The Quiet Revolution – Part Two: Our Nation’s Capital? But I thought that was Ottawa…

Nations Capital SignWhen you drive into Québec City, you see a sign welcoming you to “The Nation’s Capital”. Considering Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and the province of Québec is not its own country, this seems a bit odd, right?

To understand this, we have to think back to the early history that I went through in my first blog. By the end of the 18th century, Québec was controlled by the British. By the mid-nineteenth century, Québec was attached permanently to the Anglophone part of the country in the Union Act. Not only that, the legislature surrounding the ability to be a member of a governmental body and the language of the proceedings, limited the positions of power mainly to the English-speaking citizens even in Québec.

This dynamic continued and by the 1960s, the slow simmer came to a boil. Built-up resentment caused by English control over business and politics led to a generation of young Québecois feeling restless and seeking change. In response, Lesage and his government sought to give more autonomy to Québec, having the provincial government develop various provincial programs, such as welfare, health care, and state universities and colleges.

The question of unity with Canada was also a very fraught topic during the Quiet Revolution. There were two clear opposing sides: those who believed Québec’s place was as part of Canada and those who believed Québec should separate and become its own entity.

The Parti liberal du Québec (PLQ), under Lesage, sought to reform the government and social systems in Québec, giving the province more power and more autonomy. But they campaign was about change, not revolution. They were not advocating for the separation from Canada.

The Union Nationale Party, which had been in power for 18 years prior to the defeat by the PLQ under Lesage, also did not advocate for separation from Canada. The party was formed initially as a coalition between the Action libérale nationale and the Conversative party, and so their policies supported conversatism (which is what the PLQ opposed). The Party was led by its founder, Duplessis, until his death in 1960. The Party won one more election in 1966, but was defeated by the Liberal Party with Robert Bourassa at its helm in 1970.

The Parti Québecois (PQ) was formed in 1968 and quickly became the new nationalist party of the province. Led by René Lévesque, the Party pushed for independence from Canada and in 1980 held a referendum to determine sovereignty. (As Québec is still part of Canada, it is clear that it was not successful.) We’ll get more into the PQ in the 1970s.

Finally, we have the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). This was the most radical political group and we will hear a lot more about them in 1970 when we touch on the October Crisis. The organization was created by Raymond Villeneuve, Gabriel Hudon and Georges Schoeters and was influenced by international political movements, such as the decolonization of Algeria. They sought to ‘decolonize’ Québec through any means necessary. In 1963 FLQ activists placed bombs placed throughout the Anglophone community of Westmount. The violent attacks and public political activity increased through the rest of the 1960s.

The Liberal Party of Canada, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, believed in a unified Canada, and that Québec should be a part of Canada. So, in 1963, he established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Bi and Bi Commission). The Commission reviewed the relationship between French and English Canada and considered the role of Québec within the country as a whole. The Commission ultimately advised that unless a new and equal partnership between French and English Canada could be formed, Québec should separate.

In was under these conditions that playwright Michel Tremblay was writing. I will introduce you to him in my next blog!

In the meantime, The Canadian Encyclopaedia (available online) does an excellent job of summarizing each of the parties I have discussed and who their major participants were.

Here is a useful article on the Royal Commission: https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=change_course_rights

~A.B., dramaturg

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