Quebec: What Now?

The October crisis has passed. We survived it. Now we must think about its effects. We must ask, with these two Quebeckers, one a separatist, one a federalist: Can we survive the aftermath?

PETER DESBARATS January 1 1971

Quebec: What Now?

The October crisis has passed. We survived it. Now we must think about its effects. We must ask, with these two Quebeckers, one a separatist, one a federalist: Can we survive the aftermath?

PETER DESBARATS January 1 1971

Normand Caron joined the Parti Québécois in September, 1969, after several years as an active member of Quebec’s small New Democratic Party. He is now director of the Parti Québécois’ program committee in his own riding. He is 25, married with two children and he lives in a modern, middle-income subdivision at St. Basile-le-Grand southeast of Montreal, within easy commuting distance of the city. Born in Montreal, he received his bachelor’s degree at Université de Montréal and his master’s in sociology from McGill in 1968. He works as director of research for Association Coopérative d’Economie Familiale (ACEF), a Montreal agency supported by co-operatives, credit unions, labor unions and federal and provincial governments to assist poor families with financial problems. The agency has been successful in many court actions against finance companies and high-pressure salesmanship. This is the way Normand Caron reacted to the FLQ crisis:

I was very surprised at first but also, like many Québécois, sympathetic toward those who had taken part in the kidnappings. I suppose there was a certain amount of romanticism in my reaction, but it was more than that. When they (the government) were forced to read the FLQ manifesto over television, I thought that was quite an achievement.

I was in favor of negotiating with the FLQ. The lives of James Cross and Pierre Laporte were more important than political principle. In any case, the political system we live under is, to some extent, arbitrary and antidemocratic, and it’s not really ours, it isn’t Québécois. It’s pointless to sacrifice a man for that.

The crisis forced a lot of people to think and this will lead us eventually to a transformation of Quebec institutions. Of course, this is the interpretation of one who wants to change things in Quebec. The FLQ will not be able to overthrow these institutions but the people, because of the FLQ, may be led to change these institutions. Québécois are starting to ask serious questions, collectively. Eventually this will take the form of political action, in another year or so, and then we’ll see great changes. In the long run, everything works in our favor. The current crisis will only accelerate the trend.

Of course there are many things about the FLQ that disturb me. The assassination of Laporte was a little like the assassination of Kennedy. There are many questions about this that I can’t answer right now. The main thing that bothers me is that the FLQ is a clandestine organization over which I have no control. It’s a kind of cancer within our changing society, developing rapidly, uncontrollable. This is what makes me afraid. If it grows, it negates my own political action.

Trudeau’s conduct during the crisis was erratic and emotional. He is supposed to be a “cool guy” but he behaved like a spoiled child. He played the same game as the FLQ. His position was almost as violent. He indulged in demagoguery on television and tried to terrify the people. Trudeau played a game that will surely turn against him some day. He used a sledgehammer to kill a fly when he brought in the War Measures Act.

Robert Bourassa is finished politically ... he lacked the courage to be a true statesman and to say to Ottawa, “We’ll handle the problem here.” In a sense, Bourassa killed Laporte by sacrificing him to an outdated political structure.

The people of Quebec today are “all sails and no rudder,” as we say. There is no leadership. Fundamental social problems are ignored. And many members of the Parti Québécois are asking themselves now: is political action enough? Will it be necessary some day to do more? Maybe . . . but right now there is a job to do. I still have some idealism . . . some faith that it is possible to transform society democratically.

Jean Leman is a strong Quebec federalist. Since 1957 he has been mayor of Candiac, a model Montreal suburb on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River with a population of about 5,000. He is also president of the local school board and a member of Lignery Regional School Board, which has about 6,000 French-speaking students at the secondary level. Born in a wealthy family (his father was president of one of French Canada’s two banks, Banque Canadienne Nationale), he was educated at Jesuit colleges in Montreal before being sent to Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He finished his education with two years of study at Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris. During the Second World War, he was chief industrial engineer for Canadair at Montreal. After the war, he became vicepresident of North American Utilities, a holding company representing French and Belgian interests, which bought up large tracts of suburban land near Montreal. The municipality of Candiac, created in 1957, is situated on land developed by North American Utilities, from which Jean Leman retired in 1965.

This is the way Jean Leman reacted to the FLQ crisis:

My first reaction? I was horrified, worried. I had news from friends in Quebec to the effect that the FLQ planned something drastic, like blowing up all the power lines, or a general strike. They were more than rumors. Hydro Quebec was very worried about the power lines.

I don’t think that the threat was exaggerated at all. The one thing I was concerned about was that they would give in to the demands of the FLQ. Then there would be no end to it.

