The Quiet Revolution

Quebec remains predominantly French and overwhelmingly Catholic. Since 1974, its official provincial language is French. The rest of Canada must speak both English and French in business and government. The persistence of the split personality of Canada is evident everywhere because virtually every official sign or document is in both languages. From the sketches of history in the other essays you can see some of the seeds of the conflict. Quebec has always been different. Even after confederation, the tensions continued, occasionally flaring into threats of secession.

The Statue of Jean Lesage in front of the Quebec Assembly. I, Bouchecl, via Wikimedia Commons

By 1960, Quebecers sensed they were falling behind the rest of Canada economically and socially. The character of the province was an old-fashioned, under developed, agrarian, have and have-not society where the Catholic Church dominated schools, hospitals, and charities. The long-term dominance of the political conservatives gave way to an active set of liberal politicians headed by Jean Lesage. They took charge of many aspects of the economy to encourage development. At the same time, they established secular government ministries for education, health and social services. The evident changes were dubbed “the Quiet Revolution” by the Canadian press.

Every revolution has its complicated set of interrelated impetuses. Two excellent essays, by Professor Claude Belanger of Marianopolis College in Montreal, that describe the traditional society that was to be transformed and the nature of the “revolutionary changes” can be found at “The Three Pillars of Survival”, http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/events/pillars.htm  and “The Quiet Revolution”, http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/events/quiet.htm.  Further discussions of the influences that were developing in the decades prior to the political shift of 1960 include Prelude to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution: Liberalism vs Neo-Nationalism, 1945-60, and The Catholic Origins of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, 1931-1970 (McGill-Queen’s Studies in the History of Religion, Series Two).

The Parti Quebecois grew out of the leadership of the Liberal Party, led by Rene Levesque, they continued to press for special treatment for Quebec within the Canadian Federation, ultimately forcing two contentious, unsuccessful national referendums for separation. His biography describes the case for two Canadas. Rene Levesque (Extraordinary Canadians)

Pierre Trudeau. By Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg: Chiloa derivative work: Jbarta (Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau.jpg), via Wikimedia Commons

The other significant leader to rise on the side of continued unification was Pierre Trudeau. Perhaps the most charismatic Canadian leader since John MacDonald, he rebuffed the separatist tendencies and sought to keep Canada relevant in a rapidly changing late 20th Century. In his own words: Memoirs. For a more recent, well regarded biography, Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume One: 1919-1968 and Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume Two: 1968-2000.

As you would expect, a debate of this magnitude about the Canadian split personality also generates some fiction. Pick up Two Solitudes.