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PostPosted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:14 pm

2014 was a year of change in Quebec, as Philippe Couillard led the provincial Liberals to victory over the Parti Quebecois government of Pauline Marois. The Marois government spent a lot of time outlining its vision of the province’s social values, as well as outlining its vision of how an independent Quebec would relate to Canada. Couillard spent a lot of time criticizing Marois’s actions, accusing her of having an “Alice In Wonderland” vision that ignored Quebecers’ bigger concerns about issues like the economy and healthcare.

Many other Canadians were likely reassured by Couillard’s statements. However, what most outside observers likely didn’t notice is the fact that Couillard himself also supported recognizing Quebec as a distinct society in the Constitution. In October, six months after the provincial election, Quebec’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, said the very same thing. In a speech at the Canada 2020 conference, Fournier built on this, saying that the “distinct society” clause that had scuttled the Meech Lake Accord was a “fait accompli” even as Quebec contributed to Canada’s efforts to deal with issues like climate change. However, Couillard was careful to say that he would only pursue constitutional negotiations if Quebec was approached on the issue, and that his primary focus as Premier would be on the economy.

Couillard was right to be cautious, given that polls show how much Francophone Quebecers’ views on the Constitution continue to differ from those of other Canadians. The federal Conservative government has indicated that it is not interested in reopening the Constitution, and in a meeting between Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne it became clear that Ontario saw no interest in constitutional talks either.

In their comments and speeches, Couillard and Fournier have spoken about the need to recognize Quebec’s distinctiveness in Confederation. However, they’ve also talked about the benefits to Quebec of being part of Canada, and the positive role Quebec can play in the country. This might seem contradictory at first glance-if they want to be part of Canada, why are they insisting that Quebec be so separate and distinct from the rest of the country?

What most people don’t realize, however, is that Couillard and Fournier’s words and actions are quite similar to those of George-Étienne Cartier, Quebec’s leading Father of Confederation. Cartier’s own words and actions during the original Confederation debates in 1864 had a powerful influence not only on how the British North America Act as a whole was shaped, but also how it recognized subtle but important differences between Quebec and the other Canadian provinces.

2014 is the 200th anniversary of Cartier’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the Confederation debates in Quebec City. This makes it an ideal time to study Cartier’s influence on Confederation, and on modern Quebec federalism.

Cartier, Federalism And The French Canadians

In the debates to join the United Province of Canada with Newfoundland and the Maritimes into a larger country, some of the Anglophone Fathers of Confederation, like the Upper Canadian George Brown, insisted that the new country’s legislature should have “representation by population”, which would distribute seats to different parts of the country according to how many people lived there. Many of the Anglophone Fathers, like John A. Macdonald, also wanted Canada to be a plain “legislative union” that simply joined all the British North American colonies together, erasing all the provincial borders.

However, this was unacceptable to Cartier and the other Francophone Fathers from Lower Canada. As noted by historian A.I. Silver, many Lower Canadians were concerned about losing the provincial autonomy necessary for their cultural survival to an Anglophone majority. Cartier himself was quoted in the La Minerve newspaper, one of his strongest sources of support, as stating that Francophones felt that guaranteeing their nationality’s autonomy was the most important element of Confederation.(1)

Cartier played a leading role in breaking the impasse between the Francophones who sought to ensure their province’s local autonomy and the Anglophones who wanted a strong central government by proposing that Confederation be a federal system. As noted by Samuel LaSelva, Cartier used federalism to provide an important middle ground between the desires of Francophone and Anglophone Canadians that would provide the benefits of unity while also respecting Francophones’ local identities rather than assimilating them.(2)

Cartier and his supporters built support for Confederation in Lower Canada based on the very fact. Silver notes that the agreement was presented as providing a distinct, separate legislature for Quebec, one that would address all of the main questions of the province’s Francophone nationality and would not be touched on by the federal government. Cartier and his supporters pointed out in newspapers like La Minerve that Francophone Quebecers would be a “distinct and separate nationality”, and that the issues dealt with in Ottawa would provide “no more danger to the rights and privileges of the French Canadians” than to any other nationality. Quebec’s autonomy was presented as one of Confederation’s main strengths.(3)

