Throughout Canadians (7). For French Canadians, being forced

Throughout Canadian history, a prominent barrier has always existed
between the English and the French. French-speakers are a minority in Canada
and in the past, have felt like second-class citizens due to their struggle to
preserve their French language and culture in an English-dominated country. The
strained relationship between the English and the French has amplified through
a variety of events that led to Québec’s descent toward separatism. The unique
and often conflicting relationship between English and French speaking
populations in Canada is illustrated by Québec’s descent toward separatism in
terms of the conscription issue in World War One, the concept of Maîtres Chez
Nous in postwar Québec, and the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown
accords.

To begin with, one issue that clearly illustrates the divide between the
English and the French in Canada and contributed to Québec’s descent toward
separatism is the debate over conscription in World War One. Two years into the
war, recruitment was dwindling in Canada but reinforcements were still
desperately needed at the front in Europe and so the notion of conscription arose
(1). French Canadians were strongly to opposed conscription. They felt no
loyalty to Britain or France and believed the war was not Canada’s concern (2).
They were also fighting for language rights which made them even more reluctant
to fight for the English (3). On the other hand, the English-speaking population
in Canada for the most part supported conscription. British-born Canadians were
eager to fight for their home country and made up most of the voluntary
enlistments (4). The English saw the French as disloyal and immoral cowards for
refusing to enlist while the French retaliated with charges of imperialism, bloodlust,
and stupidity toward the English (5). In 1917, Prime Minister Borden mandated
conscription in the Military Service Act, sparking riots and protests
throughout Québec (6). During the “khaki election” of 1917 which essentially determined
the outcome of conscription, Borden’s pro-conscription government was victorious
by a landslide over Wilfred Laurier’s anti-conscription one through the support
of English Canadians (7). For French Canadians, being forced by English Canada to
risk their lives for a cause they did not support was an injustice that could
not be amended easily.  The debate over
conscription contributed to Québec’s descent toward separatism because, as
stated by Historian Dr. Serge Durflinger,
“In the postwar period, French-Canadian nationalistes would
point to the conscription crisis as evidence of the impossibility of
reconciling the views of French and English speakers in Canada” (8). To
conclude, the conscription debate in World War One contributed to Québec’s
descent toward separatism by deepening the wedge between the French and the
English which led to the Maîtres Chez Nous philosophy of the postwar years.

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Secondly, another issue that illustrates the divide
between the English and the French in Canada that contributed to Québec’s
descent toward separatism is the concept of Maîtres Chez Nous. Maîtres Chez
Nous, which translates to “masters of our own home”, emerged in 1960 as a
campaign slogan for Jean Lesage’s Liberals that advocated the establishment of
a stronger French presence in Québec’s economy (9). In the past, the English
had always dominated the province’s economy (10). When Lesage came into power
in 1960, his government focused on nationalizing private electricity companies
and creating public ones such as Hydro-Québec (11). By 1964, the entirety of Québec’s
hydroelectric power industry had been nationalized (12). The government set up
investment agencies to finance French Canadian businesses and a French Language
Office to encourage the use of French in business (13). This allowed French
Canadians to work entirely in French which strengthened their technical,
scientific, and managerial skills (14). A “buy-French-Canadian-made-products”
campaign was also implemented to redirect consumer’s money away from the
English and benefit Québec (15). Lesage’s government also sought to modernize
education by eliminating the role of the Roman Catholic Church and establishing
a Ministry of Education which allowed the government to focus on teaching
French Canadians sciences, social sciences, and other subjects that would lead
to future economic success in Québec (16). Many English Canadians looked upon
the concept of Maîtres Chez Nous in Québec positively and some provinces began
making similar demands (17). However, as Québec began opting out of many federal
social programs and demanded more and more money and power, English Canadians
felt too much had been given to Québec and they demanded a leader who could say
“no” to them (18). People in Québec interpreted Maîtres Chez Nous differently.
Some merely wanted to protect the French language and culture by having more influence
over Québec while others viewed it as a push to become an entirely separate
country (19). An extreme case of separatism emerged in the form of a terrorist
group known as the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ) who wreaked havoc in Québec
and targeted symbols of English Canadian businesses and the government,
demanding separatism (20).  In both
cases, French Canadians in Québec were disassociating from the rest of Canada,
now referring to themselves as “Québecois” rather than Canadien, as they had in
the past (21). This  period of changes in
Québec, known as the Quiet Revolution, was creating an issue for Canada as “French Canadian nationalism, which was becoming more and more Québecois
in nature, was exacerbated by this crisis” states Rene Durocher on The
Canadian Encyclopedia (22).   The philosophy of Maîtres Chez Nous
contributed to Québec’s descent toward separatism because it encouraged French
Canadians to increase their control over Québec and to stray further away from
the English in the rest of Canada which later led to their longing to be
granted special status in the country.