I was a friend of Pierre Laporte’s. I had many dealings with him when he was Minister of Municipal Affairs, in the early Sixties. His death was a tragic occurrence, but if you give in to the FLQ once there’s no reason why you wouldn’t give in again and again.

The FLQ . . . they’re a group of misdirected people. Therè are too many misguided teachers who spread all these ideas. It’s right through the whole teaching profession, a widespread disease. They’ve gained too much too quickly through their union. They’re overpaid and lazy. As a group, of course . . . I’m not speaking about the teachers under my own board.

The effect of all this is going to be tragic. When Bourassa was elected last spring, there was a change in the attitude of industries interested in coming to Quebec. We reentered negotiations with many of them in our municipality. Since this happened, they’re saying, “Well, we’re sorry. It’s no use talking.” And existing industries have canceled or postponed plans for expansion.

Last weekend, I went to a small town in the country with some young friends, relatives, a girl and a boy. They are both separatists but they are disgusted now with the movement. I think that the foolish ones will become even more foolish and the less foolish will get out of the movement. The FLQ will gain strength among the more radical. The Parti Québécois is finished. It’s finished because the people know that all PQ aren’t FLQ but all FLQ are PQ. The people associate them too closely. I would say that 80% of Québécois feel this way. It’s my impression that a lot of separatists are having grave second thoughts.

All these unilingualists and separatists are losing track of the fact that Québécois don’t have the capital here that the English have. Why they don’t . . . is a matter of history. But we do have one big advantage. Most of us are bilingual. The fact that they are now trying to lose this advantage of ours doesn’t even make sense. And eventually — I’m sure of it — they’re going to succeed in this, in having French as a working language. And when that happens, all the French Canadians who are bilingual will lose the advantage that they now have, and the unilingual ones won’t gain a thing. A working language . . . working in French but having no work!

I think that Trudeau has done a splendid job. Bourassa? With a few more years of experience, he would have reacted more quickly. He was slow to react but that was understandable. I was very pleased when they took the action that they did. They had no choice. □

Before the crisis... a Quebec of rising expectations amid deteriorating economic conditions

QUEBEC IS NOT just a province unlike the others — pas comme les autres in the favorite euphemism of the Sixties. Quebec is a potential disaster area — economically, socially and politically.

The most shocking revelation of the October crisis was the frightening instability of Quebec’s political structure in the face of a challenge by a small, badly organized and poorly financed conspiracy. In a more stable society, the kidnappings of James Cross and Pierre Laporte would have met with public indignation and efficient police action. They would have strengthened the government’s moral authority. The opposite occurred in Quebec. Many French-speaking Quebeckers were sympathetic to the aims of the FLQ; many supported the tactic of political kidnapping up to the point of Laporte’s death. The police bungled almost every aspect of the investigation. And the government’s real authority, its influence over the minds of its citizens, proved so insubstantial that Quebec’s most respected newspaper editor, Claude Ryan of Le Devoir, seriously considered the alternative of a provisional government of “national unity.” If the kidnappings had occurred in Ottawa or Toronto, would the most conservative editorialists in those cities have considered a provisional government? That Ryan did is more revealing about Quebec than a hundred editorials.

What’s wrong with this province?

In the Sixties, Quebec’s political establishment, led by such forceful premiers as Jean Lesage and Daniel Johnson and Montreal’s Mayor Jean Drapeau, created the impression that Quebec’s problems were being tackled energetically. Now the FLQ has forced everyone to see how superficial the achievements really were. Rising expectations amid deteriorating conditions — that was the real picture in Quebec in the last half of the Sixties, and that is the reason why the province is more unstable now than when the “quiet revolution” began in 1960.

The economic roots of the crisis are obvious. After a brief spurt ahead in the first half of the Sixties, prodded by heavy public spending on Expo 67, Quebec’s economy started to slump in 1967. Since then, the average annual rate of unemployment has risen from a 1966 low of 4.7% to 6.1% last year. Today, four out of every 10 unemployed Canadian workers are Quebeckers, and every time Quebec finds jobs for two new workers, a third joins the ranks of the unemployed. Forecasts for this winter range from 11 % to more than 15% unemployed. Manpower department officials in Ottawa estimate that there will be at least 292,000 people without work in Quebec by February.

