THE ROMAN CATHOLIC FAITH: THE KEYSTONE IN THE ARCH HOLDING UP THE TWIN SECTIONS OF THE ‘BRIDGE’ OF QUÉBEC CIVILIZATION’S ROOTS OF LANGUAGE AND CULTURE-HOW THE SECULAR ELITE OF THE QUIET REVOLUTION HAS BEEN ATTEMPTING TO REMOVE THIS CRUCIAL KEYSTONE SINCE 1960, AND TRYING TO REPLACE IT WITH A SUCCESSION OF SECULAR-HUMANIST IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS.
In Canada, over the last fifty years, we’ve all pretty much come to accept that the province of Québec is in someway shape or form ‘different’ than the other nine provinces. The sheer weight of our Pan-Canadian history over this period bears this out, whether it be Québec’s seemingly ‘out of nowhere’, more aggressive coming of age assertiveness in the period after the election of Jean Lesage’s Liberal government in 1960, and its ushering in of the now ubiquitous Quiet Revolution reforms in health, education and social services, or the whole constitutional can of worms which ensued from this process, including the creation of the Parti Québécois in 1968, the October Crisis of 1970, the election of the PQ in November of 1976, the May 1980 and Oct 1995 secession votes, the patriation of the constitution in 1981-82, and finally, the Meech and Charlottetown constitutional crises of 1990 and 1992.
All of this has left the casual observer of ‘La Belle Province’ somewhat miffed and bemused as to what exactly has been going on in Québec since that near death experience in October of 1995, when the whole nation, and even the whole world for that matter, held its breath in a sense of gaping, loathing awe, not being able to conceive that such a stable, constitutional democracy as Canada, could be on the brink of succumbing to some sort of self-inflicted kind of implosion-type death.
One however has to look at the historical antecedents of this problem to find the genesis of this malaise, and to propose some possible solutions to rectify the problem. The heart of the matter calls to the notion of what Québecers and other French-Canadians have traditionally described as ‘la survivance’, or simply put: ‘survival’, by which they mean the survival of their civilization as a distinct ‘national’ entity. This traditionally was based on a cohesively-construed civilization which in years gone by was predicated upon what I like to describe as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the French language, in its distinct group of Canadian dialectic variations, the Québecois and other French-Canadian minority cultures, including the Acadians, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, and so on, and lastly, in addition to these two main ‘arches’ of the ‘bridge’ of this civilization, there was traditionally what I describe as the ‘keystone’ of the ‘bridge’, holding the twin arches of French language and culture together in a cohesive whole, and imbuing them with a sense of spiritual purpose, holisiticism and destiny, this being the Roman Catholic Faith.
However, I will argue in this piece, that since the coming to power of Jean Lesage’s Liberals in 1960, a paradigm shift has occurred, the origins of which go back to the beginnings of the 20th century, and which achieved a critical mass with Lesage’s election in 1960, whereby the clerical elite, which heretofore had done an excellent job of guaranteeing the survival of French Canada as a distinct civilization within Canada, by acting as the afore-mentioned ‘keystone’, was rapidly supplanted by a new, secular-humanist elite which since that time has actively sought to suppress the Roman Catholic faith as a touchstone of the average French-Canadian’s identity. At best this elite has tried to relegate it to the status of a residual form of cultural ‘heritage’, to be ‘conserved’ by secular art historians, sociologists, archaeologists, historians, and other purveyors of the social sciences, in a sort of paternalistically patronizing secular-humanist way as a sort of historical curiosity to be looked at and poked at by visitors to museums, and commented on as being a sort of ‘stage of development’, which ‘we as a people had to submit to’ in our inevitable march towards the more ‘enlightened path’ of ‘progressive’ secular-humanist society.
At worst this new secular elite has become, I will argue, purveyors of a new form of secularist fundamentalism, attempting to wipe out all mention of the Roman Catholic faith or conventional Christian faith-based solutions to human problems from the public discourse, and, especially, from our provinces’ public institutions, having arrogated to themselves, and having therefore appointed themselves as the self-proclaimed post-modern secular-humanist ‘clerical elite’ of our province, specifically in the form of the artistic-intellectual-political-trade union-secessionist community in Montréal and Québec city, and the newly emerged upper-level bourgeois capitalist-secessionist class of business leaders, specifically centred in Montréal. This, I would argue, is doing more to hurt the survival of French-Canadian civilization rather than helping it, and is, I would argue, a major impediment to launching a renewal of our civilization’s fortunes, both economically, socially, linguistically,culturally, and,especially, spiritually.
