• Each of the two twentieth century world wars had brought with it domestic tension related to the issue of conscription.
  • There had been passionate opposition to conscription in Quebec in 1917 and again in 1944.
  • After 1945 Quebec-Canada relations appeared to be relatively calm but problems remained very close to the surface.

The Problems of Quebec after 1945

  • The population of Quebec was leaving the farms for jobs in the cities.
  • Higher educational levels tended to make Quebeckers more critical of their situation in Canada.
  • It was increasingly apparent that the English speaking minority in Quebec controlled the economy.
  • The power of Ottawa and the influence English language was growing.

La Revolution Tranquille

  • Maurice Duplessis, while he remained premier of Quebec, managed to control the forces of change.
  • His death in 1959 opened the way for fundamental changes in Quebec.
  • No longer would the citizens of Quebec be willing to accept second class status in their own province.

“Maitres Chez Nous”

  • Duplessis’ approach to politics in Quebec was conservative and paternalistic.
  • People were discouraged from questioning traditional authority.
  • He was, however, a Quebec nationalist and stressed to Ottawa that Quebeckers must be “masters in their own house.”

What Were the Problems?

  • Unemployment in Quebec was the highest in Canada.
  • The English minority in Quebec were better paid and had better jobs than the French speaking population.
  • Most top civil service positions were held by English speaking Canadians.
  • The birth rate in Quebec was falling and new immigrants preferred to learn English.

The Government of Jean Lesage

  • Duplessis’ Union National party had been in power for 18 of the previous 23 years.
  • The Liberals under the leadership of Jean Lesage now embarked on a difficult and expensive program.
  • The slogan of change continued to be  “Maitres Chez Nous.”
  • The Program of the Lesage Government Sought to
  • Eliminate corruption in the Government of Quebec.
  • Improve public services particularly, transportation , health care and education.
  • Improve wages and pension benefits for the citizens of Quebec.
  • Develop new industries and to access the natural resources of the province.

Quebec and Ottawa

  • Lesage placed new demands on the central government to allow Quebec to take over complete control of programs like health and education.
  • He wanted more control over the economic development of Quebec and a greater share of tax revenues from Ottawa.
  • It was also made clear to Ottawa that Quebec wished to be consulted on any matter affecting the provincial interest.

Daniel Johnson and the Return of Union Nationale

  • Lesage and his government were defeated in 1966.
  • Daniel Johnson, the new Premier, did not abandon the goals of the Quiet Revolution.
  • Johnson’s approach was to establish closer ties with France.
  • The fear in Ottawa was underscored by the visit of Charles de Gaulle and his “Vive le Quebec Libre!” speech in 1967.

Violence in Quebec

  • By 1963 there was a growing trend among some small radical groups in Quebec to arm themselves.
  • Bombs were planted and military supplies stolen.
  • Most French-Canadians opposed these lawless acts but Ottawa felt that it had to respond.

Ottawa Responds to Nationalism in Quebec

  • All the provinces were granted greater autonomy and more money to run provincial programs.
  • The new Canadian flag was adopted in 1965 replacing the old “Red Ensign.”
  • The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was established in 1963 to study French language and culture in Canada.

The Commission Reports

  • Canada was to be officially bilingual with English and French the official languages of Parliament and the federal courts.
  • Government services should support minority language groups in all provinces.
  • More French-Canadians should be employed in the federal civil service.
  • French was to be the primary language of business and government in Quebec.

Trudeau and Quebec

  • In 1968 Pierre Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada.
  • He was a French-Canadian federalist with strong views on Canadian unity.
  • Mr. Trudeau rejected separatism and focused on bilingualism in government.
  • Large sums of money were spent to achieve this goal with mixed results.

Problems With Bilingualism

  • It was difficult for older uni-lingual Canadians to learn a new language.
  • English Canadians began to feel that the French language was being given an unfair degree of support and a backlash developed.
  • Even among some French-Canadians there was opposition to the extent of the effort to encourage the use of French in English Canada.

