CAN WE ACHIEVE CANADIAN UNITY?
AN ADDRESS BY MONSIEUR JEAN-CHARLES HARVEY.
Chairman-The President, Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, January 19, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Today, we extend a most cordial welcome to a citizen of our sister Province of Quebec, in the person of Monsieur Jean-Charles Harvey, formerly Editor-in-Chief of "Le Soleil" in Quebec, and more recently the founder and Editor of "Le Jour," a French weekly newspaper published in the City of Montreal. Though Monsieur Harvey's present paper, "Le Jour," is only eighteen months old, his writings have been quoted in the general press of the Dominion to such an extent that it is now regarded as the most quoted journal in Canada.
One of Monsieur Harvey's constant efforts is to strengthen interProvincial unity and at a time like this any discussion upon a subject of that kind cannot fail to be most interesting He is a staunch Canadian, with a true sense of heartfelt loyalty to the British Empire. He is constantly urging his fellow-Canadians of the French language to learn English. He insists also upon the teaching of good French and on the beauty of French culture which--especially, he suggests, if we of the English-speaking population of Canada will learn French--will have an important bearing upon the development of a truly Canadian culture.
I have much pleasure in introducing Monsieur JeanCharles Harvey, who has taken as his subject, "FrenchCanadian Relationships with the Rest of the Dominion." (Applause)
M. JEAN-CHARLES HARVEY: Mr. President, Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Let me thank you for having given me this occasion of visiting again your great and progressive City of Toronto, and to speak of the good understanding between Ontario and Quebec. Can we achieve Canadian unity? There will always be people who care more for disunion and disagreement than for peace and good understanding. It is hard to find perfect accord even in a family. Disputes between husband and wife, father and sons, brothers and sisters, are of more frequent occurrence than we realize. And so, when I come to discuss with you means of cementing Canadian unity, I come with no illusions. I know as well as anybody that there will always be friction between the members of the Canadian family, and that the most we can hope to do is to erect a few shock-absorbers at key spots in the nation.
In the case of the Canadian family the problem is more difficult in that we are not all of the same character. We went through remarriage in 1759. Part of the children belong to a second mother, so that between us--as half-brothers and half-sisters, as sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law of a mother-in-law-relations are more or less strained.
This is a fact we must keep fixed in our minds while we are considering the delicate question of Canadian unity. It is true that most of our disagreements--or, rather, our misunderstandings-are grounded on prejudice or on ignorance, neither of which can be eliminated at a stroke. It is true, also, that there are many English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians of enlightened goodwill who earnestly seek better relations with each other. The duty of those Canadians on both sides of the language barrier who are sincerely anxious for unity is to keep on, patiently and tolerantly, working at the same problem.
Why, after all, should we be surprised because misunderstandings exist between Quebec and the rest of Canada? It would be more surprising if there were none. From the beginning of time man has been divided not so much by geographical as by moral frontiers--and the moral frontiers are those of language, of religion, of tradition, of historical remembrance, of schooling, and of ancient grudges. Because of these differences, millions of men have died in wars and persecutions all down the centuries, thousands of ingenious modes of torture have been devised and applied to coerce men's minds, and even today, in certain totalitarian states resort is being had to every excess on grounds of beliefs, of hypotheses or, of chauvinism.
Wise men and dreamers had faith, at the beginning of this century of light, that mankind, having reached a new high point in civilization, was ready at last to observe the simple, salutary laws of human thought, human reason and human sentiment.
We thought we were rid of old mythologies from which most of our ills have grown. But apparently the human race is so tainted with defeatism as to prefer its ancient sores and pains to the cleanness of peace and friendship. We are perhaps still too close to our primitive ancestors, who saw an enemy behind every bush, who dared not go beyond the door unarmed.
