Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Is it too much to demand a REAL Parliament?

As the House of Commons is now back in session, I have the following questions:

Is it too much to ask that titles of bills and acts are as neutral as possible so as to state the purpose -- eg. "Criminal Law Amendment Act No. 1, 2013" rather than propaganda such as  "Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act"?

Is it too much to ask that our Members of Parliament be allowed to ask real questions and expect real answers rather than talking points -- especially answers that don't even answer the question but reel off propaganda about something totally different?

Is it too much to ask that there are no standing ovations for the delivery of the most mundane of answers?

Is it too much for MPs from one party to stop "unaccepting" letters of condolence from MPs of another party, for the loss of a family member -- just because they don't want to be tainted with the stain of "evil"?

Is it too much to demand that we stop those stupid media events where a minister stands in front of a backdrop giving talking points -- rather than making those speeches where they belong, in ministers' statements after Question Period and introducing the bill right there and then?   I thought introducing or even discussing the possible content of bills outside of the legislature constituted contempt of Parliament.

Is it too much to ask that we stop the personality of cult around the Prime Minister that we see in dictatorships, like Russia and North Korea?

Well, yes.   It is too much to ask.  After all, this is Canada.

Whose'  the rednecks now?

Even Westminster and the national assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have way more respect for the people than this.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Guest post: The Trudeau Paradox (Part Three)

In Part I of this essay, we discussed the origins of Quebec nationalism and how it developed into a desire by Francophone Quebecers to have their province recognized as a distinct society within Canada. In Part II, we saw how Pierre Trudeau sought to counter this as Prime Minister of Canada, how he fought subsequent attempts to recognize Quebec’s distinctiveness, and how the Trudeau Paradox emerged from it. In Part III, we’ll see a possible way around the Trudeau Paradox, as well as the fact that there’s a lot more common ground between Francophone Quebecers and their fellow Canadians than most people realize.

The Trudeau Paradox, Part III: Towards Reconciliation

Is there a solution to the problems raised by the Trudeau Paradox? Currently, we’re stuck in a polarized situation. Either one supports Trudeau’s vision and the reforms associated with it, or one supports the separation of Quebec. There doesn’t seem to be any room for the middleground anymore, one that recognizes the unique challenges Quebec faces and supports the recognition of that province as a distinct society, while also recognizing that the province is part of Canada and shares common values and challenges with the rest of us.

This middleground, so well described by the likes of Henri Bourassa, André Laurendeau and Claude Ryan, may in fact be the key to resolving the seemingly endless debate. Unlike Trudeau, none of these men, federalists one and all, saw any contradiction between constitutional distinctiveness for Quebec and the idea that it could be part of the larger country. As we’ve seen, this belief has extremely deep roots in Quebec, roots that continue to endure today, with continued strong support for Quebec’s language laws.i Newer immigrants to Quebec have also tapped into these roots, as evidenced by the presence of the “Children of Bill 101”ii or people from multicultural groups that have supported or even run for the Bloc or Parti Quebecois as candidates.iii While it’s obviously not feasible in the current political climate, it may be an option that we as Canadians should seriously consider for the future. Nor is Quebec the only part of Canada that would be recognized as such-New Brunswick, for one, deserves to be praised for being recognized in the Constitution as the only officially bilingual province in Canada.

For the last three decades, we have been doing things Pierre Trudeau’s way when it comes to the Quebec question, and all we’ve done is end up in a polarized, embittered situation. As we’ve seen, what Trudeau advocated was not what most Francophone Quebecers have been looking for, so maybe it’s time for a fresh approach. As Claude Ryan has pointed out, Quebec’s distinctiveness has been recognized implicitly already many times, ranging from Quebec managing its own pension plan and collecting its own taxes to as far back as the Quebec Act of 1774. Formally recognizing it in the Constitution would not exactly be breaking with tradition.iv

