20 DECEMBER 1963, Page 7

Separatism in Quebec

By CHRISTOPHER HOLLIS IN this curious age, while we are invoking every letter of the alphabet for the nomen- clature of organisations which are supposed to bear witness to the fact that the day of narrow nationalism is past and that we live in One World Now, at the same time in country after country nationalism is proclaiming itself more vigorously and violently than ever before in history. Nowhere is this more true than in Quebec. Had the British when they conquered Quebec 200 years ago attempted to suppress the language and religion of the French, an extreme nationalist reaction would have been intelligible. In fact they treated the vanquished with a generosity that was unique in the habits of that time. The Catholic religion in Quebec was given a privileged status that contrasted most strangely with its treatment in Ireland at the same time, and when, twenty years after the conquest, the French-Canadians were given the chance of showing whether they preferred the British or the Americans, they showed very clearly their preference for British rule. Nor in- deed to this day do French Nationalists pretend to any grievance against British governments. Their grievances are entirely against English- speaking Canadians.

Up till the First World War the French showed that they wished to live their own life as a race apart, but there was no general feeling that this ambition required and special political action. Under Laurier Canada was ruled for many years by a French-Canadian Premier. Govern- ment, whether federal or provincial, in those days interfered but little with the daily life of the habitant in his village. Taxation was by modern standards absurdly light. The only auth- ority who in fact impinged much on that daily life was the villdge cure. It was the imposition of conscription in the First World War by a Conservative Government in which the French were not represented which changed the picture. The French tolerated the Union Jack so long as they could think of it as a flag under which they were to be let alone. It was quite another story when it became a flag for which they were expected to fight. It was true that at that time they were asked to fight riot only for Britain but also for France. But that in Quebec's eyes did not make things any better. The France of 1914 was in its eyes the wicked, atheist Republic which had but recently despoiled the Church.

The war and conscription passed. The greater part of the inter-war years was dominated by the long rule of Mackenzie King. Mackenzie King had no especial sympathies with French aspirations, nor indeed with anything else. His ambition was to keep in power and his policy, like that of Walpole, quieta non movere. He was careful to see to it that Frenchmen had always their reasonable share of jobs and beyond that not to interfere. This suited very well the Quebec Premier of that period, Taschereau. Taschereau's Government was too corrupt and in the 1930s a combination of dissident Liberals and Conservatives came' into power under Duplessis. Duplessis came in as a reformer, but after a first preliminary sweep of the new broom settled down into an authoritarian regime which under the name of opposition to Communism set itself to be the obedient servant of all big business, French, British or American, in the suppression of workers' demands. Archbishop Charbonneau of Montreal alone was in a position to make any important protest against Duplessis. He held collections in churches for the striking workers, but he was by no means generally supported by his clergy and fellow bishops and Duplessis was able to go to Rome and in a not very edifying story to obtain the Archbishop's deposition.

After Duplessis died the Union Nationale, as his party was called, fell apart and the present very respectable M. Lesage is now the Prime Minister of Quebec. In the Federal Parliament Quebec, with the decline in the fortunes of Mr. Diefenbaker's Conservative Party, has at the last two elections very surprisingly returned a considerable body of members pledged to Social Credit. Social Credit is a curious phenomenon in Canadian politics. In the depression and the collapse of farm prices of the 1930s the theories of Major Douglas won a considerable popu- larity in the Prairie Provinces and in 1935 a Social Credit party won the elections in Alberta. It soon discovered that it had no constitutional power to issue money, which prevented it from implementing the Douglas policy of issuing consumers' dividends to every citizen, but never- theless has proved itself an acceptable, conserva- tively minded party and has succeeded in maintaining itself in power for twenty-eight years. Eleven years ago British Columbia followed Alberta's example in putting itself under a Social Credit Government. But this strongly Protestant, conservative party of the West has nothing at all in common with M. Caouette's demagogic, near-fascist French group in Quebec. Indeed, the sole policy that the two Social Credit groups have in common is that neither of them has any intention of introducing Social Credit. There was from the first little prospect of the two groups working together as a coherent party, and though some of the Quebec Creditistes have stuck to Mr. Thompson's Western party, the greater number have gone off with M. Caouette to form Le Ralliement des Creditistes. What is the policy of that party it is far from easy to see. Meanwhile the explicit secessionists in Quebec under the leadership of M. Chaput are not as yet a parliamentary party at all. The question is whether M. Caouette will think it good tactics to come out for secession and put himself at the head of that group. Meanwhile M. Lesage's concern is to prevent himself being out-trumped —to win out of Ottawa some concessions of what he calls 'legitimate rights' that will enable him to answer a secessionist accusation that he has sold the pass.

Yet what is the secessionists' grievance? How strong is it? Is it likely to be successful?