These few truths, based on history and experience, show how arduous a problem it is we tackle, every time we speak of Canadian unity. There exist in this country two main ethnic groups which speak different languages, profess different religions, have different historic backgrounds, frequent totally different schools and are even ruled by different governments. No people on earth can be afflicted with more and deeper sources of misunderstanding. We have just about a perfect setup for trouble; and that set-up is being sturdily defended, firmly maintained and assiduously cultivated. In nations so organized you will always find groups of individuals and institutions who live off feuds, who rely upon divisions among men for support of their power and authority and who consequently are vitally interested in preventing the development between the diverse ethnic elements in the country, of those various points of contact which you must have if you are to create a nation, one and indivisible.
Of course points of contact do exist to a certain extent between the elites of our various groups, notwithstanding determined efforts to keep us apart. But the masses on both sides are strangers to one another; and among those masses ancient prejudice is steadily working toward national decomposition, gradually paralyzing whatever serious attempts are being made to secure active collaboration and collective progress.
It would take too long to review here the balance sheet of mistakes made in our Confederation on the English as well as on the French side. On the side of the English-speaking Canadians there are altogether too many who have tried to make French-speaking Canadians feel that their language and traditions survived only on sufferance, too many who have sought to deny to the descendants of the first Europeans settled in Canada their right to maintain their own personality in all parts of the Dominion, too many who have deliberately kept them in subordinate positions in the public service and in certain important industries.
The people of Quebec, and their fellow French-speaking compatriots in the other provinces consider themselves the first Canadians. In strict justice, of course, their claim is not as valid as that of the Redskins. If realism were the only consideration influencing public policy and national development, it might be possibleat great cost and perhaps after civil war-to enforce against the descendants of the early French settlers the policy of oppression those settlers applied to the Indians. The stronger, more realistic nationality in the first instance all but wiped out the weaker-though our history books, both French and English, gloss that over in a hurry.
But modern democracies--and we are one--can no longer condone brutal, even thoughtless treatment of minorities. English-speaking Canadians must remember that as long as we remain a liberty-loving nation, the sort of tactics which lack of tact and of understanding has led them to adopt in the past, will violate the essential principles on which our national life must rest.
The mistakes made already on both sides may well cost the country dear in years to come. For if the English-speaking majority in Canada has blundered, French-speaking Canadians have no clean sheet either. They have frequently put their own racial interests and sentimental mysticism ahead of the general well=being of the country, ahead of those factors of universal humanity which ought to guide us in all our actions. In other words, we have fed at times on a sort of false nationalism-really provincialism and regionalism--which has greatly limited our horizons and which, as we realize today, has appreciably delayed not only our economic but our intellectual development.
In the last two or three years talk has been heard of a separatist movement in Quebec, aimed at the establishment of a French state along the St. Lawrence River. The trend, as you know, has been denounced by all authorities, civil and religious. Its followers are only a few people. It has even lost much ground in the last year, thanks to the merciless war we and our collaborators have waged in our paper against the Separatist idea, sown in the first instance by an eloquent and distinguished priest, and taken up for a time by several thousand patriotic young men. The group is now to all intents and purposes impotent, but we must not lull ourselves into thinking that the idea behind it is entirely dead. Another economic crisis, for example, would probably revive it.
Since most of the leading enterprises in our province are in the hands of English, English-Canadian or American corporations, it is only natural that the people, in times of depression and suffering, should throw the blame for their troubles on employers and producers who are known as capitalists. That is where demagogues and exploiters of racial feeling come into the picture.
They had little difficulty for a while in persuading Quebec crowds that the enemy was the Englishman, that it was he who had kept French Canada in a state of misery and that the best way to get rid of him would be by breaking away from the rest of the country and setting up a distinct social and economic organization of our own. These ideas were propagated during the last crisis. They may come again during the next one and grow still more intense and more troublesome. There, as I see it, is one of the greatest dangers threatening the unity of our homeland.
