Quebec: a grand design for a New Order

DAVID THOMAS March 6 1978

Quebec: a grand design for a New Order

DAVID THOMAS March 6 1978

Quebec: a grand design for a New Order


The mood was deceptively subdued when Premier René Lévesque laid out his government’s priorities for the year in the Parti Québécois’ second Throne Speech. The only flash of nationalist rhetoric

came, ironically, from Lieutenant-Governor Hugues Lapointe. The Queen’s Quebec representative opened the new legislative session in the freshly decorated

National Assembly by remarking that the cool blue paint hiding the old green of the chamber’s walls was “an agreeable

reminder of our origins in the days of New France.”

The Premier’s inaugural address was so bland in its concentration on economic matters that it forced opposition parties into the unaccustomed posture of accusing the government of unimaginative conservatism. But that was because they, like the people of Quebec—and of Canadahad no inkling of the profound implications of forthcoming policy which, Maclean’s has learned, is nothing less than a blueprint for a future independent state of Quebec. Although innocuously identified as a policy for “cultural development,” the 550-page white paper that is now under scrutiny by the PQ cabinet would mean a new Quebec in which the degree of state control would surpass anything known in North America. Communications, labor relations, housing and health as well as the obvious domains of entertainment and the arts, are treated as elements of national culture deserving direct government plan-

ning and guidance.

The document even treads on the sensitive area of compulsory assimilation of Quebec’s minority groups into the mainstream of French society.

When Maclean’s confronted the white

paper’s sponsor. Cultural Development Minister Camille Laurin, he admitted his plans are “much more interesting and important than the language policy.” In fact, continued Laurin, whose Charte de la langue française was widely interpreted as a major act of de facto separation, the newwhite paper is of such vast scope that its recommendations will take 10 years to implement. It is nothing less than Quebec’s Declaration of Independence—a full year before the referendum is due to be held.


Detailed contents of the white paper’s 19

chapters are intended to remain secret until the cabinet approves each of the 150 specific measures recommended, but Laurin predicts publication may come within a few weeks.

The policy’s overall strategy is to accentuate the aspects of Quebec that already set it apart from the rest of the continent. Interestingly, the authors of Quebec’s policy of cultural independence leave aside the whole issue of foreign ownership of the economy (except in areas directly related to communications and the arts) which so preoccupies Canadian nationalists. American investment in Quebec has rarely been treated as undesirable by Quebec separatists. partly because U.S.-based multinationals have been quicker than EnglishCanadian firms to adopt French as a working language. Though it may be greeted as a utopian vision by some hard-nosed observers, the policy is to be backed up by a series of tough laws, some of them already being drafted. (If Laurin’s language legislation can be treated as a precedent, the cultural white paper’s transition through legislative bill to law will only serve to strengthen its provisions.) The white paper

proposes an end to laissez-faire evolution of Quebec society and the introduction of state planning—intrusion on a massive scale—though the word planification is used only once because of its alien ring to true believers in the private enterprise system. Laurin said that inspir?.tion for his measures was sought in Europe—including countries in the Communist bloc. But he insists that the role of the Quebec government in planning social development will depend on incentive rather than compulsion : “There is a middle way between ‘laissez-fairism’ and authoritarianism.”

The economy is not treated directly by the policy paper, but since it, like the government’s definition of culture, permeates virtually all human activity, the conditions of doing business in Quebec would be significantly altered. Worker participation in management of their employers’ firms is advocated in the white paper, which uses West Germany’s new compulsory co-management laws as a model. Another direct intervention in the economy will come as one of the first concrete measures recommended: a state corporation is to be created this year to compete against, or join with, private publishers, record companies and other firms within what the government calls the “cultural industries.” Government’s involvement in publishing is seen as the best way to reduce what is termed as the scandalously high price of French-language books in Quebec, most of which are printed in France and sold in Montreal for up to 10 times the price of an equivalent paperback in English. The alleged profiteering of French publishers is seen as one of the causes for Quebeckers' diminished reading habits.

Purchase of Quebec antiques and religious art works by American and English-

Canadian dealers and museums is to be stopped by law. Similar measures exist in dozens of countries, but the law is sure to raise objections that, once again. Quebec is treating itself as though it were al-

ready independent, and the rest of Canada a foreign country.

Two planned moves in the critically important communications industry are also clearly designed to lead Quebec further down the path to sovereignty. Creation of a Quebec news agency to replace the French service of Canadian Press and a dramatic upgrading of the state television network at Radio-Québec to compete with the CBC are set forth as means of eliminating the influence on Quebeckers of communication networks controlled from English Canada. The news agency would be independent of government but. as was the case with Canadian Press, owned cooperatively by Canadian daily newspapers,' initial funding could include" state money. Canadian Press's Toronto head office controls the

French service budget and arouses the resentment of its French employees by feeding out instructions and internal communications in English only.

