“There will have to be some sort of legislation which is, to say the least, an imperfect tool, sometimes a cruel tool to many people, because it changes the rules of the game, from way back.”
— René Lévesque, 1978
IN A TAXI over to the Office de la langue francaise in downtown Montreal, I ask theFrench-Canadian cab driver what he thinks of Bill 101. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I explain that it’s a law making French the official language of Quebec; French is to be the language of business, I tell him. He looks at me incredulously. “Crazy buggers,” he says.
In the elevator there’s the faint outline of a swastika on one of the signs indicating the fifteenth and sixteenth floors of the Stock Exchange Tower, where the Office is located. I’m told later that someone who works in the building keeps defacing the signs and the janitors are kept busy cleaning them. Last time I was on the street where the Stock Exchange Tower is located every other street sign said “St. James.” Now they’re all “Saint Jacques.”
The vice-president of the Office, Jean-Guy Lavigne, is an enthusiastic and open thirty-seven-year-old who laughs a lot — often ironically — and makes no secret of the fact that he loves his work. Lavigne was born in eastern Ontario. During the war his family moved to Jacques Cartier, a working-class French community on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. Although he now earns a deputy-minister’s salary, Lavigne takes pride in the fact that he still lives there. He went to school with Pierre Vallières and Paul Rose. Like most of his friends, Lavigne dropped out of school after Grade Ten. He worked in a bank for a while, and took courses in industrial relations in English at night. His father, a labourer, told him that if he wanted to get a “top job,” a job as a policeman, say, or a fireman, he had to learn English.
Lavigne laughs as he speaks of his father’s limited ambitions for him. He started to think about language during the Quiet Revolution. Until then he’d taken for granted that Quebec was a kind of “big company town” whose business life was conducted in English. He found himself asking for the first time: “How come the bosses are all English?” “How come we don’t have bilingual paycheques?” The 1962 provincial election crystallized these questions for him. If Quebec Hydro could be nationalized — made French — other things could be too. Maybe French Canadians really could be masters in their own house.
One realizes quickly in talking to Lavigne that concern about language is the common thread that connects all French-Canadian nationalists of the past quarter-century, whatever their political affiliation. The brilliant André Laurendeau wrote in 1955, for example, that “for a French Canadian the linguistic barrier begins in Montreal.” You just have to cross a couple of streets or sometimes only step out your front door to hear English spoken. … as time goes by [one] begins to hear nothing but English…. If he is not perfectly bilingual he is often only half understood. People get impatient. His accent seems objectionable to some of the people he talks to…. Is it any wonder [that] he begins to feel ridiculously upset [when] at the next table he hears a waitress speaking English with a French-Canadian accent?”
The FLQ was concerned with language. In 1963 it declared, “[Our] suicide-commandos have as their principal mission the complete destruction, by systematic sabotage, of … all the information media in the colonial language … which hold us in contempt; … [That includes all] commercial establishments and enterprises … which do not use French as the first language [and] which advertise in the colonial language.”
In the early to mid-1960s, Lavigne worked for the Montreal Junior Chamber of Commerce, French-Canadian division. (There’s a chamber of commerce for each of the two solitudes.) Lavigne tells me somewhat defensively that the French Jaycees were very different from their English counterparts — much less stuffy, much less conservative. People of various backgrounds, covering the whole political spectrum, were members. As a Jaycee, Lavigne came to know Paul Gérin-Lajoie, minister of education in the Lesage government and architect of Quebec’s education reforms. Gérin-Lajoie, he says, wasn’t just a dreamer; he was a pragmatist who realized that when you rebuild a society, you can’t do everything at once.
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.
Lavigne was appointed to the Régie by the Liberals and later, following the passage of Bill 101, was reappointed by the PQ to the now re-named Office de la langue française. He’d now worked on language for three different governments. When I comment on that, Lavigne points out that Bill 101, Bill 22 and Bill 63 are not all that different. He reminds me that all political parties in the 1976 provincial election were unanimous on one point: the French language had to be protected.
According to Bill 101, by December 31, 1983, every firm in Quebec with fifty or more employees must hold a permanent francization certificate issued by the Office. The certificate will attest that a francization programme approved by the Office is being applied, the objectives of which are: knowledge of the official language by management; an increase at all levels of the number of people having a good knowledge of French; use of French as the language of work and internal communications; use of French in business documents, manuals, catalogues, and other advertising; and use of French terminology.