There is another disquieting element. A wave of nationalism is ravaging ancient Europe. Everybody knows how the leaders of totalitarian states, first class demagogues all of them, have influenced their people primarily with exalted ideas of nation, race, national grandeur and supremacy. They have fostered a racial superiority complex which has turned the heads of youth. Unfortunately, their success has encouraged nationalist movements in other parts of the world. A people like that of French Canada found the example easy to grasp and to imitate. Hence we have, in the Province of Quebec, a host of advocates of Fascism in the manner of Italy, of Germany, of Portugal and even of Japan. Here again, of course, we are dealing with the minority, and I hasten to emphasize that in order to reassure you. But this nationalistic contagion, though the Pope himself has condemned it, is reacting more strongly in Quebec than anywhere else in North America. On this continent, outside of Quebec, this disease of narrow nationalism or regionalism is more or less a new thing. The United States, in the course of a century, received millions of immigrants, seeking shelter from crushing traditions, old habits and distasteful ways of life. Once they reached this side of the ocean, the now Americans were only too anxious to forget their ancient motherlands and to identify themselves with their new land, appreciating the privilege of a common tongue and the freedom of their adopted country. Now all that is changing. The former subjects of the totalitarian states are being ordered to preserve their ethnic identity. Germans must remain Germans whether they live in Canada, in the United States or anywhere else; the same with Italians. Those who have been here only a few generations, who still have relations or friends "back home," are ruled, regimented and spied upon from afar by the dictators. I have friends who employ German maids. They tell me those servants are subjected to all the nationalistic pestering and all the propaganda of their native lands. I consider this a new danger, a new sore spot we must keep an eye on. If we do not want this country to become a checkerboard of various races, a sort of crazy quilt, we must take energetic measures to assimilate the elements which come to us from abroad. If assimilation is resisted, well--we must order those new subjects who seek to maintain a state within the State, back where they come from. (Applause) We cannot allow them to contaminate us with new factors of national disunity. We have enough troubles now without taking on new ones.
I seem to be wandering from my subject, but I wanted to give some examples of how, in recent years, circumstances have favoured a recrudescence of narrow nationalism among certain parts of the youth of the Province of Quebec. The economic crisis on the one hand and the example of the Fascist state on the other have contributed more than a little. It is to be hoped that the house of cards erected overseas by political gangsters will soon collapse, so we may return to a more normal, more realistic and more accurate conception of things and of men.
I must say that nobody has the right to condemn the French-speaking Canadians for struggling nearly two centuries against formidable elements to keep alive their language, their traditions, their faith and their identity. They have shown a great deal of nobility and courage in doing it. If we can some day unite in our lands the descendants of the two greatest European civilizations of modern times without destroying the essential qualities of either French or British blood, we shall have accomplished probably one of the finest feats in human history. But if these two elements fail to come together, if they will not work together to form a powerful, respected nation, the result will be that by clinging obstinately to our respective positions we shall have aggravated the ferments of hatred, of discord and of suffering we have now. We shall also have held back progress in our part of America and retarded the attainment of human happiness.
Now, I have written and said repeatedly that we have no right, merely for the purpose of preserving secondary ethnical characteristics, to honour legends, to cherish vague sentimentality or to sow seeds of desolation and misery among millions of poor folk who ask for nothing more than a decent living and a chance to get a little more comfort and well-being out of life. We have not the right, for the purpose of keeping faith with an empty nationalistic formula, to sacrifice men and women. Go back as far as you like in history; every time it has been tried, misery has resulted. In a word, any over-accentuation of national traditionalism, born of sterile theory and essentially inimical to the spirit of progress, must necessarily lead, if it be prolonged, to collapse.
There is one contribution French-speaking Canada could make right away to the cause of national unity which would in no sense run counter to the basic traditions of our nationality. We used to be one of the greatest pioneering races of the world. Practically the entire continent of North America, if we except the Atlantic coastline between New England and Florida, and the Pacific states and provinces, was discovered and opened to civilization by men from what is now the Province of Quebec. But the qualities of daring, initiative and endurance which were so characteristic of early French Canada are not being applied today to the equally difficult, equally taxing problems of modern progress because nothing has been done to call them out and train then in the light of changed conditions.