To begin with, in the years leading up to the Conquest in 1759, there was actually in some cases a distinct dearth of religious fervour and adherence to the faith in New France. Some primary sources talk of a chronic shortage of clergy, and priests having to travel great distances via canoe to minister to their flocks. The image that we have of French Canada as a clerically-dominated society is actually one born of the Conquest, and of a necessesity to, in a way, ‘circle the wagons’, so to speak, in the face of rising social pressures at home in the form of massive immigration from the British Isles, specifically in the first half of the 19th century, creating fears amongst French Canadians that they would find themselves a minority in their own homeland. Hence they were exhorted to listen to their clerics and to hunker down on to the land, and procreate, as the old ‘revenge of the cradle’ policy dictated (I.E. if we couldn’t beat ‘les Anglais’ on the battlefield, we would henceforth beat them by dint of shear procreative power!).
Another factor was the fact that in the wake of the Conquest of British arms of 1759, liberal ideology had quickly made much headway in North America, with its accompanying Republican, anti-Monarchical ideology. The American Revolution quickly broke out south of the border, partly in response to Mad King George imposing taxes on the Anglo-American colonial legislatures’ commercial interests so as to pay down the war debt to pay for the war which Britain had just fought to expulse its colonial arch-rival France from North America. The Anglo-American elites didn’t like such Royal high-handedness and promptly invoked their now-famous line of ‘no taxation without representation’, thereby in part leading to the American Revolution, which threatened to spread to Canada. In fact the Continental Congress sent an army up the Kennebec River in 1775 to ‘convince’ the ‘canadiens’ to join their grandiose adventure of Republican ‘liberty’.
The French Revolution quickly broke out in 1789 and some French Canadians were hoping that some Revolutionaries would come and help the ‘canadiens’ ‘liberate’ themselves from the heel of British domination. A few made some limited attempts at doing so, but it never really panned out as such. Nevertheless, the British authorities were very keen in that regard to have the Church as an ally, seeing that it quickly realized that the Roman Church was the sole remaining legitimate elite spokespersons that French-Canadians had to stand up for them in the wake of the French withdrawal. Most if not all French financiers had gone back to France, and the local French-Canadian merchant bourgeoisie had quickly become marginalized by being cut off from their traditional metropolitan sources of finance capital in the Parisian markets, causing the fields of commerce, finance, and industry to quickly fall under the dominant purvey of the rapidly expanding Anglo-Scottish bourgeoisie of Québec city, and increasingly, Montréal. Therefore, as an elite to speak for the interests of French Canadians, the bourgeoisie were a poor second, even third, after the liberal professionals (doctors, lawyers, and notaries). The dominant hegemonic fraction of the French Canadian elite was therefore uncontestedly the Roman Catholic clergy, and the British authorities cozied up to them immediately, seeing that they were an important ally in winning over the favour, or at least the compliance and cooperation of these new subjects, and the clergy saw this cooperation with the British crown as an excellent opportunity to increase their temporal power, in a way which they had never been able to enjoy under the Ancien Régime of France. In fact, the power of the Roman church grew by leaps and bounds under British rule, because each time Canada faced a threat from either American Republican attack, such as the invasions of 1775-76 and the war of 182-14, as well as the threat of home-grown French-Canadian Republican agitation during the Patriotes uprisings of 1837-38, the clergy always sided with the Crown, in discouraging French-Canadians from embarking upon the perilous experiment of liberal-secular ideology, which, in their minds, would lead them away from their faith, and away from their King and country. The Church authorities were by nature Royalists, and saw the problems that the Roman Church was having back in France during the revolution, with its property being forcibly confiscated, personnel being hunted down and killed, and many orders of nuns and priests even having to flee to Canada, because we were still a Royalist friendly and FRENCH-SPEAKING country, oddly enough, combing royalist institutions of British origins, with a French Catholic heritage.
The Roman Clergy however, were, to their credit, genuinely concerned with the spiritual welfare and linguistic and cultural survival of their flock, and they saw the greater good involved in keeping French-Canadians part of Canada , part of the British Constitutional Monarchical system of governance, and especially, ROMAN CATHOLIC, as the key elements to ‘National Survival’. As the 1837-38 Patriotes Rebellions were being crushed by British forces, clerical authorities began to assess the situation. They saw that there was not enough land left in the countryside to keep on dividing up the increasingly small parcels of farmland amongst a father’s twelve or so sons, who would in turn have twelve sons and so on. So there was land hunger in the countryside, and there was dissatisfaction with British rule in general in the wake of the crushing of the Patriotes rebellions, which had been an attempt, in the eyes of some historians, to wrest greater colonial autonomy from an autocratic British colonial administration, which did not follow the same rules of ministerial responsibility which reigned in Britain, the equivalent body here in Lower Canada (Québec) to the ‘cabinet’ in Britain being responsible not to the colonial House, but to the Colonial Office in Britain, and being composed mostly of aristocratic cronies who dominated the commercial and patronage-based life of the colony, leaving the members of the house mostly impotent to govern in any significant way. Some historians have also argued that this rebellion was the embryonic force behind the eventual rise of the secessionist movement over one hundred and thirty years later, and would inspire these later people to spur them on in their eventual agitations in the 1960s and 70s.