Firms employing 100 or more persons are required to form francization committees made up of at least six people, one third of whom are representatives of the employees. These committees are now in the process of completing their “linguistic analyses,” which involves filling out a seemingly endless series of detailed forms about all aspects of their firms’ operations having anything to do with language. The linguistic analyses are sent to the Office, where it is decided whether or not a francization programme is required.
Because of growing social pressure, many companies have had francization programmes of their own for years now. For them, Bill 101 merely formalizes and accelerates an already ongoing process. Take General Motors, for example. Language rights were a major issue in the Ste-Thérèse GM strike of 1970. One had to be fluent in English to be promoted, said the union. Most of the foremen were Anglophones and only half of them could speak French. Memoranda and other communications from management were in English, as were instructions from other plants. The union demanded that the working language at Ste-Thérèse be made French. Impossible, said management: the Ste-Thérèse plant was part of a large multinational operation which conducted its business in English. It would cost too much to translate official documents into French, especially technical documents.
The issue wasn’t resolved in 1970. But nine years later things have changed enormously. Jean Lapointe, assistant director of personnel at Ste-Thérèse, tells me that about ninety-five per cent of the plant’s 160 supervisors and ninety per cent of the plant’s general foremen are now French speaking. Only at the most senior levels have things moved more slowly. Six of the ten senior management positions at Ste-Thérèse are now held by French Canadians; in 1965 there was one francophone at that level. Terminology is slowly being francized with the help of the “terminology bank” at the Office. Wherever possible, documents at the plant are translated into French. Some documents, says Lapointe, are still a problem, but such matters are negotiable with the Office, with which, he says, GM has a “very good relationship.”
He points to an exemption granted the company by the Office when it was informed that there was a problem involved in meeting the requirement date for the bilingual labeling of certain models of car. “They have to be practical,” says Lapointe. Lavigne agrees. “There’s a lot of give and take in my business,” he says. GM, of course, has to be practical too. “So long as we can make money in Quebec,” Lapointe insists, “we have no problem conducting our business in French. … we adapt ourselves to the language and laws of the people. It’s a matter of good business to do so.” In any case, the costs of francization, like all other costs of doing business, are simply passed on to the consumer. “The customer is always right,” is what Raymond Gosselin, the president of the Office, continually tells businessmen when discussing Bill 101. That’s what he told his salesmen when he was a regional manager of marketing at CNR.
Gosselin’s story is interesting. When he was hired in 1942 as a labourer in Quebec City to work for the railroad, the man who hired him was a unilingual anglophone. Gosselin quickly realized that if he wanted to get ahead at CNR he had to learn English. He transferred to Cochrane to do so but the language at work was in English. The terminology was all English. “Do you realize how stressful it can be working in another language?” he asks. The trouble, Lavigne says, “is that the Industrial Revolution happened late in Quebec, and in English.” When Gosselin was promoted to regional manager of industrial development in Montreal in 1962, all but one of the other senior executives were English Canadians. All meetings were conducted in English.
But things began to change at CNR — partly because of men like Gosselin. He insisted that new people hired under him be bilingual. Gradually he began to conduct his meetings in French. When he moved on from his department four years later, his staff was bilingual. In the early 1960s, CNR President Donald Gordon declared that he couldn’t find competent French Canadians for senior management. There were demonstrations in downtown Montreal. The CNR’s francization programme speeded up — especially in the 1970s. Because he saw at CN that it’s possible for a large company to change reasonably quickly, Gosselin accepted René Lévesque’s invitation to head up the Office.
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that on the subject of Bill 101,we’ve been badly served by the English language media both in and out of Quebec. Even when the facts are correct, the emphasis, perspective, or tone frequently reveals anglophone prejudice. Consider the case of McGill University. On May 2, 1978, the Toronto Starpublished a front-page story by education reporter Harvey Schachter. “Montreal’s McGill in serious trouble,” read the Star’s headline. At one point Schachter quoted the university’s principal, Robert Bell, as saying, “I’m not unduly pessimistic.” But those were the only four words Bell was quoted as saying. Schachter devoted most of his space to quoting two highly pessimistic American students at McGill. The Montreal Gazette reprinted the Schachter article. E.J. Stansbury, a McGill vice-principal, wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Gazette saying: “It is astonishing …. that the editor of a Montreal newspaper would take an article about a Montreal institution from a Toronto paper, and print it in a prominent location, without making the slightest effort to verify the facts.” The Gazette chose not to print his letter.
