One of the most influential commissions in Canadian history, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (196369) brought about sweeping changes to federal and provincial language policy. The commission was a response to the growing unrest among French Canadians in Québec, who called for the protection of their language and culture, and opportunities to participate fully in political and economic decision making. The commission's findings led to changes in French education across the country, and the creation of the federal department of multiculturalism and the Official Languages Act.

Laurendeau and Dunton

A royal commission to examine Québec's dissatisfaction with its place in Canada had first been suggested by the editor in chief of the newspaper Le Devoir, André Laurendeau, and it was later established under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton, a prominent educator and journalist, were appointed cochairmen of the commission. Laurendeau died in 1968 and his post was assumed by Jean-Louis Gagnon. Dunton, who was regarded as a visionary and humanitarian, was the first full-time Chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and President of Carleton University.

Ten commissioners representing Canada's cultural-linguistic composition were chosen. All spoke English and French and commission business was conducted in both languages. Since education is a provincial responsibility, the cochairmen called on all provincial premiers for their co-operation.

Scope of the Commission

The commission was charged with three main areas of inquiry: the extent of bilingualism in the federal government, the role of public and private organizations in promoting better cultural relations, and the opportunities for Canadians to become bilingual in English and French. The commissioners used the concept of "equal partnership" as their guiding principle, i.e., equal opportunity for francophones and anglophones to participate in the institutions affecting their lives. The commissioners were also asked to report on the cultural contribution of other ethnic groups and the means of preserving this contribution and enhancing multiculturalism in Canada.

In addition to a preliminary report (1965), a final report in six books was published, separately titled The Official Languages (1967), Education (1968), The Work World (Socioeconomic Status, the Federal Administration, the Private Sector, 1969), The Cultural Contribution of the Other Ethnic Groups (1969), The Federal Capital (1970), and Voluntary Associations (1970).

Controversy

For many Québécois, the RCBB was a move to obscure the political issues. For many anglophones, especially in Western Canada, it was an attempt to force the French language on an unwilling population. However, the commission revealed that francophones were not well represented in the economy or in the decision-making ranks of government, that educational opportunities for francophone minorities outside Quebec were not equal with those provided for the anglophone minority within Québec, and that French-speaking Canadians could neither find employment nor be served adequately in their language in federal government agencies.

Changes Following the Commission

Recommendations to correct these and other weaknesses were implemented with unusual speed. Educational authorities in all nine anglophone provinces reformed regulations concerning French minority education, and moved to improve the teaching of French as a second language with financial assistance from the federal government. New Brunswick declared itself officially bilingual; Ontario did not, but greatly extended its services in French. French-language rights in the legislature and courts of Manitoba — disallowed by statutes passed in Manitoba in 1890 — were restored by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1979.

A federal department of multiculturalism was established. Institutional bilingualism at the federal level became a fact with the passing of the Official Languages Act (1969) and with the appointment of a Commissioner of Official Languages. Because of lack of time, the commission did not examine constitutional questions, as anticipated in the introduction to the final report, and the movement toward independence in Québec continued. The commission did, however, lay the foundation for functional bilingualism throughout the country, and for increased acceptance of cultural diversity (see also Official Languages Act (1988)).