I am confident that the establishment of an adequate practical system of education in French Canada would soon prepare our people to resume in the field of industry, trade and finance, the pioneering role they once played in the opening of the North American frontiers to settlement and trade. The realistic students of Canadian history cannot fail to grasp one essential fact: our first explorers, coureurs-de-bois and fur traders were more preoccupied with problems of business expansion and national development along practical lines than with considerations of tradition, politics and language. When they wanted to deal with the Indians they learned Indian and talked it. Many of them married Indian wives. All of them adapted themselves, in their personal habits as well as their work, to conditions as they found them, in the country they opened and civilized. If our people can possess again the qualities of their ancestors I am sure they will form the strongest national element in North America and they will contribute strongly also to Canadian unity.
But there are other reasons than merely provincial or ethnic reasons. The Fathers of Confederation set out to forge a nation out of the scattered settlements and waste areas in Canada. They did the best they could. There can be no doubt their dream was to build a strong, united country, but the obstacles in their way were tremendous. The wonder is not that they accomplished so little; it is that they accomplished anything at all, for the racial feuds and sectional jealousies which are so obvious today were running strong and perhaps stronger in their time.
Unfortunately, the public men who succeeded them either would not or could not stem the tide and divert the current of Canadian development into a more unified channel. The powers assigned in the British North America Act to the Federal authority have been weakened, not strengthened, and the prerogatives reserved for the Provinces, instead of being diminished have been increased to the point where the whole framework erected by the Fathers of Confederation is threatened with disruption. Not only Quebec and Ontario but even provinces in the West which were not parties to the original pact, are encroaching more and more, in the name of autonomy, upon the central power.
The Provinces, originally the daughters of Confederation, are now in process of devouring their mother. Every year more and more of our prestige is being stripped from her. In the central government itself, sometimes through excessive political caution, sometimes through rank indifference or even cowardice, has been let go by default many an essential prerogative.
Our central government is powerless to amend the Constitution without the consent of the provinces and so it cannot deal with all sorts of serious anomalies which ought to be adjusted at once, and the provinces are taking advantage of the situation in a big way. We saw a tragic example of this only last year. When the Rowell Commission, appointed to inquire into means of improving relations between the provinces and the Dominion, sought the collaboration of local administrations, it met with rebuffs in the two leading provinces of the country because both Premiers were politically hostile to the central government of the day--perhaps because they were politicians first and Canadians afterward.
The leaders of Canadian life who followed Confederation have worked centrifugally rather than centripetally, with the result that we are farther away than ever from having national schools in Canada, and the gulf between our two leading nationalities has been widened instead of narrowed. The natural tendency of French-speaking Canadians to think in terms of principles, of generalizations, has been aggravated in a water-tight school system which has stubbornly resisted all efforts so far made to liberalize it. Conversely, the English-speaking schools have drifted more and more into a sort of mechanized mass-production which perhaps ignores the cultural side of life too much. So no advantage has resulted from the great contribution of practical common sense which the English-speaking people of the Dominion could have made to French-speaking school children, and the leavening effect which French culture could have had on the minds of Anglo-Saxon Canadian children has been unhappily lost.
If differences in language and cultural background are the greatest factors of our division and disruption it may be necessary for Canadians throughout the country to begin planning practical steps which will bring them closer together.
Here I think the press of the Dominion has a great role to play. Our English-language newspapers and magazines could easily carry more news of French Canada. They could report political, social, economic, cultural, educational and institutional happenings in Quebec more generally and far more thoroughly than they do. Even the English-language dailies in Montreal have consistently closed their eyes to a great news field which they could have exploited for the benefit of all Canada. Your magazines could publish articles by French-speaking Canadians discussing Canadian problems from the Quebec point of view. You might not agree with the principles expressed in those articles, but at least you would know what three million Canadians are thinking, planning and hoping. Similarly, our French press could open its columns more freely to translations and summaries of articles written by English-speaking Canadians, and so help to broaden Quebec's understanding of the problem of other provinces.