If one is to believe McGill officials, the university is doing not badly at all — better than many universities outside Quebec. Enrolment is up. Public support has increased. Unlike Bill 22, Bill 101 does not specifically apply to McGill. It doesn’t mention universities at all. Nonetheless, the university has responded to social pressure and for some years now it’s been possible for students in any course at the university to write essays and exams in either English or French. Some departments offer courses in both languages. French-language enrolment has been increasing by one to two per cent a year and now represents almost twenty per cent of McGill’s total enrolment.
One senior McGill official told me he was “weary of the gloom and doom stories out of Toronto.” He kept hearing from people all over Canada who were convinced McGill had been forced to teach entirely in French and was on the verge of collapse. There had been, he conceded, a crisis point at McGill. People left the university. His heart went out, he said, to the Jews who’d gone. Some of them had survived the holocaust and had decided to get out at the first hint of government repression.
My acquaintance is particularly critical of what he calls “the Super-WASP, the Sun Life … people who are rigid in their attitudes, who don’t want to hear anything of the French, who look on them as natives.” The people at Sun Life, he felt, had been “idiots.” Instead of waiting for regulations governing Bill 101 to be handed down, and then lobbying for changes, Sun Life had immediately declared it was shifting its headquarters out of Montreal. Next year the company will move into First Canadian Place in Toronto. Meanwhile, the company is suffering. Sun Life’s Quebec sales dropped thirty-six per cent in the first half of 1978, and twenty to twenty-five per cent of its 400-agent sales force had defected to other insurance companies.
On November 9, 1978, the CBC’s George McLean read the following item on The National: “Canada’s largest trust company, Royal Trust, is following in the footsteps of Canada’s largest insurance company. Sun Life. Royal Trust is moving its head office from Montreal in a complicated manoeuvre involving the transfer of stock and personnel to a new holding company in Ottawa.” A report by Don Murray and an excerpt from an interview with Kenneth White of Royal Trust followed.
I spoke to Eli Betito of Royal Trust’s public relations department to check out the story, which I’d found confusing. Royal Trust, he said, was not physically moving to Ottawa. What was involved was a juridical move, a transfer of power. Only about six people were actually moving. (Because of the confused news reports, the company was already receiving calls from moving companies.) Betito described the report as another example of “English media hyping up stories.” The CBC, he told me, had been “the worst offender.” They’d edited the interview with White to make it conform to the story they wanted. Royal Trust was embarrassed, he said, by the comparison to Sun Life.
False rumours and misinformation about the language situation in Quebec travel the Toronto cocktail circuit. I’m told by one person that there are no English movies being shown in Montreal any more. I’m told by another that English movies are shown, but their titles have to appear in French on theatre marquees. Both rumours are false. Jean-Guy Lavigne teases me about this as we walk to a restaurant; he points to a theatre advertising a film called Sex Kittens. Yet a third person tells me she knows of a dentist who is having trouble with Bill 101. It seems the Canadian Dental Association plans to hold its annual meeting at a hotel in Quebec City. The hotel has told the CDA that it has to provide simultaneous translation at all sessions; the law requires it. Because the specialist group this dentist is part of can’t afford the costs involved, it may have to meet elsewhere. Lavigne tells me that private groups can hold meetings in any language they wish — Swahili even. Bill 101 has nothing to say about such things. I call the dentist, who says he’d thought what he’d told my friend was the case. He’d heard rumours to that effect. In fact, he says, everything’s fine.
None of this is to say that there aren’t examples of over-zealousness on the part of officials. One official in a regional branch of the Office recently sent a letter to thirty-two churches in West Quebec ordering them to use French as well as English on their signs and collection envelopes. Although English prayerbooks could remain, French ones had to be available too. The letter shouldn’t have been sent. Churches, in all except profit-making functions, are exempt from the provisions of Bill 101. Lavigne says the official who sent the letter has been severely reprimanded. The Montreal Gazette, which played up the original story of the letter, buried a tiny item saying it was all a mistake.
