Biculturalism: The fight for an Franco-Anglo Canada

In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau passes the Official Languages Act making Canada a bilingual nation.  It gives English and French equal statuses in the government of Canada. Pierre Trudeau who was elected in 1968 believed in uniting Canada with Quebec and wanted Quebec to be equal. His ideas of an equal and multicultural Canada were very strong.

Official Language Act can be found here

The Parti Quebecois and the 1980 Referendum

In 1974, Bourassa makes French Quebec’s official language.  He also only allowed French students to go to French schools. English lessons were greatly reduced or phased out of French schools.

In 1976, Rene Levesque is elected Premier of Quebec. His party, Parti Quebecois managed government and the economy very well. They also passed Bill 101 which stated that French would be dominant language in Quebec in all areas of life.  All signs, public and private, had to be in French and everyone but a minority would be forced to learn French. In 1980, a referendum was called to allow Quebecois to vote for a sovereignty association with Canada.  On May 20, 1980, 60% of Quebecois voted no to sovereignty association due to the campaigning of Trudeau.

Sovereignty association definition:
“The achievement of sovereignty for the Quebec state and the creation of a political and economical association between this new independent state and Canada.”

Renewal of the Constitution 

After the 1980 referendum, Trudeau started the process of renewing Canada’s constitution.  He petitioned the British parliament to patriate the BNA Act and to add in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Amending Formula. In order to pass the new Constitution, Trudeau had to first meet up with the ministers come to a compromise and to receive support for it. Though they were having a great trouble of coming up with an agreement and this is where the Kitchen Accord takes place. After midnight, the first ministers (excluding Quebec) met in the kitchen of Ottawa’s Government Conference Centre to reach a concession.  Levesque was left out of this meeting and did not find out about the agreement until the morning.  In Quebec this is known as The Night of the Long Knives. Quebec felt betrayed knowing that the rest of Canada was forcing the constitution on them and not meeting their needs. When the Queen and the first ministers signed the Constitution, Quebec was not present.  Flags in Quebec were lowered to half-mast and protest was held in Montreal.

Read the renewed constitution here

Seeing Quebec’s distress, in 1987, PM Brian Mulroney attempted to reunite Quebec with the rest of Canada. The provinces agreed that Quebec would be a distinct society and allowed Quebec to have greater powers over their own affairs. The House of Commons passed the Accord but it had to be passed by each province’s legislature to be placed in the Constitution.

In 1987, PM Brian Mulroney attempted to reconcile Quebec with the rest of Canada during a retreat at Meech Lake.  The provinces reached an agreement that would have allowed Quebec to be a distinct society and allow Quebec to have greater powers over their own affairs than the other provinces.  But the Aboriginal people and governments of Newfoundland, Manitoba and New Brunswick foiled the deal. Arguing that why should Quebecois have such powers if the Aboriginals were not? Negotiations still continued later in Charlottetown. They decided on a “Canada Clause” which set out the principles and values that the country was founded on including a distinct Quebec, but the Charlottetown Accord was also defeated. Quebec thought that Canada did not want them.  So they decided the only alternative was separation. The Bloc Quebecois was formed, led by Lucien Bouchard, to push the separation agenda on the federal level.

The 1995 Referendum 

In 1994, the Parti Quebecois regained power in Quebec ensuring there would be another referendum to allow Quebecois vote for sovereignty. The separatists argued that Quebec would benefit greatly by separating from Canada but maintaining Canadian currency.  Federalists and Aboriginals argued that they did not want to go and they would suffer economically.  The result led to a close 49.4% of Quebecois voting for sovereignty. This seems like the end of Quebec wanting sovereignty from Canada, but will there be a next time? If Quebec actually becomes separate from Canada, how would Canada look like? Will our bilingualism last? 


“Confederation: Introduction.” Canada A Country by Consent: Confederation. Web. 15 May 2012. aaaaaaaaa<;.

“Constitutional Documents.” Deportment of Justice Canada, 25 May 2012. Web. 29 May 2012. aaaaaaaaa<;.

“Official Languages Act.” Department of Justice. 25 May 2012. Web. 29 May 2012. aaaaaaaaaa<;.


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