These two factors together, around 1840, were spurring thousands of French Canadians to uproot themselves and move to the burgeoning textile mills of New England, which, at the time, were sprouting up like mushrooms. Many French Canadians felt they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by moving to America to earn their fortune. The clergy and the lay catholic nationalist elite saw things differently. They again saw this, and rightly so, as a threat to ‘La Survivance’. If the outmigration of French-Canadians was to be allowed to continue unabated, French Canada as a civilization might eventually perish, or at least become a minority culture in its own homeland. This had become a near reality by the 1840-50s when, by that time, Montréal had become a majority English-speaking city, and Québec city was getting close to becoming so also. This was in large part due to the great migrations of Scots whom had been displaced by the enclosure movement in Britain, pushing them off their land as tenant farmers, as the nobility went through a sort of early form of ‘corporate restructuring ‘ or ‘downsizing’, preferring to kick their tenant farmers off their land to make way for sheep to make wool, which was more profitable, which would therefore guarantee the long term profitability of their estates. So many of them had hopped the boat to come to Canada, flooding into Montréal and Québec city, competing for scarce jobs and housing.
The same went for the Irish. In 1846, the Irish potato famine occurred, and when the British government refused to provide the necessary food to feed the starving Irish, preferring to spend more on the military troop protection to make sure the food in question got delivered to the hungry workers in England, barring which the value of this food would have dropped precipitously, and the merchants selling it would have lost a lot of money, thereby decrying an undue, ‘government interference in the free market’, the starving Irish were forced to embark on famine ships and make the perilous journey to, in this case, Canada, the cheapest boat ticket being to Québec city. This is why Québec city and Montréal had at that time, such an overwhelmingly large Irish and Scottish population, and why the French Canadians felt threatened by them.
So the clergy and the Nationalist lay Catholic elite cooperated with the political class and the business class and the solution which was eventually proposed was Confederation, or Canadian independence from Britain, which occurred in 1867. Not all parties agreed immediately on this solution, but eventually this is what happened. The idea was that if French-Canadians could be kept in Canada, have them work in the factories here in our country, have them produce goods which would then be exported to newly-opened-up markets in the newly-created provinces of the west, all with an east-west protectionist trade policy centred on an east-west railroad, namely the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway), the French language and culture could be preserved, specifically by keeping French-Canadians mostly in one place, mostly in the province of Québec, where they’d remain a cohesive holistic society, held together not only by a common language and culture, but most of all, by the common glue of the Roman Catholic faith, which would act as a sort of binder between these two factors, and be a sort of repository of the civilization’s cultural and linguistic heritage.
So this is essentially what happened. Combined also with an overall resurgence of religious fervour in the 1840s, caused in part by tough economic times, along with the other factors previously-mentioned, the Roman Catholic faith as the keystone to French Canada’s linguistic and cultural survival entered it heyday. Churches sprang up everywhere. Bishops such as Monsignor Ignace Bourget and Monsignor Louis François Richer Laflèche became prominent fixtures in the life of the French-Canadian Church. The Church, at the same time, around the 1860s and 70s, when all of this was happening, was also going through what has become known as the ‘Ultramontane’ period of its history. This word literally means ‘beyond the mountains’, and was a doctrine which was espoused by some very zealous Catholics at the Vatican in the wake of Italian independence in the 1860s. Garibaldi, the leader of the Italian Independence movement, had fought various foreign powers, including the Church, which governed large parts of what is now Italy, (the Church’s section of today’s Italy being known as the ‘Papal States’), to liberate what is today Italy from foreign domination. In the wake of this overall war of liberation, the Church had seen its temporal power severely curtailed, and reduced to a sort of postage-stamp-sized piece of land inside of Rome, which became known as the ‘Vatican city state’, which even today is a sovereign state which has diplomatic relations with the various nations of the world.
Seeing that its temporal power in Italy was now severely curtailed, this group of ‘Ultramontane’ zealots now felt that the Church should now strike out literally ‘beyond the mountains’ which are north of Rome, and propagate the faith to the four corners of the globe. It was like a blessing in disguise, in their minds, I suppose. Seeing that their temporal power was now curtailed close to home, this now forced them to look farther afield to find more converts and faithful. So there was an Ultramontane element in the French Canadian Church at this time, which saw the confluence of the events occurring in the Church back in Rome, with what was happening here in Canada, and saw an opportunity to do great things for the propagation of the faith, thereby strengthening the survival of the French Canadian people, their language and culture, and at the same time, augment the temporal power of the Church.
This period of great Church building, both temporal and spiritual, lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. At this point, thing began to change more rapidly. French Canada had already begun to industrialize and urbanize with Confederation, but in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, with the advent of electricity, and mass print media, this process accelerated even more rapidly, and the Church found itself faced with a growing number of secular problems. Chief amongst them were the social problems faced by industrialization and urbanization. Heretofore, Québec had been mostly a rural, agrarian society, now it was rapidly becoming an urban, industrial society, and its religious institutions needed to keep pace with the times.