As we have seen, Pierre Trudeau had to make a number of concessions to the realities of language and disadvantaged groups in Canada, and justified such actions as a means of ensuring that everyone had an equal chance to exercise their talents, even if they were in a disadvantaged situation. If anything, this could just as easily apply to Quebec, the only province with a Francophone majority on a continent dominated by Anglophones. Stéphane Dion, the man who passed the Clarity Act so fiercely condemned by Quebec separatists, also noted that, if a province like Alberta or Saskatchewan were the only province with an Anglophone majority on a continent dominated by Francophones, it would probably have the same concerns about its Anglophone heritage and identity that Quebec does with its Francophone identity.v

Aboriginal leaders like Elijah Harper and Phil Fontaine have also indicated that they do not have any objections to Quebec’s distinctiveness. Although he helped derail the Meech Lake Accord, Elijah Harper has specifically stated that he was not saying “no” to Quebec. Rather, he was saying “no” to a constitutional process that, yet again, ignored Aboriginal peoples’ concerns and left them on the outside looking Fontaine, for his part, pointed out that his people were looking for much the same recognition as Quebec was.vii

Nor is this a new trend in Canadian history. The Americans constantly refer back to their country’s founding fathers for wisdom, and we could benefit by doing the same thing. We have already seen how Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper acknowledged the need for a federal system due in no small part to the presence of Francophone Quebecers. Richard Gwyn notes that Macdonald said if that if Francophone Quebecers are treated “as a nation, they will respond as a free people-generously. Call them a faction and they will become factious.”viii Macdonald also fiercely condemned the repression of Francophone language rights on the Prairies and the attempt to eliminate or assimilate the Francophone communities in that part of the country. He asked his fellow Anglophones if they would be less supportive of the Francophone communities than were the earliest Anglophone communities, words that led Henri Bourassa to speak glowingly of him as the man who “best understood the spirit of Confederation.”ix

What’s often overlooked, in the claims that the differences between Quebec and the rest of the country cannot be reconciled, is in fact how much common ground there really is between Quebecers, both Francophone and Anglophone, and other Canadians. For one thing, while many Francophone Quebecers may not like the way the Charter was patriated, they share other Canadians’ strong support for the actual content of it. A 2002 poll found that 45% of Quebecers “strongly agreed” with the statement that the Charter had a positive effect on the protection of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, and 41% of Quebecers “somewhat agreed” with that statement.x Five years later, a 2007 poll found that 61% of Quebecers had a favourable view of the Charter, as compared to 67% of Atlantic Canadians and 54% of Western Canadians.xi Even in 1991, at the height of the Meech Lake/Charlottetown debate, Stéphane Dion pointed out just how much the values of Francophone Quebecers meshed with those of other Canadians.xii In 1995, less than a year before the fateful referendum, Claude Ryan noted that Quebecers were just as devoted to universal rights as were other Canadians.xiii

Nor does the Parti Quebecois’ re-election suggest that separatism is making a comeback. The PQ was elected with just under 32% of the popular vote, lower even than it got in 2008, when the Quebec Liberals were re-elected.xiv A poll released during the election campaign suggested that support for separatism had fallen to 28%.xv As Stéphane Dion notes, the PQ’s victory can most likely be attributed to voters being tired of Jean Charest and the Liberals, and voting for the PQ as an alternative.xvi The PQ was also likely seriously hurt by abhorrent policy positions such as its Charte seculaire, which drove longtime separatist Jean Dorion away from the party. As Dorion noted, chickens tend not to want to vote for Colonel Saunders.xvii Some Anglo-Quebec commentators, including those who are exceptionally vocal in advocating for Anglophone rights in their province, have specifically noted that the vast majority of Francophone Quebecers are no more bigoted or racist than the vast majority of Anglophone Canadians.xviii

