Quiet Revolution

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fr:Révolution tranquille

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Jean Lesage, Daniel Johnson Sr. and René Lévesque, three prominent actors of the Quiet Revolution.

The Quiet Revolution (Révolution tranquille) was a period of rapid change in the Province of Quebec, Canada in the 1960s.

Quebec's "Quiet Revolution" was characterized by:

  • The rapid and effective secularisation of society;
  • The creation of an État-Providence (welfare state);
  • A transformation of the national identity among Francophone Quebecers (from Canadien français to the term Québécois).

The changes were the result of many important transformations within Quebec society. Among those often cited are:

  • Massive investments in the public education system;
  • Creation of a Ministry of Education;
  • Unionisation of the civil service;
  • Provincial government measures meant to increase Quebecers' control over the province's economy;
  • Nationalization of electricity production and distribution.


There is no consensus as to when the Quiet Revolution began, except perhaps on the political level with the reforms enacted by the Liberal provincial government of Jean Lesage elected in the 1960 Quebec election. Similarly, there is no consensus as to when the Quiet Revolution ended, but it is mostly agreed that it was before the October Crisis of 1970.

Many events are said to have been precursors or at least signs of this impending revolution. Among them are the Asbestos miners' strike of 1949, the Maurice Richard riot of 1955, the signing of the Refus Global by les Automatistes and the publication of Les insolences du Frère Untel (the impertinences of Brother Somebody), which criticized the near absolute dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec. The political journal Cité Libre is also credited with being an intellectual forum for critics of the Duplessis regime.

From the late 1930s to 1959, the political, educational, economic and social spheres of Quebec were controlled by the fiercely conservative Maurice Duplessis, leader of the Union Nationale. Since first settled as part of New France, the Roman Catholic Church used entities such as the Company of One Hundred Associates to keep control but under under British rule, business maintained a powerful lobby to protect the investments needed to keep Canada's economy on pace with the United States. Electoral fraud and corruption were commonplace in Quebec, with the Church openly campaigning for the Union Nationale with slogans such as Le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge (Heaven is blue, hell is red - referring to the colours of the Union Nationale (blue) and the Liberals (red)). The Roman Catholic Church controlled the availability of books by maintaining an index of banned documents (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum). The Catholic Church controlled the French education institutions and hospitals. A legacy from this agreement is the Duplessis Orphans.

Because of Canada's, and Quebec's, small population, capital for investment was, and still is, always in short supply. As such, the country and the province of Quebec's natural resources were developed by foreign investors willing to risk the investment needed. As an example, iron ore was explored for and its mining developed by the United States-based Iron Ore Company. Because of the agrarian, anti-business policies of the Roman Catholic Church and its Seigneurial system that had been rigidly in place for centuries, it was British immigrants, notably the Scots-Quebecers who invested and built the industrialized economy in Quebec, making it the foremost economic center in Canada and a major force in North America. However, the Roman Catholic Church led the rejection of an industrialization effort by former Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau. Because of the failure of the ensuing Duplessis government of Quebec to promote business and to establish university business training for francophones to match the rest of Canada and the U.S., the income levels between rural French workers and those in the growing white collar sector began to widen at a time when Canada was looking to grow. The country followed the massive industrialization and technological innovations going on in the United States while trying to cope with the Great Depression. Because the vast majority of French-Canadians chose not participate in business solutions, it increased the number of Canadians from other provinces of Canada willing to fill the void. Historians have referred to this period as the Grande noirceur (Great Darkness), but most will add that this period is often perceived as worse than it was.

In many ways, Maurice Duplessis's death in 1959, very soon followed by the sudden death of his successor Paul Sauvé, served as a trigger for the Quiet Revolution. Or rather it unleashed energies that had been held back by the Roman Catholic Church policies for decades. Within a year of Duplessis's death, the Liberal party was elected with Jean Lesage at its head. The Liberal party had campaigned under the very evocative slogans Maîtres chez nous (Masters of Our Own House) and Il faut que ça change (Things have to change).


To achieve these goals the Lesage government bid largely on an accrued instruction of its population. The Commission Parent was established in 1961 to study the education system and to bring forth recommendations, which eventually led to the adoption of several reforms. The most important of which was the secularisation of the education system. Although schools maintained their historical Catholic or Protestant characters, in practice they were secular institutions since the Province was now in charge of the school programs. Other reforms included mandatory school attendance until the age of 16 and free instruction until the 11th grade.

In 1967, CÉGEPs were created to offer post-secondary professional public education everywhere in the province. In 1968 the government created the Université du Québec network to achieve similar goals for university-level education. Nevertheless, it would be almost twenty years later when quality business programs were put in place in Quebec's French-language universitie that would equal those of universities elsewhere in North America.

Economic reforms

On the economic level, the government sought to increase francophones' control of the province's economic sphere, which, until then, had been largely dominated by English Canadian and American investors.

Seeking a mandate for its most daring reform, the nationalisation of the province's electric companies under Hydro-Québec, the Liberal party called for new elections in 1962. The Liberal party was returned to power with an increased majority in the Quebec National Assembly of Quebec and within 6 months, René Lévesque, Minister of Natural Resources, enacted his plans for Hydro-Québec.

More public institutions were created to follow through with the desire to increase the province's economic autonomy. The public companies SIDBEC (iron and steel), SOQUEM (mining), REXFOR (forestry) and SOQUIP (petroleum) were created to exploit the province's abundant natural resources. The Société générale de financement (General financing corporation) was created in 1962 to encourage Quebecers to invest in their economic future and to increase the profitability of small companies. In 1963, in conjunction with the Canada Pension Plan the Government of Canada authorized the Province of Quebec to create its own Régie des Rentes du Québec (Quebec Pension Plan); universal contributions came into effect in 1966. To manage the considerable revenues generated by the RRQ, and to provide the capital necessary for various projects in the public and private sectors, the Caisse de dépôt et de placement was created in 1965.

A new Labour Code (Code du Travail) was adopted in 1964. It made unionising much easier and gave public employees the right to strike. It was during the same year that the Code Civil (Civil Code) was modified to recognise the legal equality of spouses. In case of divorce, the rules for administering the Divorce Act of Canada were retained using Quebec's old Community property matrimonial regime until 1980 when the new legislation brought an automatic equal division of certain basic family assets between the spouses. Prior to this modification of marriage laws, married women in Quebec could not perform financial transactions and other legal duties without their husband's signature.


The heightened sense of national capacity and identity provided by the multiple reforms resulted in the transformation of the nationalist discourse of Quebec, stemming from political deadlocks between the governments of Quebec and Ottawa since as far as 1867. It is during the Quiet Revolution that the Canadien(ne)s-français(es) (French Canadians) became Québécois(es), thus marking a distinct evolution from passive nationalism to a more active pursuit of political autonomy. For some, this could be achieved through a reform of the British North America Act, while for sovereignists, the BNAA was considered a null and void act passed by an imperialist foreign power.

In the 1966 election, a post-Duplessis Union Nationale party ridiculed the rapid changes made by the Liberal government and promised reforms if returned to power under leader Daniel Johnson Sr.. While visiting Montreal for Expo 67, General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Vive le Québec libre! in his speech at Montreal City Hall, which gave the Quebec independence movement further impetus. In 1968, the sovereignist Parti Québécois was created with René Lévesque as its leader.

External links

Important figures

See also


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