Lastly, a further issue that illustrates the divide between the English
and the French in Canada and contributed to Québec’s descent toward separatism
is the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. Québec had refused
to sign the constitution in 1981 so in 1987, Brian Mulroney met with the
premiers in Meech Lake, Québec to discuss changes to the constitution in the
hopes that Québec would sign (23). One of the terms of the Meech Lake Accord
was that Québec would be declared a distinct society (24). This distinct
society clause stirred up controversy throughout Canada. The clause appealed to
Québecers as most of them wished to remain a part of Canada yet be given
special status and have their uniqueness recognized (25). Opinion polls showed
a majority of Canadians supported it, believing it would soften separatism (26).
On the other hand, some Canadians felt the clause would divide the country,
creating two separate Canadas (27). Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau led
the resistance to the Accord (28) The provinces were given three years to vote
in favour of the Accord before it would be thrown out (29). As time passed,
English Canadians became uncomfortable with Québec being unequal to other
provinces and so in the end, the resistance to the Meech Lake Accord prevailed
(30). Despite its failure, Mulroney was persistent in his goal to get Québec to
enter the constitution so in 1992, he initiated the Charlottetown Accord which
again proposed that Québec be declared a distinct society (31). It also
proposed that Québec would have 25% representation in the House of Commons (32).
The Charlottetown Accord had the support of all 10 provincial governments and
the federal government, but Mulroney decided to subject it to a national
referendum (33). Most of Québec again favoured the Accord but separatist groups
disagreed because entering the constitution would strengthen federalism (34).
English Canadians were also divided. Some still did not approve of Québec having
special status and an unequal role in the House of Commons and believed the
Accord failed to take the concerns of Canada as a whole into account, focusing
only on Québec (35). Others believed the Accord would help overcome Québec’s
political isolation and therefore strengthen unity in Canada (36). In the end,
54.3% of Canadians voted against the Accord (37). The failure of both the Meech
Lake and Charlottetown Accords contributed to Québec’s descent toward
separatism because Québec was not given the special status as a distinct
society they craved and subsequent polls showed two-thirds of the province were
in favour of independence (38). Writer Bob McKenzie states in the Toronto Star: “Nationalists can now argue that in little
more than a decade – the 1981-82 Constitution adopted despite Québec’s
protests, the 1987-90 failure of the Meech Lake Accord, and now the demise of
the Charlottetown Accord – English Canada has now ‘said No to Québec three
times in a row'” (39). Québec felt rejected by Canada and began to feel
alienated from the rest of the country which led to the referendum on Québec
separation in 1995 in which it was decided whether or not Québec should become
an independent country (40).  To
conclude, the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords is yet another
issue that illustrates the divide between the French and the English in Canada
and contributed to Québec’s descent toward separatism. 

In conclusion, the conscription issue in World War One, the philosophy of
Maîtres Chez Nous, and the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords
all contributed to Québec’s descent toward separatism which illustrates the
unique and conflicting relationship between French and English Canadians.
Firstly, the conscription issue in World War One divided French and English
Canada because the French strongly opposed conscription while the English
supported it. This led to Québec’s descent toward separatism because it showed
they had vastly conflicting views on important, international affairs and the
mandating of conscription developed resentment in Québec toward the rest of
Canada. Secondly, the philosophy of Maîtres Chez Nous divided French and
English Canada because it encouraged French Canadians to be more independent
and take control of Québec’s economy away from the English. This led to Québec’s
descent toward separatism because Québec was becoming demanding and
self-assertive, simultaneously strengthening separatist movements and disgruntling
English Canadians. Lastly, the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown
Accords divided French and English Canada because it prevented Québec from
obtaining special status in Canada because English Canadians deemed it unfair
that the province be unequal to the rest of the country. This contributed to Québec’s
descent toward separatism because Québec had still not entered the constitution
and now felt rejected by Canada, fueling separatist movements further.