Critics might reply that this is all well and good, but Quebec continues to mooch off the rest of Canada via transfer payments, receiving more money than any other province. What many people don’t realize, however, is that the main reason Quebec receives so much money is because its population is so much larger than most of the other “have not” provinces. On a per capita basis, Quebec actually receives less money than smaller provinces.xix If Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island had the same population as Quebec, they would be receiving far more money than Quebec would. And for a province that’s supposedly content to leech off the money provided by things like Alberta’s resource extraction, the province has an active movement to develop its own natural gas resources. No less a figure than Lucien Bouchard, former Premier of Quebec, now serves as president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association, and has sharply criticized the Marois government for not taking steps to develop the province’s natural gas.xx

Things like equalization and the Constitution attract a lot of attention, but they distract from the more common, everyday ways that Quebec interacts with the rest of the country. As a former Quebec Liberal Cabinet minister, Claude Ryan described the many positive interactions the Quebec government had with the federal government and the other provinces even during the constitutional wars of the 1980s and 1990s.xxi While the province is typically seen as leaning more to the left, in classic Canadian fashion it’s moved back to the centre when necessary. Both René Lévesque and Lucien Bouchard showed themselves capable of cutting provincial spending to balance the provincial budget, moves that reduced their support among their own political base.xxii

More generally, programs like “J’Explore” and “Encounters With Canada” give young Francophone Quebecers the opportunity to interact with other Canadians, to say nothing of the countless regular interactions Quebec Francophones have every day with other Canadians in business, tourism and just general friendship. Historically, Quebec has also played a significant role in the development of Canada itself as a nation, from its role in ensuring that Confederation gave us a federal system of government to its contributions to Canadian democracy and identity, helping to give Canada its own unique character as we adapted British institutions to suit our own needs.xxiii

The Trudeau Paradox has led us into a polarized situation with no apparent solution. Either one supports Pierre Trudeau’s approach to Quebec, or one supports Quebec separating from Canada. Neither approach is or has been capable of solving the seemingly endless dilemma we now find ourselves in. These approaches overlook a very long and rich tradition of Quebec thinkers who’ve striven for the middleground in their province’s relationship with Canada, most of which are sadly unknown to Canadians in other parts of the country. They also overlook the common values Francophone Quebecers share with all other Canadians, Quebec’s own efforts to balance its books and develop its resources, and the unique challenges Quebec faces in trying to maintain its Francophone majority on an Anglophone-dominated continent while also supporting its own Anglophone minority.

Quebec and Francophone Canadians in general have often been accused of perpetrating a double standard in demanding that French be given what they consider “special treatment” in other provinces, even as Anglophones in Quebec are supposedly stripped of their rights. What this overlooks is that such an argument could easily be turned around. One could ask why Quebec should be the only province that has to be bilingual and provide support to its linguistic minority. Couldn’t that, in itself, be considered a form of double standard? If Quebec’s Anglophone minority receives particular treatment, based on its own unique situation in Quebec-as well it should!-what is the basis for not doing so for the Francophone minorities in other parts of Canada?

This is the positive role that bilingualism can and should play in Canada. Rather than simply being used to try and fight Quebec nationalism, it can and is an extremely useful tool for Canadians to communicate with one another, and build understanding across the country. More practically, it also serves as a useful way to attract a larger variety of immigrants. Not all our immigrants speak good English, but some of them do speak good French, and they often integrate into Francophone communities across Canada.

Pierre Trudeau’s vision of the country has much to offer Canada. Bilingualism and the Charter of Rights have immeasurably enriched our country and provided a solid foundation for our future development. Trudeau was quite right when he pointed out that Quebecers have a government in Ottawa as well as in Quebec City, and that their interests are closely tied to Canada’s as a whole. He was also right when he noted that secession would not solve Quebec’s problems.

However, his vision is by necessity incomplete. Samuel La Selva perhaps put it best when he noted that Trudeau and a separatist leader like René Lévesque each only understood what the other did not.xxiv Because of the Trudeau Paradox, many Francophone Quebecers now feel like they’re forced to choose between being Quebecers and Canadians.xxv It’s not something that they particularly want, and it’s undermined our national unity. Many Quebec thinkers, ranging from Cartier to Bourassa to Laurendeau to Ryan to Dion, have shown that there’s a better way, one that’s deeply rooted in Canadian history. This way, one that takes Quebec’s unique situation into account while also recognizing that it is part of a greater whole, may well be the solution to the Trudeau Paradox.

