Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Quiet Revolution

The Quiet Revolution (Révolution tranquille) refers to a period of rapid evolution in Quebec. The changes were charactized by: the rapid and effective secularisation of society; the creation of an État-Providence and an increased awareness of national identity among Quebecers. The term "Quiet Revolution" is said to have been first employed in an article of the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. It was used to qualify the peaceful nature of the changes that were going largely unnoticed in English Canada.


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 1960. Similarly, there is no consensus as to when the Quiet Revolution ended, but it is mostly agreed that it was before the 1970s.

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, the signing of the Refus Global by les Automatistes and the publication of Les insolences du Frère Untel (the impertinences of Brother Anonymous), which criticized the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Quebec.

Prior to 1960, the political, educational, economic and social spheres of Quebec were controlled by the fiercely conservative Maurice Duplessis, leader of the Union Nationale, the influential Catholic Church and wealthy businesses. Electoral fraud and corruption was common place. The Roman Catholic Church controlled the availability of books by maintaining an index of banned documents. The province's natural ressources were given away to foreign investors; iron being infamously sold to the U.S.-based Iron Ore company for a cent a ton. Only 50% of the province's population had attended secondary school, and the salary discrepancy between francophones and anglophones was considerable. 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, followed by the consecutive death of his successor, served as a trigger for the Quiet Revolution. Or rather it unleashed energies that had been accumulating 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 Maître chez nous (Masters of Our Own House) and Il faut que ça change (It must 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 recommandations, 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 State was now in charge of the school programs. Other reforms included mandatory school attendance until the age of 16 and free instruction until 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.

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 anglophones and U.S. interests.

In order to mandate 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 returned to power with an increased majority at the Quebec National Assembly 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, the Régie des Rentes du Québec (Quebec Pension Plan) was created to replace the federal pension plan within the province; 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, goods were now to be split equally between the two parties. Prior to this modification, married women could not perform financial transactions and other legal duties without their husband's signature.

Separatist sentiment

The heightened sense of national capacity and identity provided by the multiple reforms resulted in mounting separatist sentiment, 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-nes-français-es (French Canadians) became Québécois-es, thus marking a distinct evolution from passive nationalism to a more active pursuit of independence.

In the 1966 elections, a reformed post-Duplessis Union Nationale returned to power; its leader, Daniel Johnson Sr, became the province's first openly nationalist premier. When General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed "Vive le Québec libre!" in his speech at Expo 67, the Quebec independence movement obtained worldwide recognition. In 1968, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois was created with René Lévesque as its leader.

To this day, the issue of a special status for Quebec within the Canadian Confederation or the attainment of sovereignty of this state is the subject of a fundamental and still unresolved debate. Canada has lived two failed attempts at reforming its constitution to "accommodate" Quebec and two failed referenda on independence.

Despite the continuing disagreements between federalists and sovereignists, Quebec has managed to progress in astonishing ways since the Quiet Revolution. The salary discrepancy between francophones and anglophones has almost been eliminated, the level of education is very high, and Quebec is increasingly able to assimilate immigrants into a French-speaking society, since it has partial control over immigration.

Important characters of the Quiet Revolution