Economic weakness isn’t the only source of trouble in Quebec, but every Quebec problem is aggravated by economics. For instance, it would be difficult in a period of prosperity for Quebec society to cope with the hordes of graduates now emerging from its revamped system of education: the first educated generation of Québécois in history. But if Quebec is unable to employ this group effectively, it will become a monster capable of destroying its creators. And that is exactly what has started to happen. The configuration of national unemployment statistics bulges ominously at the younger age levels: in September, 11.7% of the under-25 labor force was unemployed. The federal Department of Lahor estimates that 48,000 graduates of Quebec’s new CEGEPS (community colleges) will be unable to find jobs next June appropriate to their training — if they find jobs at all.

The students themselves are partly responsible. When higher education became widely available in the Sixties, Quebec students poured into the traditional arts courses of the old elite. Far too few entered science, engineering and commerce. This imbalance will right itself eventually, but it illustrates how old attitudes continue to affect the efficiency of new systems, a phenomenon even more evident in Quebec politics.

The average Québécois has never participated in the democratic system imposed on him originally by the British. He didn’t invent it, he’s done little to change it and he doesn’t really believe in it. It isn’t surprising that the system hasn’t functioned well as Québécois slowly took it into their own hands, that corruption has flourished among politicians and cynicism among their constituents.

Montreal’s civic administration is the best example —or the worst — of the way democracy doesn’t work in Quebec. In the early Sixties, it was reformed to promote a two-party parliamentary structure. But genuine political organizations had never existed in Montreal at the municipal level, and it proved impossible to wish them into existence. Into the vacuum moved the predictable strong man — in this case, fortunately, a capable one: Jean Drapeau.

There is little commitment to the system in the senior levels of government in Quebec. Premiers and cabinet ministers have speculated freely and publicly about alternative systems, particularly a presidential one that would enable them to select men for their cabinets without having to bother about elections. One of the most important ministers in the previous Quebec government, former Education Minister Jean - Guy Cardinal, was drafted into the cabinet long before he faced an election. Even more revealing is the case of a former civil servant, Jean Cournoyer, appointed to the Union Nationale cabinet earlier this year as Minister without Portfolio, defeated in the election last spring and recently named to succeed the late Pierre Laporte as Labor Minister in the Liberal cabinet.

Some time in the future, freedom from tradition may give Québécois an opportunity to adapt government to their special needs. In the meantime, as the FLQ crisis showed, governments in Quebec rest on sand. When pressure mounts they have a tendency, if the leader is weak, to disintegrate (the Bourassa phenomenon), or, if the leader is an authoritarian figure, to solidify into a mindless mass (the Drapeau reflex).

Quebec’s economic and political weaknesses are rooted in history, not so much the “100 years of injustice” proclaimed by the separatists as 200 years of neglect. Much of the responsibility belongs to Quebec’s English speaking minority, past and present. Unlike Canadians outside the province, English speaking Quebeckers know exactly what Québécois want — because they still have it. The continuing economic superiority of English-speaking Montrealers and the dominance of English as the “money language” of the province is one of the most persistent sources of discontent in Quebec. Impatience over this is mounting much faster than the slow, painful and rather unsuccessful attempts of the English to adapt to new conditions. It would be wrong to say that nothing has been accomplished in the past decade; measured against the old Quebec of cheap labor and blatant political corruption, the achievements are obvious. But the standard that Quebec has been encouraged to measure itself against today is the progressive Canada of the Seventies and, more specifically, Ontario.

Progress itself has now become one of the main roots of conflict. In the early Sixties, for example, the Gaspé area was selected for a massive federal-provincial program of social animation and economic planning. For several years, young “animators” from the cities encouraged the farmers and fishermen of the peaceful Gaspé to examine their own society and formulate ideas for improving it. At the same time, the economists worked on an elaborate development plan. So far, in terms of employment and standards of living, the results have been nil. But the social animation has been a roaring success. Seventeen parish priests from the Gaspé warned the Quebec government in November that an “unfortunate confrontation within a relatively short time” could be expected in their region.

The Québécois who reached out to grasp the promises of the Sixties will not accept the performance of the Seventies, if this first year of the decade is any indication, with consequences for the rest of the country that now have been glimpsed by everyone. □

THE GOVERNMENTS in Ottawa, Quebec and Montreal emerged from the Quebec kidnapping crisis with impressive short-term gains. More than four out of five Canadians approved of Prime Minister Trudeau’s handling of the FLQ challenge; with the fugitives before the courts or on the run and the FLQ an outlawed organization, Premier Robert Bourassa seemed to have the breathing space he needed to concentrate on Quebec’s economic problems; and Mayor Jean Drapeau’s Civic Party swept all 52 seats in Montreal’s October 25 election.

But in the long-term battle for the loyalties of Québécois, there were no victories; there were only retreats into prepared positions. The crisis didn’t change anybody’s mind. Marcel Rioux, professor of sociology at the Université de Montréal, puts it this way: “The options now are reduced to two: many of my colleagues have been led to opt more definitely for Quebec sovereignty; those who were inclined to federalism before have gone completely over to that side.”

