Leadership can be defined in many ways. It is, of course, more than being first or best. It is also very much a reflection of where one is headed, what one believes and what one will not tolerate. Clarity, coherence and focus are part of the mix.

These simple definitional terms become somewhat more opaque when one is speaking of a people or nation whose evolution and growth reflect norms of leadership, points of departure and core values in so many complex ways. The society and civilization that Champlain estab- lished and planted in Quebec not only carried forward the norms and refinements of a profound French culture and way of life, but saw those norms adapt and grow based on the deeply specific demographic, historical and geographic realities of Quebec.

The period of the ancien régime was a period of both social innovation and leadership ”” a period during which the manor house and the seigneurial system flourished and in which the intendant’s authority and that of the Crown were extended for the ”œGlory of God” through impressive community building that had within it order, faith and structure. It also contained the possibility for those who worked on the land to work their way into full citizenship. This leadership represented not only the mer- cantile realities of colonial expansion but also the com- munitarian values of family, balance, community and unique cultural preferences. Quebec grew strong and robust, despite the broader clash between France and England that manifested itself in the events of 1759, and the failure of the métropole to re-supply its Quebec ”œfiliale” in face of the British fleet. The truth is that the Quebec Act of 1774, which cemented the right of Quebecers to their own language, faith, civil law and way of life ”” the first such accord established between the English Parliament and any of its overseas territories ”” had more to do with Quebec’s cultural leadership in North America than the events of 1759. It solidified everything from Jean Talon’s brewery, the first in North America, to the system of laws, finan- cial administration, and health care and education that the seigneurial system had brought with it, along with its unique perspective on com- munity organization and the balance between landowners and Crown con- cessions, in a growing and ever more complex society.

The Catholic church, from Champlain’s time through its ultra- montaine period and beyond, may well have been forced to modernize and dilute its role in the 1960s, but its critical leadership in the preservation of a unique French Canadian identity and the shaping of a particularly Canadian nationality cannot be denied; it provided a fortress of lead- ership against the American colonial and commercial empire and became a vital force in keeping Canada out of American hands during the American attacks of 1812-14. Similarly, the lead- ership that Quebec politicians like Lafontaine demonstrated in reaching to Upper Canadian colleagues in arms against the increasingly illegitimate Governors in Council in both Lower and Upper Canada speaks convinc- ingly to how French Canadian nationalism and identity were part of a vanguard in the British empire for responsible government. As it has been in the case of all of Quebec’s social and economic successes, responsible government was achieved without extensive violence.

In fact, this remarkable sense of nation, as a positive and enduring force, was one that knew almost instinctively when to reach out and embrace and compromise and when to draw clear and coherent lines around a hierarchy of values and principles that were not negotiable. It remains to this day one of those dimensions of leadership in which Quebec faces little competition worldwide. Other cultures have used violence, and when that violence was excessive and too damaging, they found a plateau of reconciliation. Still others who have felt threatened have become part of ongoing insur- gencies, often unwittingly hurting their own prospects most. Quebec and Quebecers have found a mix of assertive, humane, democratic and embracing cultural instruments with which to express a compelling and centuries-old identity without destroying the benefits that accrue from a coherent and consistent world view, which has emerged as among the most global on the planet.

This genuine cultural balance between the core of one’s emo- tional and linguistic citizenship, on the one hand, and the modern engage- ments of a global society, on the other, did not happen by accident. It required a series of gestures over hun- dreds of years by a people and their business, cultural and political nomi- nees that, while far from perfect, achieved a symmetry and clarity that other societies might only have dreamt about.

When the Empire Loyalists rejected the 1776 proposition and came north they joined the 1774 Quebec Act nation and together they forged a working if not always harmonious partnership that repelled the American invaders and became the basis for the core duality at the centre of the con- federal balance that would ensue in the 1860s.

In seeking to marry Upper and Lower Canada in the 1830s, Lord Durham was not as guilty of linguis- tic insensitivity as so many have alleged, but he was driven by his British Liberal view that the only salvation for all of Canada’s inhabitants was absolute unmediated equality before the Crown. He saw liberating French Canadians from the Church and the special sta- tus of the 1774 Quebec Act as ways of affirming French Canadians’ equality of rights and privileges. In contrast, Lord Elgin, a Tory governor who followed Lord Durham, viewed identity as having a core role in the security and confidence of a people that would define and deepen the importance and salience of Canada as a multina- tional country, building its strength on a respect for nationality and lan- guage, rather than an American top- down approach to values and principles.