Of course, there are some serious questions that would have to be answered. If Quebec’s distinctiveness were to be recognized in the Constitution, exactly what form should it take? If we’re going to change things to better reflect Quebec’s place in Canada, we obviously also need to know how this won’t simply lead to separation. What areas would Quebec continue to participate in with the rest of the country, and follow along with the rest of us? However, we won’t know unless we actually ask these questions.

Recognizing Quebec’s distinctiveness is not simply a matter of “appeasing” that province. If that is the reason for recognizing Quebec’s distinctiveness, then it is not worth doing. Rather, it should be to acknowledge the very real challenges Quebec continues to fact because of its unique situation. It can and should be part of a larger effort to address many of the longstanding problems facing Canada today. My own home province of Alberta has long criticized the current form of the national equalization program. Perhaps, even as we’re addressing the issue of Quebec’s distinctiveness, we should also be re-examining equalization to make it fairer for “have” provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan!xxvi

Changes like these may well be the key to reconciliation, providing a stronger basis for Canadian unity and building mutual understanding between the various parts of Canada, one that does justice to the spirit of Macdonald and Cartier and the wonderful legacy they have left us.

i Licia Corbella, “Lougheed’s Greatest Legacy Is Canadian Unity.” Calgary Herald, September 15, 2012. Available online at

ii Wikipedia article on the Children of Bill 101.

iii Jean Dorion, “Quand un séparatiste se sépare: La Charte de la laicité.” Le Devoir, September 22, 2012. Available online at

iv Ryan, pages 229-233.

v Straight Talk, pages 141-142.

vi Elijah Harper, “A Time To Say No”, in Justice For Natives: Searching For Common Ground, edited by Andrea P. Morrison. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. Pages 219-226, quoted on page 225.

vii Quoted in Olive Patricia Dickason and David T. McNab, Canada’s First Nations: A History Of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pages 399-400.

viii Richard Gwyn, Sir John A. Macdonald, His Life, Our Times: Volume II, 1867-1891. Toronto, Ontario: Random House Canada, 2011. Page 13. See also Gwyn, “Canada’s Father Figure.” Canada’s History Magazine, Volume 92: 5, October-November 2012. Pages 30-37, especially pages 36-37.

ix Sir John A. Macdonald, His Life And Times, pages 550-552.

x Jack Jedwab, “Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms Seen As Having a Positive Impact On Rights and Is A Positive Symbol of Canadian Identity.” Association for Canadian Studies, January 1, 2002. Available online at

xi Graeme Hamilton, “At 25, Charter Is Misunderstood.” National Post, February 8, 2007. Available online at

xii “Le nationalisme dans la convergence culturelle”, page 305.

xiii Ryan, pages 174-178, 227.

xiv “The Nanos Number: The PQ’s Slim Victory.” CBC News, September 5, 2012.

xv Denis Lessard, “L’appui à la souveraineté recule.” La Presse, August 31, 2012. Available online at

xvi Stéphane Dion, “The PQ’s Secessionist Agenda Cost It A Majority.” IPolitics, September 6, 2012.

xvii Jean Dorion, “La charte de la laicité: Quand un séparatiste se sépare.” Le Devoir, September 22, 2012.

xviii Author by the screen name of “Anglo Montreal”, “Xenophobes And Racists: If The Shoe Fits…” No Dogs Or Anglophones, September 24, 2012. See also a blogger by the screen name of “OlmanFeelyus”, “How To Be A Successful Journalist In Canada Today.” Briques du neige blog, September 5, 2012.

