Closeup/The Nation

No more concessions

If Quebec does go, let it not be with impunity

Donald Creighton June 27 1977
Closeup/The Nation

No more concessions

If Quebec does go, let it not be with impunity

Donald Creighton June 27 1977

No more concessions

Closeup/The Nation

If Quebec does go, let it not be with impunity

Donald Creighton

For years, ever since the federal Liberals won power in 1963, English Canada has put its time, its money, its liberal instincts and its genuine goodwill into a prolonged attempt to conciliate Quebec; and now all its efforts, have been decisively and contemptuously rejected by the very people they were designed to benefit. A very welldefined period in Canadian history has come to an abrupt end. There is little point now in waiting for the results of René Lévesque’s promised referendum. If Quebec’s language bill is enacted in its present form, Quebec will legally, as well as mor-. ally, have declared its independence. And, if English Canadians wish to defend their country against division and possible ruin, they must devise very different policies, and develop a far more positive attitude to their own future.

For a long time now, the urgent need of a drastic change in English Canada’s approach to the enigma of Quebec has been evident; but English Canadians have persistently refused to recognize this necessity, and even the revolutionary events of the past six months have scarcely altered their traditional ways of thinking. Certainly the victory of the Parti Québécois in the Quebec provincial election of November 15, 1976, sent a thrill of consternation and alarm through English-speaking Canada. The shock was profound and terrifying, but its force began fairly quickly to decline, for several reasons. Separatism had not been a principal issue in the election campaign; the Parti Québécois had promised that it would not attempt to secede until a provincial referendum had given it authority to do so; and a public opinion poll, held at the same time as the election, seemed to prove that only a small minority of Quebeckers then favored secession. These facts did not quiet all English-Canadian fears, but they at least enabled English Canada to recover from its initial panic. At first Lévesque’s victory had seemed to imply the inevitable dismemberment of Confederation; but gradually it began to appear, not as a uniquely dangerous threat but simply as a typical incident—though admittedly more alarming than most—in the history of Quebec’s relations with the rest of Canada.

For 33 years, ever since Maurice Duplessis had regained power in 1944, Quebec has been playing the politics of blackmail. It has played this dangerous game with conspicuous success, for it enjoyed exceptional powers of intimidation and coercion. The solid phalanx of Liberal MPS from Quebec had long been the mainstay

of the federal Liberal party; and for an astounding total of 26 years out of the 33, the Liberals had been a power in Ottawa. There were several periods, moreover, during this long stretch of time when they ruled as a minority or with a slim majority, and then they had been particularly vul-’ nerable to pressure. French Canada, represented both by the government of Quebec and the French-Canadian contingent in parliament, had taken advantage of this federal weakness and its own commanding position to promote separate and exclusive French-Canadian interests. It had sought

to carry out two main purposes: first, to spread the use of the French language and improve the status of French Canadians throughout Canada; and second, to magnify and glorify the autonomy of Quebec.

The response of English Canada to this calculated pressure might easily have been predicted. English Canada acted as the unsuspecting victims of intimidation have always acted: it tried to meet the politics of blackmail with the politics of appeasement. This meant, in general, that the concept of French Canada as a distinct and separate community must always be allowed to prevail over the idea of Canada as a nation. Canadians were permitted to act together and identify themselves collectively only at times and in ways that French Canada condescended to approve. The postwar project of a Canadian flag, abandoned in 1946 as a result of FrenchCanadian pressure, was successfully revived, after an interval of nearly 20 years, and only because the Union Jack had been removed from the design. The joint fed-

Professor Creighton is English Canada’s preeminent historian

eral-provincial programs, which Ottawa had attempted to establish after the Second World War, were all gradually abandoned. Quebec refused to accept federal leadership in carrying out national plans and in maintaining national standards. All it wanted from Ottawa was money.

The failure of all attempts to transfer the amendment of the Canadian Constitution from England to Canada is the supreme example of French Canada’s successful determination to prevent Canada from becoming a nation and to perpetuate its colonial status. Constitutionally, Canada stood in an abject and humiliating position. Alone of all the nations, big and little, in the Western world, it was incapable of amending its own Constitution within its own boundaries. Two ministers of justice, the Conservative Davie Fulton and the Liberal Guy Favreau, together devised an amending formula that would have ensured the nation’s right to constitutional self-determination. Quebec vetoed it. It even vetoed the so-called Victoria Charter of 1971, that supreme act of English-Canadian generosity and self-abasement, even though it gave Quebec a permanent stranglehold, not only on the amending process but also on major Canadian institutions.

Quebec had succeeded in preventing Canada from achieving its constitutional independence; now it began to question and deny the basically political character of Confederation. The process began with the triumph of Jean Lesage in 1960 and the beginnings of the Quiet Revolution. Canada, the “quiet” revolutionaries announced, was not primarily a political union of a number of different provinces, but a cultural compact between two ethnic communities, French Canadians on the one hand and English Canadians on the other. The essence of Canada was thus its bilingualism and biculturalism, and therefore the paramount task of Canadian governments must be to make these essential elements explicit in both the law and custom of the country.

