Accueil » 23-3 ( 1968) » Le Canada, un ou dix… Que se passe-t-il au Québec?

Le Canada, un ou dix… Que se passe-t-il au Québec?

Gérard Rancourt


Lorsque la Fédération des travailleurs de l'Ontario avait décidé d’étudier le problème de la crise constitutionnelle que traverse le Canada, elle avait souhaité entendre le point de vue, sinon du Québec, du moins d'un travailleur syndiqué du Québec.


Canada, One Nation or Ten… Quebec, What’s Happening?

Far be it from me to minimize the initiative you have taken, but I cannot help telling you, without making the Ontario Federation of Labour a specific target, that Labour allowed itself to wait far too long. For, ever since the Quebec Federation of Labour, at the very outset of the work by the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, asked this body to organize conferences between trade unionists throughout the country, we have continued to await such an invitation from an organisation such as yours. Following up on the efforts of the Montreal Labour Council, the QFL also called upon the Canadian Labour Congress to organize such a meeting.

If we attach so much importance to such meetings of unionized workers outside of statutory conventions where jurisdictional problems occupy a higher place than those concerning the future of the country, it is because we believe that the working class has a vital interest in the maintenance of this minimum common market which is Canada, and that it is in a position to unmake as well as remake confederation.

The Quebec separatists have for their part realized that independence is impossible without the support and the participation of the trade union movement. But Canadian trade unionism doesn't seem to have realized that it could play a determining role in the evolution of the constitutional crisis.

As to us at the QLF we still believe, perhaps naively, that workers throughout the world have common interests which are not necessarily the same as those of the little and the grand bourgeoisie. We continue to believe that within Canada they should be able to understand one another, and this particularly within their union structures, and that they should not espouse the quarrels of national bourgeoisies, one of which, the French-Canadian, is essentially seeking to snatch class privileges from the English-Canadian bourgeoisie and American capitalists making business in Quebec. This having been said, we know too that a considerable number of Quebec as well as Ontario workers climbed, through their labour struggles, to a middle class social status, and that they tend to identify themselves to the aspirations of their national elites ; this explains Canadian nationalism as well as Quebec autononism. From a strictly labour viewpoint, French Canadian nationalism is no more justified than Canadian nationalism, but it happens that both exist and that there is nothing we can do about it.

Under the circumstances, the best we can do is to seek out a satisfactory balance between the expression of the worker's primary needs and that of their cultural aspirations, which do not always point in the same direction. We must lean on the unanimity around our common needs to find grounds for agreement, for a modus vivendi where our aspirations are concerned. Thanks to our efforts, North American workers are no longer motivated by their material interests alone. This explains to foreign policy of the AFL-CIO, the latent anti-Americanism of Canadian organized labour and the nationalism, if not separatism, of Quebec trade unionists.

If Canadian workers heeded only the categoric imperative of primo vivere, they would only have long since not only joined international unions, but pushed Canada over into annexation by the United States. Yet what we see, apart from the will to remain Canadian despite the shortcomings of this political and cultural choice, is a progressive Canadianization — more often within than outside — of North American trade unionism.

Therefore if Canadian workers are disposed to pay a certain price for not being absorbed by the United States, taking into account all the undeniable material benefits that this would involve, there must be no astonishment that French Canadian workers are also ready to make certain sacrifices to avert assimilation by English Canada. However, just as English speaking workers don't go as far as ousting North American unions and capital to assert their national identity, so are French Canadian workers not unanimous about joining the CNTU, and even less so about embracing separatism to assert theirs. We would nevertheless be on the wrong track and preparing some cruel tomorrows if we imagined that the workers are indifferent to cultural and national, to constitutional, problems — an impression which, in my view, our Canadian trade unionism has been giving a bit too much.