The Church’s answer to this growing challenge was to found the Laval University Faculty of Social Sciences in the early part of the 20th century, which sought to bring the leaders as well as rank and file of the Church up to speed in the burgeoning fields of Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, History, Anthropology, Social Work, and so on. This was necessary, because the Church, if it was to adapt to the new urban realities of French Canada, its personnel needed to be able to understand the new realities faced by people living in cities, and being governed not by the laws of nature, such as getting up with the sun and the chickens and going out to sow and plough, but getting up with the blow of the factory whistle, and being regimented by the clock, getting to work at the mill on time and so on. Life was now a lot more fast-paced, and there were a lot more people living in a lot more compact space, creating new problems and challenges relating to public hygiene, violence, sexuality, including unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. Not that these issues had been previously non-existent. But that they had been far less prevalent, and had been dealt with on a more case by case basis in a more homespun fashion.
The two world wars were crucial turning points in the evolution of French Canada’s evolution from being an agrarian, rural society, to being an urban, industrial one. By the end of the Second World War, the transformation was essentially complete. However, the process had been very traumatic. It had caused much social upheaval and dislocation, both physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Families were broken up as sons, and even daughters were shipped overseas, or moved to the city to find work. Family members were lost to combat, accidents, illness, and so on. Relationships became more strained and sometimes broke down, or in some cases did not materialize at all.
The end result was that by the end of the second war, Québec society, especially, and French-Canadian society generally, was on the cusp of a radical transformation. From the very beginning after the Conquest, the province had generally been divided along the following lines: Those who chose to cooperate with the Crown, first personified by the British, then Canadian authorities, and those who either passively or actively resisted. In the wake of both wars, opinion had been radically galvanized in both directions by the conscription crises, and had left a bitter taste in the mouths of the people both inside and outside the province. However, this had yet to stop French Canadians from being resolvedly Catholic in their beliefs and their approach to life and especially to their linguistic and cultural identity.
What happened after the war was that the nature of the nationalist elites, both on the ‘let’s cooperate’, and the ‘let’s not cooperate’ side of the equation began to change radically and to become increasingly polarized. The more cooperative elites began to produce intellectuals such as Fernand Ouellet and Claude Ryan, as well as Pierre Trudeau, some of whom had come out of the Catholic Action movements of the 1940s and 50s. These had been groups of young Catholics, mostly of a scholarly bent, who wanted to modernize Québec Catholicism, and adapt it to modern secular life, while still being politically active. They wanted an end to the unhealthy variety of clericalism which reigned during Premier Maurice Duplessis’ day, wherein the clergy and the government ruled hand in glove like a near de-facto theocracy. These young Catholics wanted an end to this type of interference, while still being active in the practice of their faith, and being good Québecrers and Canadians. Still others came from an intellectual background which rejected the burgeoning ideas, which were beginning to make headway in some of Québec’s leading universities, specifically the University de Montréal, that the root cause of all French Canada and French Canadian’s problems could be laid squarely at the feet of the British, and their Conquest of 1759, which had robbed French Canada of her crucial entrepreneurial class, and therefore had condemned most of her citizens to a life of economic subservience and poverty.
On the other side of the equation were the people who were to become known as the Neo-Nationalists, such as Guy Frégault, Maurice Séguin, and others, who most certainly DID espouse the afore-mentioned thesis of ‘decapitation’ of the entrepreneurial class of French Canadians, and who were marketing it with a vengeance in intellectual circles everywhere. These people, along with many others, were to form the embryonic core of what was to become known as the ‘sovereignist’ movement, or as mentioned earlier, the ‘let’s not cooperate’ group. These people saw the Roman Catholic Church as an accomplice in the economic and political subjugation of their own people, and often rejected their faith, embracing radical Socialist, Social Democratic, or even Communist ideology. These people also became staunch defenders and promoters of the French language, and sought to stamp out the use of English in as many spheres of public life as possible, in a sort of Reconquista of the public domain, so to speak. Most of these people eventually ended up espousing often anti-American, anti-English, anti Canada, pro France views on most subjects, and became very prominent in the 1960s70s and up to today in the intellectual, artistic, journalistic, literary, musical, diplomatic, civil service, theatrical, and acting fields in our province.
In essence, these people, too numerous to mention, have now become the new secular-humanist, mostly social-democratic intellectual elite of our province, and have, for all intents and purposes, supplanted the Catholic clerics as the dominant hegemonic fraction of our province’s elite, essentially dictating to Québecers what is sacred and what is profane, through their TV shows, such as ‘tout le monde en parle’, which by the way airs on Sundays, just like Mass used to be, except it’s at 8 PM, not 11 AM, and lasts two, sometimes two and a quarter hours, and consists of a non-stop litany of plugs for Québec cultural and artistic products, which isn’t bad unto itself, however, the host, Guy A. Lepage, a self-avowed secessionist and oft-described ‘Pope’ of Québec, liberally and openly promotes his secessionist political agenda on the French language network of Canada’s public broadcasting network, which has, as its mandate, to promote Canadian identity and unity.
