Quebec nationalism: History of a call to action
By Marian Scott, THE GAZETTE April 12, 2014
From “Maîtres chez nous” to “Money and the ethnic vote” to “a moving of tectonic plates,” here is a timeline of Quebec nationalism in notable quotes.
1959: “Désormais ...” — Paul Sauvé
The death of ultraconservative Union Nationale premier Maurice Duplessis ends the period known as the Grande Noirceur. His successor, Paul Sauvé, promises reform but dies of a heart attack four months later.
Sauvé is best remembered for declaring that “Désormais” (henceforth), things would be different in Quebec. But in fact, Sauvé never used the word; the myth grew out of an article in Le Devoir.
1960: “Maîtres chez nous” — Jean Lesage
The Quiet Revolution begins when the Liberals form a minority government after campaigning on the slogan, “C’est le temps que ça change.” Lesage’s team includes popular TV journalist René Lévesque.
Re-elected with a majority in 1962 on the slogan “Maîtres chez nous” (masters in our own home), the Lesage government nationalizes electricity, takes over control of education and social services from the Catholic Church, creates a modern civil service and launches a vast infrastructure program.
“I am a Quebecer first, a French Canadian second and I really have ... well, no sense at all of being a Canadian,” Lévesque tells an interviewer in 1963.
1963: “Independence must be accompanied by a social revolution” — Pierre Bourgault
But for some, the Liberals’ reforms don’t go far enough. The Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale (RIN) is among a handful of small separatist groups spanning the political spectrum from the far-right to left.
“Independence in itself means nothing. Independence must be accompanied by a social revolution,” declares RIN propaganda director Pierre Bourgault.
On March 7, 1963, bombs go off in three armouries in the first of 60 violent attacks in seven years by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) that will kill eight people and injure many more.
1963-69: "The bosses all talk English” — Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism
In 1963, Prime Minister Lester Pearson creates the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (also known as the Bi and Bi Commission).
“Canada is now in the greatest crisis of its history,” say commissioners André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton.
The commission finds francophones earn less money than anglophones, who occupy most management jobs.
“Again and again we came across such phrases as: ‘I have to hang up my language with my coat when I go to work’; ‘The bosses all talk English’; ‘The English-speaking always get the best jobs,’ it reports.
1965: “Equality or independence” — Daniel Johnson
Union Nationale leader Daniel Johnson launches a manifesto, “Égalité ou indépendance,” calling for greater provincial powers.
“What we want, in fact, is the right to decide for ourselves or to have an equal share in decisions in every field that affects our national life. After three centuries of striving, our nation deserves to live freely.”
Without “complete equality,” he writes, “we will have to achieve independence for Quebec,” adds Johnson, who favours “independence if necessary, but not necessarily independence.”
In the 1966 election, the UN wins a parliamentary majority (even though the Liberals won in the popular vote, with 47.29 per cent to 40.82, but got fewer seats)
1967: “Vive le Québec libre!” — Charles de Gaulle
The French president cries, “Vive le Québec libre” from the balcony of Montreal city hall to an ecstatic crowd waving the fleur-de-lis and tricolore flags. A furious Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson issues an official rebuke stating, “Canadians do not need to be liberated.”
Lévesque quits the Liberal Party after party members at a convention reject his Option Québec proposal for sovereignty and founds the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association.
In 1968, it merges with the conservative Ralliement National to create the Parti Québécois. The RIN disbands so as not to compete with the new party.
1968: “White niggers of America” — Pierre Vallières
In his New York jail cell, FLQ member Pierre Vallières writes his best-selling autobiographical manifesto comparing francophone Quebecers to African-Americans.
1969: “Underlying reality of our country” — Pierre Elliott Trudeau
The federal Official Languages Act guarantees the equality of French and English in federal services, courts, the public service and Parliament.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau says the bill recognizes Canada’s two founding language groups, “both of which are strong enough in numbers and in material and intellectual resources to resist the forces of assimilation. In the past this underlying reality of our country has not been adequately reflected in many of our public institutions.”
1970: “A defeat that seems like a victory” — René Lévesque
The PQ wins 23 per cent of the vote in the 1970 election, resulting in only seven seats — mostly in Montreal — but boosting the fledgling party’s hopes.
“Don’t you find it’s a defeat that seems like a victory?” leader René Lévesque says.
1970: “Just watch me” — Pierre Elliott Trudeau
On Oct. 5, 1970, the October Crisis begins when the FLQ’s “Liberation Cell” kidnaps British trade commissioner James Cross. Five days later, the “Chénier Cell” kidnaps Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.
