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Federalism And The French Canadians


By Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Published in 1968, " Federalism And The French Canadians"
is an ideological anthology featuring a series of essays
written by Pierre Elliot Trudeau during his time spent with
the Federal Liberal party of Canada. The emphasis of the
book deals with the problems and conflicts facing the
country during the Duplessis regime in Quebec. While
Trudeau stresses his adamant convictions on
Anglophone/Francophone relations and struggles for equality
in a confederated land, he also elaborates on his own
ideological views pertaining to Federalism and Nationalism.
The reader is introduced to several essays that discuss
Provincial legislature and conflict (Quebec and the
Constitutional Problem, A Constitutional Declaration of
Rights) while other compositions deal with impending and
contemporary Federal predicaments (Federal Grants to
Universities, The Practice and Theory of Federalism,
Separatist Counter-Revolutionaries). Throughout all these
documented personal accounts and critiques, the reader
learns that Trudeau is a sharp critic of contemporary
Quebec nationalism and that his prime political conviction
(or thesis) is sporadically reflected in each essay:
Federalism is the only possible system of government that
breeds and sustains equality in a multicultural country
such as Canada. Trudeau is fervent and stalwart in his
opinions towards Federalism and its ramifications on
Canadian citizenry. 

Born and raised in Quebec, he attended several prestigious
institutions that educated him about the political spectrum
of the country. After his time spent at the London School
of Economics, Trudeau returned to Quebec at a time when the
province was experiencing vast differences with its Federal
overseer. The Union Nationale, a religious nationalist
movement rooted deep in the heart of Quebec culture, had
forced the Federal government to reconcile and mediate with
them in order to avoid civil disorder or unrest. The
Premier of Quebec at the time, Maurice Duplessis, found it
almost impossible to appease the needs of each diverse
interest group and faction rising within the province and
ultimately buckled underneath the increasing pressure. Many
Francophones believed that they were being discriminated
and treated unfairly due to the British North American Act
which failed to recognize the unique nature of the province
in its list of provisions. Trudeau, with the aid of several
colleagues, fought the imminent wave of social chaos in
Quebec with anti-clerical and communist visions he obtained
while in his adolescent years. However, as the nationalist
movement gained momentum against the Provincial government,
Trudeau came to the startling realization that Provincial
autonomy would not solidify Quebec's future in the country
(he believed that separatism would soon follow) and unless
Duplessis could successfully negotiate (on the issue of a
constitution) with the rest of Canada, the prospect of
self-sovereignty for Quebec would transpire. 

His first essay (Quebec and the Constitutional Problem)
explores the trials and tribulations which occurred between
the Provincial and Federal governments during the ensuing
constitutional problems in Canada. Trudeau candidly
lambastes and ridicules the Federal Government's inability
to recognize the economic and linguistic differences in
Quebec. He defends the province by stating that "The
language provisions of the British North American Act are
very limited" and therefore believes that they continue to
divide the country and aid the nationalist movement in
Quebec. Using an informal, first person writing approach,
Trudeau makes it clear that his words are for
reactionaries, not revolutionaries who are looking to
destroy the political fabric of the country. However,
Trudeau considers possible alternatives and implications in
the second essay (A Constitutional Declaration of Rights)
and offers possible resolutions to the everlasting cultural
dilemma plaguing both parties involved. One of his
arguments is that the Federal government must take the
initiative and begin the constitutional sequence to modify
and adapt to the growing needs of all the provinces, not
only Quebec. "One tends to forget that constitutions must
also be made by men and not by force of brutal circumstance
or blind disorder", was his response to the perpetual
ignorance of the Federalist leaders who stalled and dodged
on the issue of equality and compromise throughout the
country. At this point in the essay, Trudeau relied on his
central thesis for the book and used it to prove his
application of constitutional reform using the Federal
government as the catalyst. Trudeau had already formulated
his visions of the perfect constitution and how it would
include "A Bill of Rights that would guarantee the
fundamental freedoms of the citizen from intolerance,
whether federal or provincial". Each and every one of his
proposals demonstrated innovative thought and pragmatic
resolve for a striving politician who believed in Democracy
before Ideology. The emphasis he places on equality and
individualism is a testimonial to his character and
integrity as a politician. 

The next essay (The Practice and Theory of Federalism) is
the opening composition for Trudeau's firm stance on
Federalism and how it can be applied to the current
Executive system of administration already in turmoil with
its dominion. "Federalism is by its very essence a
compromise and a pact" is his comment on why the Federal
government of Canada has a responsibility to seek out the
general consensus of the people when dealing with
constitutional reform. This reinforces his central thesis
for the book which is mentioned in the opening paragraph of
this critique; however, their is a partial, obstructed
observation made on Trudeau's part when he declines to
mention the efforts of the contemporary Federal bureau
which had made attempts to negotiate with Quebec (although
in vain). 

