Quebec Studies

Symposium: Nationalism in Quebec: Past, Present, and Future

Quebec Studies (1989), 8, (1), 119–130.


SYMPOSIUM: 119 NATIONALISM IN QUEBEC: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE Introduction: Marc Levine: The 1980s have witnessed a dramatic shift in the place of nationalism in Quebec life. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, during the Quiet Revolution and then under the charismatic stewardship of René Lévesque, nationalism became the dominant force in Quebec politics and society, culminating in 1976 with the electoral triumph of the indépendantiste Parti québécois. Lévesque had always trumpeted the "historical inevitability" of a sovereign Quebec nation, and the steady growth in PQ support in the 1970s seemed to confirm that notion. By the 1980s, however, any talk of inevitable sovereignty for Quebec seemed ludicrous. The referendum defeat of May 1980, the Constitutional deba­ cle of 1981-82, the fragmentation of the PQ, the decline of René Lévesque, and finally, in 1985, the return of Robert Bourassa as Premier of Quebec all suggested that the nationalist impulse of the preceding twenty years had run its course. The rise to prominence of a Quebec Francophone business class, committed to inter­ national markets and thoroughly antagonistic to the indépendantiste movement, underscored the changes in Quebec's political climate. Capitalism and indi­ vidualism were "in;" nationalism and étatisme were "out." However, a nationalist impulse of one sort or another has been present in French-Canada for over two hundred years, and it would represent the worst kind of "presentism" to presume that the current ebb in nationalist sentiment marks its permanent demise. Any number of factors currently visible to social and political analysts may rekindle a nationalist fervor in Quebec: the language question, a new round of anti-Quebec sentiment in English-Canada, another possible Con­ stitutional impasse if the Meech Lake Accord falls through, Quebec's demo­ graphic crisis, and so forth. As a distinct, French-speaking society in a continent of 260 million English-speakers, a latent nationalism will always be present in Quebec; the question remains under what conditions, under what historical circumstances, and in what form that nationalism becomes activated. As a regular feature in Québec Studies, we intend to publish symposia on matters of social and political significance and important scholarly debate, featuring major academic, political, and literary figures from across North America. To help us better understand the past, present, and future of Quebec nationalism, we have called upon two of North America's most perspicacious analysts of Quebec politics and society. Professor Louis Balthazar of Université Laval has written and lectured widely on the subject of Quebec nationalism. His most recent book on the subject, Βίίαη du nationalisme au Quebec (Montreal: L'Hexagone, 1986) offers a superb, long- term analysis of the question. Professor Kenneth McRoberts of York University is the author of Quebec: Social Change and Political Crisis (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988), now in its third revised edition and generally recognized as the best analysis of Quebec politics and society available in English. Professors Balthazar and McRoberts offered their appraisals of the past, present, and future of Quebec nationalism at a round-table

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