In fact, Quebec influenced not only the structure of the united province of Canada throughout the pre-confederation 1800s, but also the approach to suffrage and legislative and democratic legitimacy that became the linchpins of the negotia- tions for Confederation itself which sprang as much from the communitar- ian roots of the seigneurial system as it did from the compelling sense of self and nation that defined the identity of Quebecers from the earliest days.

The determination to preserve a civic nationalism within Quebec, a nationalism that would transcend ethnicity but would always strength- en language and culture, facilitated Quebec’s leading role in Canada’s academic, professional and business world. Over time it has developed into a progressive and determined force linking the reality of Quebec with a global reality far beyond our own geographic borders. Whether manifested through the anti-con- scription nationalism of the two world wars, or through the excep- tional competence and leadership of those who did serve, at home and abroad in great regiments like the Fusiliers Mont Royal, the Vingt-deux- ié€me Régiment, les Voltigeurs and the Black Watch, or through the open- ness with which Quebecers accepted immigrants from Western and East- ern Europe, Asia and the Hispanic world, we see a leadership of strong identity and national confidence and determination.

The kinds of institutions of higher learning and medical excellence that ensued, both through the Church and more recently through a non-religion- bound society, also resulted in an approach to infrastructure which built remarkably well in areas like hydro- electricity and transportation. This contemporary willingness to blend the best of private enterprise and the state sets Quebec apart from other Canadian provinces and regions.

In the mid-twentieth century, Duplessis’ Union nationale coalition replaced the legacy of the Conserva- tive and Liberal partys’ nationalist wings with a new entity that reflect- ed a management of economic and political challenges founded on a strong and dynamic identity-based politics. Starting with Duplessis’ ”œassimilation jamais, cooperation toujours!” it translated into the Jean Lesage ”œmaiÌ‚tres chez nous,” a Québé- cois version of the progressive post- war liberalism that marked the 1960s throughout Western Europe and North America.

So when the Duplessis manage- ment style, deeply suited to its era and reflective of a Québécois nationalism, gave way to the more modern and change-focused Lesage liberalism, it was a transition that was very substan- tially Québécois in character and form. When that liberalism, nurtured through the excesses of the Asbestos strike and expressed through the modernity of Lesage liberalism, met up with Mike Pearson’s ”œ60 days of deci- sion” program and with the liberalism that replaced the prairie and anti- American nationalism of the Diefenbaker regime, a new period of leadership in institution-building ensued. The growth of Hydro-Québec, the founding of Radio-Québec, the establishment of the Caisse de dépoÌ‚t et placement and the instituting of many other Crown investment and industri- al expansion agencies, coincided with the expansion of a medicare system, a regulatory framework and a totally modern civil service that gave nation- hood substantive and leadership instruments for its preservation.

It was Adélard Godbout who nationalized the power companies to produce Hydro-Québec; it was Lesage who established a nonreligious Ministry of Education and introduced the universal assurance maladie card for all Quebecers; it was Daniel Johnson and his modernized Union nationale who brought in full fund- ing for confessional schools that were neither Catholic nor Protestant, as the spectrum of nationalist articula- tion changed from ”œassimilation jamais” to ”œmaiÌ‚tres chez nous” to the Union nationale’s ”œégalité ou indépendance.” This transition reflected not only a more assertive identity that was no longer comfort- able with the dominance of the English minority in some key eco- nomic areas, but also a profound democratic determination to encom- pass the many new cultures and eth- nicities that had become part of the Quebecois reality.

This largely uninter- rupted line of progress was not without bumps and twists. But the existence of Adrien Arcand’s style of fascism leading up to and through the Second World War, and the implicit ethnic nationalism of the early, more radicalized independence movement that Quebec for a time embraced, had its parallels in many other parts of the world. The leader- ship issue here is how these margin- al tendencies were treated and dealt with. In the main, Quebecers chose the democratic route and the toler- ance of a robust culture, a strong and unique identity, and the civic nationalism that strengthened Quebec society for over two and a half centuries. René Lévesque, for- mer journalist and natural resources minister in a Liberal administration, took this civic nationalism and built his own case for a more separate sov- ereign Quebec, and he did it with skill, determination, and immense popular credibility, warmth and affection.

Despite provocations, the leader- ship Quebecers showed was manifest- ed in how Quebec society managed these pressures. The election of a Parti Québécois government in 1976 was facilitated by a Union Nationale elec- toral presence that won enough seats from moderate nationalists to pro- duce the kind of three-way split with- in that enabled the sovereignists to legitimately win.