On Oct. 16, two days before Laporte’s murdered body is found in the trunk of his car, Trudeau declares martial law — the only time the War Measures Act has been invoked in peacetime. Asked by journalists how far he was willing to go in invoking the Act to end the crisis, Trudeau says: “Well, just watch me.”
Under the law, police and the army conduct 3,000 searches and arrested nearly 500 people, including well-known artists, journalists and students.
1974: “Pressure for radical solutions” — Robert Bourassa
Bill 22 — making French predominant on public signs and restricting entrance to English school to children who already know English — infuriates anglophones while failing to satisfy nationalists demanding greater protection for the French language.
In 1975, Premier Robert Bourassa tells an angry English-speaking audience at Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School, “my feeling was the more I waited, the more there would be pressure for radical solutions — remember the 1960s.”
Anglophones are not mollified. When Bourassa, “the most hated man in Quebec,” calls a snap election in November 1976, many anglophones vote for the Union Nationale.
1976: “I never thought I could be so proud to be a Quebecer” — René Lévesque
The Parti Québécois’s stunning victory on Nov. 15, 1976, surprises even leader René Lévesque. His voice broken by emotion and exhaustion, Lévesque thanks an ecstatic, chanting crowd at the Paul Sauvé arena for the “unhoped-for vote of confidence.”
“I never thought I could be so proud to be a Quebecer,” he says.
1977: “Linguistic shock therapy” — Camille Laurin
Bill 101 makes French Quebec’s only official language, forcing immigrants to send their children to French school, banning bilingual signs and creating the Office de la langue française.
The father of the French-language charter is cultural development minister Camille Laurin, a psychiatrist who says Quebecers suffer from a “sense of incompleteness and flawed identity.”
Laurin calls the legislation the “reconquest by the French-speaking majority of Quebec.”
“It was shock therapy, and I think it worked very well,” Laurin says years later in an interview with The Gazette. “The security and self-esteem of francophones has grown,” he says.
1980: “Until the next time” — René Lévesque
The PQ’s election seemed to bring the dream of sovereignty within reach. But on May 20, 1980, nearly 60 per cent of Quebecers reject sovereignty-association in a referendum. An emotional Lévesque tells supporters, “If I have understood you, what you are telling me is: until the next time.”
1981: “Night of the Long Knives” — René Lévesque
During the 1980 referendum campaign, Trudeau promised constitutional reform. But when the promised reform comes, it is not the de-centralization of powers Quebec has been demanding.
For Trudeau, repatriating Canada’s Constitution, the British North America Act, is a dreamed-of opportunity to enshrine a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution. But most of the premiers oppose the Charter.
After much wrangling and a court challenge, Trudeau convenes a meeting in Ottawa. One night, while Lévesque is sleeping across the river in Hull, Trudeau reaches a deal with a majority of premiers. It strikes out the opting-out clause for federal programs Lévesque had been promised.
“I have been stabbed in the back during the night by a bunch of carpetbaggers,” Lévesque later writes of what becomes known as the Night of the Long Knives.
When the new Constitution is proclaimed in 1982, Lévesque orders the Quebec flag flown at half-mast.
1989: “Damn fat English women” — Pierre MacDonald
A dozen years after Bill 101 made French Quebec’s only official language, Liberal Industry Minister Pierre MacDonald recalls in an interview that Eaton’s department store used to be staffed by “grosses maudites anglaises” who couldn’t speak French.
MacDonald is long forgotten, but people still remember Eaton’s apocryphal fat lady.
1990: “Those who want Quebec to continue to be humiliated” — Lucien Bouchard
In 1987, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tries to bring Quebec into the Constitution by negotiating the Meech Lake Accord, which proposes greater provincial powers and recognition for Quebec as a “distinct society.”
But as talks drag on, the consensus over Meech crumbles. In 1990, angry at the failure of Meech, Lucien Bouchard, Mulroney’s environment minister and Québec lieutenant, quits the PC caucus to found the Bloc Québécois.
In an angry resignation letter, Bouchard accuses Mulroney of “making an alliance with those who want Quebec to continue to be humiliated.”
Despite the caucus revolt, Mulroney pushes ahead with a new round of constitutional talks, resulting in the 1992 Charlottetown accord, but it is defeated in a national referendum.
1995: “Money and the ethnic vote” — Jacques Parizeau
In 1994, the PQ is returned to power under Jacques Parizeau, who has promised to hold a sovereignty referendum if elected. With widespread bitterness over the constitutional failure, some polls show over half of Quebecers favour sovereignty.
