The Quiet Revolution

Underlying the Quiet Revolution is fundamentally a perception–or rather an interpretation–of the preceding time period. Quebec, under the Duplessis, was characterised by isolation, conservatism and had abided by traditional ways and values. In consequence, the province had fallen behind, and had acquired increasingly negative characteristics. This perception of the Duplesis era being the “Great Darkness is broadly challenged by many today. However, there is no doubt that the death of Duplessis, and the subsequent election of the Liberal Party in 1960, triggered a period of intense social, political, and economic changes.

Under Duplesis, the Catholic Church had assumed the task of education in Quebec. The education system and the curriculum was outdated and “Religion played a role in every part of the curriculum” (page 191). Those who wanted to pursue a higher education found a system designed only for a few chosen souls. The incumbent Liberal government was determined to move education towards a more secular, and most importantly, a less self-serving, direction.

Quebec’s Ministry of Education was established in 1964 and the government officially took control of the education system in 1867 as the Canadian Constitution of made education an area of provincial responsibility. Publicly funded schools made secondary and university education, previously available only in religious schools and to a small number of students, available to the entire population. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church had significantly declined as government had taken control of the educational system.

Students were no longer encouraged to take Classical courses such as philosophy and art, but rather science and technology courses were encouraged in an attempt to modernize Quebec. The government’s firm resolve to overhaul the archaic and religious education system made the young people of this period of time the first Quebec beneficiaries of a modern education. “Bribery and corruption became the trademarks of the Duplesis regime”(page 192). It was evident that this period of time under Duplesis’ rule was referred to being dark as a result of the oppression that had plagued Quebec.

To curb the handouts and patronage that had discredited the previous government, Jean Lesage advocated the notion of anti-corruption, and jobs were given based on merit. During Duplessis’ mandates, several significant labour strikes occurred, most notably, the asbestos strike that occurred in 1949. Duplesis stood against the “evil” of trade unionism as provincial police was employed to shut the strike down and arrests were also made. Duplesis had strictly denied workers the rights to have their voice heard and calls for labour rights were never to become vocalized.

Under Jean Lesage’s lead, unionizing was liberalized as public workers were granted the freedom to strike. Liberal government’s most spectacular accomplishment in economics was the nationalization of private electricity companies. The complete nationalization of the hydroelectric power industry in 1964 had a beneficial effect in several respects. Besides bringing in new revenue to the province, it also gave many French-speaking engineers and managers an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise. Quebec’s hydroelectric network grew and become a strong pillar of the province as a result.

Today, Hydro-Quebec remains a crucial element to the Quebec economy. The Quiet Revolution is not an event, but rather, a series of events leading up to the modernization of Quebec–an advent. For the francophones of Quebec, it represents a turning point, both a pivotal break with the past and a new beginning; the religious educational system was overhauled, and public workers were given the right to strike. I feel that the many and far reaching changes taking place in Quebec, was nothing short of being a revolution, albeit a quiet one.