A Turning Point for Language in Canada and Quebec
From: 1968 in Canada
One of the many ways that 1968 was a crucial moment in Canadian history is in the area of language policy. In January 1968, René Lévesque published his manifesto Option Québec; a month later, Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced that he was a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. In October, Lévesque became the first leader of the Parti Québécois. Their competing visions would shape Canadian politics—and Canadian language policy—for decades to come. On 1 June, André Laurendeau, co-chair of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which had recommended the creation of an Official Languages Act, died from a stroke. He had called for recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, a concept that re-emerged years later with the Meech Lake Accord, and which Trudeau opposed. The year 1968 also saw the eruption of the St. Léonard school crisis which provoked the debate that led to a series of language laws, culminating with Bill 101 in 1977—legislation which is still debated today. The events of 1968—the election of Pierre Trudeau, the tabling of the Official Languages Act, the crisis in St. Léonard, the creation of the Parti Québécois with René Lévesque, as its first leader—set the stage for the next half-century of political and constitutional debate in Canada.
Graham Fraser is Senior Fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. A graduate of the University of Toronto, he spent almost four decades as a journalist in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Washington, and Ottawa for the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The Gazette, and the Toronto Star. From 2006 to 2016, he served as Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages.