One thing that really grinds my gears is dumb comments about the last 50 years of Canadian history, like this one. Progress is not measured in steel and concrete, in my opinion.
Yes, there were many great things about Montreal leading up to the 1976 Olympic Games. Yes, there are still many fabulous things about Quebec’s real capital. And yes, Toronto has earned its title of Queen City: its growth is phenomenal. That’s a good thing for everyone - Ontario and Quebec are peas in a pod, whether you like it or not.
At the time of Expo 67, 240,000 Montrealers were illiterate, 1 in 3 people lived in a slum without a bathtub or shower, and infants living in the slums were seven times more likely to die*. Quebec didn’t even have a Ministry of Education until 1964. Montreal of yore was morally and socially unsustainable. It’s quite amazing that, despite everything, so many Canadians actually really don’t understand the context of the last 50 years of national history. Is it any surprise that it’s taken one or two generations of Montrealers to recover from those conditions? Isn’t it great that poverty eradication and social equity are still number one on the political agenda for Montrealers and Quebecers?
The on-going social recovery is all the more incredible in light of the fact that a huge part of the Montreal’s economy was based on industry. From the sewing of clothes to the construction of trains, it was done here. Many factories have gone to “lower cost” countries over the past 30 years, but they’ve left traces in our society and in our soil. We must acknowledge that political instability has a negative effect on economic growth. But the economic changes in Montreal are also attribuable to a greater change in the economies of developed countries generally. People forget that Montreal was amongst the first cities to enter the industrial and then the modern era - it’s normal that we’d also be amongst the first to enter post-modernity. Post-modernity is, amongst other things, about challenging the assumptions regarding what socio-economic development is and how it should be achieved.
Another thing that is special about Quebec - it is one of the few places in the world where virtually everybody has had the experience of being discriminated against as a minority. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Quebec leads the world in human rights legislation. On that note, let’s briefly address language legislation, which is in fact part of a much broader initiative to protect people’s rights. There are some highly questionable and tokenistic regulations in Law 101 and especially in its application. But there are also many regulations that are in fact quite justified - for example, that people should be entitled to negotiate their working conditions and have their contracts drawn up in French. Does the hassle of translation dissuade companies from setting up here? Yes. But what kind of companies do we want to work for? In the context given above, it is any surprise that the development and implementation of such legislation would be politically difficult and fraught with problems? And why hasn’t federal legislation to mirror the fairer parts of Law 101 been adopted?
Finally, while it is important to acknowledge, the great exodus story of recent history is not that of English-speakers moving a few hundred kilometres west. It is the exodus of tens of thousands of people - of many different cultural backgrounds - from poverty. The rise of “Quebec Inc.” That is truly the magnificent achievement of Montreal.
* Statistics taken from the Senate’s Poverty Committee and published in the Vancouver Sun. Thanks to Kristian Gravesnor of Coolopolis for the reference. First image created by an unknown artist. Second image taken from: MIKA, John, “Behind the unrest: Life in poverty,” The Vancouver Sun, October 29, 1970. The article is very interesting. I would love to read a full copy of the Senate committee’s report. If anyone is able to send me a copy, that would be very much appreciated. I am also keen to learn more about the history of poverty and social development in Toronto. Thanks also to Steve Galluccio for his critique of the first image and for inspiring this article.