This is but one example of this secular elite’s control of the public mindset and collective psyche pulling the people away from their faith and their country. Another is Richard Martineau, another self-avowed secessionist and almost rabid anti-clerical, anti-God, and religion type of journalist, who has the absolute green light from Québecor (a media conglomerate), another secessionist-secular, this time newly emerged upper-level bourgeois elite, to run a column in their ‘Journal de Montréal/Québec’ tabloid newspapers, which appeal to a more proletarian demographic, to gleefully attack faith, God, religion, spirituality, in all its forms, with absolutely no countervailing opinions from a more faith-based journalist to provide balance, for example. Mr. Martineau is being permitted to use his journalistic soapbox to unabashedly bash the entire foundations upon which human civilization is founded, and nobody has seen fit to utter a peep to call him on it.
This situation didn’t get to be this way over night. Once the ‘prelude to Québec’s Quiet Revolution’, as Michael Behiels describes it, was accomplished, between 1945-60, which I summed up in the paragraphs describing the two different directions which Québec nationalism took after WWII, and which itself had followed on the footsteps of the long process of secularization, industrialization, and urbanization, starting in the latter half of the 19th century, and going all the way back to the events described which occurred in the wake of the Conquest, the ‘Quiet Revolution’ seemingly came out of nowhere in Québec, and took everybody by surprise.
All of a sudden, French Canadians in Québec, because of what I just described, which had been evolving for two hundred years already, seemingly made a sudden break with the Church, and tried, at first, to supplant it with the substitute ‘religion’, or ‘faith’, of stateism. The newly emergent ‘Québec state’, with its secular-humanist institutions of health care, education, and social services, would become the new vehicle through which Québecers would drive their hopes, aspirations, dreams, and ‘prayers’, for a better life. State-building unto itself was to become, for a time, a sort of cultish, secular ‘faith’ of sorts. We were to put our ‘faith’, in the ‘divine moral rectitude, universality, and neutrality’ of the civil state, which was unfettered by any such moralistic and moralizingly-coloured notions of sin, good, evil, right, wrong, bad, good, or anything else of a ‘preachy’ or ‘judgemental’ nature. All citizens were to be treated equally and with equal compassion, not to mention largesse, by this new all powerful, all benevolent ‘deity’.
In the beginning of this period in the 1960s and 70s, the state and state institutions could do no wrong, especially Hydro Québec. Hydro was the most sacred of all sacred cows of the ‘Québec state’. It had been created in the 1940s but the power companies had been nationalized, making it a monopoly, in 1962, in a much ballyhooed provincial election, won by Jean Lesage, and engineered by none other than René Lévesque, who at that time had yet to jump ship to join the secessionist PQ party. When the so-called ‘sunshine card’, or ‘Castonguette’ public health insurance card came out in roughly 1970, (so-named because it has a picture of a sunset on it, and was nicknamed for Claude Castonguay, the then health minister), it was heralded as the greatest thing since sliced bread, practically. It was like magic almost. The average citizen could now henceforth walk into any health clinic or hospital in the province, even anywhere in Canada, present the card, and ‘voila’! it would get swiped in one of those old-fashioned mechanical credit card readers and you could see the doctor. The sense of entitlement was immediate and intoxicating. People took to this new ‘religion’ like madness, until it got so over budget within just over a decade that the system has eventually had to be scaled back and is now being partially privatized.
The second form of ‘secular religion’, which grew out of the first one, was ‘sovereignty-association’. The whole intoxicating drug of stateist secular religion, in the form of government entitlements, state corporations, unionized wages, striking for even higher unionized wages, grants and subsidies for everything you could possibly imagine, inevitably led to a ‘projet de societé’, or ‘state-building project’, as in ‘Nation-building project’, which took the form of René Levesque’s essentially ‘pie in the sky’ sovereignty-association proposal, which was eventually put to a vote in May of 1980, and which the people of Québec wisely rejected by a margin of 60% against to 40% in favour. The whole idea behind this latest ‘religion’ was the notion that we could have our cake and eat it too. That we could have all of the advantages of being Canadian, that is to say, economic union, customs union, and perhaps even monetary union, without any of the responsibilities of being part of the political union, which by the way, Mr. Lévesque failed to underline, was the glue which held the other three forms of union together in the first place.
