When Canada’s federal government committed the country to two official languages, it set the scene for the social revolution that has since been foisted upon the Canadian majority.

That was in 1969, when Pierre Trudeau’s Official Languages Act declared English and French to be the official languages of Canada, possessing and enjoying “equality of status in all the institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.” Twenty-five percent of federal government jobs were designated “bilingual” in proportion to Quebec’s share of the population, and “bilingualism” became the criterion for employment in ever-widening circles of government and government-related activity throughout the whole country. However, official bilingualism was not about language; it was about political power.

The legislation discriminates against every Canadian who doesn’t happen to live in Quebec or near its borders with Ontario and New Brunswick. Canadians who live in or near Quebec, in French-speaking societies but also within sight and earshot of English television and radio, and with daily opportunities to acquire fluency in English as well as in French, have a tremendous advantage over Canadians everywhere else who have no occasion to use French in their daily lives, rarely meet a French-speaking person and, even if they take French immersion courses, still have no chance to practice French and thus retain their fluency.

Moreover, “bilingualism,” it has come to be understood, is the code word for a French-speaking Canadian who also speaks passable English. So it isn’t enough for a young Albertan or Newfoundlander to learn French; they have to be French, which of course they’re not. The bilingual requirement has become a racial requirement. By 1988, the percentage of Francophones in federal government service had risen to 28.5, while in some key departments Francophones occupied from 35 to 70 percent of the posts.

Until 1969, Canada’s institutions were essentially English. Parliament was supreme, and everyone was equal under a common law, which itself evolved with changing times. However, when Pierre Trudeau declared that he would not leave Ottawa “until the country and the Government are irreversibly bilingual,” he knew that under the English system his Official Languages Act was reversible; it could be changed, or repealed, by another Parliament.

Therefore, in 1980, when with the aid of the Quebec vote he was elected for a fourth term after seven months in opposition, he set out to rewrite the English-style Constitution in the French style, with rights “guaranteed” by the state, and parliamentary sovereignty replaced with a written Charter of Rights and Freedoms that included his language provisions and became “the supreme law of the land.” He confirmed this in a speech on the new Constitution in December 1981: “And we’ve got the entrenchment of both official languages, which can never be removed.”

At the same time (as noted in The Canadian Encyclopedia), “the federal government made significant demands of its own for new, centralized powers over the economy.” That was less than a year after launching the National Energy Program, a massive state intervention in Canada’s oil and gas industry that devastated Alberta’s economy.

For the majority, Canada has always been a nation based on the English tradition of the common law. Under that tradition, everyone is inherently free to do anything that is not prohibited by the law. In the French tradition, however, there is no inherent freedom. Rather, the government confers certain rights upon the people through a charter. Such conferred rights are, of course, vulnerable to whatever meaning the government or its courts wish to give them. The courts define the rights; by doing so, they limit them. From this, other differences arise.

In the English tradition, everyone is subject to the rule of law, whereas in the French, le droit administratif protects civil servants from prosecution for acts done in the performance of their official duties. For example, since the language law was reinforced and extended in 1988 the federal official languages commissioner and staff are virtually above the law. Neither he nor they are compellable witnesses, they cannot be proceeded against in civil or criminal courts for anything done in performance of their duties, and they cannot be sued for libel or slander.

Further, in the English tradition, Parliament—the voice of the people—is supreme. But in the French tradition, a written constitution, and therefore the courts, have supremacy over the legislature.

Canada since its inception has always been home to the two conflicting styles of government. But it wasn’t until the advent of Pierre Trudeau that the dominant English style began to give serious ground to the French style, thus quietly, and unnoticed by most, effecting radical change.

In a nutshell, Canada’s way of government has been changed into a centralized, essentially collectivist system—a welfare state—that by its nature smothers the whole country, regardless of regional and other differences, under national policies and programs that conflict with the wishes of the majority. Far from nurturing the spirit of nationhood, such a system is a recipe for dissension, and for the development of a litigious, fractious people.