If I chose to speak to you about these cultural, national and constitutional problems in terms of prices to be paid, especially by the workers, it was to point out to you that Quebec French Canadians, including workers to a certain extent, have a notion that they have paid too dearly up to now for the right to maintain their national identity within Canadian Confederation. They believe they have paid too dearly in terms of economic inferiority, language impoverishment, ceaseless campaigns of niggardly demands, and vexations of every kind. The choice that confronts them now is either to pay a premium for living completely separate from the rest of the country, or cutting the price by letting themselves be assimilated by the U.S. instead of English Canada, a much more inviting course in terms of hard profit. And, according to a poll conducted by Maclean's, the Quebec annexationists are more numerous that the separatists. However, it happens that annexationists are recruited especially from the popular, less-educated class whereas the separatists are more frequently found among the educated and influential, as may readily be judged by the tone of the French Canadian press, televison and radio.

At the QFL our choice has, for some years now, been in between those two desperate solutions. Time and again we have rejected the separatist theory. We regard it as far to costly to the working classes ; so costly in fact that it would end up sooner or later in annexation to the United States. In that event, the several subsequent decades would see Quebec left with nothing more that some Louisiana-style folklore merit.

But on the other hand, neither do we accept the present state of affairs, in which we have the impression that we alone are footing the Confederation bill. And since we are increasingly aware of being a key factor in your own gambit to thwart annexation, what we propose to you is that you share with us the cost of the very raison d'être and the originality of this land — its bilingual and bicultural character.

Obviously there can be no question of the overnight transformation of all Canadians into bilinguals and participants in two cultures. This is the frequent dread of anglophone Canadians, most of whom, deprived of the necessary education, already participate very little in their own culture. There is no great haste to tackle a second language when one doesn't even have the basic education to be able to adapt to technological changes. French Canadians are even more knowledgeable about this resistance to bilingualism. For this was precisely the condition laid down, to the detriment of French Canadian culture, by Canadian anglophone and American people of property who established in their province. We have no intention of requiring that adult workers throughout Canada be bilingual at a time when we ourselves are demanding the right to work in our own language in Quebec.

Yet while we insist on working in French in Quebec, we resist at the same time the increasing pressure being exerted for official unilingualism in our province. We are opposed to unilingualism because we want to make room for the future, which seems to us to promise an ever-broadening and more advanced education for the class we represent.

If French Canadian workers are bilingual now, it is simply because they were forced into it to earn their living. If you aren't, it's because you've been able to get along without it. That is why we have nothing against English unilingual workers who decided against compromising the small amount of culture they had by participating in ours without the necessary preparation. That is why we deplore the cultural impoverishment that resulted for us from the economic necessity of living seated between two cultures which were too poor for the one to gain enrichment from the other. This is also the reason why on the one hand we reproach your elite for shying away from one of the richest culture in the world, ours — and this is apparently a unique world fact for an educated class — and why on the other hand we reproach certain of our own elite for trying, in spite and vengeance to bar us through unilingualism from access to another of the great western cultures, yours.

Just as we understand your own lack of eagerness, as adults, to become bilingual, so would we fail to understand failure on your part to create for your children, surely more educated and cultivated than you are, the conditions permitting them to become bilingual for cultural reasons ; just what we ourselves desire for our own children. Life has made it so that the reason for my being bilingual is not the same as Dr. Eugene Forsey's for being so. But that is no reason why the descendants of all of us in Canada shouldn't be bilingual, in the same manner as all the intellectuel elite of Europe and elsewhere. This is especially true when bilingualism is probably the very condition of the country's survival.

If educated English Canadians were to adopt Spanish or German as a second language, French Canadians might well turn to Russian or Chinese, and that would be it for Canada.

A Quebec separatist, even of the subconscious kind, is not as readily identified by bombs and street demonstrations as he is by his total absence of demands on English language Canadians. He will ask you for nothing lest he be given something that will point up the folly of his thesis. And you can identify a French Canadian federalist by his determination to change the existing situation, not by way of more or less complete Quebec isolation, but by his numerous demands on English Canada. And since I am a confirmed federalist I shall not mince words about telling you under what conditions, in my opinion, the Canadian experience will be able to continue. Then it will be up to you to decide whether you are federalists or separatists.

