After a brief sojourn in the separatist youth movement, Jeune-Canada, André Laurendeau spent 2 years in France, 1935-36, taking courses at the Sorbonne, the Collège de France and the Institut catholique. While in Europe he came to embrace the social CATHOLICISM and the personalism of Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain and Étienne Gilson. He returned home critical of the concept of political independence for the French-Canadian nation but determined to reorient FRENCH CANADIAN NATIONALISM toward socioeconomic issues. As editor of L'ACTION NATIONALE, 1937-42, he attempted to pursue this goal.
In 1942 he joined forces with other nationalists to create the Ligue pour la défence du Canada to fight for a "no" vote in the April 1942 plebiscite called by Prime Minister Mackenzie KING over CONSCRIPTION for overseas service. Following the success of the league - over 80% of French Canadians voted no - a nationalist third party was created in the fall of 1942. The BLOC POPULAIRE fought against the threat of conscription and demanded greater equality for Francophones in the federal system. Laurendeau was selected provincial leader of the Bloc in February 1944 and was one of the 4 Bloc members to win election to the Québec Assembly in 1944. He denounced the centralist economic and social policies of the federal government and called upon the Union Nationale regime of Maurice DUPLESSIS to make provincial autonomy meaningful by implementing long overdue socioeconomic reforms.
In September 1947 Laurendeau resigned as leader of the Bloc Populaire and, at the invitation of his friend and publisher Gérard FILION, joined the editorial staff of Le Devoir. He became editor in chief in 1958 and retained that post until his premature death in 1968. Between 1948 and 1954, he also resumed the functions of director of L'Action nationale, which he infused with a new sense of direction, and attracted a new generation of contributors and readers.
Along with his nationalist colleagues, Filion, Jean-Marc LÉGER and Pierre LAPORTE, he fought the politically and socially regressive regime of Duplessis, and turned Le Devoir into an effective forum for criticism. Laurendeau called for a redefinition of traditional French Canadian nationalism to reflect more clearly the problems and aspirations of an overwhelmingly urban and industrial society. This neo-nationalism was adopted by the Québec Liberal Party of Jean LESAGE prior to the 1960 provincial election in which the Union Nationale was defeated.
Fearing the political and social implications of the rise of SEPARATISM in Québec after 1960, Laurendeau called upon the DIEFENBAKER and the PEARSON governments to investigate the crisis in Québec-Ottawa relations. Prime Minister Pearson responded by creating in 1963 the B&B Commission with Laurendeau and Davidson DUNTON as co-chairmen. Until 1968 Laurendeau pursued diligently, but with a growing sense of despair, the challenge of finding a long-term solution that would provide a constitutionally entrenched equality for the French Canadian majority of Québec and the francophone minorities outside Québec.
His fellow commissioners, reflecting the divisions within Canadian society at large, could not come to terms with the constitutional implications of linguistic duality and cultural pluralism, and thus the final volume of the report never materialized. The country did respond to the crisis by making room for French Canadians at the federal level through the implementation of the 1969 OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT (see BICULTURALISM).
In addition to his other work, Laurendeau was a radio and TV personality, and wrote articles, TV dramas, a play, Deux femmes terribles (1961), and a novel Une Vie d'enfer (1965). He was a member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Académie canadienne-française.
Author M.D. BEHIELS
Links to Other Sites
Laurendeau and Dunton
A CBC Television video clip featuring André Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton discussing their Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.