George Grant, the Free Trade Agreement, and Contemporary Quebec

By Thomas, Tim | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

George Grant, the Free Trade Agreement, and Contemporary Quebec


Thomas, Tim, Journal of Canadian Studies


This paper provides a summary of George Grant's thought pertaining to Quebec in order to critique adequately Jacques - Yvan Morin's recent interpretation of the value of this thought. In the process the paper argues that Quebec's overwhelming support for the Free Trade Agreement and the recent; upsurge of language difficulties within the province have evolved out of a tacit awareness of some of Grant's ideas, especially those which imply that Quebec's pursuit of the neo - conservative agenda may in fact be incompatible with its traditional goals of cultural preservation.

Cet article soutient que l'appui massif des Quebecois a l'Accord de libre - echange et la resurgence des conflits linguistiques sur l'echiquier politique provincial participent du meme facteur: la forme actuelle du nationalisme quebecois. Ayant desormais integre l'ethique protestante du travail et les valeurs inherentes au liberalisme economique, le nationalisme quebecois fait maintenant sien les objectifs du projet neo - conservateur tout en continuant de tabler sur ses objectifs traditionnels de promotion culturelle. Vivre cette contradiction apparente entre ces deux types d'objectif contradiction que les travaux de George Grant ont bien mis en relief -- entrainera necessairement une intensification politique de la question linguistique au sein de la societe quebecoise.

The Quebec - Canada, two nations - two languages tension represents a cultural contradiction; the regions versus Ottawa a political one; and Canada - US relations primarily an economic one. If our ambition is not just to describe such contradictions but to overcome them, we should perhaps first recognize that they impinge on each other and, in the long run, cannot be taken separately. For as long as we try to treat them as local injuries, unrelated to any endemic disease, we aren't likely to find satisfactory solutions. We may fail to take notice of the flaws imprinted in the fabric of society itself.

Susan Crean and Marcel Rioux, Two Nations (1983: 140).

To an outsider, recent events in Quebec seem baffling, confused and contradictory. Socialists and social democrats who, for a long time, were at the forefront of French - Canadian or Quebecois nationalism, watch perplexed as their society becomes increasingly consumed by the forces of materialism. Francophone students are swelling the ranks of the province's French and English business schools and the "glitz and glitter" of St. Denis has superceded that of Crescent Street.

Perhaps the most significant event for English - Canadian nationalists (particularly those located in central Canada who subscribe to the Loyalist myth and the ideas of George Grant) as well as for the segment of French - Canadian nationalists who continue to advocate the separatist option, was the overwhelming support of Quebec society for the Free Trade Agreement. This development was a far cry from the spirit of the contemplative, religious and insular society that had fostered la survivance. It also seems to contradict the spirit of rattrapage and epanouissement that guided the technically planned, state - oriented, social democratic nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Simultaneously, the language issue has once again "flared up" in Quebec. In the aftermath of Bill 178, Royal Orr, president of the anglo - rights group Alliance Quebec, was accused by the French media of having burned his own offices in an attempt to embarrass Quebec nationalists. However, evidence for these accusations never materialized, leading most of the journalists involved to rebel against the ethics and conduct of their own managements.(f.1)

Similarly, "Disparaitre," a television program warning of the potential culturally diluting effects of immigration upon Quebec society, was viewed by thousands of Quebeckers. D'Iberville Fortier was subjected to public criticism for objecting to unilingualism, while the Montreal Catholic School Commission was criticized by human rights commissions for its proposed French - only language policy in advocating disciplinary measures for students heard speaking any language other than French while on school grounds. …

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