Throughout the 20th century, the relations between the French and the English in Canada had a significant negative impact on Canadian history. The defining moments that changed French-English relations in Canada were the WWI conscription crisis, the creation and the governing of the Union Nationale Party in the 1930s, and Quebec’s Quite Revolution in the 1960s.
The WWI conscription crisis considerably weakened the relations between the French and the English in Canada during WWI. By 1917, the casualty rates at the front in France and Flanders exceeded 109 4891 soldiers. As the number of volunteer soldiers was only about 64 3392 men, the lack of reinforcements forced Prime Minister Robert Borden to make conscription or compulsory military service a law for Canadians to ensure victory in war. However, many French Canadians opposed forcing men to enlist in the armed forces because they did not want to get involved in a European war and felt no obligation to defend France who had abandoned Quebec to defend its culture and language on its own in 1759. On the other hand, the English felt an obligation to defend Britain and could not comprehend why Quebec had only provided twenty percent3 of the volunteers in proportion to its population to defend France.
As a result, the social unity of the French and the English in the country was threatened. The vote for conscription was split fifty-fifty4 along linguistic lines and the tragic outcome of this crisis was that civil war almost broke out in Canada when the French rioted in Montreal against fighting a foreign war. The demonstrations and protests in Quebec against conscription and the mistrust of the English who felt that a vote against conscription was a vote for Germany’s victory proved that conscription was disastrous to French-English social relations because of national unity had been destroyed for only 45 0005 recruited soldiers. Similarly, the long-term effects of the WWI conscription crisis caused extensive damage to French-English unity and proved to be a disaster in politics for the Conservative Party.
Because Robert Borden and the Conservative Party passed laws such as the Military Voters Act and the War Time Elections Act to make conscription a law during WWI by giving votes to soldiers and women, the French turned against the Conservative Party because they saw them as the representatives of the English. These long-term political disasters that resulted from conscription crisis continued to demonstrate the weakened French and English relations to this day since Quebec had no Conservative Party premier for the past hundred and fifteen years.6 Because of the violent social conflicts such as riots and bitter political catastrophes such as the French mistrust of the Conservative Party, the WWI conscription crisis strained French-English relations and created bitter feelings that would affect the peacetime.
Another defining moment in Canadian history that greatly weakened French English relations was the creation and the government of the Union Nationale Party in Quebec in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, the agricultural industry’s prices plummeted, forced over fifty percent7 of Quebec’s population to migrate to cities and search for work. In 1936, Maurice Duplessis from the newly formed Union Nationale Party became Quebec’s Premier and took seventy-two of the ninety seats8 in the government, with his promises to help French rural society and improve labor rights for the French factory workers who were struggling in the cities. However, during its time in power, the Duplessis government resisted change and encouraged the preservation of French values and traditions by adopting nationalistic policies and continuing to allow the English to dominate the majority of Quebec’s business.
The Duplessis government ruled in an almost totalitarian manner to protect the French culture and managed to hold power of Quebec until 1959. They vigorously protected French values and beliefs during the Great Depression, but they failed to protect the French and English business relations that quickly weakened. They promises of the Union Nationale to provide protection for French workers with better labor laws such as higher minimum wages, workers’ compensation, and pensions quickly raised English suspicion and mistrust toward the French because these capitalists owned and ran most of the corporations in Quebec. The fact that the Union Nationale saw the English corporations as exploiting the poor and wanted certain labor rights for French workers did not strengthen the economical relations between the English began to distrust the French as they saw them nationalizing and beginning to pose threats to their business profits.
In addiction to that, the English and French were further divided by the social conflicts caused by the governing policies of the Union Nationale. This occurred because the Union Nationale government encouraged the Catholic Church to control education and other social programs in Quebec, obstructed to federal encroachment on provincial rights during WWI, and preserved traditional values and beliefs of the French such as the nobility of the plough to prevent them from being assimilated into the English culture.
This destabilized French English political, economical and predominantly social affairs in Canada because the French withdrew into a defensive shell and viewed any English intrusion and change to Quebec as harmful to the preservation of their culture. Therefore, the governing policies of the Union Nationale in the 1930s created greater French nationalism and the desire for separation from the rest of Canada to preserve their culture and weakened the relations between French and English Canadians by planting the seeds for another major conflict that would arrive suddenly and once again disrupt the nation’s unity.
Indeed, the arrival of the next conflict that split the French and the English in Canada did arrive suddenly between 1950-66 and was marked as Quebec’s Quite Revolution, which was disastrous for the nation’s unity. When Maurice Duplessis of the Union Nationale Party died in 1959, Jean Lesage became Quebec’s new Liberal Premier, winning fifty-one and a half percent9 of the popular vote. This ended Quebec’s isolationist policy and started Maitres chez nous or Masters in our own house policy, which served as a strategic base for the upcoming changes in Quebec. The Quiet Revolution was a period of non-violent steady reform, modernization in Quebec, and the redefinition of the role of French Canadians who wanted equality with the English within Confederation.
However, the end of this peaceful movement came suddenly in 1966 with the creation of nationalist groups such as the Parti Revolution who adopted separatist ideologies and took control of the province of Quebec that was desperately seeking equality. Although the goal of the Quiet Revolution was to make French equivalent within the Confederation, its own ideology failed to strengthen the social and economical relations with the English Canadians. The new Liberal government refused to accept federal funding to modernize education, improve the labor code for French workers, and nationalize hydro-electric facilities in Quebec. As a result, the provincial taxes on individuals and corporations in Quebec became the third highest10 in Canada.
Consequently, bitter social and economical conflicts occurred between the English federalists and Quebec’s business owners who became infuriated with the French because they refused federal funding in order to achieve greater power and therefore equality within Confederation. Furthermore, even greater political and social conflicts between the French Canadians and English Canadians were result of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. These major arguments were initiated in 1964 when the Liberal Party forced the Federal government to grant Quebec the right to opt out of thirty11 of the country’s cost sharing programs with full compensation.
The English in Canada as well as the federal government were greatly angered since only the province of Quebec was given this special status and their political differences with the French widened because the French did not see their special status as privilege, but rather as a way to gain more control and improve their position within Canada. Therefore, Quebec’s Quiet Revolution was a catastrophic failure for French-English unity in Canada as it caused conflicts between federalists and nationalists in Quebec and in the federal government and failed to make any two provinces equal within Confederation.
Throughout the twentieth century it was evident that the French and the English engaged in severe social, political, and economical conflicts that prevented Canada from merging as a country. The WWI conscription crisis in 1917 bitterly split the nation at a time when national unity was important to ensure victory in the war as it made the French feel like a minority and caused great mistrust of the English who viewed them as being unpatriotic to the country.
The government of the Union Nationale during the 1930s caused even stronger breakdowns to French-English relations as it build a defensive shell around Quebec and isolated the French from the rest of Canada in an attempt to protect their traditions. Subsequently, Quebec’s Quit Revolution from 1960-66 failed to bring an end to these conflicts as it caused greater English mistrust and resulted in the formation of militant groups in Quebec who believed that only a violent revolution would finally allow them to achieve total independence and equality within Confederation.