In 2 years the Lesage government managed to carry out or plan many reforms. Everything came under scrutiny, everything was discussed; a new age of open debate began. The government attacked political patronage and changed the electoral map to provide better representation for urban areas. To reduce the size of secret electoral funds, it limited authorized expenditures during election periods. It also lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Lesage attempted to put the public purse in order by promoting a dynamic provincial budget and by raising loans. From 1960-61 to 1966-67, the budget grew from $745 million to $2.1 billion. The spectacular development of government institutions and the vastly increased role of the state in the province's economic, social and cultural life unleashed forces that would have major consequences.
The pressures exerted by the BABY BOOM generation, which had now reached adolescence, created a dramatic situation and pushed Québec's weak educational system to the breaking point. The government introduced new legislation on education and established a commission of inquiry on education, which was chaired by Mgr Alphonse-Marie Parent. The resulting Parent Report tackled the entire system. In recommending the creation of a department of education, it questioned the role of the Catholic Church, which controlled the public Catholic school system. The church resisted recommended changes, but without success. The Parent Report contributed significantly to creating a unified, democratic, modern school system accessible to the entire population.
The desire to modernize was also evident in the social sphere. Upon taking power, the government decided to participate in the federal-provincial hospital-insurance program. In 1964 it introduced 3 major pieces of legislation: an extensive revision of the labour code; Bill 16, which abolished a married woman's judicial handicap by which her legal status was that of a minor; and a pension plan.
The government's most spectacular accomplishment in economics was the nationalization of private electricity companies, an idea that was promoted in 1962 by René LÉVESQUE, minister of natural resources. The government decided to go to the electorate on this issue, and on 14 Nov 1962 the Liberals won again, with 56.6% of the vote and 63 seats. The many objectives of nationalization included standardizing rates across the province, co-ordinating investments in this key sector, integrating the system, encouraging industrialization, guaranteeing economic benefits for the Québec economy through a buy-Québec policy, and making the sector more French in nature. HYDRO-QUÉBEC not only met most of these objectives but became a symbol of success and a source of pride for Quebeckers. Another major success was the creation in 1965 of the CAISSE DE DÉPOT ET PLACEMENT DU QUÉBEC. The caisse was made responsible for administering the assets of the QUÉBEC PENSION PLAN, which rapidly grew to several billion dollars.
The maîtres chez nous ("masters in our own house") philosophy that permeated the government and its reforms was bound to have an influence on FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL RELATIONS. The Lesage government demanded a review of federal policy and won a major victory following a stormy first ministers' conference in 1964. Lesage forced the federal government to accept Québec's withdrawal from several cost-sharing programs and to compensate Québec fiscally. The issue of special status arose when Québec was the only province to win acceptance of the right to withdraw. It was perhaps to calm the anxieties of English Canada and to show his good will that in 1964 Lesage agreed to the proposal for repatriating and amending the constitution by a method known as the Fulton-Favreau formula. However, because of the extreme reactions of various nationalist groups within the province, Lesage had to withdraw his support and to dissociate himself from the other 10 governments that had accepted the formula.
The Québec government also sought to stake out international rights. In 1961 it opened the Maisons du Québec in Paris, London and New York. However, when Québec signalled its intention to sign cultural and educational agreements with France, Ottawa intervened, asserting that there could be only one interlocutor with foreign countries.
These federal-provincial quarrels raised the question of the place of Québec and French Canadians in Confederation. In 1965, for instance, the Royal Commission on BILINGUALISM AND BICULTURALISM noted that "Canada, without being fully conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history. The source of the crisis lies in the Province of Quebec." FRENCH CANADIAN NATIONALISM, which was becoming more and more Québecois in nature, was exacerbated by this crisis. The number of separatist groups increased; some of them adopted more extreme positions and the FRONT DE LIBÉRATION DU QUÉBEC began to indulge in TERRORISM.
At the same time, other Francophones worried about this growth of nationalism. Among them were Jean MARCHAND, Gérard PELLETIER and Pierre Elliott TRUDEAU, who joined the federal Liberal Party and were elected to Parliament in 1965.
When the Québec Liberals again faced the electorate in 1966 they were confident of re-election. But the Union Nationale had renewed its image and attracted dissatisfied individuals among conservatives, nationalists and those who had voted CRÉDITISTE in the federal election. The party still had a solid base in the rural areas that were left largely untouched by the Quiet Revolution. On June 5 the Union Nationale won 56 seats against the Liberals' 50. However, the Liberals obtained 47% of the popular vote whereas the Unionistes, led by Daniel JOHNSON, obtained only 41%.
The Quiet Revolution has been the major reference point used by all Québec governments who have held power since the Liberal defeat in 1966, a fact which illustrates the importance of this episode in Québec's history.
Author RENÉ DUROCHER
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Prelude to Quebec's Quiet Revolution: Liberalism vs Neo-Nationalism, 1945-60
This book review touches briefly on some of the major issues underlying Quebec's Quiet Revolution. From McGill University.
Review of the XXth century
Highlights of 20th century Québec history from the Government of Québec website.
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