When Faurin first handed the draft of the white paper to Févesque, the premier was taken aback by the all-encompassing meaning his culture minister and his advisers had allocated to “culture.” As a former journalist, the premier was particularly nervous about the chapter dealing with state involvement in the communications media, a domain Févesque clearly knows more intimately than anyone else in his government. Fearful that media independence would be compromised by some of the measures proposed, he sent the chapter back to Faurin for redrafting.

The cultural white paper was presented to the Parti Québécois cabinet last month and was quick to spark vigorous debates by ministers concerned not only by the direction in which it would take Quebec, but by the conflicts it was certain to raise with federal jurisdictions and with jealousies among provincial departments. "The document intrudes into virtually every minister's territory including social affairs. Obesity, alcoholism, smoking and drug use, for example, are treated as cultural problems with cultural

solutions. Education is also pulled

to the breast of cultural motherhood. Schools, the ^ policy states, should be given _ the added vocation of reinforc^ ing national identification and cultural traits.

Though Févesque and Faurin must bear political responsibility for the policy, the analysis of Quebec society and a prescription of salutary measures are actually the work of Fernand Dumont. Recognized as the father of Quebec sociology and widely respected within the province, the 50-yearold Faval University professor was recruited for temporary duty as Faurin's main adviser. The two men have been friends for years and long shared the conviction that radical state action was urgently needed to break Quebec free from what they claim is cultural oppression resulting from two centuries of English domination. Dumont was also a key author

of the language policy, whose political success has made his partnership with Faurin even more formidable. Though Dumont's early commitment to Quebec's independence and his definition of himself as a socialist might unnerve many non-Quebeckers, within the province his strong Roman Catholic faith and intellectual rigor make him a reassuring figure for those who might otherwise choose to reject separation from Canada.

Dumont's white paper treatise on the “Euro-American nature of Quebec's culture” is meant to be the most coherent and eloquent argument yet in the case for independence. hike many Quebec intellectuals concerned by the directionless ambling of a society suddenly freed of the stability imposed by its paternalistic Church. Dumont lamented the absence of a “collective project” that could unite Quebeckers and rebuild the fabricof a nation. The defeated Fiberal government made mock of that concept by calling its James Bay hydroelectric development “the project of the centurv." but poured concrete was no cement for a culture bursting with creativity and conflict. Dumont is gambling that the cultural development policy can become that unifying glue in the crusade to rediscover and assert Quebec's culture, the raison d'être of any society:“! have always considered a collective project as something mainly cultural. The economy is not an end in itself: culture is.”

It now seems certain that the referendum battle—expected for 1979—over Quebec’s future will be dominated by the white paper. In fact, its essential purpose is to show' Quebeckers w hy they should choose independence and w'hat they could achieve with it. The policy measures. Dumont explains, “cover the period that includes independence. Perhaps you will say

we should have waited before presenting a project like this, but I don’t believe so. Independence must have substance. It is not simply the winning of political tools that will render us more autonomous—no, no, no. There must be a reason behind it. In other words, we must know exactly why we want independence: the project must be elaborated first, and we must begin to apply it within our existing means and limitations. Without that, independence will seem like an empty political manoeuvre.” State involvement in Quebec’s society and economy is likely to multiply, no matter what constitutional solutions are finally chosen. Quebec already has the most extensive welfare state and the greatest public involvement in the economy anywhere in North America. The moderate democratic socialism is a legacy of past governments which rapidly had to replace education and welfare institutions once operated efficiently and cheaply by the Church. At the same time, the Church’s weakening grip forced the state to take over the mission of ensuring the future of the language and traditions of the population. State intervention is more readily accepted in Quebec than in English North America, where faith in freewheeling individualism rests on massive private control of the economy. Business was treated by the Quebec elite as a rather disreputable occupation better left to the English.

Dumont acknowledges the dangers of too much state interference, and wants to

strengthen the presence of French Quebeckers in the private sector as a counterbalance against an overbearing bureaucracy. Bill 101 language policy is, he says, designed to do just that. French can become the language of work only by creating a new class of French administrators and free enterprisers.

To Europeans, the Quebec cultural development policy and its intended state interventions will appear timid. In France for example, the state grew into an omnipresent authority, directing almost every aspect of economic society through its series of five-year plans. The Parisian bureaucracy exerts stifling controls over the political content of television and radio. Recently the French government has taken on the defense of the consumer and has even begun subsidizing seaside vacations for the needy and the elderly. Declared President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing recently: “When holidays and spending were confined to the individual, they were none of our business. But now that they affect the masses, as they do in the industrial democracies, it’s the state’s duty to channel them along the proper lines.”

Once Quebeckers digest their government’s cultural development policy, they will understand that the choice of independence implies more than a seat at the United Nations and a change in the colors of the map. The republic of Quebec, as envisioned by the PQ government, would use its new powers to build a society in which the state is a guarding force, not merely a servant of the people. DAVID THOMAS