If language differences are the main obstacle in our way, we must do something about the language problem, of course, but what? Is Canada to become a bilingual country from coast to coast? A French country? An English country? I make no recommendation. Probably it would be best if all of us could speak both languages, and I believe that the principle of bilingualism is gaining everywhere in the country from coast to coast.
We must also compare the respective advantages of both languages. English is essentially the commercial language of the modern world. On this continent more than 145 million persons use it almost exclusively. In the Orient where perhaps Canada's greatest market will some day be found it is the secondary language of millions of people. Most of the world's trade is carried on in it. It is the tongue spoken in the most prosperous countries on earth, I believe. We might almost say that people who use it seem automatically to develop the highest standard of material existence. In the main, English-speaking men and women find it difficult to learn other languages. This is probably not a credit to them, but it is a peculiarity the existence of which we must acknowledge if we want to be both fair and practical.
French, on the other hand, possesses a native beauty and a wealth of literature which no properly cultured person can afford to ignore. It is the secondary language of most European and South American nations. Canadians who use it as their mother tongue are multiplying very rapidly-more rapidly than any other ethnic group in the country. The day may be not far distant when the natural increase of the French-speaking Canadians will automatically make French the leading Canadian language. The present majority may well become a minority in another half century, and then--well, the language problem will solve itself.
We had a mayoralty election in Montreal not long ago and one of the candidates made much of the fact that he was the father of fourteen children. This is no uncommon family in the Province of Quebec. Suppose ten of the gentleman's fourteen children should marry. Suppose each of them averages eight offspring--of course they will have less than the father-that will give our candidate eighty grandchildren. Now, allowing for a greater decrease in the French-Canadian birthrate than is likely, let us say sixty of the eighty grandchildren marry and that they average only six children each. Mr. Gascon would then be the progenitor of four hundred and fifty-four direct descendants.
How long at this rate before French becomes the dominant language in Canada and the problems we are discussing today are settled by sheer weight of numbers? Unless-and here I enter upon controversial ground-unless Canada's immigration policies are drastically changed in the next few years.
Canada has an opportunity today that may never be repeated. Capital and populations in Europe are worried about the danger of war. Billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people are eager to get away from the unhappy continent into the free, friendly air of North America, to reconstruct in our New World lives which have become precarious in the Old. There is in this condition an advantage for Canada which it would be foolish for us to neglect. Ours is a rich, large country not only able to support increased population but suffering from the fact that there are not enough of us to maintain the social and industrial structure we have built too great for ourselves. We must at all costs have more people, especially when you consider that our birthrate is falling and will fall gradually. Unless we get more people we shall become more and more subject to competition and envy from more populous rations whose natural advantages are less than ours and we shall become less and less able to exert through the world the influence we ought to exert.
There is still time for us, I believe, to fill soave of the vacant spaces in Canada with the type of population we want and can assimilate, selected by ourselves, before people whom we do not want take advantage of our numerical weakness and help themselves to that which we are not using.
It requires no particular effort of memory to recall that Canada's greatest prosperity came in the days when Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in power and migration was pouring into Canada at the rate of 300,000 a year. Migrants in large numbers did not take away our jobs, they created activity. New markets were developed, building boomed throughout the land. Newcomers took over menial jobs from native sons and Canadians went up in the social and economic scale, for the immigrant goes to the bottom, performs the heavy jobs while he is learning citizenship, and so lifts the rest of the population to higher levels of existence.
Every Canadian knows also that the United States owes its predominant position in the world to a phenomenal development based on immigration, energy, and the willingness to accept new ideas.