To begin with, since we are here in Ontario and I am speaking to Ontario workers, I shall say that inevitably there will be, as regards our respective provinces, identical conditions for our linguistic minorities. As far as the separatists are concerned, Quebec must treat its anglophone minority in largely the same way as Ontario and the other provinces treat their francophone minorities. I have told you why I do not share that view, which seems to me to be inspired much more by the law of retaliation than by the requirements of human progress. But for a federalist like myself it is Ontario and the other provinces — but especially Ontario — which must move progressively and rapidly to granting the French minority the same treatment as we grant our English minority.

Now mark you, my words do not mean that I am here as a beggar. I'm not asking you for anything. Rather I am here to offer you something — the opportunity to conserve a country that is going to be bicultural or that isn't going to be at all.

You would like me to tell you what is happening in Quebec. What is happening in Quebec is that the separatist idea, in forms much more subtle than secession, is working its way into minds. It is a tendency for which, some day, there will be no turning back unless the rest of the country moves in the direction that I have

suggested to you. It isn't, at least to my mind, a matter of vengeance, of reprisal, or of using our anglophone minority as a hostage to secure equal treatment for your francophone minority. In fact, French language Quebecers are becoming more and more inclined to disown the linguistic minorities of the other provinces ; to ridicule their heroic efforts to escape assimiliation, to forget these groups maltreated by history just as one tries to forget about retarded children placed in an institution. More and more they are tending towards giving up to your governments, towards regarding bilingualism as a costly Utopia, towards disinterest in the rest of the country — French minorities included — towards turning inwards to one another and abandoning to you everything that is not Quebec. While you continue to wonder, all in good faith, what is wrong with your mate, the mate is beginning to fatalistically accept divorce... or at least separate rooms.

If I tell you that in order to save Confederation, Ontario must immediately become an official bilingual province and, progressively, a bicultural territory, there are realistic Quebec federalists who, on my return home, will call me an impenitent idealist and a hopeless dreamer. They will tell me that by calling for such things I am, on the contrary, risking a death blow to « the old lady » — the Constitution — and turning you into separatists. The way they see it, the best we can hope for is to build a Quebec both strong and French which will keep its Confederation membership card for the sole purpose of maintaining here a minimum of a common market that has been reduced to the status of a businessmen's club. I leave it to you, then, to imagine what thoughts are reserved for me by the separatists of all hues, to whom any helping hand offered the English to prevent them from wrecking Confederation is tantamount to the crime of high treason.

And yet for my part I persist in telling you that in order to make Quebecers start interesting themselves anew in Canada as being their country, something has to happen to make them feel that this country is theirs. You do not always understand Quebec's official attitude towards Ottawa : opting out of cost-sharing programs, the recuperation of taxation fields, demands for powers which have been transferred to the federal State by way of constitutional amendment, the desire to assume an international personality in the cultural and labour fields, and so on.

You feel that Quebec is pulling out of Confederation, and indeed this is true in spirits if not in facts. For if the country can adapt itself to a more rigorous division of jurisdictions, and even granting greater constitutional powers to the provinces, it cannot long survive the psychological disaffection of Quebecers towards the central government and the other provinces.

Hence there is no point in scolding Ottawa for its weakness in the face of Quebec demands, in demanding that it take a firmer stand and stop making concessions. It matters rather little that Quebec manages its own health insurance, its family allowances and its old age pensions ; of far greater seriousness would be its refusal to take part in the drafting and realization of an economic plan, its refusal to integrate therein its own economic policy and the various other measures within its jurisdiction. And it would be tragic if Quebec at this point were to stand aside, to be heedless of harmonizing the countries policies to its own ; of abstaining in the Commons from pronouncing itself on cost-sharing programs on grounds that it is a non-participant. The way things are going now, there is danger that Quebec not only will turn to managing its own affairs but will do so in a contrary manner to the rest of the country out of a bitter desire to assume the exclusively of the French Canadian identity, and to do it right down to the last detail.