This sudden crystallization of opinion is in perfect accord with Trudeau’s own character, as interpreted by law professor Edward McWhinney of McGill: “He likes people to stand up and be counted; he has now reduced the choice to one of black or white.”

Parti Québécois economist Jacques Parizeau was unintentionally right when he said after the crisis that Trudeau had set back political dialogue in Canada 10 years — from “What does Quebec want?” back to “What kind of people are we dealing with?”

The society that English Canada still thinks of as unified, some would say dangerously unified, was shown by the crisis to be highly fragmented and polarized. In the face of English Canada, Québécois still lower their heads like musk-oxen and form a tight defensive circle. But this instinctive group reaction is less significant at this moment, and perhaps for ever, than the struggle among the factions within Quebec, between federalists and separatists, conservatives and radicals, the establishment and the dispossessed, the young and the old. Nowhere else in Canada are the internecine rivalries so antagonistic and the possibilities so dangerous.

Quebec society remains essentially the most conservative in Canada. It supported a backward authoritarian government (Maurice Duplessis) in the Fifties; it replaced a dynamic government (Jean Lesage) with a lacklustre version of the old conservatism (Daniel Johnson) in 1966; and now, according to every poll, it provides stronger support for Trudeau’s hard line than any other group in the country.

“Events have shown me that Trudeau was correct when he said that Québécois are not naturally inclined toward democrac y,” says Raymond Laliberté, president last year of Quebec’s militant union of French-speaking teachers. “The present backlash by Québécois against the moderate elements of their society indicates that they want the kind of security brought about by repressive laws, the army and police. Our young democracy is barely 10 years old. I had hoped that those 10 years might have been enough to instill a new respect for the rights of individuals. I now realize that I was wrong.”

Québécois not only applauded Trudeau more enthusiastically than Canadians elsewhere, they were also willing to follow the Quebec government even further and support compulsory identity cards, “supervision” of news media and the creation of a commission to investigate ideological complaints against teachers. In the face of FLQ terror, French-speaking Montrealers overwhelmingly supported, with their votes, the ruthless campaign of political extermination Jean Marchand, federal Minister of Regional Economic Expansion, and Jean Drapeau waged against FRAP, the embryonic coalition of citizens’ committees in Montreal that represented the first stirrings of participatory democracy in urban history in French Canada.

But it was this conservative population that in the turbulent Sixties also nurtured the strongest and most widespread radical movement in North America, black power included. In the United States and the rest of Canada, radicals remained outside the social power structure, but in Quebec they succeeded in penetrating it. Starting in the powerful student organizations of the early Sixties, socialist separatism became a powerful factor in Quebec’s labor movement and among teachers, journalists, priests and other influential groups. In almost every sector of Quebec society in the Sixties there was this phenomenon: an extreme radicalism flaring up within an essentially conservative group and in opposition to what the Quebec establishment always refers to as “the deep aspirations of the people.”

In Quebec there has never been what English-speaking Canadians would call a central position between conservatism and radicalism. Quebec’s ideological centre has always been far to the right, so the province’s radicals, isolated from the main group, living in their own little “Australia,” have seen their own evolution go out of control, producing deformities such as the FLQ that have had no chance of survival in the real society of the province.

Underlying all this have been certain basic attitudes of the variety described by Sir Wilfrid Laurier when he said, “Quebec does not have opinions, but only sentiments.” They explain how the crisis could bring out apparently contradictory responses in the same individual. Many Québécois, for instance, admired the FLQ and Trudeau for the same reason: they were examples of French Canadians acting with competence, decisiveness and selfless courage. For a people steeped in two centuries of inferiority, both were a tonic. The crisis also brought out similar responses from surprisingly different people. It was possible for a federalist such as Claude Ryan, editor of Le Devoir, to join forces with Parti Québécois leader René Lévesque on humanitarian grounds to advocate a policy of negotiation with the FLQ in opposition to all three governments.

But the main effect of the October crisis, it seems clear now, will be a further strengthening of Quebec’s inherent conservatism. The FLQ has played into Trudeau’s hands by presenting him with an opportunity to demand a definite answer from the people of Quebec. And the mass of Québécois have given it almost unanimously, readily sacrificing the little progress that had been made during the “quiet revolution” of the past decade toward a freer, more liberal Quebec society.

