Quebec is distinct from the rest of Canada in that it derives its cultural identity from its Francophone roots. Specifically, Quebec has had long-lasting ties to France and to the Catholic Church, the latter of which represents itself as “the protector of the French language and culture” (cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994). Due to the strong Francophone identity of the Quebecois, the officials of the province have struggled to uphold the French language as the prevailing language of Quebec. This paper will address ways in which contemporary influences of France and the Catholic Church have resulted in the protection of the French language and culture in Quebec.
It is only natural that the Quebecois would feel an affinity to France, given that French settlers in Canada came from France. In the 1960s, the link between Quebec and France was intensified when ministers and government officials started moving freely between the two locations. In an effort to combat the threat of a “cultural invasion of USA,” Quebec and France worked to build their own distinct systems of education and culture (Cross, & Kealey, 1984). Thus, a master agreement with France, allowing Quebec to cooperate with this country in areas like education, was signed in 1965 (Government of Quebec). The cooperation between Quebec and France has resulted in situation in which the Quebec government does not charge foreign student frees to students from France and other French-speaking nations (Government of Quebec). The cultural ties between the European country and the Canadian province reinforce the need for Quebec residents to uphold their French identity. This need is, in turn, justified and made easier through Quebec’s ongoing relationship with France, and so appears an endless circle. The Quebecois view France as the model of their identity and through their relationship with the country, their desire to strengthen their French self-image is continually renewed.
In addition to the overwhelming influence France has had on Quebec, the Roman Catholic Church has long affected this province. The only religion allowed to enter New France centuries ago, Roman Catholicism, remains the most popular Faith in Quebec. Even though the Quiet revolution has weakened the power of the religion, a 2001 census shows that approximately 83.4% of the Quebec populations are Roman Catholics (Belanger, 1998). In 1977, the Premier Rene Levesque declared June 24 to be Quebec’s national holiday. Historically, June 24 was a holiday honoring one of Quebec’s patron saints, St. John the Baptist (Government of Quebec). It was the Roman Catholic Church that initially governed Quebec at all levels. There was a time when a priest had equal political power to that of a mayor (“www.wikipedia.org”, 2008). Although the Roman Catholic Church, with its emphasis on the French language, has diminished in power, its symbolic significance has remained a primary factor in the identity of the Quebecois.
There have been disputes among the Quebecois and, indeed, among Canadian at large, regarding the degree to which Quebec’s French identity should be protected and the means by which should be carried out. In the early 1980’s, an attempt was made to give Quebec the official status of a “distinct society” through the Meech Lake Accord (Burgess). Its five amendments “correspond to Bourassa’s five conditions for rejoining the constitutional fold’ (Burgess). Unfortunately for Quebec nationalists, the accord met with much opposition from Canadian who saw it as giving Quebec “unequal status among provinces” (Burgess). In fact, Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister at that time, denigrated Quebec nationalists as “bunch of snivelers” (Burgess).
Despite the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Quebec officials have managed to set Quebec apart from the rest of Canada by making French the only official language of the province. In 1974, the passing of Bill 22 (Department of Justice Canada) resulted in the banning of English outdoor commercial signs and the permission of indoor signs containing English only when the “French sign is predominant” (Belcher). It is interesting to note that Quebec’s official motto, “Je me souvien,” or “I remember,” implies: “Je me souviens que ne sous le lys, je cois sous la rose” (I remember that born under the lily, I grew under the rose” (“www.wikipedia.org”, 2008). The lily and the rose are floral emblems of English and France (“www.wikipedia.org”, 2008). Ironically, Quebec is the only province that is not bilingual.
Given political disputes that have occurred in recent decades, it is apparent that some Quebecois view themselves as the rose and not the lily. This particularly group of people, which sees itself as French but not as descendants from the English flag, wishes to separate from the rest of Canada altogether. For the separatists, creating an exclusively French society in what was once termed “New France” is preferable to living under the federal rule of a bilingual government. This is also known as the famous “Quebec sovereignty movement” (Quebec History). The sovereigntist believes that economic, social, and cultural developments of Quebec would be much more advantageous to Quebec citizens if Quebec were an isolated nation (Cross, & Kealey). Although the sovereignty movement eventually died down, the leader of the separatist party, Lucien Bouchard, managed to separate from his own leg (Biography for Lucien Bouchard).
While the sovereigntists of Quebec have been strongly outnumbered by those in favor of unification, recognition of unique Francophone status had already blessed the province of Quebec. Since the 1960’s, various attempts had been made to create a form of independence in Quebec without severing the province’s ties to the rest of Canada such as the Meech Lake Accord. Although many has failed, historical connection to the Catholic Church, coupled with its ties to France, managed to inspire the preservation of the French language through the legislation of Bill 22 and Bill 101 (Office québécois de la langue française). The bills successfully promote Quebec as a “distinct society,” a term coined by Jean Lesage as a political expression of the Uniqueness of Quebec in Canada (O’Neal, 1995).