It was an opening fraught with false starts. The rookie Parti Québécois Speaker, Clement Richard, almost adjourned the new session of the Quebec National Assembly by mistake in his first sentence, and his mix-up in terminology had to be corrected by PQ House Leader Robert Burns. The opposition Liberals immediately challenged a ruling by the Speaker, delaying Premier René Lévesque’s inaugural address with a procedural wrangle. But the second session of the 31st Legislature eventually got underway on March 8 with a speech by Lévesque that set the tone for the months to come.
The speech was unmistakably written by Lévesque himself, full of the striking turns of phrase and idealistic ambitions that to some eyes give him an aura of political freshness, even after 17 years as a politician. He spoke solely of the nitty-gritty of provincial government. Chock-full of references to forthcoming legislation, special programs, modifications and reforms, the speech ranged from plans to provide free milk to schoolchildren to aid for housing and improved consumer protection: a total of 45 legislative and administrative measures. The word “independence” was never used.
It seems clear that Lévesque’s strategy in his push toward independence is to maintain a cyclical rhythm, reassuring the party of that long-term goal while strengthening the support of his government by its concrete measures and reforms. In doing this, he hopes to maintain what he obviously feels is an irreversible momentum. Lévesque did not back away from the subject of independence when asked about it at a press conference, saying the objective of the government was “self-government. . . to take back, as we’ve always said, control of our taxes, control of ourjurisdictions, so as to administer ourselves, at home, freely, like a people that has a home.” As for the much discussed “association” with the rest of Canada that the party program suggests, he compared it to the links among the nine members of the European Common Market.
But recent comments by other PQ members have made it clear that some would be satisfied with a negotiated settlement well short of total independence. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Claude Morin telephoned The Toronto Star to complain about a headline that said he stood for “total separation.” Economic Development Minister Bernard Landry told a Winnipeg audience, “We don’t want
to destroy or fracture Canada—we want a new agreement.” Natural Resources Minister Yves Bérubé referred to the promised referendum on independence as a “strike vote,” in other words designed to give the PQ a mandate to bargain with Ottawa. In the capital, Prime Minister Trudeau said he was “suspicious” of reports of a change of tone in Quebec City on the question of independence. “I’m very happy to hear that,” he said to a reporter who suggested Lévesque is prepared to consider staying in Canada with a new constitution. “But, I submit, to my knowledge he has not said that yet... I would be afraid of a bear trap ... If the Parti Québécois says clearly that they don’t need independence, I would be very happy to hear that and would probably support that line.” In New York, Finance Minister Donald Macdonald told an audience of financiers that the Péquistes, in raising hopes of an economic union with Canada after separation, “are just plain kidding their electorate.”
The Liberals in Quebec have caught the drift of Lévesque’s rhythm of alternately emphasizing and playing down the longterm goal of the party. In his reply to the inaugural address, interim Liberal leader Gérard D. Lévesque noted the Premier’s avoidance of the term “independence” and commented: “How long will this game of hide-and-seek go on? From 1970 to 1976, it was independence. Between October 18 and November 15 [during the election campaign]. the question of independence was dimmed. Suddenly in New York [Lévesque’s January address to the Economic Club],independence again became
the raison d'être of the government... In the inaugural address, again silence.”
The present focus on details of automobile insurance, class action legislation, day-care centres, free dental care for children, control of the asbestos industry and the proposed fight against unemployment will enable Lévesque to avoid clarifying the ambiguities of his long-term objectives. His galaxy of plans was greeted with cautious optimism by a variety of representatives of business and industry. The biggest problem was seen as financing what Banque Provinciale President Michel Belanger called “a pile of good things.” Muttered Liberal Bryce Mackasey after the inaugural address, “We have to wait until they bring a budget down before we know what this government’s really about—they haven’t any money!”
In New York, the Quebec government got some good news. Moody’s, the influential credit rating agency, decided after a lengthy reappraisal of the provincial government’s financial situation that its rating should remain “double A,’’the same as it was before the PQ election win. The vote of confidence from Moody’s should not only make it easier for Quebec to resume borrowing in New York but also calm investors who were unnerved by Lévesque when
he made his January speech in that city.
But even before its budget, the government will face a major test—a white paper on language that will be the basis of a law to replace Bill 22. It will include regulations on the language of instruction, a question that has vexed every government since Union Nationale Premier JeanJacques Bertrand introduced Bill 63 in 1969 permitting free choice. Equally controversial was the Liberals’ 1974 Bill 22, which required language tests to establish admissibility of immigrant children to English schools.
