Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Federalism and the French Canadians Published in 1968, Federalism and the French Canadians is an ideological anthology featuring a series of essays written by Pierre Elliot Trudeau during his time spent with the Federal Liberal party of Canada. The emphasis of the book deals with the problems and conflicts facing the country during the Duplessis regime in Quebec. While Trudeau stresses his adamant convictions on Anglophone/Francophone relations and struggles for equality in a confederated land, he also elaborates on his own ideological views pertaining to Federalism and Nationalism. The reader is introduced to several essays that discuss Provincial legislature and conflict (Quebec and the Constitutional Problem, A Constitutional Declaration of Rights) while other compositions deal with impending and contemporary Federal predicaments (Federal Grants to Universities, The Practice and Theory of Federalism, Separatist Counter-Revolutionaries). Throughout all these documented personal accounts and critiques, the reader learns that Trudeau is a sharp critic of contemporary Quebec nationalism and that his prime political conviction (or thesis) is sporadically reflected in each essay: Federalism is the only possible system of government that breeds and sustains equality in a multicultural country such as Canada. Trudeau is fervent and stalwart in his opinions towards Federalism and its ramifications on Canadian citizenry.
Born and raised in Quebec, he attended several prestigious institutions that educated him about the political spectrum of the country. After his time spent at the London School of Economics, Trudeau returned to Quebec at a time when the province was experiencing vast differences with its Federal overseer. The Union Nationale, a religious nationalist movement rooted deep in the heart of Quebec culture, had forced the Federal government to reconcile and mediate with them in order to avoid civil disorder or unrest. The Premier of Quebec at the time, Maurice Duplessis, found it almost impossible to appease the needs of each diverse interest group and faction rising within the province and ultimately buckled underneath the increasing pressure. Many Francophones believed that they were being discriminated and treated unfairly due to the British North American Act which failed to recognize the unique nature of the province in its list of provisions.
Trudeau, with the aid of several colleagues, fought the imminent wave of social chaos in Quebec with anti-clerical and communist visions he obtained while in his adolescent years. However, as the nationalist movement gained momentum against the Provincial government, Trudeau came to the startling realization that Provincial autonomy would not solidify Quebec’s future in the country (he believed that separatism would soon follow) and unless Duplessis could successfully negotiate (on the issue of a constitution) with the rest of Canada, the prospect of self- sovereignty for Quebec would transpire. His first essay (Quebec and the Constitutional Problem) explores the trials and tribulations which occurred between the Provincial and Federal governments during the ensuing constitutional problems in Canada. Trudeau candidly lambastes and ridicules the Federal Government’s inability to recognize the economic and linguistic differences in Quebec. He defends the province by stating that “The language provisions of the British North American Act are very limited” and therefore believes that they continue to divide the country and aid the nationalist movement in Quebec.
Using an informal, first person writing approach, Trudeau makes it clear that his words are for reactionaries, not revolutionaries who are looking to destroy the political fabric of the country. However, Trudeau considers possible alternatives and implications in the second essay (A Constitutional Declaration of Rights) and offers possible resolutions to the everlasting cultural dilemma plaguing both parties involved. One of his arguments is that the Federal government must take the initiative and begin the constitutional sequence to modify and adapt to the growing needs of all the provinces, not only Quebec. “One tends to forget that constitutions must also be made by men and not by force of brutal circumstance or blind disorder”, was his response to the perpetual ignorance of the Federalist leaders who stalled and dodged on the issue of equality and compromise throughout the country. At this point in the essay, Trudeau relied on his central thesis for the book and used it to prove his application of constitutional reform using the Federal government as the catalyst.
Trudeau had already formulated his visions of the perfect constitution and how it would include “A Bill of Rights that would guarantee the fundamental freedoms of the citizen from intolerance, whether federal or provincial”. Each and every one of his proposals demonstrated innovative thought and pragmatic resolve for a striving politician who believed in Democracy before Ideology. The emphasis he places on equality and individualism is a testimonial to his character and integrity as a politician. The next essay (The Practice and Theory of Federalism) is the opening composition for Trudeau’s firm stance on Federalism and how it can be applied to the current Executive system of administration already in turmoil with its dominion. “Federalism is by its very essence a compromise and a pact” is his comment on why the Federal government of Canada has a responsibility to seek out the general consensus of the people when dealing with constitutional reform. This reinforces his central thesis for the book which is mentioned in the opening paragraph of this critique; however, their is a partial, obstructed observation made on Trudeau’s part when he declines to mention the efforts of the contemporary Federal bureau which had made attempts to negotiate with Quebec (although in vain).