We have read recently in news despatches that the Argentine has been asserting itself and standing up to the United States in Pan-American relations. You never hear of Canada talking that way to Uncle Sam, or anybody else. Why? Because the Argentine is a fast-growing country, sure of itself and strong in its progressiveness, while we live in an atmosphere of constant. bickering, hesitation anal self-questioning.
The area of the Argentine is only 1,135,840 square miles, against Canada's 3,694,863 square miles, and we have vastly more natural resources. In 1895 its population was only 3,954,000, when ours was 5,026,000. But today there are 12,762,000 people in the Argentine Republic, while the Dominion of Canada has only 11,120,000.
I have digressed somewhat from my theme, though the problem of immigration is certainly closely related to that of national unity in that any lessening of the economic strain upon the present population, which will result from distributing the load over more shoulders, is bound to ease many of the tensions now irritating our people.
One of these sources of tension is the fact that many of us Canadians know so little about the rest of the country. There are relatively few Quebeckers who are familiar with Ontario, and on the other hand, relatively few Ontarians know Quebec. I have friends who have been to Paris five times, yet they have never seen Toronto. Have they been warned against the Sundays of that City? But the fact remains that many Canadians are ready to visit the United States, France and Japan and India before they see anything of their own land. An extremely intelligent, well-educated young man, trained in the school of Nationalism, said to me last fall, "What can Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver mean to us? As far as we are concerned they do not exist because we don't know them. We can feel no loyalty except to our own Laurentians." Many Canadians, English as well as French-speaking, feel pretty much the same way, though they may not be as frank to say so as bluntly as our young patriot.
I see only one remedy for this: organized trips through the country in every direction and to grant every year a certain number of bursaries for travel within Canada. Our governments might well initiate tours designed to make parts of our territory better known to such classes of young people as college and high school graduates, teachers and specialists of all kinds. Since this is a matter of national importance the Federal Government should take the lead. Ottawa would make itself popular and at the same time would be helping to tighten the bonds between the provinces. It would be so beneficial to everybody. Can the rational man fail to be impressed with the greatness and the beauty of this land? Can any well-born Canadian see it and fail to feel his pulse quicken? I invite you, my dear compatriots of Toronto, to come and see our Charlevoix Mountains, where I was born; our wonderful Gaspe, with its green waves and its lusty fishermen; our citadel of Quebec; our great St. Lawrence River; our Saguenay; our Lake St. John; our Laurentians. I invite you especially to spend some time in our countryside chatting with our farmers--good, simple, honest, hospitable folk, full of common sense, gifted with picturesque speech. You would have only to know them to love them. You would soon see a great increase in sympathy between two great groups made to understand and to like each other.
It is pretty late and my speech must have an end. I could say much more about Canadian unity but I hope that the work will be continued and we will see more and more French-Canadians coming to Ontario and all the provinces, and more and more Ontario people coming to the Province of Quebec, learning French and talking French to our people. It is very hard for the ordinary people to love a population, or to love an individual rather, that they do not understand, and the more you have individuals able to speak with one an other and understand one another, the more we will have friendship and Canadian unity, create a great and powerful nation and help to perfect the civilization of the North American continent. (Applause)
THE PRESIDENT: Monsieur Harvey, I am sure I voice the sentiments of all in this room, as well as those who have listened to you over the air, when I say The Empire Club of Canada stands foursquare behind the idea of Canadian provincial unity. Many of those in this room have had the privilege at some time of living in the Province of Quebec; many others have had the privilege of travelling back and forth to the City of Montreal, St. Hyacinthe, Sherbrooke, Quebec and many other cities in the Province of Quebec, and they will join with me in saying a warm welcome awaits any resident of the Province of Ontario who has the time and means to spend some portion of the year in your Province.
On behalf of The Empire Club, I extend to you, Sir, its warmest thanks. (Applause)
The meeting is adjourned.