Then there’s the “just a moment, please” treatment. Several people described it to me and I experienced it once. Business telephones in Montreal are almost always answered in French. If you reply in English, the person at the other end will immediately switch languages. Occasionally he or she will politely ask, “Parlez-vous français, monsieur?” as a way of prodding you to try. And usually I do. But I wanted to hear what the ministry of education would tell me about the language of instruction if I called and spoke only English. I told the woman on the phone I was moving to Montreal and wanted to find out what schools my high school age children would have to attend. There was a curt “Just a moment, please” and a pause of a minute or so. She came back on the line, said something in French that I couldn’t catch, and repeated, “Just a moment, please.” This time I waited seven or eight minutes and hung up because someone was at the door.
I called back and was immediately referred to a man who was extremely polite. He told me that since I hadn’t been educated in English in Quebec and hadn’t been a resident of the province when Bill 101 was passed, my children would have to attend French high schools. There were special classes available for Anglophone students to help ease the transition, he told me. He asked if I was certain my transfer to Montreal would be permanent. If it were temporary, and I could get a letter from my employer to that effect, my children could attend English high schools.
Steinberg’s Inc. illustrates the various forms opposition to Bill 101 has taken. Every Quebec company I spoke to told me it wanted to be “a good corporate citizen.” Steinberg’s was no exception. According to people at the Office, Steinberg’s had been a model corporate citizen. The firm pioneered in making French lessons available to its Anglophone employees during working hours at company expense.
But aspects of Bill 101 have seemed excessive to Steinberg’s, as they have to many people. The requirement, for instance, that signs in stores be in French only. Steinberg’s, therefore, lobbied strenuously for changes in the regulations; it proposed that signs inside stores be permitted in languages other than French on the same basis as on labels — i.e., that English be permitted so long as French was at least equally prominently displayed. Steinberg’s attempts were unsuccessful, and on July 3, 1978, as required by law, the chain began to use unilingual French signs in all of its Quebec stores, including those in predominantly English neighbourhoods.
In October, 1978, Steinberg’s received a letter signed by fifty-three prominent Quebec citizens, including Hugh MacLennan, Louis Dudek, and Scotty Bowman. The letter urged Steinberg’s to break the law. “The English-speaking form an important part of your base of customers. You have expressed satisfaction with the fact that your organization has been a leader in the elimination of the English language from your operations. On the other hand, you have stated that you do not wish to offend a large number of your customers…. You will have to decide what course to follow. We hope that your choice … will be such that all your customers, both English and French, will feel that Steinberg’s are [sic] indeed on their side.’”
Steinberg’s president, Mel Dobrin, replied, saying: “Our decision to comply with the law is not an abject compliance but rather a realistic assessment of the present position. A refusal to comply based on the perceived injustice to our English-speaking customers would almost certainly be misinterpreted by the majority of the Quebec population who are French-speaking. This could have unfortunate consequences, perhaps even affecting the social peace we all seek to preserve. I can assure you that Steinberg’s is not abandoning its English-speaking customers. We will continue to press for amendments to the legislation and, should the law be liberalized (as we feel sure it will in time), we will be most happy to do everything we can to ensure that all our customers are fully informed in the language of their choice, French or English.”
Lionel Albert, a computer analyst and one of those who signed the original letter, was angered by Dobrin’s reply. Steinberg’s was “stupid,” he said. “The letter should have had an immediate effect…. You don’t say no to the people who signed [it].” Steinberg’s, he told me, “doesn’t seem to know much about PR.” Another signatory to the letter was May Cutler, president of Tundra Books. She says that she’s “not against the PQ because they’re separatist, but because they’re fascist. Bill 101 is not about language, it’s about power; they want to entrench themselves as the new elite.” It’s because Pierre Berton was willing to go to jail on their behalf that the PQ has finally laid off English-Canadian cultural institutions, she tells me.
In addition to the letter, Steinberg’s has received a couple of hundred angry phone calls on the subject. It’s part of Céline Hervieux-Payette’s job to handle these calls. The conversations, she says, are almost always long — half an hour or more — and usually begin with the callers yelling. Those who phone threaten to withdraw their business if Steinberg’s won’t take down the unilingual French signs. Sometimes the callers are angry because a French employee in one of the stores has refused to speak English. (Under Bill 101 no clerk, no cab driver, waitress, etc., is obliged to deal with you in English, although most do. In three trips to Montreal while working on this article I talked to dozens of francophones, only one of whom, a cab driver, couldn’t — or wouldn’t — speak English.)
