Quebec in a Global Light: Reaching for the Common Ground
To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net. Quebec has also taken a lead in fighting climate change. Yet, many people – including many Quebeckers – are unaware of this progress and much remains to be done. These achievements, and the tenacity that made them possible, are rooted in centuries of adversity and struggle.
In this masterful survey of the major social and economic issues facing Quebec, Robert Calderisi offers an intimate look into the sensitivities and strengths of a society that has grown accustomed to being misunderstood. In doing so, he argues that the values uniting Quebeckers – their common sense, courtesy, concern for the downtrodden, aversion to conflict, and mild form of nationalism, linked to a firm refusal to be homogenized by globalization – make them the most "Canadian" of all Canadians.
- Series: Munk Series on Global Affairs
- World Rights
- Page Count: 208 pages
- Dimensions: 6.5in x 0.8in x 9.3in
"With a blend of intimacy and detachment, affection and rigour, Robert Calderisi presents a remarkably clear-eyed picture of contemporary Quebec, with shrewd insights into its achievements and challenges."
Graham Fraser, Visiting Professor, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and Canada’s former Commissioner of Official Languages (2006–16)
"Calm, clear, and positive, Calderisi brings his subjects to life with a remarkable degree of honesty and attention to detail, summarizing different points of view with the knowledge of an insider and the detachment of an outsider. Quebec in a Global Light is both strategic in its approach and carefully precise in its descriptions. And, it is a joy to read: well-written, balanced, informative, independent, and at the same time respectful of the complexity of the issues.."
Jacques Gérin, former Deputy Minister of Environment Canada and Distinguished Fellow, International Institute for Sustainable Development
"Remarkably balanced and corrects many common misperceptions about Quebec society. English Canada needs this book!"
Pierre Fortin, former President of the Canadian Economics Association
Author InformationRobert Calderisi was a Quebec Rhodes Scholar and is a former director of The World Bank. He is the author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working (2006) and Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (2013). He splits the year between Montreal, New York, and Paris.
Table of contents
7. Looking Ahead
Summary of Suggestions Bibliography
Read An Excerpt
To the world at large, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net. Quebec has also taken a lead in fighting climate change. Yet, many people – including many Quebeckers – are unaware of this progress, and much remains to be done. Those achievements – and the tenacity that made them possible – are rooted in centuries of adversity and struggle.
A Sense of Destiny
Throughout their history, French Canadians have had a strong sense of destiny. But, in fact, Quebec was a pure historical accident. Named for a narrowing of the Saint Lawrence River where the French built a fortress in the early seventeenth century, neither the city nor the province was inevitable. Although the river was staring him in the face during his first voyage, Jacques Cartier did not even discover it until his second visit in 1535. And if the English explorer Henry Hudson had sailed a few years earlier than 1609 and moved further up the New York river named after him or ventured south from the great inland sea that also bears his name, New France might have become New England instead.
But if a French-speaking Quebec was an accident, its survival was not, thanks to a combination of British calculation and Gallic pride, charm, and stubbornness. That accomplishment has been central to Quebec’s consciousness and culture. A beautiful expression of it is to be found in Maria Chapdelaine, the novel that gave several generations of school children their first image of themselves. Written by a Frenchman, Louis Hémon, and published in 1913, when the interior was still being opened up and the church and provincial government were trying to stem the loss of hundreds of thousands of people to the textile mills of New England, the book painted a portrait of a people rugged in the face of hardship. It talked of their “infinite patience,” “invincible light-heartedness,” and “simplicity.”
The hero of the story, a stoic young woman torn between her native roots and the appeal of the modern, decides to marry a local farmer rather than follow one of her suitors to New England. Some readers have seen this as an allegory of Quebec’s sad destiny: to remain un petit peuple (a small people). But Maria is at peace with her decision. Once it is made, she hears the “voice of Quebec” calling, half a woman singing, half a cleric preaching: “We came here three hundred years ago and stayed. Our ancestors would be proud of us because, even if we have learned very little, we have forgotten almost nothing. Strangers have come among us and taken almost all the power and money. They even call us ‘backward.’ But nothing has changed, and nothing will. Our duty was to preserve our culture, and we have done just that, so that perhaps a few hundred years from now, the world may still be saying: ‘They’re a people that don’t know how to die...”
People from other places also praised Quebec’s character. In 1931, the sublime novelist of the American Midwest, Willa Cather, set her Shadows on the Rock in Quebec City in 1697. One of her central characters was “the free Frenchman of the great forests [with] the good manners of the Old World, the dash and daring of the New. He was proud, he was vain, he was relentless when he hated, and quickly prejudiced; but he had the old ideals of clan-loyalty, and in friendship he never counted the cost.”
Ten years later, in 1941, the Canadian journalist Bruce Hutchison started the long journey described in The Unknown Country at the village of St. Pierre, on the Ile d’Orléans, just below Quebec City. “The Frenchman has brought his humour, his cynicism, his hard realism and cheerfulness across the ocean. He has not changed much through more than three hundred years.” Some considered the French Canadians a “problem” because “their [culture] is too strong to be easily absorbed in our common, tepid American sea.” Occasionally, voices would complain that the English had all the power and the best jobs. “For a little while there is wild talk of an independent Quebec, a free French nation on the shores of the St. Lawrence. It is sure-fire, but never lasts. Your French Canadian is too shrewd not to know on what side his bread is buttered.” He may listen to the odd nationalist. “He may cheer, and will accept a cigar or a drink on election day, but he is as canny and suspicious as a Scot.”
Yet, Quebeckers waited a very long time to see their culture respected in the rest of Canada. It was not until sixty years after Confederation that postage stamps were issued in English and French (1927), and Canadian banknotes were not bilingual until 1937. (To be fair, until 1925, even the province’s own cheques were issued only in English.) As late as 1956, a prominent Quebec journalist and future federal minister, Gérard Pelletier, walked into the Canadian High Commission on Trafalgar Square in London, speaking French, and was referred to the French Embassy. And Canada was 102 years old before both languages were given equal status and French speakers had the right to receive federal services across the country in their own tongue (1969).
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