Quebec Cultural Policies | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Quebec Cultural Policies

The evolution of Québec's cultural policy is markedly distinct from that in Canada as whole, in terms of trends and dynamics and through federal action as well as the initiatives in other provinces.

Quebec Cultural Policies

The evolution of Québec's cultural policy is markedly distinct from that in Canada as whole, in terms of trends and dynamics and through federal action as well as the initiatives in other provinces. In Québec, the level of intervention compared to the central and local governments is particularly much more critical than elsewhere in Canada and even in most Western countries. The major part of federal cultural policy can moreover only be explained in light of cultural dynamics in Québec, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, decades marked by heightened cultural and constitutional rivalry between the two levels of government. Therefore, the focus here is not on the evolution of Quebec cultural policy per se - particularly that of its Ministry of Cultural Affairs, (Ministry of Culture and Communications MCCQ, 1994) -, but rather on cross-cultural policy, both federal and provincial, in Québec.

Quebec Policy History
The two levels of cultural policies became more widespread in Québec beginning in the '60s in the wake of the QUIET REVOLUTION. Government initiatives nevertheless existed well before then, and those of the provincial and federal governments differed significantly. While federal action is structured on communications, the courts, and heritage (MUSEUMS, LIBRARIES, ARCHIVES and NATIONAL PARKS), Québec's initiatives were first organized around education and vocational training (teaching the arts, conservatories, the book market, school libraries) and soon municipalities (recreation, social and cultural activities, libraries), both under provincial jurisdiction. The educational and recreational sectors broadly fell within the authority of the clergy until the creation of the Ministry of Education in 1964, when the province was obliged to take over. Nevertheless, the government became involved early in the 20th century and in its first half was required to establish an embryonic network of secular public education. A range of other measures would follow the creation of technical schools and development efforts for advanced vocational training (surveying school, 1907; school of forestry, and l'École des hautes études commerciales, in 1910), especially after World War II. Specifically in the cultural arena, the appointment of Athanase David as Provincial Secretary for the TASCHEREAU government in 1922, also contributed to emphasizing provincial commitment to the arts. The subsequent management of the Secrétariat by Jean Bruchésie, undersecretary without interruption from1937 to 1959 under Maurice DUPLESSIS and Adélard GODBOUT, further contributed to ensuring some continuity in government initiatives. The creation of several programs and institutions related to education also took place during this period: optional drawing courses in primary schools (1920); École des-beaux arts in Montréal and Québec City (1921); École des arts graphiques (1942); music ( 1943) and theatre (1954) conservatories in Montréal and Québec (seeCONSERVATOIRE DE MUSIQUE ET D'ART DRAMATIQUE DU QUÉBEC). Coupled with these educational measures literary and scientific awards were established (1922), and the government set up a number of cultural initiatives: the Commission of Historic Monuments (1922); MUSÉE DU QUÉBEC (1933); acquisition (1941) of Saint-Sulpice Library, later (1967) the Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec; and the adoption of embryonic legislation promoting the development of municipal public libraries (1950s). With these initial forms of government "patronage", the Québec francophone community anticipated the transition of cultural authority from the Church to the State, which took place during the '60s when culture ultimately developed on an essentially secular basis.

Between education (mainly under provincial jurisdiction), and communications (mainly federal) the real centre of "cultural" authority soon proved to be a gray area strongly disputed by both orders of government, and the ambiguity surrounding the division of power was perceptible even before the 1960s. In the communications sector, the provincial government has always refused to give free reign to the federal government. Therefore, the Québec Legislature adopted the first Canadian act on broadcasting in 1929, and in 1945, a bill already anticipated the formation of Radio-Québec (Télé-Québec, 1995). However, held in check by federal administration, the agency emerged only in 1969 and its first stations aired only in 1975. Federal policy, from its perspective, also tended to enter the field of education, and especially after the Second World War sought to support higher education directly through subsidies to universities and researchers. This federal will, affirmed by the ROYAL COMMISSION ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARTS LETTERS AND SCIENCES (1949-1951) chaired by Vincent MASSEY, and the provincial government's refusal to submit to it, led to the ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON CONSTITUTIONAL PROBLEMS (1953-1955), chaired by Thomas Tremblay. This commission, created by Maurice Duplessis to counter federal offensive, would finally and contrary to all expectations, be the seat of a systematic review of the Québec education system.

