Paths to Post-Nationalism: A Critical Ethnography of Language and Identity

By Monica Heller | Go to book overview

5
From Identity to Commodity

Schooling, Social Selection, and Social Reproduction
(Toronto, 1983–1996)

5.1 IF THEY ARE QUÉBÉCOIS, WHO ARE WE?

The last two chapters have traced the carving out of a modern territorial francophone space from the Romantic spiritual imagining of le Canada franÇais as an organic nation that was the francophone elite’s initial response to anglophone domination. Here we will return to the moment of reckoning, when Quebec played the nation-state card. Rather than follow Quebec, as in chapter 4, we will follow what happened outside Quebec in the aftermath of the shock that Jacques, Robert, and hundreds like them felt when they received the telegram from Ottawa announcing the demise of l’Ordre de Jacques Cartier. For many of them, the experience was one of going to bed as a Canadien franÇais (French Canadian) and waking up to find that that term no longer applied, since most of the members of the category had decided, seemingly overnight, to become Québécois.

While some members of the old elite struggled to preserve the older framework, most were quick to follow Quebec’s lead as best they could, taking advantage of Quebec’s threat to the Canadian Confederation to press the federal government for rights and resources. Indeed, the Canadian government rapidly understood that to undermine Quebec’s argument for independence, it would have show that one could live as a francophone anywhere in Canada and that one could live as a francophone on Quebec’s terms, that is, as a monolingual (at least regarding matters within the limits of state control).

The Official Languages Act of 1968 put French on a footing of equality with English as an official language and committed the federal government to providing federal services in both official languages. The government also began to set up programs to support the teaching of French as a first language outside Quebec, and as a second language across the country, through transfer payments to the provinces, even though education remains under provincial jurisdiction. Finally, it developed funding programs, largely through the culture ministry, for the maintenance and development of French language, culture, and identity outside Quebec.

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