Tensions in Intercultural Relations

Topics: CanadaQuebec

An increasing emphasis on cultural affairs revealed latent constitutional tensions in the relationship between the Francophone and Anglophone communities in Canada. The exponential growth of cultural activity undertaken by the federal government beginning in the 1950s resulted in Quebec nationalist’s perception of this as an encroachment on provincial jurisdictions, which constituted a threat to the autonomy of Quebec and, thus, the survival of French Canada. Comparably, the French fear of the ramification of US cultural imperialism on the home front coincided with this and called for its unique nationalist reaction manifesting in French cultural diplomacy, accelerating transnational exchanges and promoting French culture amidst a Western world dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

“I am going to strike a strong blow,” said President de Gaulle during his state visit to Canada to his son-in-law, General Alain Boissieu, “… but it is necessary”. The General’s premeditated approach remained widely unpopular amongst his administration, yet the declaration of his rallying cry, “Vive le Québec libre”, was proclaimed during an impromptu speech from Montréal Hall in 1967, as well as the subsequent Gabon affair, marked an immediate turning point in Franco-Canadian relations.

The clear stance in favor of Quebec’s independence would succeed in dramatizing the independence cause in its short-term goals by encouraging cultural, linguistic, and educational cooperation between Quebec and France. However, it would suffer as a result of underestimating Ottawa’s reaction to this provocation. Similarly, relations under Georges Pompidou, de Gaulle’s successor, were a continuation of the Gaullist doctrine as he “did not alter French policy toward Quebec and Canada”.

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Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s administration, the longest-serving in Canadian history, would find itself leading a government entangled with revivals of the General’s memory on the French and Quebecoiforse fronts. As a result, Quebec’s development of an international theatre would be met with responses that strategically emphasized Canada’s bilingual and bicultural representation within his foreign policy in an attempt to alienate the separatist cause and normalize relations with France.

Trudeau’s foreign policy, coupled with the “Gaullist Attack on Canada” would, however, sour Paris’ relations with Ottawa until France adopts the “non-indifference and non-interference” policy from 1977 onwards, formulated at the Parti Québécoise’s (PQ) request, conveyed France’s withdrawal of the Gaullist voluntarism doctrine and a growing caution on the Quebec sovereignty issue which aimed to gradually remove itself from the conflict between Canadian federalists and Quebecoise separatists while maintaining a cultural attachment to Quebec. However, although harboring no love for his Gaullist opponents, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the French president from 1974 to 1981, harbored even less for his Canadian counterpart. It would be the result of weak personal chemistry coupled with Canada’s relegation to the background of French diplomacy that would result in poor official relations between Ottawa and Paris during this period. Brian Mulroney’s appeasement strategy would put an end to the drift of Franco-Canadian relations by permitting Quebec’s participation in matters of provincial affairs, on an international scale. However, regardless of the socio-political transformations that have plagued geopolitics during the latter half of the 20th century, French support for Quebec would always be an indispensable asset.

It remains necessary to consider the events preceding the presidency of de Gaulle as it widens the scope of the analysis beyond his era and dismisses the notion that the triangular relationship spontaneously erupted in 1960 with the surfacing of Quebec’s identity. Quebec’s emergence in such a modern world, where it frontally challenged the traditional French-Canadian nationalists and their conservative brand of Catholicism, was displayed through dense urbanization, industrialization, and population movements. Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec and leader of the Union Nationale preceding the 1960 era, embodied this divide and preface to the Quiet revolution through his party’s dominance over the church as well as Québécois Catholic tradition as the church retained its grip on education and social services while remaining financially dependent on the Quebec state. ‘Les évêques management Dans ma main,’ (the bishops eat out of my hands), aptly characterizes this dependence. Although the Duplessis government produced several successful policies and symbolic measures, such as the adaptation of the Quebec flag, numerous public construction projects, and ambitious hydroelectric plans, his government was plagued with controversy, most notable the Asbestos Strike, which revealed the administration’s disdain for civil liberties. Nevertheless, Duplessis had elevated the Quebec state to an unparalleled position of strength, and in doing so, laid the foundations for a nihilistic and secular transformation. A new Liberal government, under Jean Lesage, a former federal cabinet minister who became the Liberal premier in 1960, capitalized on this transformation and became the direct expression of it. Lesage and his active minister of education, Paul Gérin-Lajoie, began accelerating the international presence of provincial jurisdictions, most notably the spheres of education, culture, and social welfare, inaugurated by the cultural entente of 1965 with France, as a means of establishing international legitimacy beyond the boundaries of the Canadian constitution. The initiation of this connection was to develop not along the lines of “France the mother country, but rather France, the largest partner in a broad cultural fraternity.”

The Quiet Revolution was, therefore, a gradual and calculated socio-political innovation stemming from a paradigm shift in public opinion of the status quo during the first half of the twentieth century, not one spontaneously erupted in 1960 under the leadership of a new government, but a culmination of decades worth of neo-nationalist movements and ideologies in Quebec spurred by rapid modernization, renewed exchanges, and intellectual discourse between France and its former colony and their quest to preserve the francophone world. The rise of such a dynamic in Quebec, which sought to preserve its distinct francophone identity through allying herself with France coupled with a growing intergovernmental rivalry between the countries’ two principal linguistic communities would prove to be the most crucial aspect in the development of the France-Canada-Quebec triangular tensions in the 1960s. Consequently, the triangular relations must be approached beyond the scope of a ‘de Gaulle-centric’ exploration and requires contextualizing his actions within a broader geopolitical framework of analysis that predates the 1960 era, but more fundamentally, extends far beyond it.

General de Gaulle’s perception of Quebec as a safeguard for Canada from absorption from the south, challenges American hegemony in the hopes of a robust Canadian stance against US supremacy yet occurs at the expense of straining relations between Ottawa and Paris during his tenure. Ottawa, however, had hoped to pursue a more pragmatic solution in finding a cultural, economic, political, and military counterweight in Europe and repair the strained Franco-American transatlantic relation. Nevertheless, this only reaffirmed the Gaullist sense that Ottawa was subservient to US interests and an unyielding approach must be taken to secure the integrity of francophones in Canada. Quebec, seeking to equip itself with a new distinct neo-national identity, and Gaullist France’s efforts into promoting the fait français (French fact) within North America against a growing American cultural power, provided the perfect storm for Ottawa. Ottawa’s preoccupation with the growing American cultural presence on the ‘Canadian’ identity, paved the way for French involvement within the domestic affairs of French-Canada and undermined Ottawa’s federal position. General de Gaulle’s arrival in Quebec City on the cruiser, Colbert, named after a former French minister who played a critical role in the development of New France, exemplified his commitment to the solidarity between the people of France and its former colony. Themes of self-determination and the need for change within the Canadian political system were consistently championed and often grew dangerously more pronounced in de Gaulle’s remarks concerning Quebec. The cri du Balcon embodied this sentiment, but de Gaulle’s attitude toward the solidarity between the Quebec neo-nationalist cause and France’s fait français had threatened the socio-political integrity of Canadian unity, and consequently, Canadian federalism. Likening the arrival of the general in Quebec to the liberation of France from Nazi occupation dramatically illustrated a stern declaration of support for the Quebec cause.

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Tensions in Intercultural Relations. (2022, May 08). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/tensions-in-intercultural-relations/

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