Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization

Chapter 13 | Michel de la Durantaye


The explanatory note introducing that article is less well known. It stated: “In the context of Québec, the most universal element we have to develop thoroughly is the French fact. It is more because of our culture than the force of our numbers that we are going to make ourselves respected. It is through our language and our culture that a French presence on the North American continent will be asserted” (Lapalme, 1988: 315-316).

That credo has transcended any political party for a number of generations. Our great poet Gaston Miron made that credo clear in 1978, stating that “a work, only because it was written in French here, was a subversive and revolutionary act: it introduced a difference in North America” (1978). But that is not a drawback for society in the twenty-first century, which is crossbred, tolerant and pluralistic.

In fact, the originality of Québec society is not visible to the casual observer. As the authors of A Cultural Development Policy for Québec (Government of Québec, 1978) put it, for the visitor, it is not easy to detect at first glance a specific and original culture there. The observer may be tempted to see only a wide amalgam of borrowed elements. The French heritage of language and civil law, the Amerindian heritage of ways of living and dealing with nature, the British heritage of political institutions and criminal law, the American heritage of economic, industrial and technological structures, and the Roman Catholic heritage of institutions and religious thinking.

Of course, on closer examination, one sees original productions: Cirque du Soleil, the book publisher La Courte Échelle, Softimage, the Festival international de la poésie. But “Everything is working as if those productions had slipped through a sociocultural framework whose rules had been thought of and developed elsewhere. A great many of Québec’s collective structures are borrowed. History shows clearly that several decisions which had a significant bearing on it came from Versailles, London, Rome, New York or Washington... It is a paradoxical culture whose components often came from outside, however original its inner life....” (idem). This collectivity has fully entered into major North American trends, with its important movements of urbanization and industrialization from the beginning of the twentieth century through the two World Wars. However, the question remains: “is it possible to remain the same while multiplying borrowings from a world which is not indebted to us?” (ibid.).

In his book, Raisons communes (1995), Fernand Dumont admitted he had been surprised by Ms. Kari Levitt who, in her book on the spread of multinational firms in Canada, placed her emphasis on the cultural aspects of the phenomenon: to her mind, the supreme danger was the manipulation of cultures and needs — of ways of living — by major powers foreign to the country. “She was convinced that, if we have to resist, it is not because of a sham taste for economic autonomy, but because human beings should be free to choose their ways of living and the meaning of their lives from the customs and solidarities inherited from history” (1972). Fernand Dumont concluded that, for the same reasons, an authentic cultural development will be born in Québec only if it calls upon its own cultural resources, from which it must draw its strength and fidelity in order to be useful to human beings. “People waiving their rights to be adults because they despise themselves are not good partners” (1995: 72).

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising to see Québec defining itself partly by the culture of its citizens — i.e., by their ways of living, how they use their free time and by what their idea of a society is.

And this, in spite of the existence in Canada of what Abraham Rotstein had already called a “territorial ethic” or “mappism,” which translates a concern about the integrity of Canadian territory from sea to sea, with “a powerful central government which could stand for the cultural and social needs of Canadians in confronting the expansionism of large American firms” (Levitt, 1972: XXII).

But that Canadian paradigm did not historically prevent Québec provincial governments from developing their own strategies. For example, the Québec Liberal governments of Gouin (1905-1921) and Taschereau (1921-1936), as well as the Unione Nationale governments of Duplessis (1936-1939 and 1944-1959), accepted the rules of the game imposed by American capital with its financial and industrial interests. More recently, it did not prevent the Parti Québécois and the future Premier of Québec, Bernard Landry, from being effective supporters of NAFTA, even if more than one region of Canada had reservations about it.

Chapter 13, continued >


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