Characteristics of Québec Cultural policy

The creations of a Quebec Ministry of Cultural Affairs (MACQ) in 1961, and its original mission, are examples of the particular importance that successive Québec governments from then on attached to this dimension of public policy. The MACQ was indeed intended, in the words of Premier Jean LESAGE, to become the "Ministère de la Civilisation canadienne-francaise et du fait français en Amérique". George-Émile Lapalme, its first minister, and Guy FRÉGAULT, deputy minister almost continuously until 1975, saw the department not only as an instrument for developing cultural activities and institutions in Québec, but as a special tool to affirm the French-speaking Canadian identity. On its creation, the MACQ therefore covered a range of functions supporting the arts previously taken up by the Youth Ministry or the Provincial Secretariat. In addition, two agencies - the Office de la langue française (OLF) and the Département du Canada français outre-frontières - demonstrated Québec's desire to ensure national and international dissemination of its French culture.

The fact that the Québec government dedicated a minister especially to culture constitutes another original aspect in Canada, and in this capacity, federal policy appears both slower and less direct. The various federal cultural agencies would only be integrated into the ministerial structure very gradually, initially within a Secretariat of State (1963), before successively passing to a Ministry of Communications (1980), and more recently to Canadian Heritage. Although Québec was not the first provincial government to establish an instrument for cultural intervention (Saskatchewan's Arts Council began in 1949), it was unquestionably the first to give cultural matters such clear political significance and identity. On this point, the sequence of books or book projects, (Pierre LAPORTE, white paper 1965), (Jean-Paul L'Allier, green paper 1976) and (Camille LAURIN, white paper 1978), as well as the latest Québec cultural policy (Liza Frulla-Hébert,1992) attest to this ministry's constant preoccupation with and repeated affirmation of national culture. The initiatives also reflect the consistent research for integrating the multiple dimensions of cultural activity into a global policy, which was not standard on the national level. Federal (that is to say English) activity developed parallel to Québec activity in French. The MACQ, created not long after the French Ministry of Culture (1959), and on the same model, was at the outset distinguished by the approach first adopted in the rest of Canada, most often inspired by British models. The federal government, at arms' length, thus tends to delegate decision-making power to sectorial agencies - the CANADA COUNCIL, the CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, the NATIONAL FILM BOARD, national museums, etc. -, which broadly cover the various professional cultural activities usually grouped together in metropolitan centres. Provincial policies, on the other hand, initially combine major cultural functions within the same department, promoting a narrower arrangement of public administration and political power. They also aim to cover the whole territory of Quebec, justified by democratization and decentralization. Although the MACQ gradually evolved by focussing mainly on supporting artistic and media activity in the strict sense, it proved to be a catalyst from which all organizations and departments of a cultural nature in the broader sense emerged, including immigration, international relations, and French language promotion.

Québec Federal-Provincial Cultural Rivalry

Since the 1960s, reciprocal action of the two levels of government and the political climate in Québec would contribute to making culture not only a full-fledged subject of public administration, but also a real political issue. Whom would Québec cultural evolution depend on? - The government of Canada with an English majority or Québec with a French majority? Spurred on by the language question, the two levels of government were thus led to intervene much more directly in the cultural arena, and soon to confront it. Provincial action was determined by the creation of the Office de la langue française (OLF) in 1961, followed by a succession of language laws (Bill 63,1969; Bill 22, 1974) culminating with the French Language Charter (BILL 101), in 1977. From the federalist perspective, it was the era of THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON BILINGUALISM AND BICULTURALISM (1963-1969), co-chaired by André LAURENDEAU and Davidson DUNTON that led, in the early 1970s, to an official language policy, and the first measures promoting multiculturalism. From then on, culture became the prime area of confrontation of the two nationalisms, reinforced by the recognition of concepts and approaches to cultural policy. However, in a more complex way, the dynamic can also be summed up by a two-sided tendency with inverse logic: on one hand, the federal government was gradually inspired by Ministry of Culture model; on the other, the province adopted some behaviours from the federal government, which tends to assign more power to professional circles and autonomous agencies.

