By Mike Archer. As I watched the numbers mount for the Parti Liberal in Monday’s Québéc election and sensed the Parti Québécois’ imminent embarrassing loss, I thought of Pierre Trudeau.
I’ve only been a Western Canadian for 22 years of my life so I know full-well I am leaving myself wide open to an accusation of being a newcomer. But it was a Western Canadian political science course which taught me what Trudeau was trying to accomplish with his hated bilingualism and biculturalism policies.
A lonely voice in Alberta arguing for reason back in the heady days of the Commonwealth Games and the Heritage Trust Fund, I explained, to the collective derision of both my fellow students and my professor, that Trudeau was too smart to think he was going to make Northern BC fishermen or Prairie farmers speak French.
He was, I’m sure, perplexed at their determination not to learn a second language, however, his real intent was to create an educated French Canadian middle class who would take the reigns of economic power from the English minority in Québéc and, once invested in the economic survival of the province, he posited, they would rather stay in Canada than become a third world country.
It took a generation but his plan worked out.
In the 1960’s, when René Lévesque formed the Parti Québécois, it was based largely on the sense, among French Québécois that they were workers in factories owned by English Québécois and American owners.
It was a powerful social movement because it was true. It was not, as some of the more radical members of the separatist movement argued, based on prejudice or racism. It actually had much more to do with the fact that, until the 1960s, French Québécois high school graduates were separated by the Clergy of the Roman Catholic Church into two groups – those who would be farmers and factory workers and those who would go on to university. Those who went on to university went either to medical school, law school or the seminary.
As the son of a rich French Québécois father and rich English Québécoise mother, Trudeau knew perfectly well how the system worked having graduated from the private Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where he studied under the Jesuits, and then left the country for the London School of Economics.
He knew very well the same opportunities were not available to his fellow French Québécois and he also knew it would take more than three or four years of French graduating classes from the new French universities to redress the balance.
He saw the flood of new young French Québécois intellectuals and university graduates gravitate towards the center of French power in Québéc (Québéc City) and determined to provide a bridge for bright, young French Québécois to find work with the federal government in Ottawa.
Once there he knew they could exercise real political power and fight the necessary political battles to keep Québéc in Canada until a generation of university graduates and middle class business people could emerge who would not be interested in risking their entire future and that of their children for the emotionally attractive, but fiscally imprudent, path towards becoming a separate country.
It took two referendums and nearly 50 years but Trudeau’s plan succeeded on Monday night when the majority, not just of Quebeckers, but the majority of Québécois voted with their pocketbooks, and their reason rather than their hearts.
Regardless of whether or not you care about Québéc or the Québécois you should care about whether or not they separate. Because without Québéc, Canada doesn’t make much sense. And unless the prospect of being splintered up into a variety of northern states as part of a larger United States of America, with its firm belief in Manifest Destiny, appeals to you, we should all say a quiet ‘Thank You’ to Pierre Trudeau for understanding how to build a country and how to keep Canada together.