How was such radical change engineered? By exploiting the fact that no political party in Canada can win a federal election without first winning over Quebec. The one-quarter of Canadians who live in Quebec use their political power to control the majority by voting en bloc for the party they think is going to win. In order to win Quebec, a victorious party must make political promises to it. Since making them to Quebec alone would bring charges of favoritism, it must make similar ones to the rest of Canada; to that extent, redistribution of wealth and income has been a political fact of life since confederation.

A native Quebecer and a convinced socialist, Trudeau used the Quebec vote that kept him in office to engineer changes that were consistent with the French style of government. As Colin Campbell noted in his book Governments Under Stress, Trudeau put Canada through “perhaps the most furtive expansion of central agencies the world has yet experienced.”

As a result, the federal government has become The Great Redistributor, with 60 percent of its noninterest expenditures taken from taxpayers and passed around to governments, businesses, and individuals through three layers of bureaucrats.

The Canadian confederation is in the predicament Felix Morley expressed so clearly in his book Freedom and Federalism: “Socialism and federalism are necessarily political opposites, because the former demands that centralized concentration of power which the latter by definition denies.”

Nevertheless, help is at hand. The Great Redistributor is in serious trouble. Open-ended “free” medicare, “universal” social programs, and all the appurtenances of the welfare state have raised total government debt, per capita, to nearly double that of the United States. Ottawa has begun to curb its spending by cutting federal subventions to the provinces; provincial governments are cutting theirs to municipalities, and there the buck stops.

By law, municipalities are required to balance their budgets, but on average 50 percent of their spending has been money transferred from the other two levels of government. Now that the transfers are diminishing, local governments must either raise taxes or cut programs. Naturally they’re not going to cut the local services they’re accountable for, such as building and staffing schools (education accounts for more than half of property taxes), police and fire protection, garbage removal, maintaining roads and utilities; the programs to cut are those imposed on them by the other two levels, and in English Canada the one that stands out is the artificial provision of French-language services for the relatively few residents whose mother tongue may be French but for whom, like the residents of all other extractions, the working language is English.

Last November in Ontario, where a provincial law requires provincial government agencies in 22 designated centers to provide a range of French-language services, local governments reacted with legislation of their own. By March 1990, 53 local governments (out of some 800) had adopted motions declaring that their official business would be conducted in English only.

Because the language issue is so explosive, the reaction of those Ontario municipalities has attracted nationwide attention. It is also drawing attention to the danger of letting political power get into too few hands. While the political elites in Ottawa are free from the excesses perpetrated by the fallen idols of communism, they are by no means free from the corruption that attends all power. Majority views as expressed in opinion polls are simply ignored. The elites’ views prevail as if the polls had never been taken.

Thus the Canadian voter has no influence whatsoever on such issues as official bilingualism, the criminal justice system, immigration and its off shoot, multiculturalism, so-called “pay equity” and “affirmative action” programs, government-funded advocacy groups, or the government spending that takes 52 percent of the average Canadian’s income in taxes.

Taxes equal money equals spending power equals control. All the power is at the top. Ottawa controls provincial governments by making them dependent on money it transfers to them. In turn, provincial governments use some of that money, plus some from their own sources, to make local governments dependent on transfers, too.

In short, the spending power in Canada is upside down: most in Ottawa; less in the provincial governments; and least of all in the local governments that are closest to the citizens.

It is ironic that Pierre Trudeau’s preoccupation with official bilinguaism should be the spark to ignite a revolt against the style of top-down government he imposed on English Canada, but the evidence is there. As Thunder Bay Alderman John Polhill put it: “We’re getting sick and tired of getting legislated tax increases we have no say about.”

On the divisive issue of official bilingualism, Canadians have gone through the fire to satisfy the predilections of one man: Pierre Trudeau. Many are now hoping that unrest over the language issue will lead to a renewed understanding of federalism’s capacity to reconcile order with freedom, and the need to restructure government accordingly.