New involvement by the Québec government in the 60s, initially led to some withdrawal of the already well-established federal action. Although the provincial mission was broader, its means were also sharply reduced. Until the mid 70s, the federal government maintained the initiative and even tended to take the wind out of the sails of the lagging Québec government, which was shaken up by the nationalist mobilisation of a high ratio from cultural and intellectual circles who overall laid claim to stronger Québécois leadership. In 1975, a commission on culture chaired by sociologist Marcel Rioux with Gérald GODIN as secretary really put the MACQ on trial. One side claimed exclusive cultural powers for Québec, the other mistrusted the inefficiency of the Quebec ministry in charge, and proposed the federal example that was better equipped and less controlling. The election of the PARTI QUÉBÉCOIS in 1976 marked a turning point with the creation of a provincial department for cultural development. In 1978, a global policy on "cultural development" was published supported by influential intellectuals such as Fernand DUMONT and Guy ROCHER. This super ministry united every department and organization involved in the cultural sector with the MACQ. Although relatively short-lived (it dissolved in 1982), this co-ordinating body resulted in increased preoccupation with culture, which until then had been limited, throughout the government system. The provincial government also did some catching up on its investments. From 1977 to 1994 (the year before the MACQ/Communications merger), the Québec budget share for culture would double from .4 percent, where it stood in the early '60s, to .8 percent. The provincial contribution to cultural expenditures in Québec, rather negligible in the early '60s, became determinant, in fact dominant if radio and television (RTV) are excluded. Indeed, the estimated expenditures of various levels in the Québec government vary considerably depending on whether this service is included. In 1997, including RTV, the provincial share represented 31 percent of total expenditures estimated at 1.5 billion, versus 53 percent federal and 16 percent municipal. When excluded, predominated accounting for approximately 40 percent of 976 million, versus 35 percent federal and 25 percent municipal.

Through rivalry or synergy, the reciprocal policies of the two levels thus reached a point of financial equilibrium, at the same time as the welfare-state model began to experience serious challenges. Since the 1980 REFERENDUM, cultural circles were obliged to target issues that were more distinctly professional than nationalistic. Culture claimed 1 percent of the provincial (Québec) budget, and it was a struggle to improve the status of the artist. In this context, in the early 1990s, Québec policy underwent a vast restructuring which led, among other things, to the MACQ/ Communications merger in 1994, that created two relatively autonomous entities: the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) - that today supports private enterprise - and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) for individual artists, and artistic organizations. The new Ministry of Culture and Communications, which took over Télé-Québec, is responsible for all cultural infrastructure and dissemination (libraries, museums, concert halls). It manages some more directly, including the National Library, PLACE DES ARTS (1964), the Grand Théâtre in Québec City (1970), and three provincial museums: the Musée du Québec; the MUSÉE D'ART CONTEMPORAIN (1964); the Québec Museum of Civilization (inaugurated 1990). Since1981, it has also administered an ambitious integration policy for art and architecture that requires all organizations and departments to reserve a percentage of their budget for capital construction and improvements.

In 1999, the new MCPC had a budget of 423 million dollars. The former MACQ, when merged with communications in 1994, had 329 million dollars compared with 39 million in 1976. Even considering inflation, this increase indicates a remarkable achievement. Better equipped, but relieved of many of its more political functions (language, immigration, international relations) which are now assumed by other public administration agencies, this new ministry again focuses on supporting cultural, artistic and media activities. It can therefore no longer be as clearly involved in identity issues as its founders intended.