The results will be tragic for Quebec. Activist minorities, including almost the entire intellectual and professional elite, will be further alienated from their own society. Trudeau’s get-tough measures run the risk he himself once wrote about in an essay now reprinted in his book Approach To Politics: “The great lesson to draw from revolutions is not that they devour humanity but rather that tyranny never fails to generate them.” Tyranny is too harsh a word for the Canadian legislation arising from the crisis, as revolution is too drastic a forecast, but the danger is nonetheless real.

But let me add a postscript ... an idea ... a way of looking at Quebec that I found unavoidable during the crisis:

If Canadians have learned anything in the past decade, they have learned that Quebec is a special case. But how special? It probably is going too far to say that Quebec is as special as Spain or certain Latin American countries or some of the underdeveloped nations of Africa. But all these countries have provided examples in our own lifetime of the dangers of applying political principles that don’t conform with real conditions. Is there a danger that “rightthinking” Canadians will attempt the same folly in Quebec?

André Raynauld, professor of economics at Université de Montréal and co-author of a recent important report on the Quebec economy for the federal Department of Regional Economic Expansion: “We’ve been in a recession for two years now. The Quebec government should have been able to combat this with deficit financing on a large scale, as any government in the world does when there’s a recession. But due to the lack of proper mechanisms, the Quebec government is unable to do this. For two years now, I have supported a scheme of indirect access to the Bank of Canada, an access for the province of Quebec. This scheme would have permitted stability in Quebec while the war against inflation could have continued in other parts of Canada, where needed . . .

“The economy of Quebec must be reactivated by pouring money into it, regardless of constitutional arguments and despite the events of the past months.”

Roger Lemelin, novelist and businessman: “I see little that needs to be done in future by Canadians. I see nothing tragic that is about to occur. The murderers are not frightening the people. One should beware of a certain part of our elite. The young journalists, for example, are not representative of the people.”

Leo Kolber, president of Cemp Investments, the Bronfman development group in Montreal: “Let’s get something done about unemployment. I don’t want to be a purveyor of glib answers but . . . when you have prosperity, you don’t have unrest.”

Guy Rocher, professor of sociology at Université de Montréal and a member of the Parent Commission, which blueprinted educational reform in Quebec in the Sixties: “Canadians should take back the carte blanche that they have given Trudeau. He’s not worth their confidence. I put a lot of trust in what English-speaking Canadians can do for Quebec, and I do not believe that dialogue has become impossible. But there is now a dangerous pressure created by the escalation of the federal government. I see a probability of civil war in Quebec if it continues.”

Yves Ryan, mayor of Montreal North and brother of Claude Ryan, editor of Le Devoir: “Governments in Canada, at all levels, must take it upon themselves to help Quebec so that our economic ills can be eliminated. It is obvious that a minimum of prosperity will go far to solve the problem.”

Florent Audette, a leader of the construction workers’ union in the Quebec-based Confederation of National Trade Unions: “I have always believed that social transformation in Quebec will be easier to achieve if Quebec becomes independent.”

Marcel Faribault, honorary president of Trust Général du Canada, adviser to Conservative and Union Nationale governments in constitutional affairs: “I suggest to English - speaking Canadians that they stop listening only to what they like to hear. Canada is not a pays unitaire. An effort on constitutional change must prevail over economic problems. Economic success cannot have a firm base until the constitutional problem is settled.”

Yves Gagnon, director of the department of journalism, Laval University, and a former head of the French-language weekly newspapers association in Quebec: “In the short run, I am pessimistic about the future of democracy in this province. At the moment, newspaper readers in Quebec seem to think that journalists should take for granted everything the government throws at them . . .

“A majority of Québécois now support the public order legislation. I feel that this support signifies a great lack of responsibility. I wish that Québécois would gain a greater sense of responsibility . . . not lean on their governments for everything . . . become more adult and face the necessity of a new pact on federalism.”

Claude Charron, Parti Québécois, member of Quebec’s National Assembly for the riding of St. Jacques in east-end Montreal, the youngest member ever elected to the Assembly: “Canadians, especially English-speaking Canadians, must do all they can to moderate Trudeau. If he is allowed to keep and wield indiscriminately the powers he has, he can only destroy the country. I have always felt that Trudeau despised Québécois; I now feel that he has come to actually hate them. It is my feeling that he could easily become a fascist. Up to now, he has reasoned things out in the same fashion as the FLQ.”

Raymond Laliberté, former head of the French-speaking teachers’ union in Quebec, now studying political science at Laval University: “It is essential that if we are to stop the FLQ other than by force, which up to now has been ineffective, we must rebuild Quebec society. The help of the resit of Canada is essential. This must not simply be a matter of injecting money into selected spots in Quebec. There must be a handing over of powers to Quebec so that the government here can decide how the money is to be used.” □