In the politics of blackmail, this was the ultimate turn of the screw. The bicultural compact theory of Confederation implied drastic and perhaps revolutionary changes. Obviously there were only two main ways in which the aims of the “quiet revolutionaries” could be achieved. The first was an officially bilingual, bicultural but still united Canada; the second was an independent Quebec. For English Canada, there was, of course, no real choice at all. English Canadians had put a century of thought and effort into building a trans-

Quebec has no rig to any territory given it after 1867

continental nation; and they realized that if its political dismemberment could be prevented only by making major cultural concessions then major cultural concessions would have to be made. It was, as anybody could have foretold, and as everybody will eventually admit, an impossible task, but a gallant attempt was made to carry it out.

In 1963, Prime Minister Pearson established a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and empowered it to recommend ways in which Canadian Confederation could be developed “on the basis of an equal partnership of the two founding races.” The wholesale revision of the language clause, section 133, in the British North America Act, which the commission recommended in order to extend the legal limits of bilingualism, failed for the simple reason that the Province of Quebec vetoed it. Despite this crushing disappointment, parliament tried to carry out as many of the commission’s recommendations as it was constitutionally capable of doing. It passed the Official Languages Act which established federal bilingual districts wherever the minority official language was equal to, or more than, 10% of the population. It appointed a Commissioner of Official Languages and began an officious attempt to promote bilingualism in the federal civil service. The English-speaking provinces, impressed by all this federal busyness, started to enlarge the place of French in their educational systems.

The results were certainly mixed and doubtful. Bilingualism in the federal civil service cost vast amounts of money, produced negligible results, and aroused angry resentment among English-speaking bureaucrats. The office of the Commissioner of Official Languages was soon crowded with a robust army of dedicated snoopers, and the commissioner [Keith Spicer, who retires from the job July 31]

himself appeared to think that his most important public duty lay in abusing and hectoring English Canadians for their neglect of a language only an infinitesimal minority would ever have occasion to use. The bilingual colleges had a tendency to remain only theoretically bilingual; and the French “total immersion” courses in the schools did little more than deepen the illiteracy in English with which pupils tried to enter the universities.

All this English Canadians accepted and endured in the hope that it would help to convince French Canadians that their cultural aims could be realized inside Confederation, and to persuade them to drop the idea of an independent Quebec. They knew, of course, that there were separatists who totally rejected the idea of a bilingual, bicultural nation; but it was not until 1968, when René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois emerged as the dominant group in a welter of separatist splinter parties, that the aim of independence seemed to become a real political threat. In the two Quebec provincial elections of 1970 and 1973, the Parti Québécois gained a creditable percentage of the popular vote, but failed to win more than a handful of seats in the National As-

sembly. Inevitably, Lévesque’s victory in November, 1976, came with all the staggering shock of the unforeseen and the unexpected.

For a terrifying moment—but for not much more than a moment—English Canadians saw in Lévesque’s victory the doom of Confederation. Very quickly they recovered from their first frantic fears. In Canadian politics, they recalled, there were no tragic finalities; there were only endless repetitions of the same themes. The triumph of the Parti Québécois was simply one more extremely savage twist of French Canada’s politics of blackmail. It could be successfully met and overcome by one more supreme effort of the politics of appeasement. Almost at once everybody sat back and relaxed in the earnest but complacent attitudes of the 1960s. All the dog-eared plans, the stale proposals and the worn-out, ineffectual remedies were trotted out again as if they sparkled with originality.

Some thought a few “changes” or “adjustments” would be enough to save Confederation. Others, including bank president W. Earle McLaughlin—bank presidents are now the acknowledged gurus of Canadian public affairs—believed that an entirely new Constitution was necessary. Increasingly, one had the sensation that one was watching the repetition of an old, and very familiar, third-rate television program. In 1967, John Robarts, then premier of Ontario, held a splendid and extremely costly “Confederation of Tomorrow” conference in Toronto. Now, 10 years later, the president of York University has announced, no doubt with Premier Davis’ approval, what amounts to another “Confederation of Tomorrow” conference. It is highly probable that not one of these three

Control of the Seaway must be ensured by a protective zone

Repeal the Official Languages Act, and sack the commissioner

great public figures has—or had—any clear and definite ideas about what form the Confederation of Tomorrow should take. But that small defect didn’t injure the conference of 1967, and certainly it won’t impair the success of the conference of 1977. All the delegates will drink a lot, eat a lot, talk a lot; and they will go away with the complacent feeling that they have saved Confederation.

This kind of amiable, well-intentioned, futile talk might have gone on indefinitely. English Canadians thought they had lots of time. They expected that the Parti Québécois would make no decisive move until the results of its promised referendum on independence were known. Their alarm and consternation were all the greater when they suddenly realized that Lévesque had no intention ofwaiting so long. On Friday, April 1—April Fools’ Day— there was tabled in the National Assembly a white paper which described in detail the language policies the Parti Québécois proposed to follow. Quebec, the white paper firmly announced, would henceforth be a unilingual province. “There will be no longer any question of a bilingual Quebec.” In future, French was to be the language of government, both central and local, of the courts, of industry, labor and commerce, of education and communications, of place names, street names and advertisements.