Finally, the last essay (Federalism, Nationalism and
Reason) is a creative piece of literature in which Trudeau
exonerates the possibility of state manipulation and
exploitation in dealing with the masses (the socialist
tendencies of Trudeau are quite blatant through his immense
historical knowledge and political shrewdness). Although he
brings up the possible implications of a rejected
Federalist state, he seems to scorn and laugh at the idea;
"Separatism a revolution? My eye. A counter-revolution; the
national socialist counter-revolution". Such passages are
indicative of the attitude Trudeau held towards the
political disorder of his own country and magnifies his
disgust towards the sluggish and immobile Duplessis regime.

Throughout all these radical and riveting compositions, the
reader is faced with an extremely unorthodox writing style
which consists of both formal and informal essay
techniques. Federalism and the French Canadians presents
the reader with a superlative ideological perspective of
"how" and "why" the executive branch of the country should
be functioning in the eyes of Pierre Trudeau. Although
recognized as nothing more than a political activist at the
time of the ongoing political/social crisis in Canada,
Trudeau served as an adviser to the Privy Council Office in
1950 and subsequently became a professor of Law at the
University of Montreal in 1960. His inauguration into the
Federal Liberal Party in 1965 as well as his future
involvement with the Federal government (Constitutional
Lawyer, Minister of Justice, Prime Minister of Canada)
would bolster his credibility in this book. Not only does
he stress the importance and validity of the Canadian
political scope when dealing with his theories, but his
historical and economical evaluation of the world in
general serves as a competent and impartial method of
comparing analogies. Trudeau had always been labelled as a
radical or socialist, but upon reading his anthology, the
reader accepts the notion that he was an advocate of
liberalism and democracy. 

I would consider his interpretations of Federalism and
Quebec heritage as being substantially valid even in the
acrimonious way in which Trudeau addresses the issues;
"Without equality, one has a dictatorship" (such
indiscriminate assessments of the Canadian government
magnify the strength AND weaknesses of each essay) . The
only visible weakness in his analysis would be the position
in which he views the Provincial government under Duplessis
(weak, subordinate, naive) and this perhaps taints most of
his bi-partisan observations towards how the Federal
government would treat Francophones under a unilateral
constitution. Otherwise, each and every proposition
presented to the reader is heavily supported and reinforced
by the central theme in the book which, in effect, could be
viewed as a strength; he supports the majority of his
Federalist arguments with quotes from noted dignitaries and
political leaders from the past and present such as Lord
Acton (while defending Federalism in Canada), Mao Tse-Tung
(when referring to Quebec's hostile and intolerance with
Canada), Aristotle (when discussing the perfect democratic
union with Quebec) and Nikita Khrushchev (in support of
constitutional reform and the possible effects of

Several of his essays had also been published in Montreal
and Toronto during the late 1960's and his address to the
Canadian Bar Association on September 4th, 1967 is featured
in its entirety in his book (Trudeau used these facts to
strengthen and reinforce his expertise and experience in
the field). 

The material featured in Federalism and the French
Canadians is excessively difficult to digest and should be
read by a student who is familiar with the historical and
political dilemmas presented in the compositions. Although
efficiently organized (dealing with Quebec and social
bedlam followed by solutions offered by Federalism), the
book is a challenge to understand in respects to how
Trudeau plunges into each scenario and issue with enormous
furor and enthusiasm. He generally expects the reader to
have a large degree of background knowledge on the subject
of Federalism and Quebec. Without being informed beforehand
on the domestic difficulties of the country, this
particular reader surely would have been drowned in a sea
of political jargon and complex narrative insight.
Nevertheless, Pierre Trudeau captivated my imagination with
his perspective of life in Canada and the future of the
country without a stable government. "My political action;
or my theory - insomuch as I can be said to have one - can
be expressed very simply: create counter-weights", is how
Trudeau described the rationale behind his ideological
thinking and how he downplayed the stagnant political
situation in Canada that suppressed its greatest strength;
representation and unity by a multicultural society...a
government that enshrined the rights and liberties of its
people and distributed the freedom and respect accordingly
regardless of ethnic or cultural discrepancies. 

 I thoroughly enjoyed reading this complex and
unprecedented book; it provided a concise and insightful
portrait of the role that Federalism plays in Quebec's
backyard during the middle of the 20th century. For a
student who finds himself caught up in 21st century
politics, it is both a shock and a pleasant surprise to
climb back into history and discover the productive and
ideological perspective of a man who would eventually rise
to the occasion and become Prime Minister of Canada.
Material such as this should be featured on the curriculum
for all students to gaze upon, let alone only be
recommended by critics who have studied the works of
Trudeau. Such monumental beliefs embodied into one man is
reason enough for a student in University or High School to
open Federalism and the French Canadians and learn more
about Pierre Elliot Trudeau. 


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