Lévesque’s speech promised “a clear, vigorous and straightforward proclamation of the absolutely normal primacy of the French language on the territory of Quebec.” But for the minorities “who come from other lands and who have kept or adopted English as their main language, the law must allow them, with serenity— and why not with generosity too—to maintain their own identity at school and elsewhere.” But he acknowledged to reporters that his cabinet is divided over language of instruction. Leaks in recent weeks suggest one faction, led apparently by Minister of State for Cultural Development Camille Laurin, argues that English schools should be restricted to children whose parents attended English schools in Quebec. Another, apparently led by Lévesque, supports a broader approach to include children who have at least one parent educated in English anywhere in Canada. How the PQ government deals with this question, which contributed to the defeat not only of Bourassa’s government but Bertrand’s before it, will be as important to its future as how it tries to pay for its more concrete promises. GRAHAM FRASER
Keepers of the faith
In Ottawa, plans were afoot for a “unity train” to crisscross the country promoting Canadian solidarity and opposing separation by Quebec; in Edmonton preparations were underway for a big, pro-Canada “talk-out” early next month and in Aylmer, Quebec, a handful of committed federalists mushroomed weeks after it was founded into a movement of more than 10,000 devoted to keeping Quebec in Confederation.
Across most of Canada, in the months since the Parti Québécois November election victory, pro-federalist groups of all forms and sizes have suddenly begun springing up, forming alliances and searching for strategies with astonishing speed and regularity. By far the largest and most vocal of the organizations is the Aylmer-based Quebec-Canada Movement, headed by Michel C. Gratton, a Liberal member of the Quebec N ational Assembly and an ardent anti-separatist. Claiming to have distributed some 50,000 membership cards since its official launching early in February, Quebec-Canada—which contains roughly 60% French-speaking Cana-
dians—now is recruiting about 400 people daily in the Montreal area alone, with Gratton’s office getting 60 to 70 inquiries a day. He says the majority of his QuebecCanada movement is francophone and that people at all levels, from intense-looking matrons to highly successful lawyers, are involved.
Says Gratton: “Even I, for a long time, thought that (Premier René) Lévesque would sacrifice his independence issue for the sake of getting power. His New York speech convinced me that he’s dead serious about making Quebec independent and he would do so at the risk of losing power.” Recently, Quebec-Canada embraced another, similar group, Team Canada, headed by Westmount MNAGeorge Springate, giving the organization a unified province-wide status.
But if the groups are remarkable for their numbers and enthusiasm, they are less notable for being precise about the methods they will employ to achieve their federalist goals. One of the more imaginative, if still somewhat hazy, projects is the unity train, a program being organized by two Ottawa couples with the aim of sending a train back and forth across Canada from July through September, carrying more than $500,000 worth of mobile exhibits celebrating Canada’s heritage and cultural integrity. In British Columbia, a core group of 15 professionals has been formed under the leadership of Chuck Connaghan, vice-president of administrative services at the University of British Columbia, to ensure the province has a full role in the debate over separatism. But exactly how this is to be accomplished remains to be seen. Says Connaghan: “None of us sees ourselves as riding white chargers and going off into the sunset, but we are concerned about the role of BC in the upcoming debate.”
Only the Atlantic provinces seem to have missed the wave of national fervor. A few Acadian groups in the east have made attempts at organizing campaigns to promote unity, but in other areas there has been little or no overt activity.
In Alberta, a group of 32 people has formed the Unified Canada Movement, aimed at organizing western Canadians into a single, strong voice promoting unity, with a series of talk-ins planned for this spring in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Regina, Winnipeg and Lethbridge. Says free-lance journalist Grant Kennedy, chairman of the movement: “The francophones hear about the vocal minority [in the west] that says ‘let them go,’ but they never hear that most western Canadians value them and respect their province as a keystone of Confederation.”
At the University of Toronto, a club of futurologists has decided to play a part by forgoing its academic crystal-ball gazing to study alternative directions for the country instead. Says a brief prepared for the federal government by two members, Robert Logan, professor of physics at the university and a leading Liberal, and Stephen Berkowitz, professor of sociology and a
New Democrat: “It is time, we think, for all Canadians to stop trying to refight battles on the Plains of Abraham and confront the issues that lie ahead.”
On a broader scale, 10 national voluntary organizations met with Science and Technology Minister Hugh Faulkner last month to try to initiate more coordinated cross-country support for a united Canada -and Secretary of State John Roberts announced funding for a nationwide exchange of 30,000 students this year to enable them to see and live briefly in other parts of the country. Prime Minister Trudeau, meanwhile, has been restrained in his reaction to the new groups. “At some point,” he says, “I may want to ask them to do certain things. For the time being, however, there has been no contact between us.”
While the pro-Canada groups seem to have the overall objective of creating a new sense of nationalism, which might cut across existing language and regional barriers, the absence of specific plans and programs to promote unity has frequently led to criticism (Health Minister Marc Lalonde said, without qualification, in a recent Toronto speech that he disagrees with the depth of this newfound nationalism: “Token goodwill is simply not enough.”) But members contend that if they succeed in alerting all Canadians to the dangers of separatism and to the benefits of continued unity, it will more than justify their existence. JULIANNE LABRECHE
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