xix Author by the screen name of “Radical Centrist”. “Equalization Questions and Misconceptions.” On Procedure and Politics blog, April 24, 2012. See also Michael Holden, “Are Albertans Really Paying For Quebec’s Social Programs?” Canada West Foundation website, April 20, 2012.

xx Canadian Press, “Lucien Bouchard Criticizes PQ On Shale Gas.” IPolitics website, September 21, 2012.

xxi Ryan, pages 15-112.

xxii Couture, Cardin and Allaire, pages 284-285.

xxiii David Watts, “Canada’s Unlikely Champion of Federalism.” Edmonton Journal, October 29, 2008. Available online at

xxiv Samuel La Selva, The Moral Foundations of Canadian Federalism. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996. Page 118.

xxv Dufour, pages 61-67, 71-79 and 96-99.

xxvi “Equalization Isn’t Equal.” Calgary Herald, October 16, 2012. Available online at

Guest post: The Trudeau Paradox (Part Two)

Part I of this essay discussed the origins of Quebec nationalism and the desire of Francophone Quebecers to have their province recognized as a “distinct society” within Canada. This desire was fiercely opposed by Quebec political thinker Pierre Trudeau, who became Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. Trudeau was seen as speaking for Francophone Quebecers, and his critics would claim that he was just the first Prime Minister from Quebec to impose that province’s agenda on the rest of Canada. However, in this part we’ll see that Trudeau’s agenda was quite different from what most Francophone Quebec thinkers were advocating.

The Trudeau Paradox, Part II: Trudeau, Mulroney and the Constitution

Trudeau’s reforms, including the way he implemented bilingualism across Canada and advocated for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were meant to undercut any sort of claim by Quebec to its distinctiveness. He supported bilingualism on a strictly individual basis, believing that if French was further reinforced across Canada it would undermine Quebec’s claim to be a distinctly Francophone majority province. Similarly, multiculturalism would make Francophone Canadians just one of many communities of many different backgrounds that exist in Canada. Enshrining the rights of all Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would further cement an overall Canadian identity, over and above any provincial identity.[1] He justified his support for government intervention such as social programs as being a way to help everyone get an equal chance to make the best use of their talents, as their circumstances were not all the same.[2]

These reforms proved controversial in many circles. However, by and large many Canadians outside Quebec came to accept them because they felt that it was what Francophone Quebecers wanted, as Pierre Trudeau claimed.[3] Many people outside Canada considered actions accepting bilingualism and French immersion as what journalist Paul Wells called the rest of the country “bending itself into pretzels” to accommodate Quebec.[4] When the Quebec government began passing legislation to enshrine French as Quebec’s official work and education language, and Quebecers voted the Parti Quebecois into office, people in other parts of Canada saw it as an action of bad faith. They were angered that, despite their willingness to accept official status for French in their provinces and enrolling their children in French immersion programs, Francophone Quebecers didn’t seem to respond to the rest of the country’s efforts to accommodate them.[5] They didn’t realize that Trudeau’s efforts were part of his attempt to undermine Quebec nationalism, particularly as advocated by the Quebec government.

The irony, as Richard Gwyn pointed out, was that Trudeau’s opposition to distinct status for Quebec put him more in line with his predecessor John Diefenbaker’s line of thinking, including Diefenbaker’s advocating the idea of “One Canada”, which was obviously far more popular outside than inside Quebec.[6] Gwyn noted that Trudeau’s individualist beliefs also meshed quite well in some respects with those of many Western Canadians,[7] as did the results of Trudeau’s 1982 constitutional reforms, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[8] John Diefenbaker had also advanced his own Bill of Rights, which he considered an essential element of his ‘One Canada, One Nation’ philosophy.[9] Trudeau’s message came at an opportune time for many Anglophone Canadians, who had previously based much of their conception of Canada on its connection to Great Britain. With the decline of Canada’s British connections after World War II, these Anglophone Canadians were now looking for a new vision.[10]

