Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

BILL 101 (continued)

But events were moving quickly. In 1965 the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism rushed a preliminary report into print. “Canada,” it said, “without being fully conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history.” The commission substantiated virtually everything Quebec’s nationalists had been saying. French Canadians were near the bottom of the income ladder. (In 1961 unilingual Anglophones in Quebec earned $5,500, unilingual francophones $3,100.) French-language education had been discouraged and suppressed in all the other provinces. No province had provided its French-speaking minority with rights and privileges comparable to those Quebec’s English-speaking minority had. The best jobs in government and business, in and out of Quebec, weren’t available to anyone who couldn’t speak English well.

Talking to Jean-Guy Lavigne, one realizes that the Quiet Revolution didn’t end with the defeat of the Lesage government: it continues. In 1968, the Union Nationale government of Jean-Jacques Bertrand tabled legislation to deal with the fact that the French language was dying in Quebec: the birth rate had declined sharply and immigrants were choosing to learn English rather than French. It was to their economic advantage to do so. Something had to be done. Proposed legislation was allowed to die on the order paper. Instead, the Bertrand government appointed a royal commission to study the matter.

Before the Gendron Commission had even begun its work, language riots broke out in the streets of St. Léonard because immigrant children were going to English schools. Bill 63 was rushed through the legislature, placing restrictions on English schooling for these children. In the 1970 election, which brought Robert Bourassa to power, almost everyone voted against the Union Nationale — immigrants because Bill 63 had gone too far; francophones because it hadn’t gone far enough; and anglophones because they were anxious.

Jean-Guy Lavigne was appointed secretary to the Gendron Commission in 1969. “I could write a good memo,” he says with a laugh. The commission didn’t complete its report until 1972. It reinforced B & B. As Commissioner Aimé Gagné put it, “The French-speaking community must be preserved at all costs if we wish to maintain the principal characteristic distinguishing Canada from [the U.S.]” The commission recommended that the government of Quebec make French the official language of the province. It further recommended that Quebec not act in the area of education, on the assumption that once French became the language of work, everything else would follow. (This is the argument Gérald Godin of the PQ and others have advanced against the sections of Bills 22 and 101 that deal with the language of instruction.)

In his first annual report, Official Languages Commissioner Keith Spicer addressed himself to the linguistic concerns of French Canadians, especially the concern that bilingualism was becoming a one-way street that favoured anglophones by ensuring the continued dominance of English in Quebec's business world. “The long-term future of French in North America,” he wrote, “will depend mainly on Quebec’s ability to strengthen its principal language ... as a language of work and of general social use.”

Lavigne had been appointed to the Gendron Commission by a Union Nationale government. He was then made special adviser to Bourassa’s Liberal government to help draft Bill 22. On July 30, 1974 — more than two years before the PQ was elected — Bill 22 made French the official language of Quebec. It’s important to remember that; Bill 101, about which so much fuss has been made, is not substantially different from Bill 22. The difference, one has to conclude, is that the former was brought in by a Liberal government with federalist leanings, and the latter by a PQ government with separatist intentions.

The fact is, says Lavigne, Bill 22 “attacked the very foundations of English Montreal.” The language of work and business and government in Quebec had to become French. In addition, Bill 22 sharply restricted access to English schools and set up controversial language tests. (Bill 101 eliminated the language tests for school admission.) Bill 22 established La régie de la langue française to see that French “becomes, as soon as possible, the language of communication, work, commerce and business....” The minister of education would over-see those parts of the bill that dealt with the language of instruction.

Bill 1o1, continued > 

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