Robert Bourassa Takes Power in Quebec 1970

  • Robert Bourassa believed that Quebec’s place was in Canada.
  • In the first year of his government he was forced to deal with a radical separatist group the FLQ.
  • The Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) wanted the independence of Quebec and were prepared to use violence to achieve this end.

The October Crisis 1970

  • After seven years of bombings and other acts of violence the FLQ embarked on one last desperate act of defiance.
  • On October 5, 1970 they kidnapped James Cross the British Trade Commissioner to Canada.
  • This was followed by a separate kidnapping of the Quebec Minister of Labour – Pierre Laporte.

The October Crisis II

  • The FLQ issued a list of demands which included the release from prison of several members of their group.
  • On October 16, 1970 Prime Minister Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act.
  • This act gave the government special powers of arrest and had been requested by both the government of Quebec and the city of Montreal.

The October Crisis III

  • Nearly 500 Quebeckers were arrested and jailed although very few were ever brought to trial.
  • The FLQ was outlawed and the Canadian Armed Forces patrolled the streets of Montreal and Quebec City.
  • Pierre Laporte was murdered but James Cross was eventually released.

Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois

  • Most Quebecois were opposed to violence and terrorism but at the same time many supported a separate Quebec.
  • This gave rise to a new separatist political party – the Parti Quebecois – led by Rene Levesque.
  • Levesque led his party to victory in the provincial election of 1976.

Levesque and Bill 101

  • One of the most controversial measures of the Parti Quebecois was Bill 101 – The Charter of the French Language.
  • This bill made French the only working language in Quebec.
  • English speaking Quebeckers felt the bill went too far and deprived them of their rights as Canadians in a bilingual country.

Bill 101

  • All business in the Quebec government and courts will be carried out in French.
  • French is to be the only official language in Quebec.
  • The people of Quebec have the right to:
  • > speak French at work.
  • > be served in French in stores.
  • > be taught in French.

The Quebec Referendum

  • The Parti Quebecois organized a referendum on sovereignty-association for May 20, 1980.
  • This meant independence from Canada but the retention of close economic ties.
  • Claude Ryan the Liberal leader in Quebec urged Quebeckers to vote “non.”
  • The campaign was very passionate and divisive.

The Quebec Referendum II

  • Federal politicians, like Pierre Trudeau, supported the “no” side in Quebec.
  • The actual referendum question was complex and did not attract the support the Government of Quebec wished.
  • 82% of the population turned out to vote and 59% rejected the proposal.

The Quebec Referendum III

  • The Reaction of the Federal Government
  • In 1969 Pierre Trudeau took many of the recommendations of the “Bi and Bi” Commission and incorporated them in the Official Languages Act.
  • This act was given a muted response in Quebec as most Quebec nationalists didn’t care about encouraging the French language across Canada.

Multiculturalism in Canada

  • Biculturalism was not supported by the “Bi and Bi” Commission as the multicultural nature of our country was already an overwhelming fact.
  • In 1977 “The Task Force on Canadian Unity” was established to study and make recommendations on the state of Canadian unity for all Canadians.

The Winds of Change

  • The 1980 referendum convinced Pierre Trudeau that constitutional change was necessary.
  • The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau finally undertook the difficult task of patriating the constitution.
  • This was achieved in 1982 but without the approval of Quebec.

Robert Bourassa’s Demands for Quebec – 1987

  • “Distinct society” status.
  • A veto for Quebec on any future constitutional amendments.
  • More power over immigration to Quebec.
  • The right to opt out of cost sharing programs with the federal government.
  • The right to nominate Supreme Court judges.

Distinct Society

  • What did this term mean?
  • Was Quebec to be considered different or special?
  • If Quebec was to be special did this mean that additional powers would be given to the Quebec government?

The Meech Lake Accord 1987

  • Meech Lake was an effort to complete the constitutional process and meet some of Quebec’s demands. It included
  • 1. The confirmation of “distinct society” status for Quebec in order to bring the province into the constitution.
  • 2. The right to allow provinces to nominate Supreme Court judges.
  • The accord was not ratified by all ten provinces and failed.