If the country is coming apart in our minds, then in those minds must there be an undertaking to secure it together again before it is too late. And if Confederation is to be restored to French Canadians as anything more that an economic common market, then they must be given, or re-given, that sentiment, that real feeling that the country belongs to them by the same token as it belongs to English Canadians.

If this is to be so, the French Canadians must have a French life, not only in Quebec where they are making it their business to have it, but everywhere in Canada where they are numerous enough — such as in certain areas of Ontario and even in Toronto itself — to achieve a flourishing collective life that is no longer the outcome of day-by-day heroism. In order to achieve this, these French Canadians must also have an education system equal to that accorded to the English in Quebec. The State must provide them with radio and television that speaks their language. And your Parliament and your courts are going to have to hear them in their own language ; your children and grandchildren must be able to communicate with theirs in French in a fraternal association where cultural preoccupations will have stepped ahead of purely economic considerations.

And above all, please don't try to tell me that as workers you can't do anything about the situation ; that your political party doesn't happen to be in power ; that if you had your own way Ontario by now would be just as bilingual as Quebec. I shall believe you when the Ontario Federation of Labour, which is your own exclusive property, is just as bilingual as the Quebec Federation of Labour. And that is something you could start working on right away tomorrow.

Now you probably will answer me that all this is quite useless ; that it would be idiotic to spend considerable sums of money to have bilingual conventions and bilingual publications since French language Ontario workers understand and speak English — and that at all events they have never asked for such a service.

Then it will be my turn to reply that at the QFL, which isn't nearly as well heeled as the OFL, we agree to these financial sacrifices at the altar of respect for human rights. If we ran our business exclusively in French we too could say that the anglophone workers of Quebec are bilingual, for by way of a natural, but non-democratic selection, we would obtain the participation of these only in our conventions and deliberations. Those among you who have had occasion to attend our conventions are aware that at times no more than a score of delegates turn to the simultaneous translation that we provide at fancy prices. If we were to eliminate this service on the pretext that little use is made of it, our deliberations wouldn't suffer very long because our affiliates would delegate only bilingual or unilingual French workers — as you do in reverse here. In this way we would create two classes of Quebec trade unionists : those able to take part on the trade union life, and the others watching mutely from the sidelines.

A principle isn't respected because of the number of people who invoke it, for in that case we are respecting the force of numbers only — and this is much more akin to fear than to anything particularly noble.

Be that as it may, at the QFL it is the principal of bilingualism and biculturalism that we respect. And we shall continue to respect it as long as our French language members allow us to do so ; that is as long as they conserve faith in their country and the hope that one day their fellow French Canadians outside Quebec will enjoy the same rights as those recognized for the anglophone minority of our province. But do not forget that the Quebec workers, those of the CNTU as well as of the QFL, are probably the last rampart of federalism in our province. If the day should come when they run against the tide of strictly material interests and topple into separatism, it would put the finish to Canadian Confederation.

That is why, running counter to our own unwitting separatists in the trade union movement, who wait but one thing from you — lay off us and we'll lay off you — I personally attach great importance to the contribution that can and must constitute labour solidarity in the building of a true Canadian federalism. I think that if the French Canadian workers of Quebec have no interest in sharing the desire of their national elite to replace yours at the summit of our social hierarchy, then neither do you have any interest in banding together with your own national elite in their bid to keep to class privileges that have brought you little or no benefit. However, it isn't enough to say that the workers are united by community of interests. There must be acceptance of their cultural diversity ; it must be accepted as an opportunity for human enrichment rather than an obstacle to unity. There must be assurance that this diversity is safeguarded by equality of rights and opportunity to develop.