Lévesque’s ruthless determination to remain open and democratic and sup- portive and inclusive of minorities enhanced the goodwill that moderation and fairness have always elicited from Quebecers, and hence his popularity. The Bourassa regimes continued the modernization, adopted the Quebec charter of rights and forged a historic rec- onciliation with First Nations in r e s o u rce-sensitive areas, continued Hydro-Québec’s expansion and strength- ened the infrastructure and cultural institutions. Lesage had made education something more than Church-driven uniformity, the Johnson administration fé‚ted Quebec’s multicultural groups at the Expo 67 Quebec pavillion, Bourassa reached out to First Nations, and Lévesque embraced the broad range of groups that shaped a welcoming and constructive civic nationalism.

Lucien Bouchard played a transi- tional role, at different times in his career supporting Pierre Trudeau, René Lévesque and Brian Mulroney, only to establish a sovereignist parliamentary presence in Ottawa, and then leaving to lead the Parti Québécois and becom- ing a moderate Parti Québécois pre- mier. In this respect he was the personification of the ongoing quest in Quebec political life since 1774 for the right balance between nation and world, between an encompassing civic identity and the tolerance and accom- modation that has helped build the cosmopolitan essence of Quebec as a French-speaking reality. Jean Charest, very much of the Union Nationale school of positive identification with Quebec nationhood within the frame- work of pragmatic cooperation and support for the confederal view of the Canadian model, continues the tradi- tion from the federalist perspective.

There were bumps along the way for all, but they were minor detours on a path that extended from the time that the original seigneurs reached out to those who could work their way up without land to full community citi- zenship in the decades following Champlain.

Leadership in education and in the management of identity pol- itics toward unfailingly constructive outcomes was not achieved without substantive innovation. The cre- ation of the CÉGEP system, to offer young people a broader range of career choices, the founding of the Université du Québec, the expansion of Laval and the Université de Laval, the province’s support of anglophone-based institutions like McGill, Sir George Williams (now Concordia) and Bishops, and the establishment of the Université du Québec across the province were all manifestations of the leadership that truly mattered in the day-to-day lives of average Quebecers and helped immensely with the integra- tion of new arrivals. The special rights with respect to immigration Quebec gained under the Cullen- Couture Agreement (Couture was a minister in the Lévesque administration), which allowed Quebec to harmonize its labour force and linguistic sustainability needs, was an important tool in shaping the reality of the ”œcommunautés culturelles” of Montreal. Hydro-Québec used its abun- dant hydro-electric power to broaden Quebec’s industrial base and was instrumental in causing its pre-eminence in areas such as aluminium pro- duction and mining.

The province’s approach to supply management is an indication of its relentless commitment to its rural communities and ”œle Québec profond,” which is so fundamental to the survival and expansion of its cultural identity. Companies like SNC Lavalin, now among the very best in the world in engineering and construction, facilities and operations man- agement, and the ownership, operation and maintenance of infrastructure, were built because Hydro-Québec reached out to Quebecers’ talents and competence. World economic forces like the Caisse de dépot, Power Corp, CAE, CN, BCE, Alcan and others are based in Quebec because Quebec saw and promoted the solidarity between legitimate social and society-wide goals, on the one hand, and the potential for enterprise that is world class in every respect, on the other, before other Canadian provinces did. Other Canadian provinces have yet to understand this solidarity, which is why it is easier to be working class and have low income in Quebec in terms of the services available and the affordability of a rea- sonable standard of living than it is elsewhere in Canada. While no social framework is without flaws or excesses, and while Quebec faces affordability and productivity challenges as do other North American economies, there is a sense of balance and fairness in aspects of Quebec society that other societies worldwide have yet to achieve. Quebec is more European than any other part of Canada, and Canada is, as a result, more European than the United States ”” a reality that shapes a meaningful quality of life and equality of opportunity.

Some leadership will be required on issues of affordability and pro- ductivity in the near future and the modé€le québécois needs to be tweaked; but that does not diminish what has been achieved to date. It is by no means surprising that Quebec is showing leadership now on environ- mental initiatives, on Canada-EU free trade, on France-Quebec common professional certification, and on free trade between Ontario and Quebec.

Identity is reality, and those who fail to recognize its importance, account for its needs and establish linchpins around which it can be sus- tained and deepened are setting themselves up for the instabil- ities that emerge when people do not feel anchored or secure. The wondrous leadership that Quebec society has shown in spanning an identity that was demographically isolated and overwhelmed in an English- speaking continent and a robust civic nationalism that is both supple and inclusive speaks to a wisdom on cultural sustainability from which environmentalists could well learn. Identities can be over- whelmed by a global market- place that appears to care little for differences of language or culture, or they can be weak- ened by a narrowness or insu- larity that is so isolating that it is suffocating.

The remarkable society the Sieur de Champlain began in Quebec four hundred years ago has steered a thoughtful path eschewing both of these excesses and has made Canada, North America, and above all francophone Quebec immeasurably stronger as a result.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License