to make them second nature. But those who know only our ways of thought and action apparently cannot succeed.

“Often they arc attacked and maligned, for no fault that we can comprehend. René Tremblay bought some furniture for which he paid cash as soon as he received a bill, and even before he had received all the furniture—yet he was hounded out of the cabinet. Why? Lucien Cardin in the Victor Spencer case followed the law precisely, a lav/ unanimously adopted by Parliament only five years ago, and introduced by the very men who now attack him — yet he was denounced across the country as an enemy of civil liberty. Why?

“You must realize that those of us who believe in a Canadian federal system arc on the defensive in Quebec. The burden of proof is on us, and we need something to which we can point.”