Despite his ideas not meshing with those of most other Quebec thinkers, Quebec voters still steadily supported Trudeau throughout the 1970s, in no small part due to the fact that he was a native Quebecer, and ‘one of their own’, as former Le Devoir editor Lise Bissonnette put it.[11] However, the first referendum on Quebec separation, held in 1980, despite being decisively won by the federalists, had the Francophone vote nearly split down the middle.[12] During the referendum, Trudeau had promised Quebecers a “renewed federalism”, but patriating the Constitution without recognizing Quebec as a distinct society was seen by many Quebec Francophones as a breaking of that promise.[13] In many ways, the 1982 reforms fell short of the major suggestions for change, heavily influenced by Quebec Francophones, that Trudeau had mentioned during the campaign,[14] and were certainly not what many Francophone Quebecers were expecting.[15]

As Claude Ryan and Guy Laforest would later point out, the way in which Trudeau went about patriating the Constitution was fiercely opposed by many Quebec federalists and separatists alike, contrary to Trudeau’s claims that the majority of Quebec’s elected politicians supported what he’d done.[16] Francophone Quebecers turned against Trudeau after that, voting overwhelmingly for the Brian Mulroney Conservatives in 1984.[17] Historian Will Ferguson, who was living in small-town Quebec at the time, recounted just how strong the support for Mulroney was.[18] Several years later, at the height of the Meech Lake controversy, a long series of polls noted just how much Trudeau’s influence had diminished in Quebec, and just how little most Francophone Quebecers, including ordinary citizens, thought of him.[19]

Mulroney subsequently tried to address the anger many Francophone Quebecers felt by negotiating the Meech Lake Accord with the provincial premiers. It was fiercely opposed by Trudeau and his supporters outside Quebec, although most Francophone Quebec federalists, including many of Trudeau’s former political colleagues, supported it.[20] Trudeau’s opposition to Meech Lake helped rally the opposition of many other Canadians, such as then-Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador Clyde Wells, and proved instrumental in the Accord’s failure.[21]

In Quebec, Meech Lake’s failure was viewed with great disappointment[22] when it wasn’t seen as a rejection of the province altogether.[23] Of course, that was not what most opponents of Meech Lake meant to say. Clyde Wells, for example, was in fact quite supportive of bilingualism, although most of his supporters didn’t realize it.[24] As previously noted, many Francophone Quebecers who were Trudeau’s former colleagues had come out in favour of Meech Lake. Even a young Stéphane Dion declared that Trudeau’s defeat of Meech was “the worst constitutional error in the history of the country.”[25] As recently as 2007, as the leader of Trudeau’s former party, Dion would state that subsequent changes in Canada had given the country the “practical” advantages of Meech Lake, but without the “symbolic” advantage these changes would have had if they’d been passed as part of the Meech Lake Accord.[26]

In the Meech Lake debates, Trudeau and his supporters outside Quebec ran up against the desires of Francophone Quebecers.[27] The fallout from Meech Lake led to the 1995 referendum, and by that time most Canadians outside Quebec were fed up with the whole issue. Many Francophone Quebecers had also come to support separatism, because they felt like the rest of Canada opposed their efforts to maintain their Francophone character. It’s been suggested that Francophone Quebecers were duped by their provincial elites, but as Jeffrey Simpson pointed out that’s a dangerous argument to make when you consider the disputes other provinces, such as Alberta or Newfoundland & Labrador, have had with Ottawa.[28] Were the people of those provinces duped by their elites? Of course not!