It was as if Québec, the eldest child of the family, was all of a sudden, having a very tardive, and very histrionic coming of age, pulling a hissy fit and accusing the other members of the family and its parents of supposedly being mistreated, when in fact, if one looks at the evidence, Québec has been one of if not the most economically and politically favoured provinces of our country, bar none. There have been Nova Scotia secessionists at the time of Confederation, whom have been dealt with fairly, Japanese immigrants interned in WWII and Ukrainians interned in WWI, both as enemy aliens. There were Sikhs, who were denied access to even get off the boat in our country at the turn of the 20th century, due to blatantly racist immigration laws, and who, once they finally were admitted, were relegated to the status of cheap farm and factory labour in British Columbia for two generations, yet whom nevertheless used the opportunities afforded them by living in Canada, to work hard, save money, invest in education, and thereby become prosperous in short order.
The next form of secular ‘religion’ which Quebecers embraced, which was in the wake of the 1980 secession vote defeat, was materialism and the so-called ‘beau-risque’ status of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government in Ottawa, which had received the ‘sanctification’, or ‘blessing’, from Québec’s ‘holy man’, the messianic René Levesque, as being a ‘beau risque’, or ‘good bet’ to take, by voting for it, even throwing the weight of his PQ party machine behind Mulroney’s PC candidates in the 1984 and 1988 elections, thereby guaranteeing a PC sweep in Québec. The reason why Levesque had given Mulroney his ‘blessing’, thereby ‘anointing’ him as the new ‘holy man’ of Québec, was that Mulroney had promised that he would obtain a constitutional amendment in the already amended constitution of 1981-82, which Pierre Trudeau had negotiated with the provincial premiers that year, and which had been designed to rectify the then embarrassing necessity of having a sovereign country such as Canada having to formally approach its former colonial master, the British, and make a request to amend our own constitution, and the Brits having to fall all over themselves in embarrassment in saying ,’well of course, old boy, where do I sign?’
The amendment Mulroney wanted to get was one which Lévesque had originally wanted to obtain from Pierre Trudeau, but which Mr. Trudeau had always refused to grant. It was a sort of ‘collective rights’ clause, which eventually became known in the Meech Lake Accord of 1987-90 as the ‘Distinct Society clause’, which many legal experts and other observers felt at the time, and still do, would have entrenched certain collective rights for Québec which would have allowed it to override the supremacy of the individual rights, as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the afore-mentioned 1981-82 constitutional amendment. Therefore, its detractors felt that it would end up being used as an all-purpose ‘trump card’, to be invoked by Québec whenever an element of federal legislation, which it felt fell within its jurisdiction, needed to by nullified by the province, which, in these afore-mentioned detractors opinion, would have created a sort of two tiered hierarchy of citizenship for Canadians: those who are just plain ‘ordinary’ and those who are ‘distinct’.
Therefore this newfound ‘religion’ of ‘beau risque’, combined with Mr. Mulroney’s single-handed success at being able to ‘sanctify’ the notion of capitalism in the minds of the average French-speaking Québecer, by embracing the beginnings of what was to become neo-conservative, pro-business, anti-state/deconstructionist ideology, gave the necessary impetus to drive Québecers into a whole new free-wheeling age of capitalist-hedonistic pursuit of self-seeking, self-serving, self-centred wealth creation and self-absorbed, navel-gazing constitutional collective spiritual defilement.
Inevitably there arose a backlash against this whole process, especially in English-speaking Canada, and eventually the whole mess fell apart, when two of the necessary ten provincial legislatures, specifically Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Manitoba, failed, for various reasons, to ratify the deal, not to mention the public and private media having turned against the whole notion of ‘Distinct society’.
This caused a counter backlash in Québec, and led to the creation of the next form of secular religion, this one this time being much more reductionist in nature. The nationalist-secessionist secular elite in Montréal had by this time whipped up the troupes into a fierce fighting frenzy, and were now circling the wagons around an elemental issue, that being language. Since what English speaking Canadians seemed to object to was Québecers’ Frenchness, then ‘we’ should therefore defend and promote more than ever our Frenchness, which is expressed most prevalently by our French language, which, what do you know, is under attack again by those maudit Anglais who are sneaking English back onto public signs in Montréal. We can’t have that! So a huge fight emerged over the need to reassert the supremacy of the French language on public signs in Montréal, which after all, is supposed to be the ‘Métropole’ of Québec, not Canada, like it used to be back in the bad old days, before the 1977 language law, Bill101, making French the sole official language of Québec, so ‘we’ should make sure that ‘our’ language, is predominant, right? Especially since ‘they’ are rejecting ‘our’ speficity once again by rejecting the inclusion of this ‘bonbon’ distinct society constitutional pacifier thingy that our ‘Beau Risque Messiah’ promised he’d get for us.
This led to yet another, even more histrionic form of constitutional ‘religious secularism’, this time of such turgidity it almost drove most people up the wall. It was called the Charlottetown accord, and essentially degenerated into a huge cross-Canada travelling constitutional road show three ring circus, where every single yahoo who had anything to say about the state of the nation pretty much vented their spleen publicly. Then we got to vote on it, which, we were told, was going to bring such wonderful things as distinct society for Québec, aboriginal self-government and self-determination, as well as all sorts of devolution of powers to the provinces. It was a huge patchwork quilt-kind of smorgasbord of sectional, special interests, all cobbled together by good old Joe Clark, the ultimate middle-aged, middle of the road, upstanding, middle class, decent PC guy from Alberta, who was going to just make it all right for us all, and we were all going to feel good again and live happy ever after. I rather felt like I was going out of my mind, personally, and I think that Québecers also had had enough of this particular form of secular religion as well by this time.