Finally, the last essay (Federalism, Nationalism and Reason) is a creative piece of literature in which Trudeau exonerates the possibility of state manipulation and exploitation in dealing with the masses (the socialist tendencies of Trudeau are quite blatant through his immense historical knowledge and political shrewdness). Although he brings up the possible implications of a rejected Federalist state, he seems to scorn and laugh at the idea; “Separatism a revolution? My eye. A counter-revolution; the national socialist counter-revolution”. Such passages are indicative of the attitude Trudeau held towards the political disorder of his own country and magnifies his disgust towards the sluggish and immobile Duplessis regime. Throughout all these radical and riveting compositions, the reader is faced with an extremely unorthodox writing style which consists of both formal and informal essay techniques. Federalism and the French Canadians presents the reader with a superlative ideological perspective of “how” and “why” the executive branch of the country should be functioning in the eyes of Pierre Trudeau.
Although recognized as nothing more than a political activist at the time of the ongoing political/social crisis in Canada, Trudeau served as an adviser to the Privy Council Office in 1950 and subsequently became a professor of Law at the University of Montreal in 1960. His inauguration into the Federal Liberal Party in 1965 as well as his future involvement with the Federal government (Constitutional Lawyer, Minister of Justice, Prime Minister of Canada) would bolster his credibility in this book. Not only does he stress the importance and validity of the Canadian political scope when dealing with his theories, but his historical and economical evaluation of the world in general serves as a competent and impartial method of comparing analogies. Trudeau had always been labelled as a radical or socialist, but upon reading his anthology, the reader accepts the notion that he was an advocate of liberalism and democracy. I would consider his interpretations of Federalism and Quebec heritage as being substantially valid even in the acrimonious way in which Trudeau addresses the issues; “Without equality, one has a dictatorship” (such indiscriminate assessments of the Canadian government magnify the strength AND weaknesses of each essay) .
The only visible weakness in his analysis would be the position in which he views the Provincial government under Duplessis (weak, subordinate, naive) and this perhaps taints most of his bi-partisan observations towards how the Federal government would treat Francophones under a unilateral constitution. Otherwise, each and every proposition presented to the reader is heavily supported and reinforced by the central theme in the book which, in effect, could be viewed as a strength; he supports the majority of his Federalist arguments with quotes from noted dignitaries and political leaders from the past and present such as Lord Acton (while defending Federalism in Canada), Mao Tse-Tung (when referring to Quebec’s hostile and intolerance with Canada), Aristotle (when discussing the perfect democratic union with Quebec) and Nikita Khrushchev (in support of constitutional reform and the possible effects of Dictatorships). Several of his essays had also been published in Montreal and Toronto during the late 1960’s and his address to the Canadian Bar Association on September 4th, 1967 is featured in its entirety in his book (Trudeau used these facts to strengthen and reinforce his expertise and experience in the field). The material featured in Federalism and the French Canadians is excessively difficult to digest and should be read by a student who is familiar with the historical and political dilemmas presented in the compositions. Although efficiently organized (dealing with Quebec and social bedlam followed by solutions offered by Federalism), the book is a challenge to understand in respects to how Trudeau plunges into each scenario and issue with enormous furor and enthusiasm. He generally expects the reader to have a large degree of background knowledge on the subject of Federalism and Quebec.
Without being informed beforehand on the domestic difficulties of the country, this particular reader surely would have been drowned in a sea of political jargon and complex narrative insight. Nevertheless, Pierre Trudeau captivated my imagination with his perspective of life in Canada and the future of the country without a stable government. “My political action; or my theory – insomuch as I can be said to have one – can be expressed very simply: create counter-weights”, is how Trudeau described the rationale behind his ideological thinking and how he downplayed the stagnant political situation in Canada that suppressed its greatest strength; representation and unity by a multicultural society..a government that enshrined the rights and liberties of its people and distributed the freedom and respect accordingly regardless of ethnic or cultural discrepancies. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this complex and unprecedented book; it provided a concise and insightful portrait of the role that Federalism plays in Quebec’s backyard during the middle of the 20th century. For a student who finds imself caught up in 21st century politics, it is both a shock and a pleasant surprise to climb back into history and discover the productive and ideological perspective of a man who would eventually rise to the occasion and become Prime Minister of Canada. Material such as this should be featured on the curriculum for all students to gaze upon, let alone only be recommended by critics who have studied the works of Trudeau.
Such monumental beliefs embodied into one man is reason enough for a student in University or High School to open Federalism and the French Canadians and learn more about Pierre Elliot Trudeau.