Other factors played a role as well-many Western Canadians were frustrated by what they saw as the federal government’s exclusive concentration on Quebec’s issues, which led to the rise of the Reform Party. Quebec was also seen as greedy and spoiled, due to the belief that it was getting the most federal spending and transfer payments. The controversies over Quebec’s language laws, and the Oka crisis of 1990, furthered the image of Francophone Quebecers as racist and intolerant. Of course, as Jeffrey Simpson observed, not much was made of the fact that most of the rest of the country didn’t always do much to uphold the rights of their Francophone minorities.[29]

All of this created an ugly, self-perpetuating cycle. Francophone Quebecers saw the rest of the country’s opposition to Meech Lake, recognition of Quebec’s distinctiveness and its language laws as a rejection of Quebec itself. Meanwhile, many other Canadians who saw Trudeau’s and Mulroney’s reigns as part of an unbroken effort by Quebec to impose its agenda on the rest of the country. They also saw Quebec nationalism as tantamount to not wanting to be Canadian, or only staying in Canada for the financial benefits.

At the root of it all was the Trudeau Paradox, that perception that Pierre Trudeau’s ideas were what Francophone Quebecers were looking for, and that he was part of Quebec’s attempt to impose its own agenda on the entire country. In fact, Trudeau sought to impose his own agenda, one that he thought could defeat Quebec nationalism, and one that ended up being accepted far more outside Quebec than within it, except among perhaps the province’s Anglo-Quebec minority. Trudeau’s efforts to defeat Quebec nationalism only left many Francophone Quebecers alienated, and when Mulroney tried to change the situation with Meech Lake, Trudeau and his supporters outside Quebec rallied to defeat it. When support for separatism increased up until the 1995 referendum, many Canadians outside Quebec simply came to conclude that nothing would ever satisfy the province.

As I previously noted, the last few decades have made it clear that Trudeau’s efforts to turn Francophone Quebecers away from their nationalism, and by extension to wipe out the appeal of separatism, have not succeeded. While Trudeau claimed during the Meech Lake debates that the younger generation of Quebecers did not want or need any kind of distinct status in the Constitution,[30] the results of the 1995 referendum, as well as the continued support among Francophone Quebecers for the province’s language laws, show that Trudeau was probably wrong about Francophone Quebecers’ opinions on their province’s distinctiveness. Guy Laforest has pointed out that, while it might have been easy for someone like Trudeau to maintain his Francophone character no matter where he went, but many other Francophones might not have had such an easy time of it.[31] In his days as an academic, Stéphane Dion also raised this point in support of Quebec’s language laws.[32] Nor are Quebecers the only Francophones concerned about language. Justin Trudeau got into trouble with New Brunswick Acadians when he suggested that New Brunswick should abolish its separate English and French school systems and simply create one bilingual system.[33]

It’s not hard to understand why there’s been so much misinterpretation and confusion among other Canadians as to why Francophone Quebecers have acted and voted the way they do. In an extremely insightful observation, Alan Cairns noted that many Canadians outside Quebec, both then and now, have a hard time understanding the whole concept of “two founding peoples”, particularly when one of them is primarily based in Quebec. Anglophone Canadians are the majority in the nine other provinces, in addition to being a minority in Quebec itself. This makes it a lot harder for many Anglophones to accept the whole idea of Quebec as a distinct society, particularly since they tend to view the federal government as the only one capable of speaking for all Canadians.[34]

The contradictory elements of Trudeau’s policies, particularly the ones that tied into collective group rights, also make it easier to see him as supporting a collective rights agenda. While he supported bilingualism on a strictly individual basis, the very nature of Trudeau’s efforts to enshrine bilingualism meant that he was favouring the English and French languages over others. In building support for the Charter and the 1982 reforms, Trudeau also reached out to other groups that would have particular provisions for them in the Charter, including women’s groups, multicultural groups and Aboriginal peoples.[35] People from these groups opposed the Meech Lake Accord out of concern that any recognition of Quebec would diminish the recognitions they had gained in the Charter.[36]