The next year, Brian Mulroney had retired from politics, just in time from getting completely annihilated at the polls, a task he gave to Kim Campbell, his former defence minister, who took one for the team, and went down to the worst electoral defeat in Canadian history, being rewarded in the process with a government appointment somewhere outside of Canada. This led to the election of Jean Chretien, a Liberal, who promised he wouldn’t talk constitution ever again for as long as he lived. Since he’d been Justice minister during the 1981-82 constitutional talks, and had been accused by Québec’s secular media of ‘stabbing Québec in the back’ in the now infamous ‘night of the long knives’ incident, whereby he’d managed to get the consent of all the other nine provincial premiers on a constitutional deal, while the Québec delegation slept across the river on ‘sacred’ Québec soil (in an American-owned hotel chain by the way, the Anglo-Canadian delegation staying at the Chateau Laurier, which at that time was as Canadian as could be, being a Canadian Pacific Hotel), the flames of Québec secessionism began to be fanned once again. This was of course, not only because of Mr. Chrétien’s acession to the office of Prime Minister, but also since all the other previous forms of ‘secular religion’ which have been previously mentioned, were an abject failure, most recently being the proposed panacea of ‘distinct society’ combined with material abundance and wealth for those who sought to ‘create’ it.
Therefore we were now back to square one. Actually square two, because square one, being stateism and state-building, had by this time, fallen out of favour in an attempt to balance the budget at the federal and provincial levels. ‘Sovereignty’, however, was being dusted off and taken off the shelf for another kick at the can. This time certain private sector types, who were disciples of what I call the ‘Parizeau school’ of ‘bourgeois secessionism’, named after Jacques Parizeau, the former finance minister and now premier and member of a prominent French Canadian Montréal family who’d made their money in the reinsurance business, were lining up to support a more probusiness form of secessionism.
The campaign got very nasty, and came down to the wire, with those opposed to secession winning by the slimmest of margins in the neighbourhood of 0,4%. Essentially, what Mr, Parizeau said on the night of the vote, after having a few too many, was that they’d lost because of ‘money and the ethnic vote’, meaning that new immigrants, not wanting to be disloyal to the country which had received them, and the business class had heavily mobilized against the secessionists, ensuring their defeat.
This created a generalized sense of exhaustion amongst the Québec population in regards to the position of adopting any sort of alternative ‘secular religion’ which would act as a substitute to the traditional balm of Roman Catholicism. However there is nevertheless great reticence in flocking back to the faith on the part of the people of Québec, what with the current media mood surrounding sex scandals and the like. Also many Quebecers have issues with questions relating to the celibacy of the clergy, the role of women in the Church, and so on.
I feel, however, that Quebecers, and French Canadians in general are desperately starved for spiritual and faith-based solutions to the ills which afflict them personally, and which also afflict us as a society. My suggestions as to possible avenues of exploration to find solutions are not overly simplistic, yet are also in a sense fundamental, without necessarily being ‘fundamentalist’ or smelling of ‘fundamentalism’, in any sort of neo-conservative, socially conservative way. I do, however, feel that the expression , ‘what is old is new again’, definitely fits this scenario. I firmly believe that the Church needs to reassert its fundamental principles in the fields of the liturgy, public morality and social responsibility, compassion, the fundamental importance of the heterosexual nuclear family, procreation, traditional gender roles for men and women, celibacy for an all male clergy, more vocations for the female religious life, and an overall ‘re-sanctification’ of all that is sacred in human existence. I especially advocate for a rigorous program of evangelization of youth through such organizations such as CCO, (Catholic Christian Outreach), which, by the way, is the organization which brought me back to the practice of my faith from a five year period of lukewarm ‘Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals-type practice’. I encourage organizations such as CCO to branch out beyond to realm of campus ministries, and enter other places, such as prisons, detox centres, shelters for homeless people, psychiatric hospitals, workplaces, etc. I advocate that they use the powers of attraction rather than overt promotion to propagate the faith, using time –honoured methods used in the 12 step program to get their message across.
The sense of the sacred amongst people in Québec, both men and women, is palpable. The desire to live sacred, upstanding, virtuous, and noble lives is visible and present to me on a daily basis in the legions of young men and women who are into fantasy fiction, ‘dungeons and dragons’ and all sorts of other medievally-inspired types of roll-playing games, either on the internet, as video games, or as board games. The ideals underpinning the medieval principals of the sacred and the profane, good and evil and their accompanying struggle for supremacy, fighting for the noble cause, winning the favour of the fair and virtuous damsel, these are all principles which I see multiplied and propagated everywhere I go in Québec, just by observing the popularity of such things as medieval dinners, medieval clothing and theatrical apparel stores, movies with a whole variety of either medieval or quasi-mediaeval-sacred-spiritual-phantasmagorical story lines, (such as Lord of the Rings to give just one example),which seem to capture the imaginations of people, especially young people in our province.
