- Speaking Up: A History of Language and Politics in Canada and Quebec by Marcel Martel, Martin Pâquet
This book (which is an English translation of a multi-award winning book published in French by the authors in 2010) explores the history of language and politics in Canada and Quebec from the sixteenth century to the present. Through this broad historical narrative it focuses on particular highpoints, including, ‘From religion to language: 1539–1848’; ‘The school crises in Canada, 1848–1927’; ‘From the repeal of Regulation 17 to the Laurendeau–Dunton Commission, 1927–63’; ‘Action–reaction: Commissions of inquiry and agitation, 1963–69’; ‘Language laws, 1969–82’; and ‘Law and language since 1982’.
One of the strengths of the book is the dispassionate way in which the authors deal with a very controversial and politically laden issue in both Canada and Quebec: language and politics. Martel and Pâquet make the point that language and politics as an issue has evolved over a long period and was very much influenced by the historical context at the time. So, for example, in the aftermath of the rebellions in the Canadas in the 1840s there was a rise of French linguistic nationalism which gathered strength in light of the Durham Report and the unification of the Canadas and Durham’s openly declared goal of assimilating French-Canadians into an ‘English’ Canada. The school crises in Canada during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, particularly in Ontario and Manitoba, highlighted to French-Canadians that the English-speaking majority of the country did not envisage Canada to be an equal domain for both of the founding European peoples. Instead the French language was to be confined to the province of Quebec. This had long-standing consequences for the shape of the country, and for relations between the federal state of Canada and the nation of Quebec.
Moving closer to the present day Martel and Pâquet also rightly identify the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the early 1960s as a significant historical turning point whereby French-Canadians in Quebec began to publicly oppose the domination of English in the public sphere, particularly in the world of business, in a province where French was actually the language spoken by the majority of the population. Martel and Pâquet also emphasise the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 as offering a legal recourse for primarily French-speaking communities in Ontario and Manitoba to be able to preserve their language through French school instruction after decades of not being allowed to do this. However, they do point out that it was not just French-speaking communities outside of Quebec who took advantage of this, but also English-speaking communities in Quebec, who could claim descent in the country for several generations.
This book makes an important contribution to the field of language and politics in Canada and Quebec. It should be commended for tackling a subject which is a ‘political minefield’. I recommend it to both specialists and general readers alike. [End Page 251]