We now know exactly what the Parti Québécois wants and intends to do, and obviously its intentions are unconstitutional. Its language policies repudiate the whole federal bilingual program and its principal expression, the Official Languages Act. They also defy-which is constitutionally much more serious—section 133 of the British North America Act. which gives both English and French equal, official standing in the legislature and courts of Quebec. The language rights

of the English-speaking minority can, of course, be protected by constitutional methods. Of course, Bill One, the new language proposal, could be disallowed by the federal government or declared invalid by the courts. But Camille Laurin, Quebec’s Minister of Cultural Development, has truculently announced that Quebec will pay no attention whatever to executive veto or judicial rejection. Morally, the Parti Québécois is already a revolutionary body.

Unless drastic changes are made before Bill One becomes law, the politics of appeasement will have become totally bankrupt; the policies of self-defense and selfpreservation must take their place. There can be no doubt whatever that English Canada desires to survive as a distinct people. Though the proportion may differ slightly from province to province, English Canadians throughout the nation are strongly in favor of preserving Confederation. It is, in fact, very largely their own creation; and the independence of Quebec will unquestionably leave a great, gaping hole in the national structure they have built. If they accept this passively—as they seem at the moment to be doing—it may very well mean the disintegration and disappearance of Canada. If they meet it resolutely they could ensure the survival of a viable and successful nation. They must

act at once, and there can only be one resolute approach to the impending fact of separation. English Canadians must quickly decide on the terms on which alone they will accept the independence of Quebec. They have foolishly allowed the separatists to take the initiative and to propose terms of their own, terms, of course, devised exclusively in the interest of separation. These must be instantly and uncompromisingly rejected. It is the territorial survival and economic prosperity of Canada to which English Canadians must now devote themselves exclusively. And these are the four major terms on which English Canada would do well to insist:

• Boundaries. In the first place, English Canada should accept separation only if Quebec leaves Confederation as it entered it, with exactly the same boundaries that it had in 1867—minus, of course, the territory of Labrador, which was awarded to Newfoundland by the Privy Council’s decision of 1927. In 1867, the vast northern territory, later called the District of Ungava, was not included in the original Province of Quebec. It formed part of Rupert’s Land, the chartered territories of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and it was not until 1870, three years later, that these territories were bought and paid for by the government of Canada. Ungava remained a part of the Northwest Territories of Canada for more than 40 years. The Canadian government granted part of it to Quebec in 1898 and the remainder in 1912. In those days, Quebec was a province of Canada in good standing. If it ceases to be a province of Canada and becomes an independent republic, it can have no moral claim whatever to territories that were essentially gifts of the people of Canada.

• The St. Lawrence Seaway. The seaway, which serves Ontario and half a dozen populous states on the American side of the boundary line, is based on a treaty of navigation between Canada and the United States, in which Quebec had no

Economic association? Let Lévesque stew in his economic backwater

part whatever. The seaway is vital to the prosperity of many millions of people; and. ifQuebec secedes, it will acquire astill greater importance as the essential link between Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. Canada must not surrender a single one of its rights and obligations under the treaty; and there can be no doubt that the United States will be just as determined as Canada to insist that the operation of the seaway must remain in their joint and exclusive control. It will probably be necessary to establish a protective zone, under CanadianAmerican management, on both sides of the seaway. The Panama Canal Zone extends for five miles on either side of the canal; but, in this case, a mile on each side would probably be sufficient.

• Language. Since Quebec has rejected bilingualism for unilingualism. English Canada’s whole bilingual program, which never had any constitutional or cultural justification, has ceased to have any political purpose. Unlike Quebec, the Englishspeaking provinces are underno legal obligation to give English and French equal official status; and whereas the Englishspeaking minority in Quebec amounted in 1971 to 13.1% of the population, the French-speaking minority totaled less than half that percentage in Ontario and Manitoba, less than 4% in Saskatchewan, less than 3% in Alberta and less than 2% in British Columbia. Canada should repeal the Official Languages Act. abolish the office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. and cease all efforts to promote bilingualism in the civil service. The provinces—and particularly Ontario—that have been promoting French in the schools for purely political purposes should realize that these purposes are now politically meaningless.

• Economic Association. English Canada must make it perfectly clear that neither before nor after separation will it negotiate a customs union with secessionist Quebec. There is something peculiarly offensive in the calm assumption of the leaders of the Parti Québécois that Quebec should be able at one and the same time to enjoy all the political liberties of independence and all the economic advantages of union. Why should English Canadians give the slightest economic advantage to a province that calmly proposes to divide their country and threaten its survival? The Parti Québécois assumes that Quebec and English Canada need each other economically. The truth is, of course, that while Quebec is undoubtedly dependent on English Canada, English Canada could get along very well without Quebec. Once it imposes its tariff along the boundary of the secessionist province, the flight of industry, banking, finance and labor from Quebec, which has already assumed large proportions, will be magnified and accelerated. And René Lévesque, his associates and his deluded followers will be left to themselves in the stagnant economic backwater of independence.O