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PRINT EDITION
Toujours la France, toujours de Gaulle
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By WILLIAM JOHNSON
Author and a former president of Alliance Quebec
  
  

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Monday, July 7, 2008 – Page A11

French Prime Minister François Fillon showed more charm and subtlety, but he recalled Charles de Gaulle in his speech Thursday commemorating the 400th anniversary of Champlain's landing in Quebec.

The general, in 1967, referred constantly to "les Français du Canada" and "les Français du Québec." Mr. Fillon found in Quebec not only "les Français," but la France itself:

"France expanded herself without dividing herself; she stretched out without breaking herself apart. Ladies and gentlemen, there is but one France and it is she that, over the past four centuries, has been present in America. I salute the extraordinary political adventure that a fierce will drove here. I salute the prodigious flowering of your prosperity, the cultural and spiritual fervour that the French presence caused to flower here."

A surprised Simon Durivage, a host for RDI television, commented: "Is he saying that we are still a colony of France?"

Was all that just a mystical metaphor for the spread of French culture? That innocent interpretation flies against the history of recurrent French interventions to promote Quebec's secession, from de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac.

The general never veered from his purpose, both before and after his cry of, "Vive le Québec libre" from the balcony.

In a secret letter to premier Daniel Johnson on Sept. 8, 1967, delivered by hand, he wrote: "It truly seems to me that the great operation of the accession of Quebec, such as you pursue it, is now on the right track ... Solutions are needed. It can hardly be doubted any longer that the evolution will lead to a Quebec that is self-determining in every respect."

At a press conference on Nov. 27, 1967, he said that the resolution of the question "will result necessarily, in my opinion, in the accession of Quebec to the rank of a sovereign state, master of its national existence."

With that background - France has never apologized - one might have expected Mr. Fillon to choose his words carefully. And he did - to recall and praise de Gaulle: "The French fact never died in America. Forty years ago, a great voice, a historic voice, uttering an expression that is yours, drew it from hibernation in the minds of my compatriots."

What did he mean? Quebec's Quiet Revolution began in 1960 and its hibernation was in the past when de Gaulle spoke. He stirred up separatism in Quebec and a lobby in France - including in its diplomatic service - that worked with separatists and nationalists to give Quebec the greatest possible international presence.

Mr. Fillon spoke as if Quebec owed all good to France and the "civilisation française," although he acknowledged it was "enriched by contact with the Indian first nations" and "pressed by the British conquest to make itself more assertive and more tenacious."

The French Prime Minister should, instead, have delivered an apology on behalf of France for letting Champlain down and botching New France. France, in fact, was a wretched colonizer. With three times Britain's population, during the entire period from 1608 until 1760, the mother country sent an average of fewer than 70 immigrants a year - while the American colonies received 1,400 a year.

France was interested only in the fur trade, not in creating a normal society. It spread its few settlers over immense distances to provide raw resources, but forbade the development of industries that could compete with the mother country. All the governors after Champlain were military officers and Quebec a walled fortress, while Boston, a centre of agriculture, had no walls. New France never produced enough food to feed itself.

By 1663, New France had a total of about 3,500, including Acadians under British rule, according to the pre-eminent historian of New France, Marcel Trudel. New Netherlands (later New York) had 10,000. Combined, the British and Dutch colonies of North America had 80,000.

France never showed much interest. The cost of maintaining it was greater than the returns. After the final defeat, during negotiations in 1761, France offered Canada to Britain in exchange for Guadeloupe, which the British had conquered. Canada, with its fur trade, brought £140,000 a year while the sugar trade from Guadeloupe was worth £300,000. So France chose Guadeloupe over Canada in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

The "conquest" was a catastrophe? French civilization was all? Look at all the former French colonies and compare them with all the former British colonies, including the United States. Only one is rich, peaceful and respectful of the rule of law: Quebec-Canada. Is it a coincidence?


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