Hervieux-Payette’s conversations sometimes consist of lessons in what she calls “constitutional history.” She tries to explain there are nine other provincial governments that haven’t protected French Canadians’ rights, Manitoba, for example. Away from the office she’s still involved in bridge-building between the two cultures. She’s chair of the 12,000 pupil school board in Le Gaudeur, an area almost totally French. She’s been fighting to have English taught in the schools beginning in Grade One. Until now, she says, it’s been taught badly, beginning in grade five. But many of her French Canadian neighbours have been so incensed that they’ve chopped down fifty trees on her property. At a recent board meeting, she was told that if she stopped trying to ram English down their kids’ throats, her trees would be left alone.
Storrs McCall teaches philosophy at McGill. He’s co-chair of Positive Action, a group of academics, lawyers, businessmen, and others, all about forty years of age, who came together a few weeks after the PQ was elected. They were concerned that individuals and businesses were leaving the province or talking about leaving. What united them was their determination to remain in Quebec and to keep Quebec in Canada. “Many of us,” says McCall, “were born here. This is our home. We believe life in Quebec can’t be matched anywhere in Canada, and we’re working to preserve this as a bilingual, multicultural milieu.”
Positive Action accepts the idea that the common language of Quebec should be French. What it doesn’t accept is the restrictiveness of Bill 101. In a public statement following passage of the bill, Positive Action declared: “It is our belief that Quebec still holds a bright future for those who cherish the pluralistic, multicultural character of its society. We call on all Quebeckers to stay and work with us for the realization of this future. … there are many that will be discouraged now that Bill 101 has been passed. There will be many who will feel that they have lost some of their fundamental rights and freedoms. There will be some who will feel that life in the province of Quebec has become intolerable. While the rights and freedoms of minorities have clearly been abrogated in some cases and restricted in others, we believe that this situation will only last for a limited period of time and that there are other signs for encouragement. We are certain that life within the province in the short term can be made tolerable, and, in the long term, more challenging, interesting, and fulfilling than elsewhere in Canada.”
McCall says that the only victory Positive Action won in lobbying against sections of Bill 101 was in having handicapped children exempt from the language of instruction regulations. Since then Positive Action hasn’t pushed the question of freedom of choice in schooling too rigorously because, he says, “one can’t make any mileage politically out of that message right now.” It’s a thorny subject, he admits. One has to believe in freedom of choice. And yet there’s no doubt that francophones face a “demographic threat.” If francophones don’t have freedom of choice either, he says, it’s difficult to argue that Anglophones should have it.
Positive Action takes the position, on the question of unilingual signs at Steinberg’s, that due process — not civil disobedience — is the course to follow. The group has taken the matter to court. A preliminary “skirmish” before a judge was held last November. The court case, McCall tells me, may take five years; if necessary, they’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Phil Nance is a tall, graying English Canadian from Red Deer, Alberta. He has lived and worked in Montreal since 1962 and is currently executive director of the Canadian Carpet Institute. A year ago, CBC television chose Nance to appear on “Seeing For Ourselves,” a current affairs series dealing with English and French Canadians’ perceptions of one another. He was to be a typical middle-aged businessman trying to understand what French Canadian concerns about their language were all about. The programme wasn’t all that good but the honesty of Nance himself was impressive. It consisted of a series of conversations. By its conclusion Nance has been persuaded of the need for Quebec to become a predominantly French province.
I called Nance to ask him how his friends and family had responded to the programme and whether his own feelings had changed in the year or so since he’d done it. When he was back home in Alberta last summer he’d mostly run into people who still had no understanding of the situation and who told him, without listening to a word he said, that they weren’t going to have French rammed down their throats. Talking to those people, Nance said, was depressing. But there were signs that some people were beginning to think about the situation in new ways. He’d even received some compliments about the programme. As for himself, he’s feeling down. He no longer believes anything of what he reads in the English press on the subject of Quebec. So appalled has he been by the Gazette’s coverage that he’s given up on it. He skims Le Devoir from time to time, and occasionally looks at the Globe, but that’s it. He’s feeling even more something he’d talked about on TV. “I went to great pains,” he says, “to learn the language and to use it reasonably well. But it’s not practical for me to become a Québécois.” (The PQ has argued that a real Québécois is one who lives his or her life in French.) “There just isn’t time.” Nance’s wife, Krista, has a hearing problem that makes it difficult for her to learn a new language. Their social life revolves around their English speaking friends. But that’s true of most Anglophones, regardless of medical problems. And it’s equally true of francophones. Jean-Guy Lavigne’s life away from work is lived almost entirely in French.
