Quiet Revolution

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In Quebec, Canada, the Quiet Revolution (Révolution Tranquille) of the 1960s saw a radical nonviolent transformation in the politics, society and economy of Quebec. A traditional people modernized the economy and the social structure, threw off Church control, rejected Anglo control of Quebec's economy, and finally sought, but failed, to gain independence from Canada. The Revolution was strongly promoted by the governments of Liberal Premier Jean Lesage (1960–66) and Premier Daniel Johnson (1966–68) of the opposition Union Nationale party. The government nationalized hydroelectric utilities, created crown corporations, and undertook to provide the educational, health care, and social services formerly under Church control. The Quiet Revolution has resulted in the ascendency of an enormous civil service in Quebec that is directed by a middle class technocracy allied with business interests to insure control of the state.

Political upheaval

In the 1950s Duplessis came under attack from a small but influential group of well-educated young French Canadian reformers, who took over and revived the Quebec Liberal Party.

In 1960 reformers defeated the Union Nationale and formed a government under Liberal Jean Lesage[1] with the slogan "Maitres chez nous" (Masters in Our Own Home). Reelected in 1962 by promising to nationalize the giant hydro-electricity industry, the Quebec Liberals initiated the Quiet Revolution--a program of economic, political, and educational reforms aimed at both modernizing the province and intensifying its French characteristics. In response to their demands for greater autonomy, Ottawa conceded an "opting-out" formula whereby Quebec was not required to participate in such federal welfare programs as the Canada Pension Plan,[2] but could instead receive an amount of federal money equal to that which would have been spent in the province under the Pension Plan. This "special status" for Quebec irritated many English-speaking Canadians, although it fell far short of satisfying the rapidly growing French Canadian separatist movement, which advocated complete independence for Quebec. Some separatist leaders began to resort to terrorism, and in 1963 there was a series of bombings in the English-speaking districts of Montreal.

Faced with a serious crisis, the national government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson appointed a royal commission to investigate the problems of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada. The commission's report documented the economic disadvantages suffered by French Canadians and recommended full recognition of both French and English as equal official languages at the federal level and in the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario. In administrative policy the Pearson government favored "cooperative federalism," meaning continuous consultation between federal and provincial departments of government, as well as fairly frequent full-scale federal-provincial conferences.

In 1966 the Lesage government in Quebec was defeated by the Union Nationale under Daniel Johnson,[3] which claimed to be even more vigorously nationalist than its opponents.[4] Meanwhile, the Liberal government in Ottawa, which had been reelected in 1965, secured the final adoption of a distinctive national flag featuring the maple leaf as the nation's symbol. Another important piece of legislation was the National Medicare Act, which provided for joint federal-provincial financing of universal health care insurance.

Quebec's "psychological secession" from Canada came in five stages: the Quiet Revolution of 1960, the 1980 sovereignty-association vote, the constitutional process of 1980-82, the Meech Lake Accord process of 1987-90, and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord referendum. The 1995 referendum for independence, saw the narrow victory for the "no" side. Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien[5] announced three policy initiatives that promised to change unemployment insurance, to recognize Quebec as a distinct society, and to empower Quebec and certain other Canadian regions to veto changes to the federal constitution. French-speaking Quebecois gradually replaced ethnic consciousness by allegiance to a "national state" on the territory of the province of Quebec. The Parti Québécois (PQ) emerged as a dominant nationalist party, formed in 1968.[6] PQ succeeded in passing two important charters, the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975),[7] and Bill 101, Charte de la langue française (1977),[8] marked this significant evolution of Quebecois collective identity. Bill 101 made French the official language of the government and of the courts in Quebec; more controversially it made French the normal language of the workplace, of instruction, of communications, of commerce and of business. Education in French became compulsory for immigrants, even those from other Canadian provinces. The failure of the 1980 referendum on independence, and the 1982 economic crisis, led to the return to power of Robert Bourassa's Liberals in 1986.