One can also point out just how confused the Trudeau policy was regarding Francophones outside Quebec. Francophone minorities received a greater amount of federal funding for cultural activities than did other cultural groups, something that caused an understandable resentment among the latter, particularly when the expectation among immigrant groups would be that they would have to learn English and assimilate.[37] When Trudeau came up with the idea of multiculturalism as a way of undermining the idea of biculturalism so popular in Francophone Quebec, he had to fuse it with bilingualism so that it became “multiculturalism in a bilingual framework.” This was at odds with Trudeau’s efforts to establish bilingualism across Canada, and was criticized by Francophones both inside and outside Quebec.[38] On a more basic level, the poor job Trudeau did of explaining bilingualism to Canadians and his blunt indifference to Canadians’ concerns also undermined its acceptance by the rest of the country.[39]

Thus, the Trudeau Paradox emerged in full force. Many people thought that the differences between Quebec and the rest of the country were irreconcilable, and that there’s simply no way to resolve the impasse. In Part III of this essay, we’ll see that this is not necessarily the case, and in fact Francophone Quebecers have much more in common with other Canadians than most people realize.

[1] Laforest, pages 130-139. See also McRoberts, pages 176-177, and Russell, pages 80-81.
[2] Pierre Trudeau, The Essential Trudeau, edited by Ron Graham. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1998. Pages 15-16.
[3] Jeremy Webber, Reimagining Canada: Language, Culture, Community and the Canadian Constitution. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994. Page 160. See also Simpson, page 266, and McRoberts, page 112.
[4] Paul Wells, “Franchement: PM Stephen Harper and French Canadians.” Inkless Wells blog, December 20, 2012. Available online at
[5] McRoberts, page 112.
[6] Richard Gwyn, The Northern Magus: Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Canadians. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1980. Page 231. See also Cairns, page 51.
[7] Gwyn, page 277.
[8] Roger Gibbins and Loleen Berdahl, Western Visions, Western Futures: Perspectives on the West in Canada. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003. Page 61.
[9] McRoberts, page 46.
[10] McRoberts, pages 111-112. See also Simpson, pages 265-266.
[11] Romney, page 285.
[12] Couture, Cardin and Allaire, page 184.
[13] Laforest, pages 15-37. See also Couture, Cardin and Allaire, page 185, and McRoberts, pages 174-175.
[14] McRoberts, pages 161-163. See also Russell, page 109.
[15] McRoberts, pages 174-175.
[16] Ryan, pages 134-138, and Laforest, pages 138-142.
[17] McRoberts, pages 178-179.
[18] Will Ferguson, Canadian History For Dummies. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Limited, 2005. Page 386.
[19] Simpson, page 171.
[20] Ibid., page 170.
[21] Ibid., pages 159-162.
[22] Ryan, pages 147-148.
[23] Simpson, pages 294-296 and 302.  See also Webber, pages 179-180.
[24] Simpson, pages 169 and 173.
[25] Quoted in Robert Bourassa, Gouverner le Québec. Montreal, Québec : Fides, 1995. Page 277.
[26] Quoted in L. Ian Macdonald, “Interview With Stéphane Dion.” Policy Options Magazine, June 2010. Page 10.
[27] Laforest, pages 115-118. See also Ryan, pages 147-148.
[28] Simpson, pages 168-169.
[29] Simpson, page 166.
[30] Cited in Laforest, page 116.
[31] Laforest, pages 116-117.
[32] Stéphane Dion, “La nationalisme dans la convergence culturelle:  Le Québec contemporain et le paradoxe de Tocqueville,” in L’engagement intellectuel : Mélanges en honneur de Léon Dion, ed. by Raymond Hudon and Réjean Pelletier, pages 291-311. Sainte-Foy, Québec : Les Presses de L’Université Laval, 1991. Page 305.
[33] Alexander Panetta, “Trudeau Apologizes For Language Remarks.” Toronto Star, May 7, 2007. Available online at
[34] Cairns, pages 41-43.
[35] Couture, pages 90-95. See also Cairns, pages 79-81 and 110-115, and Russell, pages 113-115.
[36] Russell, pages 134 and 143.
[37] Simpson, pages 245, 246 and 257.
[38] McRoberts, pages 129-135.
[39] Charles Taylor, Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada. Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press, 2006. Page 187.