Historian P.B. Waite notes that Lower Canadian support for Confederation depended on Cartier and its other Lower Canadian supporters of Confederation showing that it wouldn’t concede the powers necessary for Francophones’ cultural survival to the federal government. La Minerve continued to insist that Lower Canada would continue to govern its own social and cultural life under Confederation. Every province of the new country would continue to be responsible for governing the issues that affected their survival.(4)

Cartier And The Shape Of Confederation

Macdonald knew that Cartier and his supporters would only agree to Confederation if it were federal in nature, and that a plain union was never possible.(5) However, Cartier’s influence didn’t end there. The British North America Act was to recognize Quebec’s distinct nature in several different ways, most notably in Sections 22, 93, 94, 98 and 133.

Section 94 excludes Quebec from the federal government’s authority to transfer responsibility for property and civil rights from the provinces to the federal government. According to Samuel LaSelva, Section 94 is a recognition of Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada, enabling the other provinces to transfer power over property and civil rights to the federal government while enabling Quebec to maintain the control over its basic law that it saw itself as having based on the “racial” agreement implied in the BNA Act.(6) Constitutional expert Peter Russell also notes that Sections 22 and 98 of the BNA Act also had special provisions for appointing Quebec judges and senators.

Section 93 of the BNA Act provides for the recognition of Protestant schools in Ontario and Catholic schools outside it, while Section 133 provides for the recognition of both English and French in the Quebec legislature. Historians Claude Couture and Jean-François Cardin cite these articles as proof of the “compact theory” and the “two-nations” theory, which posited that Canada was created by an agreement between the Anglophone and Francophone nations that founded it.(8) Paul Romney notes that this view became widespread among the Franco-Quebec elite, who considered Confederation as the latest in a series of agreements between themselves and the Anglophones ever since the Conquest.(9)

Cartier’s participation in the Confederation debates provides some fascinating insights into his personal views on the subject. When discussing what the provincial legislatures of Ontario and Quebec would look like, Cartier justified Quebec’s legislature being different on the grounds that its citizens had different interests and beliefs from those of Ontario’s. P.B. Waite suggests that the different forms of the Ontario and Quebec legislatures reflected the different views of many of the Ontario and Quebec Fathers of Confederation of how Confederation should be formed.(10) Notably, Cartier and Macdonald also presented the BNA Act as a “treaty” and promised that it would be presented to the British as such.(11)

Cartier’s comments, in addition to the various clauses in the BNA Act itself, illustrate his commitment to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness was recognized in Confederation, and his concerns with ensuring that Francophone Canadians would not be assimilated. However, this is only one part of Cartier’s views on Canadian federalism. The other part involves Cartier’s advocating of a new “political nationality”, one in which Francophone Quebecers would continue to maintain their local identities, but they would also participate in a larger common cause with other Canadians.

Cartier And The Political Nationality

In a speech given in Montreal on October 20, 1866, Cartier glowingly described Confederation as a “glorious era” that Francophones didn’t need to be afraid of. He added that they had no reason to be afraid of their Anglophone neighbours, either, but rather that they could benefit from combining the best qualities of Anglophone Canadians with their own greatest strengths as Francophones. In doing so, they would bring together all of the lands discovered by French explorer Jacques Cartier, and extend their influence beyond Lower Canada.(12)

In this speech, Cartier built on the idea of a new “political nationality” that encompassed multiple identities, which he had first discussed in 1865. This political nationality did not replace local and provincial identities like the Francophone Quebec one, but rather it built on them.

Although they all had their own unique local identities, the people of the British North American colonies had similar interests and sympathies, including a desire to all live under the British Crown. Having a diversity of races was a benefit, not a problem, because they could all come together through the political nationality and contribute to their common good. The common interests of the political nationality would be addressed by the federal government, while the interests of peoples’ local and provincial identities would be addressed by the local, provincial governments. The rights of linguistic minorities, whether the rights of the Anglophone minority in Quebec or the Francophone minorities elsewhere in Canada, could also be guaranteed by constitutional remedies, and a sense of fair treatment throughout Canada.(13)

Cartier built on this theory as a federal Cabinet minister after Confederation. He played an important role in negotiating the entries of Manitoba and B.C. into Confederation, beginning the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian militia, and negotiating the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Notably, he also acted as the de facto Prime Minister whenever Macdonald was incapacitated during the difficult early years of Confederation.(14) While Cartier had shown concerns for Quebec’s place in Confederation and its ability to maintain its distinctiveness, he also proved himself an able leader for the growth of Canada as a whole.