In a word, what I propose to you as a working man addressing working men is no more and no less than a reciprocal agreement between the OFL and the QFL by which our two union centrals undertake to acknowledge the same rights for their linguistic minorities ; to provide them with the same services. And you may rest assured that I shall fight to the death in negotiation to obtain for your French language members the benefits that our English language members enjoy. You may also be certain that I shall abandon not a single one of our members' acquired rights, for that is something that a real trade union cannot afford to do. And let not the OFL invoke the management argument about inability to pay, or I shall rush a picket line at it with placards screeching « Unfair to Labour ».

But all joking aside, I seriously believe that we should, within our trade union movement, go after a type of federalism that could serve as a model to our country. We are bound by no constitution in this respect, and if we want to make changes we don't need approval from London or the Fulton-Favreau Formula. We can tackle at our level the task that was undertaken by the Fathers of Confederation, in a spirit of 1966 — or 1967 — that takes into account new realities, the experience gained over a century, and our traditional devotion to the case of human rights.

Today our movement reflects the imperfections and the miseries of Confederation. It is so much in the wake of that pact concluded in 1867 between representatives of the grand bourgeosie, at a time when workers didn’t exist as an organized class, that it is itself in danger of being dismembered and swept away by the constitutional crisis.

At best, if it does survive that crisis intact, our members will have invested a considerable amount of energy in a struggle between national bourgeosies, on a battleground chosen by them and where the dust of combat blinds them as to their true interests and on their condition of being exploited in both languages.

In effect, the trade union situation in Canada is not lacking in analogies with the constitutional situation. In Quebec we have the Confederation of National Trade Unions, which is in a way the trade union prefiguration of the separate State. The French Maclean's was able to evoke, with regard to relations between the QFL and the Canadian Labour Congress, the thesis of the Associated States of made unionism, which is a form of mitigated separatism for the pacifists. The CLC is, in the image of the central government, superficially bilingual but not genuinely bicultural. All the provincial Federations, with the exception of Quebec's, are unilingual and unicultural.

The QFL has just as laborious and frustrating relations with the CLC as Quebec has with Ottawa. This brings joy to the CNTU, in the first instance, just as it pleases the separatists, in the second instance, and it is leading the QFL, to aspire, like la belle province, to a special status. CNTU representatives exploit our problems and the wave of nationalism for purposes of trade union expansion. The separatists, for their part, regard that labour movement as the Trojan Horse that will enable them to take over the working class once they have managed, with the unwitting but efficient help of their CLC enemics, to get rid of the QFL.

You can see why I chose to approach the Canadian constitutional problem from the angle of trade unionism, which I believe holds the solution to the Canadian crisis and can, by failing to apply it, precipitate the outcome by delivering the Quebec working class to separatism in a bus named CNTU. For if we, who have essentially the same interests, fail in putting everything we have at work in order to maintain the unity that gives us our strength and is our reason for existing, how can we reasonably expect more from all those who are competing furiously in the pursuit of markets, of profits, of votes, and who at all events are tacitly agreed on the benefits they can derive from the course of divide and conquer ?

I believe it is still possible for Canadian workers to agree with Quebec workers on devising a new deal that will be a fair deal to all. But time is running out. Up to now, Quebec trade unionism has resisted the siren call of separatism.

The QFL, the CNTU and the Catholic Farmers Union are still in a position to align a common front against the thesis of Quebec independence, but that opposition is not without inward discord, except perhaps as regards the farmers union, whose members seem much more taken up with material problems than the industrial workers are. As far as the CNTU is concerned, it frequently uses nationalism in membership recruiting, and therefore runs the risk of soon finding itself in tow of the new clientele it has acquired from the middle class : people of the liberal professions, intellectual workers, civil servants, and so on, all of them more or less representative of a minor bourgeosie for whom cultural values are intimately linked with economic and social advancement. Furthermore, the students have established a trade union central called the General Union of Students of Quebec. It has broken all ties with the Canadian student movement and has an official policy of unilingualism and strong separatist tendencies.