On Oct. 30, 1995, 50.58 of Quebecers vote “No” and 49.42 per cent vote “Yes.”
“It’s true, it’s true that we have been defeated, but basically by what?” Parizeau says in a speech to supporters. “By money and ethnic votes, essentially.”
Lucien Bouchard, who becomes premier after Parizeau resigns, says he will not hold a referendum unless there are “winning conditions,” which include achieving a zero deficit. Disillusioned about hopes for sovereignty, Bouchard quits politics in 2001.
2007: “A crisis of perception” — Bouchard-Taylor Report
The accommodation of religious minorities is not causing a crisis in Quebec, sociologist Gérard Bouchard (Lucien’s brother) and philosopher Charles Taylor conclude in a 300-page report after holding hearings across Quebec in 2007.
The commission was a response to controversies such as the decision of a Montreal YMCA to install clouded windows after ultra-Orthodox Jews complained about seeing women in gym attire.
Hérouxville, a village in the Mauricie region with no immigrants, adopts a code telling immigrants that polygamy and stoning of women were banned there.
In fact, the insecurities over reasonable accommodation were largely fuelled by a “crisis of perception,” the report finds.
The religious-accommodation scare is believed to have boosted support for the populist, right-of-centre Action Démocratique party (ADQ) in the 2007 Quebec election, when it won more votes than the PQ and became the official opposition.
2007: “Let’s stop being afraid ... to seem intolerant” — Pauline Marois
In her first speech as PQ leader, party veteran Pauline Marois signals a new direction for the sovereignist party from the civic nationalism favoured by her predecessor, André Boisclair.
“Let’s stop being afraid,” Marois says. “Afraid to seem intolerant.”
The party should not be afraid of doing things differently, of wealth, or of speaking “of memory, of history, of people, of identity, of culture.”
2010: “Sovereignty is no longer achievable” — Lucien Bouchard
Former PQ premier Bouchard publishes a front-page essay in Le Devoir titled Sovereignty is no longer achievable.
He argues the PQ should be focusing on education and economic issues like public debt instead of independence. Bouchard also suggests the party is becoming radical and pandering to prejudices.
2012: “We don’t have to apologize for who we are” — Pauline Marois
The PQ leader promises, if elected, to introduce a charter of secularism that would ban turbans, kippahs and hijabs for public-sector workers but keep the crucifix in the National Assembly.
Campaigning in Trois-Rivières, Marois says her government would adopt the charter as soon as it comes to power.
“We don’t have to apologize for who we are,” Marois says.
Marois said the charter would put to rest Quebecers’ fears that were stirred up during the Bouchard-Taylor Commission in 2007.
On Sept. 4, the PQ wins a minority government with 31.95 per cent of the popular vote, to 31.2 per cent for the Liberals and 27.05 per cent for the Coalition Avenir Québec.
2013: “The worst blow ever struck against the independence movement” — Jean Dorion
Leaked to Québecor media weeks before it is officially announced, the proposed charter of values bitterly divides Quebec. While polls show a majority of francophones agree with the proposal to bar public-sector workers from wearing religious garb like the hijab, kippah or turban, the charter, which fuels a wave of verbal attacks and vandalism against Muslims, alienates progressives in the party.
“This proposed charter is perhaps the worst blow ever struck against the independence movement,” says prominent sovereignist Jean Dorion, a former Bloc MP and president of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste.
Dorion slams the charter as an electoral ploy that panders to prejudice against immigrants, who are an important part of Quebec society.
2014: “Make of Quebec a country” — Pierre Karl Péladeau
The turning part in the election campaign comes when a beaming Marois introduces her star candidate, Québecor media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau. The billionaire mogul is expected to lend economic credibility to the PQ team. But his candidacy backfires when Péladeau pumps his fist in the air, saying, “My adherence to the Parti Québécois is an adherence to my deepest and most intimate values, that is, to make of Quebec a country!”
Voters, turned off by the prospect of a sovereignty referendum, massively desert the PQ and elect a Liberal majority.
2014: “A moving of the tectonic plates” — Philippe Couillard
The day after the election, premier-designate Philippe Couillard says the Liberal victory signals the beginning of a profound shift in Quebec’s political landscape.
“There was a realignment of the political forces in Quebec, what I called a moving of the tectonic plates,” Couillard tells reporters in Quebec City.
He notes that young people, who once overwhelmingly supported the PQ, chose the Liberals.