Cartier, Couillard And Fournier

Philippe Couillard and Jean-Marc Fournier have shown themselves to be interested in contributing to Canada. However, they are also strongly devoted to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness is recognized in the Constitution. Couillard and Fournier have made clear that, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with federalism in its current form, a formal constitutional recognition of Quebec’s distinct status would make federalism all the stronger. Other Quebec federalists have said similar things, such as former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion(15) and former provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoit Pelletier.

Their commitments and comments are strikingly similar to those demonstrated by Georges-Étienne Cartier during and after the Confederation debates. Addressing Cartier’s concerns and incorporating them into the British North America Act proved to be a tremendous success not just for Quebec, but for Canada as a whole. Cartier demonstrated that there was no conflict between a commitment to Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada and a concern for the country as a whole.

P.B. Waite notes that, in addressing Cartier’s concerns in the BNA Act, Macdonald made Confederation an “elastic blueprint” that would be further developed by practical experience. Many Anglophones wanted a plain union, but Francophones like Cartier, and other supporters in the Maritimes, had powerful attachments to their local identities and provinces. Confederation was thus an attempt to find a middle way between these desires.(16)

George-Étienne Cartier, with his concerns for the distinct status of Francophones and Quebec in Confederation, his insistence that Confederation be a federal union and his support of a “political nationality” that complemented but did not assimilate other identities, played an essential role in finding that middle way. By incorporating his concerns and ideas into Confederation and synthesizing them with the goals of other Fathers like Macdonald and Brown, Canada was made all the stronger.

Many modern Quebec federalists, such as Couillard, Fournier, Dion and Pelletier, continue to follow the same spirit as Cartier by expressing their pride in the larger Canadian nationality, while also insisting that Quebec is a distinct and unique part of Confederation.

Incorporating their concerns into Confederation, as Macdonald did with Cartier, would not only strengthen the Canadian federation, but it would also be a fitting tribute to the wonderful legacy Cartier and his colleagues have bequeathed us.

1. A.I. Silver, The French Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pages 34-36. Originally published by the University of Toronto Press, 1982. Cartier’s quote from La Minerve, September 14, 1864.

2. Samuel LaSelva, The Moral Foundations of Canadian Federalism: Paradoxes, Achievements and Tragedies of Nationhood. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996. Pages 48 and 159.

3. Quotes from La Minerve, July 17 1866 and July 1-2, 1867. Cartier quoted in Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces (Ottawa, 1865), page 368. Quoted in Silver, pages 40-42 and 50.

4. P.B. Waite, The Life And Times Of Confederation, 1865-1867: Politics, Newspapers and the Union of British North America. Toronto, Ontario: Robin Bass Studio, 2001. Pages 152-155. Originally published by University of Toronto Press, 1962. Quotes from La Minerve published July 16 and August 30, 1864. See also Silver, pages 40-42.

5. Waite, page 140.

6. LaSelva, page 60.

7. Peter Russell, Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become A Sovereign People? 3rd Edition. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2004. Pages 26 and 306.

8. Jean-François Cardin and Claude Couture, in conjunction with Gratien Allaire. Histoire du Canada: Espaces et differences. Saint-Nicolas, Quebec : Les presses de l’Université Laval, 1996. Page 64.

9. Paul Romney, Getting It Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past And Imperilled Confederation. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 1999. Page 238.

10. Waite, pages 307-308. Cartier quoted in the Toronto Leader, July 14, 1866.

11. Romney, page 148.

12. Quoted in Who Speaks For Canada? Words That Shape A Country, edited by Desmond Morton and Morton Weinfeld. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1998. Pages 36-38.

13. The preceding two paragraphs are summarized from LaSelva, pages 37-42.

14. “George-Étienne Cartier”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, available online at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/e ... e-cartier/.

15. Stéphane Dion, Straight Talk: Speeches And Writings On Canadian Unity. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. Pages 138-150.

16. Waite, pages 350-351.

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