Phil Nance says he feels worst when he sees his friends leaving. His condominium in Montreal is now worth fifteen per cent less than when he bought it five years ago. The properties of some of his friends in Toronto have appreciated by as much as 200 per cent over the same period. On two different occasions Nance has phoned his doctor for an appointment only to hear a new voice on the phone — his doctor had packed up and left. As well, he says, “the rednecks on both sides” just wear him down.
Despite these things, Nance is staying. He feels he has no other choice now. If it were three or four years ago, and he knew then what he knows now, he’d probably have moved, he says. “It’s too late now. What I’ve lost, I’ve lost. I couldn’t even raise a down payment in Toronto.” The PQ, he thinks, has been “a bit fanatical about keeping the English down. They’re trying to do overnight what they should have been doing over a generation.” Nonetheless, he sees it as “the understandable over-reaction of someone who’s been disadvantaged.” Of his own disadvantages under Bill 101, Nance simply says, “I couldn’t bring myself to press my disadvantages until their disadvantages have been taken care of.”
In this, he echoes the words of Claude Ryan, who many Anglophones assumed would take up their battle for them. “My advice to my anglophone friends,” he says, “is … that they should … learn the French language in a satisfactory manner, get involved in everything here — the caisses populaires, the unions, the political parties, the cultural activities, etc, …. Then on the basis of their mastery of the French language, they can begin acting for the defense and protection of their own rights.”
Jean-Guy Lavigne thinks of himself not as a French Canadian but as a French speaking North American. His conversation is sprinkled with references to articles in the American magazines he reads — Harper’s, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Monthly. Eleven of the fourteen periodicals he subscribes to are American; none is from English Canada. He gave up on Maclean’s and Saturday Night years ago. There’s nothing distinctive about English Canadian culture, he says. Lavigne’s political heroes (apart from Gérin-Lajoie) are American. He likes quoting John Kennedy’s inaugural address, especially the part about passing the torch, although he admits, “It’s never easy to pass the torch.” He says, “Martin Luther King was a dreamer too.” The American civil rights movement means a great deal to him. Lyndon Johnson, he says, was a great president because on the one hand he legislated social change, on the other was wise enough to leave bargaining room to allow for individual differences.
Lavigne compares Bill 101 to “affirmative action” in the U.S. — the busing of children and the establishment of quotas at universities. Prominently displayed on his bookshelf is the Affirmative Action Compliance Manual. He has a framed statement by Whitney Young of the Urban League on the wall of his office: “Some practical advice to white employers who want to be fair, but can’t find enough qualified Negroes.”
I show Lavigne a recent letter-to-the-editor of Macleans’s by Pierre Berton about authoritarian aspects of Bill 101. “It’s very well for Berton to talk about liberalism,” says Lavigne. “But where was he when we needed protection? What’s he doing to protect French rights in Ontario? It’s easy to point the finger at us. The English always had freedom to do what they wanted. They were free to advertise in French. Why didn’t they?” Lavigne says he’d love to spend a couple of hours with Berton. He’d tell him a thing or two. He asks if anyone really thinks English speaking Canadians in Quebec are in danger. “If anything happened to them, there are 250-million English speaking people in North America.” He points to Israel as an example of a country that decided on its official language. It would be Hebrew rather than Yiddish because Yiddish was seen as the language of subjugation.
I quote the old maxim to Lavigne about the importance of laws not only being fair but being seen to be fair. Wouldn’t it be better not to press the school issue, after all, only a small number of children are involved. Or the issue of signs in French only. “No,” says Lavigne. “These things are symbols and symbols are important.” He talks bitterly about a different kind of symbolism that he says may seem petty. During the Canada-Russia hockey series, Foster Hewitt spent hours learning how to pronounce the Russian players’ names correctly. But he still couldn’t get “Savard” right. “It’s not hard to say ‘Savard,’” says Lavigne. “That’s a symbol too. We learned how to pronounce Diefenbaker’s name; he never learned to do the same thing with ours.”
Lavigne and other language officials I talk to think the solution to many of Quebec’s problems is within their grasp. A few months from now, once the corporate francization programmes are in place, Quebec will be well on its way to being as French as the other provinces are English. “What’s good for Toronto is good for Montreal,” says Lavigne with delight. “That’s the golden rule. What’s good for Ontario is good for Quebec.”
— Saturday Night, January/February 1978