The big business bourgeosie, which has ties with your own anglophone management, appears devoted to a constitutional evolution safeguarding the essentials of federalism, as evidenced by a work cooperated in by its official spokesman, Mr. Marcel Faribault, and Mr. Robert Fowler.

As for the minor bourgeosie, business as well as intellectual, it seems to have a penchant for separatism, if not as an ultimate solution to the constitutional crisis, at least as a wedge to improve its own living standard and social status. It tends to inversely repeat the Anglo-Saxon experience of family compacts and secret societies for professional advancement. It aims definitely at supplanting the privileged anglophones by using the wedge of nationalism, the threat of separatism, the buy-at-home and ethnic protectionism. It has already begun to cash in on the Quebec nationalist awakening, whose benefits it shares with the journalists and the radio and television people.

At the political level, you have first the Lesage Government, about which you may have heard that ministerial solidarity isn't its strong point. It is a ministerial team that just about runs the whole gamut of constitutional options from René Lévesque's « separatism-if-necessary » and the routine federalism of Bona Arseneault, probably unknown to you — to the spectacular acrobatics of Jean Lesage.

Facing it you have an exclusively opportunist opposition which, after looking long and hard for the little remaining ground it could occupy, chose to cautiously pass René Lévesque's nationalism and fully exploit the constitutional hesitations of the Lesage Government.

And for the first time, one of the separatist movements, le Rassemblement pour l'independance nationale, has decided to contest the provincial elections expected in 1966. It has begun to pick its candidates. The separatists hope at best for a moral victory that would give them a second wind, whereas certain confirmed federalists fear the separatists will be swamped and give the rest of the country the impression that the constitutional sickness has vanished with its most visible symptom.

It is in the atmosphere, not a particularly propitious one for pondering and discussing socio-economic problems, that Quebec prepares to set its course for the next four or five years. It is to be feared that electoral auctioneering on the attitude to be adopted towards Ottawa will prompt further stiffening of Quebec's constitutional stands. The result could be a relegation downward of those matters which are of vital interest to the working classes that we represent. There you have the reason why the QFL proposes to call without delay a meeting of representative groups in our province : the CNTU, the Catholic Teachers, and others. The aim will be to draft a common program for economic and social reform, which we will try to bring to the attention of the public and political men, outside the constitutional debate.

However, there isn't even any assurance that we will be able to successfully bring about this project to the benefit of the working classes and the economically weak in Quebec.

As I have indicated, Quebec trade unionism itself is turning increasingly away from its primary vocation of defending the exploited, to espouse the cause of a minor bourgeoisie seeking individual advancement. We have reached the point where something has to happen outside Quebec — in Ontario for example — to stop the nationalistic escalation in our province, so that with our budget of limited energy we can have butter passed out to meet human needs rather than have to supply shells for the guns of the constitutional war.

That is the message I wanted to leave with you as a trade unionist speaking to trade unionists. If you don't want to find yourselves one day standing opposed to your working counterparts in Quebec, you must assume your share of responsibility in resolving the constitutional crisis. And you must start, as is only fitting, within our common trade union structures.

Still, I should not want to leave this rostrum you so generously offered me without making two observations which, I trust, will be taken in good part.

First of all, I am not in accord with the title you have given to this panel discussion: « Canada, One Nation or Ten... » I don't intend to enter here a semantic debate on the French and English definitions of the word « nation ». But I will tell you that we use the word in the same sense as you use the word « race » when you speak of « two founding races », and that we prefer it to the word « race », which we like to apply only to the human race.

Now that I have said that much, let me add that we do not believe, at least at the QFL, that each nation — within our meaning of the word — must have its own national State complete with all the attributes of national sovereignty. That is why we consider that Canada has but two nations recognized by the constitution ; and eleven States, a central State and ten provincial States which constitute Confederation.