Kenneth McDonald’s article (“The French Revolution in Canada,” April) illustrates why Quebec may secede from Canada. The legal mechanisms have been explained, but the political dynamics need to be understood.

First, McDonald complains that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (in Sections 16-22 of the Constitution Act of 1982) has entrenched French and English as the official languages of Canada. And this, he supposes, is an injustice, for he thinks Quebec was always bilingual, but not Canada. Let us set the record straight: Canada was originally New France, and so was French only. Canada was then reformed as a confederation of French and English peoples, Canada and Quebec have been bilingual by fundamental law since Section 133 of the British North America Act of 1867. Obviously, it is important that the public officers of Canada should if possible be proficient in French and English, as those of Belgium should be proficient in French and Flemish, and those of Switzerland should be proficient in French, German, and Italian.

Second, McDonald blames the Canadian Charter on the need to accommodate Quebec. The Constitution Act of 1982 was imposed on Quebec, over the protest of her elected government, at the demand of the nine English-speaking provinces and the federal government of Canada. This was done contrary to a constitutional understanding that the legislative powers of a province could not be altered without the consent of that province. The Constitution Act imposed limitations on Quebec’s right to protect her unique language and culture, and Quebec thereby became a colony of Anglo-Canada.

Third, McDonald does not mention the Meech Lake Accord which would have corrected the imposition of the Charter upon Quebec in 1982. The Meech Lake Accord was signed by the prime ministers of the dominion and all ten provinces. It was approved by Quebec and enough provinces to become part of the fundamental law of Canada, had it been proposed as a single amendment. It was approved by all parties in Parliament and by all of the greatest leaders of Canada. If it had passed, separatism would be dead in Quebec. But it was sabotaged, on a pseudo-technicality, because two English-speaking premiers went back on their word. The effect was as disastrous to Canada as the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was in the United States.

Fourth, McDonald does not understand why Quebec should be given constitutional safeguards to protect her language and culture. If he lived in an English-speaking province surrounded by nine French-speaking provinces, he might get the point. Meanwhile, I suggest he read John Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government.

Fifth, McDonald complains that Trudeau over-centralized the government of Canada with unfortunate effects. He is right, because such consolidation of power over a large territory has never worked anywhere in any age. Trudeau constructed this weighty excess mainly by forming an alliance with English-speaking politicians to overwhelm Quebec. Why then blame Quebec for protesting the injustice which came about from Trudeau’s deception in 1982?

Sixth, it is time for Anglo-Canada either to repair the damage done to Quebec in 1982 or to permit Quebec to secede in peace. I would prefer to see Canada united in friendship and loyal to the Crown, which is why I favor reconciliation and oppose secession. The necessary adjustments would be rather easy; for example, adopting the distinct society clause in the Meech Lake Accord as a new constitutional amendment. The question is whether Anglo-Canada is willing to make the effort. If the answer is no, the secession of Quebec is only a matter of time. If Quebec secedes and Anglo-Canada resists by sending in the army or by other warlike acts, the country will be ungovernable. If a good faith effort is made, however, a settlement will be reached, Quebec will continue to be “le bijou” of Canada, and Canada will eventually develop the finest constitution in the world.

        —John Remington Graham
St. Agapit, Quebec, Canada

Mr. McDonald Replies:

Mr. Graham repeats the myth that Canada was confederated in 1867 as two peoples in a bilingual nation. Then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald called it “the Confederation of one people and one government instead of five peoples and five governments.” Constitutional authority Senator Eugene Forsey said that “[Canada] was certainly not intended to be two political nations. Over and over again the ‘Canadian’ fathers of the Confederation, French, English, Irish and Scots, declared emphatically that they were creating a new nation.” Section 133 of the British North America Act states that either English or French “may be used” in debates of the federal parliament and the Quebec legislature and that both languages “shall be used” in the written records of those houses. Either language “may be used” in a federal court or a court of Quebec.

English Canada’s leaders opposed the Charter because it was to be “Canada’s supreme law,” denying the historic supremacy of Parliament. Trudeau’s “compromise” was to insert a “notwithstanding” clause which enables federal and provincial governments to pass a law even if it contravenes certain provisions of the Charter. Provisions that can be overridden include the freedoms of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression (including freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association), and legal and equality rights. Provisions that cannot be overridden include the people’s democratic and mobility rights, the entrenchment of English and French as official languages, and the rights of minorities to be taught them.

Pierre Trudeau declared afterwards: “We’ve got all the aces. . . . We’ve got the entrenchment of both official languages, which can never be removed. We’ve got French in the educational system of every province.” In his Memoirs, he wrote: “On the whole the Constitution Act largely enshrined the values I had been advocating since I wrote my first article in Cité libre in 1950.”

The Meech Lake Accord was sandbagged by Pierre Trudeau when he attacked it in a nationally published article five days before the accord reached Ottawa. He wrote: “Those Canadians who fought for a single Canada, bilingual and multicultural, can say goodbye to their dream: we are henceforth to have two Canadas, each defined in terms of its language.” Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa responded that he was “in profound disagreement with [Trudeau’s] analysis of federalism.”

This remains the Canadian paradox. Trudeau imposed the French system of centralized authority and legislated rights on the whole of Canada. For all but two of the past 30 years, the near dictatorial power of a Canadian prime minister has been vested in politicians from Quebec, who see nothing wrong with a system which is the political opposite of federalism and which denies Quebec’s original, and exclusive, power over property, civil rights, and education. I suggest Mr. Graham read my article again, as well as my 1995 book, His Pride, Our Fall: Recovering from the Trudeau Revolution (Key Porter).