|Montreal, July 6, 2002 / No 106|
by Harry Valentine
Throughout history, the way people worked influenced their family and social lives as well as the political systems under which they lived. The social group has been central to human survival, from prehistoric times, through the agricultural economies and into the industrial era. Being a member of an extended family or organised social group assured survival of the individual. As the industrial age progressed, the nuclear family evolved and the size of the social group declined. The evolution and development of Quebec's distinct society follows this general trend, with some deviations that could affect the political future of the region.
The lives of French-Canadians in the province of Quebec have historically revolved around family, church, and community. Their history revolves around quest of a distinct group of people securing a living through demanding physical labour and dealing with extreme hardships resulting from living in a harsh and unforgiving land. The teachings of their church praised the efforts of the pioneers who endured such extreme hardships and who succeeded in making a life for themselves, their families and their fellow pioneers in this challenging environment. Their cultural values included fluency in the French language, obedience to the teachings of the Catholic faith, a large number of siblings, being part of large extended families and close-knit communities, as well as co-operation and group solidarity during times of crisis. These common values became the foundation of what today is perceived as the distinctness of Quebec's cultural heritage.
This distinct cultural heritage is regarded with a deep sense of reverance. It provides a historical link to the past as well as a unique identity as a distinct group of people. Acceptance, and the feeling of belonging by fellow group members who share this common history, has deep meaning. During an earlier time in Quebec's industrial history, the majority of Quebec's francophone factory workers had a valid basis to see themselves as being powerless as individuals. Like Quebec's early pioneers, they saw their strength in their membership in a group such as labour unions.
Organised group strength offered francophone industrial workers a means to endure and improve the harsh working conditions they encountered in Quebec's earlier industrial workplaces. The survival of Quebec's distinct group and their language acquired special relevance after Canada's federal government introduced the asinine and unnecessary policy of multiculturalism, a means for the liberal party to improve their low standing in the opinion polls at the time. The significant achievement of the federal multiculturalism policy was to ignite a high level of nationalist fervour in Quebec, including compulsory French language policies and greater urgency to seek political independence from Canada.
Group strength and group affiliation once played a significant role in Quebec's social, political and economic development. Recent changes occuring in Quebec's centre of economic power will place a far higher emphasis on individual level creative and intellectual power. These changes are occuring in Quebec's telecommunications and information sectors of the economy.
Decision making power has been highly decentralized in most new economy companies. Whereas at times past, industrial workers could only offer employers their physical labour and ability to follow orders, automation and advanced mechanization in the workplace have dramatically reduced the demand for such workers. The earlier teachings of the church stressed the infallibility of the church leadership as being superior to the flawed reasoning of mortal man. Quebec's 1960's revolt against church teachings may have encouraged people to think independently and for themselves. Many now use their reasoning abilities in the work environment.
In the modern economy, large groups have become less relevant. The information sector workers today depend more on the abilities of their minds, their creativity, their thinking skills and their problem solving abilities in both solitary as well as team settings. Decision making has been largely decentralized in most information sector companies, including many of those located at the centre of Quebec's economic power on Montreal's West Island. The implicit message imparted by the modern work environment is that individual people are becoming significant outside of their larger distinct cultural group. Several thousand francophones are now beginning to get this unspoken message.
Historically, how people worked in Quebec and their need for group affiliation, be that the church or a labour union, influenced Quebec's social and political evolution. The pro-sovereignty forces had their roots in both the church as well as in the labour union movement. The development of an information sector in Quebec's economy will influence Quebec's long-term future social and political evolution. Quebec's culture has been undergoing a process of change and evolution since the late 1960's. The nature of mind work in the new economic sectors will merely accelerate the speed of this change. It will influence how such workers raise their children, the ideas those children adopt, as well as how they will eventually perceive themselves and their relation to the world in which they live. The approval, acceptance and affirmation of the group is slowly being replaced by higher levels of self acceptance and more people trusting their own minds to make rational business decisions.
The work, social and family lives of Quebec's information sector workforce will subtly influence the long-term political, social and cultural evolution of the rest of the population. Over time, this influence will involve larger numbers of people, causing a shift in how many of them will perceive who they are in the social, economic and political context. A very subtle social and economic evolution has been quietly unfolding in Quebec's distinct society over the past several years, as a result of changes in the world of work. A growing segment in this population is beginning to realise that they have more power and influence outside their distinct cultural group, than earlier generations had inside the group. Many of them are already exercising some of this power in the workplace, a result of the changes that have occured over the past decade in Quebec's economy and in the work environment. The individual contributions they are able to make to the world in their work environment far exceeds the individual contributions made by Quebec's unionized industrial workers of the pre-1980 generation.
The challenge for Quebec's future political leadership is not only to perceive the nature of the subtle changes occuring in Quebec society, but to advance their thinking ahead of the subtle change. If they are able to do this, they may be able to place themselves in a position to influence the direction of the change. Part of the subtle change has to do with people realising that they are significant as individuals, outside of their distinct cultural identity. Segments of the original vision of what a sovereign Quebec would have offered to francophones has become outdated. Technological advances in the telecommuncations sector now offers a potentially more secure future to the French language than what had previously been thought possible. The sovereignist/nationalist commitment to protect Quebec's identity as a distinct society focuses on a unchanging society, not an evolving one. In view of the changes that are occuring in how a growing segment within the distinct society will be perceiving themselves, a new vision of what an independent Quebec can offer its population may need to be developed.
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