The Failure of the Meech Lake Accord

  • This accord was acceptable in Quebec but eventually failed in Manitoba.
  • It was seen in Quebec as a rejection by the rest of Canada.
  • The separatist movement in Quebec was revived by the emotion surrounding the failure of “Meech.”

The Bloc Quebecois

  • The failure of the Meech Lake Accord resulted in the formation of a new federal political party – the”Bloc Quebecois.”
  • This party attracted support only in Quebec but won enough seats in 1993 to become the official opposition party in Ottawa.
  • The first leader of the “Bloc” was Lucien Bouchard.

The Charlottetown Accord 1992

  • This was the second attempt to amend the constitution. It promised  –
  • 1. “Distinct society” status for Quebec.
  • 2. Aboriginal self-government.
  • 3. Senate reform.
  • It failed to pass a national referendum in October 1992 when a large majority Canadians voted no.

The 1995 Quebec Referendum

  • In 1995 the people of Quebec voted on the question of sovereignty.
  • Jacques Parizeau, the premier, led the “Yes” forces in Quebec but the question was defeated by a narrow margin.
  • The “No” side won by 51 per cent to 49 percent.
  • There was shock in the rest of Canada but no immediate solution.

The Calgary Summit

  • In September of 1997 nine provincial premiers proposed a constitutional amendment which would recognize Quebec’s “unique character.
  • This was received with considerable skepticism by the Parti Quebecois government of Lucien Bouchard.

The Supreme Court Ruling (20 August 1998)

  • The federal government asked the Supreme Court three questions in 1996.
  • 1. Can Quebec secede unilaterally from Canada under the constitution?
  • 2. Does it have the right to secede unilaterally under international law?
  • 3. If there is a conflict between Canadian and international law, which takes precedence?

The Constitutional Right to Secede

  • “The Constitution (guarantees) order and stability, and accordingly secession of a province ‘under the Constitution’ could not be achieved unilaterally…”
  • Negotiation with the other provinces within the terms of the constitution would be required for Quebec to secede.

International Law and the Right to Secede

  • The court decided that the right to secede exists but not at the expense of the stability and integrity of Canada.
  • Only if a people were colonized or oppressed would the court consider unilateral secession acceptable.
  • This, clearly, does not apply to Quebec.

General Conclusions of the Supreme Court

  • The court ruled that there was no conflict between Canadian and International law.
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling was open to interpretation by both sides but offered little comfort to the separatist movement in Quebec. Quebec can hold another referendum on a “clear” question and if it wins this referendum Canada and Quebec must negotiate the terms of secession.
  • Problems Associated with Quebec Separation
  • What happens to the large French speaking population outside of Quebec?
  • What happens to the anglophone population inside of Quebec?
  • How do we divide the economic resources and the national debt of the country?
  • How does the rest of Canada remain united?

Recent Changes in Quebec

  • Some people think that the tide has turned against the Separatists.
  • Immigration is reducing the influence of “pur laine” Quebecers – the chief supporters of separation.
  • In the 1992 Quebec election, the Parti Quebecois was rejected.
  • Jean Charest’s more federalist Liberals returned to power.

A Nation in a Nation?

  • Liberal leadership candidates and a Conservative Prime Minister both supported public statements to this effect.
  • In late 2006 a number of people suggested that the circle could be squared by declaring Quebec a nation within a nation.
  • In a Parliamentary motion, only 16, including North Vancouver’s Don Bell, voted against the motion (21 were absent and 2 seats were vacant).
  • Is anything really changed?  What does this mean for Canadian nationhood?


  • Constitutional debate in Canada continues and the question of national unity remains an unsolved problem.
  • Quebec remains outside of the Canadian Constitution.
  • The PQ government in Quebec does not intend to hold another referendum until they are assured of winning conditions.
  • At the moment these conditions do not exist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment