Quebec Studies

Dialogue On Quebec 1970

Quebec Studies (1990), 11, (1), 63–74.


Québec Studies, No. 11, 1990/91 DIALOGUE ON QUEBEC 1970 Karen Gould: Introduction On May 23, 1990, Pauline Julien, Jean-Marc Piotte, and Gail Scott met with Karen Gould, Mary Jean Green, and Robert Schwartzwald to discuss the 1970 October Crisis in the context of the major political, social, and cultural issues of the time. Looking backward from the vantage point of 1990, Julien, Piotte, and Scott have reflected on changes in their own perspectives regarding the events of 1970; they have also attempted to outline the significance ofthat turbulent period today. Our two-hour discussion took place at Concordia University in Montreal. What follows is an edited version of the conversation, which was initially transcribed by Luc Jean Roberge, then translated by Kathleen Attwood with assistance from the editor and from Robert Schwartzwald. Robert Schwartzwald: The beginnings of decades always seem to mark important stages in Quebec: 1960 with the start of the Revolution tranquille, 1970 with the October Crisis, 1980 with the referendum and, of course, 1990 with Meech Lake. If you think about all this together, how do you view the events that have marked Quebec's evolution over the last thirty years? Jean-Marc Piotte: For me, the period around 1970 was one of political radicalization. But the October Crisis spelled the end of the FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front); when it was over, the FLQ no longer existed. With the demise of the FLQ, other people got more involved. For the first time in Québec, the governing structures of the three trade union affiliations ("centrals") met together, some 700 people! Their leaders, the trade union presidents, took a position against the military occupation of Quebec and called on the government to negotiate. This marked the beginning of the radicalization of the trade union centrals as well as of Common Front-style negotiations. I also feel the events led people to become more involved in the Parti Québécois, which would come to power in 1976. In other words, Trudeau's show of force didn't smash Quebec: people left the FLQ's attempts behind to become more personally involved in politics. That was the result of the October Crisis. For young people, though — and perhaps this wasn't such a positive development — it also resulted in a radicalization toward Marxism-Leninism. "ML" groups were born in the wake of these events, and they argued that if the State was prepared to send the army into Quebec just to arrest twenty people, then it was a completely undemocratic State. So they set up M-L organizations that would have quite a lot of influence, including within the CSN (Confederation of National Trade Unions) and the CEQ (Quebec Teachers Central), but which were completely cut off from the national question. Pauline Julien: Yes, these organizations completely failed to mobilize around the national question. I would say that in that radicalization, there was a kind of demarcation: On the one hand, people opened their eyes, like many people

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