The national government in Ottawa refused to countenance independence. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau,[9] himself a leader in the Quiet Revolution, Ottawa countered with the concept of a single Canadian nation. Trudeau's actions culminated with the 1982 Constitution and the national Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which Quebec never endorsed and still is considered illegitimate by many Quebecers. The root problem is that Canada, as it is conceived by Anglophone Canadians, does not seem compatible with an enduring Quebec identity.[10]

Quiet Revolution: Social upheaval

In social terms, the Quiet Revolution undercut the authority of the Catholic Church in taking away the schools and indeed the unquestioned authority of parish priests. The Union Nationale, the political party of Duplessis, together with the Catholic clergy, had actively propagated an ideology of conservatism: the Quebecois were destined to be peasants, to guarantee the survival of the Catholic religion and of the French language in North America. Gauvreau (2005) however reveals also a positive role that minority elements of the Church played in the origins of Quebec's Quiet Revolution. He argues that Catholic youth movements played a major positive role in the origin of the most profound of Quebec's multiple "quiet revolutions," beginning with the Catholic youth movements in the 1930s. They introduced "personalism", a philosophical movement from France that was a kind of neo-Thomism. In creating an active youth movement reformers inside the Church in effect repudiated much of the historic traditionalism of a peasant society, such as patriarchal families and sexuality focused solely on producing large families rather than companionate marriages.[11]

The exodus from Catholicism began by 1960, with church attendance in Montreal plunging in half in the decade of the 1960s, with even faster declines in rural parishes. Young couple rejected the Church's renewed opposition to birth control. The Quebec independence movement focused on language and culture, and no longer saw Quebec as the stronghold of Catholicism.

The Parent Report on education in the province of Quebec (1963–66) was a key part of the Quiet Revolution that modernized and democratized education in Quebec. The report's attempt at democratizing manifested itself through its recommendations to open access to all levels of education; to create the Ministry of Education as a central authority responsible for all aspects of education; to replace local, religion-based educational authorities with local and regional authorities whose members would be elected directly by the parents rather than the general public; and to reorganize education finance in order to make it more equal. The article assesses the degree to which these recommendations were implemented.

The Quiet Revolution moved the socialization of youth from private and social milieus, primarily the Church and family, to the public sphere, shaped by government policy, resulting in a more self-conscious socialization process. This process includes an emphasis on a shared francophone history and culture and on the importance of the French language to that culture. With new challenges to the institutionalization of the société distincte the state increasingly operates as a key agent of socialization.

see also Quebec


  • Dickinson, John Alexander, and Brian Young. A Short History of Quebec (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Gagnon, Alain-G., ed. Quebec, State and Society (3rd ed. 2004) 500pp; readings by experts
  • Gagnon, Alain-G. and Montcalm, Mary Beth. Quebec beyond the Quiet Revolution. (2000) 221 pp.
  • Gauvreau, Michael. The Catholic Origins of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, 1931-1970 (2005)
  • Langlois, Simon, ed. Recent Social Trends in Quebec, 1960-1990. (1992). 606 pp.
  • McRoberts, Kenneth. Quebec: Social Change and Political Crisis. (1988).
  • Saywell, John. The Rise of the Parti Québécois 1967-76 (1977) online edition
  • Stevenson, Garth. Community Besieged: The Anglophone Minority and the Politics of Quebec. (1999). 363 pp.
  • Thomson, Dale C. Jean Lesage and the Quiet Revolution. (1984). 501 pp.
  • Young, Robert A. The Struggle for Quebec: From Referendum to Referendum? (1999). 210 pp.


  1. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  2. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  3. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  4. Lesage's party won 47% of the vote to Johnson's 41%, but the Union Nationale won 56 seats vs 51 because its vote was concentrated in rural constituencies which were overrepresented. Claude Ryan, "Quebec Changes Governments". Foreign Affairs 1966 45(1): 148-161. Issn: 0015-7120 Fulltext: Ebsco
  5. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  6. See article in Canada Encyclopedia (2000)
  7. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  8. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  9. See Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  10. Louis Balthazar, "Canada in the Setting of the New Nationalism Quebec and the Ideal of Federalism," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 538, Being and Becoming Canada. (Mar., 1995), pp. 40-53. in JSTOR
  11. Michael Gauvreau, "From Rechristianization to Contestation: Catholic Values and Quebec Society, 1931-1970," Church History, Vol. 69, No. 4. (Dec., 2000), pp. 803-833 in JSTOR;