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For an American, there is an ironic clue to the history of our neighbor to the north; she became a nation because her people did not wish to be swallowed up by the United States Quant aux Canadiens français, ils ne voulaient pas seulement éviter être absorbés par les États-Unis; ils ne voulaient pas davantage être absorbés parleurs compatriotes “anglais”
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
This time, however, the Mackenzie King government did all in its power to postpone conscription and actually succeeded in doing so until the end of 1944. This time also the war seemed, even to many French Canadians, a necessary one. During it, Canada once again fought and worked to the height of her capacity. As she was engaged from early in September, 1939, while the United States remained neutral until Pearl Harbor, she went through all the mental agonies attending the fall of France and the Battle of Britain, in which her pilots played a substantial role.
The results of the Second World War, again to oversimplify, were mainly these: With the British Empire liquidating itself, English Canadians at last began to think in terms of a nation entirely on her own and became much better disposed toward their French-speaking compatriots than they had ever been before. The base of the national economy shifted, during and after the war, from agriculture to industry. Some cities doubled and even trebled their size. In the postwar years a large immigration from Europe, coupled with a rising birth rate in English Canada, increased the population to nearly twenty million. And Canada now competes closely with Sweden for the second-highest living standard in the world.
The price again was great, and much of it has yet to be paid. In order to finance this industrial development, Canada depended heavily on foreign investment, most of it American. American corporations moved across the border in such numbers that the Canadian economy became, in substantial segments, a branchplant economy of the United States. Finally (and this leads to the present crisis), industrial prosperity suddenly produced a large, prosperous, educated, and articulate French-Canadian middle class which found itself, within Quebec, dependent for its prosperity on an economic system in which French Canadians had little more than ten per cent of the control. But how did Canada reach this crisis?
Even such a rapid survey of Canadian history as the foregoing should make one fundamental fact unforgettably clear: Canada became a nation because her people did not wish to become part of the United States. This was true of the French Canadians in 1775, and true of the English Canadians—the loyalists—who left the United States at the end of the American Revolution. As several Canadian observers have emphasized—notably, in recent months, Professor George Grant in his moving book, Lament for a Nation —both founding groups rejected the philosophical basis of the American Revolution in favor of an older, European moral and political tradition.
What they rejected was not democracy in itself, but the idea of progress for its own sake which was incorporated into the American conception of democracy. They recognized that the American Revolution was much more than a revolt against an incompetent political system; it was in essence a revolt against the classical past of the Western world. It was therefore the true beginning of the “modern” age, in which the tendency is to equate the good with unlimited human freedom. But the loyalists who emigrated to Canada, says Professor Grant, felt “an inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow.” It was therefore possible for them, and for their descendants, to join the French Canadians in resisting Americanization—which was only another word for modernism and a revolt against the values of the past.
But in recent years this has been undergoing rapid change. Under the impact of two world wars, English Canada has allowed her economy to become virtually incorporated into the economy of her mighty neighbor to the south. In the Maritime Provinces and in many small towns of Ontario the old way of life still endures after a fashion, but English Canada is now almost entirely dominated by the huge urban complexes of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, to say nothing of the oil oligarchy (about ninety per cent American-controlled) in Alberta. In short, English Canada had become almost totally “progressive,” in the American sense, before the present crisis with French Canada exploded.
On the surface, it would seem that Quebec’s Silent Revolution—a soubriquet that from time to time appears to be a misnomer—is an extension of the centuries-old resistance to Americanization—that is, to the concept of technological and social progress as the basic human value. The French-Canadian moderates, who wish to preserve Canadian Confederation, and the extremists, who agitate for an independent Quebec, both declare much the same aims with respect to French-Canadian culture. Both demand the right to work in the French language in all government employments; both demand that Quebec shall be free to develop herself, culturally, as her leaders see fit; both demand elevation from the status of “just another province” to that of “French Canada.” But both groups also make a further demand, and it is this that suggests the possibility that Quebec, like English Canada, is turning away from the traditional values of her past. For both insist that a complete revamping and modernization of French-Canadian education, with heavy emphasis on science, technology, and the social sciences, is essential to Quebec’s survival. Inevitably, this implies some degree of revolt against the Roman Catholic Church; and among the younger extremist leaders this revolt is quite explicit.