Hence I feel that the Church needs but to re-sanctify its message, and not to dilute it with the thought of trying to be more ‘progressive’, or ‘accommodating’ to a broader audience, or trying to be more ‘agreeable’, or ‘nice’, in a sort of ‘touchy-feely-squishy-hippy-dippy’ kind of way. I think the Church has done enough, even too much of such things in the 1960s and 70s even onwards, and all it’s gotten us is more dissent and dissatisfaction on the part of a greater and ever broader base of the faithful. I think we have to stand up for what we believe in, draw a line in the sand, and essentially just say ‘tough luck’ to those who don’t want to go along with it. We’ll lose some, but I think we’ll gain a whole lot more, and of greater quality also, more fervent and devout followers, who respect an organization which knows when, where, what, and to whom to say ‘yes’, and especially, ‘no’, and to mean it, and to make it stick.
To do this in the Church in Québec and to apply it to the Church throughout the world for that matter, would, I believe, go a long way in not only guaranteeing that French Canada stays French both in language and culture, (not to mention staying in Canada!), but to also preserve whatever other language or culture of whatever people throughout the world happen to adhere to this great faith.
To this effect, I will end with a quote from Monsignor Louis François Richer Laflèche, one of French Canada’s great clerics, who once said that ‘la langue c’est le gardien de la foi’, meaning that ‘language is the guardian or safe keeper of the faith’. One could easily turn this around and say that ‘the faith is the guardian or safe keeper of language, and by extension, of culture’. This is something which no amount of transient ‘secular religions’ can supplant. A people’s language and culture is inextricably intertwined with the fundamentals of its religious faith, whether it is the lexicon of the sacred or the profane. In the case of French Canadians, the language of the sacred is filled with notions of redemption, forgiveness, belief, incredulity, good, evil, punishment, reward, truth, falsehood, virtue, vice, sin, both venal and mortal, confession, vocation, discernment, epiphany, mysticism, the list is too long to enumerate. The language of the profane is equally chock full of references which are almost exclusively related to the faith: host, chalice, tabernacle, baptism, ciborium, virgin, and so on.
We as a people, whether we like it or not, are harnessed to the yoke of the faith of our forefathers, we sometimes chafe at its prescriptions as well as its proscriptions. We often resent its call to our sense of conscience, which only goes to prove that we have one, underlying all the more our innate sense of being spiritual creatures in a material world, very much in need of God’s saving grace, if we will only have the insight, presence of mind, courage, and good sense to call upon our Father in heaven.
For the faith of our forefathers has made us who we are: a ‘different kind of people’, one, I would argue, chosen by God to live in a land of abundance, a land of ice and snow, of short, breathtaking summers, and long, hard winters. A land that has sworn to ‘protègera nos foyers et nos droit’, meaning to protect our homes and our rights, and in exchange, we shall indeed ‘stand on guard for thee’, and to do the will of the God of our understanding to the best of our abilities, and as it says in Mark 12: 30-31 to love God with all our hearts, all with all our soul, all our mind, and with all our strength, and to love our neignbour as ourselves, regardless of whether he or she speaks the language of Shakespeare, Molière, or King Muk Muk, for that matter. Remember what Red Green said, ‘Remember, I’m pullin’ for ya, we’re all in this together’. And lastly: ‘Keep your stick on the ice’. Amen. Ainsi sois t’il.
The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985 ed. (Hurtig)- Various articles.
Choquette, Robert and Pierre Savard’s religious studies course at University of Ottawa 1995-96.
Behiels, Michael, 4th year seminar in Canadian History 1996, University of Ottawa. (historiography).
Jaenan, Cornelius, History of Canada course, University of Ottawa, 1993-94.
O’Gallagher, Marianna. Personal conversations with this well-known author and historian in 2009, at the occasion of the rededication of the Irish memorial at Grosse Île, QC.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC FAITH: THE KEYSTONE IN THE ARCH HOLDING UP THE TWIN SECTIONS OF THE ‘BRIDGE’ OF QUÉBEC CIVILIZATION’S ROOTS OF LANGUAGE AND CULTURE-HOW THE SECULAR ELITE OF THE QUIET REVOLUTION HAS BEEN ATTEMPTING TO REMOVE THIS CRUCIAL KEYSTONE SINCE 1960, AND TRYING TO REPLACE IT WITH A SUCCESSION OF SECULAR-HUMANIST IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS.
FR. ALLAN M. SAVAGE
OCTOBER 11, 2010