It is not very easy to see what important con- stitutional grievance the secessionists have. They have complete religious freedom. Education is a subject reserved to the provincial government. They are therefore free to vote full State sup- port to the Catholic schools—as they do. Frenchmen in other provinces have indeed on this score a much better grievance than the Frenchmen in Quebec. For in such provinces as Ontario a predominantly English electorate refuses, on the American model, to give any aid to denominational schools. Financially, what with the extensive public works carried out in Quebec and the large amount paid out in family allowances to the gigantic French families, there is little doubt that Quebec gets more out of the Federal Government than it contributes to it, though admittedly exact statistical calculations on such a point as that are almost impossible. At least it is quite certain that, if Quebec were to secede, impose tariffs on the rest of Canada and have tariffs imposed on it, the effect on the standard of living in Quebec would be disastrous. Modern Montreal would have as little meaning in the midst of a little Laurentian Republic as modern Vienna in the midst of little Austria when the Austro- Hungarian Empire was destroyed. Indeed, if we take the figures given by a recent poll taken by Maclean's magazine we discover that even among separatists 23 per cent expect that they would have a lower standard of living under separatism as opposed to 15 per cent who think that they would be better off, 34 per cent who think that'things would be much the same and 28 per cent who do not know.

A French nationalist, as opposed to a merely Quebec nationalist, has also to face the fact that for five million Frenchmen who live in Quebec there are a million and a quarter who live in other provinces. Of this million and a quarter only in New Brunswick are the French in sight of being a majority and the New Brunswick French—the Acadians—under their very able French Prime Minister M. Robichaud, are in- veterately opposed to secession. The secession of Quebec would mean the abandonment of the non-Quebecois French to the so-called god- less Anglo-Saxon culture.

Some years ago it was possible to argue that the social pattern of French life was very different from that of the English. Today if one goes to buy one's lunch in one of those un- licensed road-houses that straggle out along the ribbon-developed French-Canadian villages, it is impossible not to feel that the French by their lack of architectural taste have done more to destroy the French way of life than any Anglo-Saxon could ever have dreamed of doing.

What, then, is the motive behind the secession- ist movement? Officially the French language is at no handicap in present-day Canada. Every public notice—often at considerable incon- venience and expense—is written up in the two languages. Either language can be used in Parliament or in the courts. The unofficial position is different. The capital in the province is overwhelmingly English-speaking—British or Canadian or American. The English-Canadian will say, as Mr. Gordon, of the Canadian National Railway, argued in a recent controversy about employment of Frenchmen, that this is because the French have not troubled to train themselves for industry or developed the habit of investment. English big business is swallow- ing up French small business. Sixty-five per cent of the population of Montreal is French. Yet Frenchmen control only 22 per cent of its economic activity. The Frenchmen will say that this is because of anti-French prejudice. The controversy continues because both sides are partly right. While an educated Frenchman is almost certain to be English-speaking, a sur- prisingly large number of English people do not trouble to learn French. As always in conditions of racial tension, it is the more uncouth of the members of the richer race—those who have nn reqson for holding the better jobs except that they can claim racial superiority—who are the worst offenders. An exceptionally offensive phrase is not infrequently heard in such circles when a French-speaker is brutally told to 'talk white.' The fact that certain Frenchmen some- times refer to Indians as `chiens' does not make it any better. How strong is the movement? Is it likely to grow and eventually to succeed? I can only say that every person whom I asked—French or English—gave me a different answer at this point. So I venture no prophecy. The bomb outrages of this summer were generally con- demned—so much so that M. Chaput, the secessionist leader, was reduced to the not very plausible contention that the bombs were English-planted in order to discredit tIle seces- sionist cause. But, as for support of the cause as opposed to support of violence, Maclean's poll showed that 13 per cent of the population of Quebec favoured secession, and of these 13 per cent a quarter were students and another quarter were professional men. The movement had made little impact on farmers, workers or business- men. Most surprisingly 21 per cent of those polled had never heard that there was such a thing as a separatist movement. So the move- ment has still a •long way to go before it can hope for success. On the other hand three-fifths of those who support it have joined it within the last two years. It is growing. Is it like the Sinn Fein movement before 1916, weak for the moment but destined to sweep the country? Or is it like Welsh or Scottish National- isms, which do not seem to have the power to expand beyond a few intellectual enthusiasts?

The influence of the Church is always im- portant in Quebec. On this issue it is equivocal. The Quebec clerical tradition has been, of course, to protect their flock from any contam- ination at the hands of the 'godless Anglo-Saxon materialism.' It has been extremely—not to say sometimes ridiculously—conservative, and never more so than when it was urging the faithful to vote obediently Liberal. There certainly are today still many conservative priests and even conservative bishops. On the other hand the leadership of the Church in Quebec has passed into the hands of one of the most remarkable of living churchmen. A world figure, whose name has been suggested as a possibility for the first non-Italian Pope of modern times, Cardinal Leger has put himself at the head of the world ecumenical movement, and though political separatism is one thing and ecumenical religion is another and it is no business of the Church as such to take a dogmatic stand for or against separatism, yet such actions as his address to the Protestant Faith and Order World Confer- ence in Montreal this summer when he greeted the members of the Conference as brothers in'

C'Irist and insisted on the essential faith which they held in common, very amply show that he thinks that the day when French culture demands that the French reduce to the minimum their contacts with all non-French influences is past. There are, it is true, plenty of French- Canadians even among the clergy who wonder at the way in which things are going, and indeed there has appeared a new laic nationalism which sees in the Church not a friend but an enemy of its programmes. But Cardinal Ldger in these days when the wind of change is blowing so vigorously down ecclesiastical corridors is in an enormously stronger position than was poor Archbishop Charbonneau. There is a certain ruthlessness in his liberalism and it is perhaps on the whole improbable that in face of his oppo- sition policies of merely cranky isolation from the currents of the day will be able to succeed.