Cultural Dualism

Cultural dualism is both a term that describes some characteristics of Canadian society and, in many people's view, an ideology according to which the social and political systems of Canada should be organized. It is based on the historical fact that Canada was colonized by both the French and the English, and that both groups are therefore the "founding peoples" of Canada. This fact is used to justify the privileges accorded these 2 groups in comparison to those accorded other ethnic groups, and to justify the equality of the 2 groups.

Although the notion of cultural dualism has been translated into legislation and into policies of schooling, religion, language and the institutional rights of provinces, its origins are difficult to determine. Some legislation, eg, constitutional laws of Canada, can be interpreted as a defence of cultural dualism. For example, the 1774 Quebec Act legally recognized the Catholic religion, the seigneurial system and French Civil Law in Québec. The Act of Union proclaimed in 1841 recognized that the 2 colonizing groups coexisted, and the Constitution Act, 1867 formalized some of the principles of cultural dualism. First, it determined the powers of the federal state and of the provinces (thus recognizing some of the specificities of Québec, where French Canadians formed the majority); second, legislation in regard to civil law was confirmed; third, in education, a provincial domain, a clause allowed for public funds to subsidize confessional schools and protected religious minorities in Québec. Ironically, this clause was demanded by Québec English Protestants who feared they would be outnumbered and overpowered by French Catholics in Québec. French Catholics in the rest of Canada later attempted, with little success, to use the same clause to defend themselves against similar fears about the English Canadians. Under Québec language legislation (Bill 22 and Bill 101), children of some groups, particularly immigrants, have been obliged to attend French schools, but the legislation has not altered the denominational structure of education in Montréal or the public funding of private, religious or ethnic schools in Québec.

It has often been said that Canada was created as a state by mercantile capitalists and railway owners who needed a central administration from which to settle and exploit the country. Others, especially many French Canadians, believed that Confederation was a step towards a new state, one that was independent of England. It was understood that the 2 founding groups were to coexist, but the rights and privileges of Catholic French Canadians outside Québec were either not specified or were denied or ignored (see New Brunswick School Question; Ontario Schools Question; Manitoba Schools Question); Catholic schools (often French) were not subsidized by public funds; French was forbidden in the public schools (as were all languages other than English); and a general assimilation into the "Anglo-Saxon," "British" or Anglo-Canadian world was seen as the only future for both French Canadians and immigrants.

In the 1960s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism brought to light some of the difficulties encountered by French speakers and other groups in Canada. In 1969 the Official Languages Act (see also Official Languages Act, (1988)) made Canada, at least symbolically, an officially bilingual country, and measures were taken to allow for service in French in the federal administration. In 1971 the government adopted the policy of Multiculturalism in a bilingual framework. Finally the Constitution Act, 1982 affirmed some of the principles of cultural dualism; the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stresses the right to equality and forbids discrimination. French and English are described as "the official languages of Canada" with equality in status in all parliamentary institutions and in the Government of Canada. The Charter also protects the rights of French and English minorities to be educated in their own languages, allows for minority schools to be funded by public funds, and confirms that it does not modify "any rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominational, separate or dissentient schools." French and English are also official languages in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province.

There have been various interpretations of how the ideology of cultural dualism should actually manifest itself. It has been argued that French and English should be equally represented by bilingual public servants at all levels of the federal system (or that every federal government unit should have 2 components, one French, one English) and that there should be equality of opportunity at all levels of society, eg, political, economic, educational and social.

Many French Canadians believe that cultural dualism recognizes their specificity and their rights, while others believe that it has never been applied in practice and that Canada, originally a British colony, is now a US colony. Part of the French Canadian population has also been in favour of a unilingual Québec as a "refuge" for francophones, and some believe that Québec should secede from Confederation. But cultural dualism has been opposed most vociferously by English-speaking groups. Many British colonialists wanted Canada to be primarily an English-speaking, Anglo-Saxon dependency of Britain. Today, several groups (particularly, but not exclusively in the West) consider that Canada should be unilingually English and that Canadian-American Relations should be fostered because of a common general culture and because of the economic power of the US.

Other groups have very much resented the ideology of cultural dualism, believing that it excludes them from Canadian life. The Indigenous people stress that they were the first inhabitants of Canada and that the French and English have eliminated them from the political and social life of the country. Ethnic groups who have immigrated during the last 2 centuries believe that cultural dualism effectively excludes them as well from social and political life. On the other hand, many French Canadians do not support the policy of multiculturalism, because they consider that it does not recognize their special status. The Meech Lake Accord (see Meech Lake Accord: Document), if accepted by the 10 provincial legislative assemblies and the House of Commons, may be considered as a further step toward cultural dualism.