Memorandum from R.G. Robertson [Memorandum by Gilles Dufault on Cultural Sovereignty] to Mr. Carter (4 September 1975)

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Date: 1975-09-04
By: R.G. Robertson
Citation: Memorandum from R.G. Robertson to Mr. Carter (4 September 1975).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


September 4th, 1975.

c.c. Mr. Gravelle
Mr. Hurley


Memorandum by Gilles Dufault
on Cultural Sovereignty

See the attached memorandum from Gilles
Dufault of the PMO covering a memorandum of July 31st
that he sent to the Prime Minister. As you will see,
Dufault really has two suggestions:

(a) That we should try to submit for the Prime
Minister’s approval a “definition of
cultural sovereignty”.

I see no merit or attraction in this idea
whatever. Mr. Bourassa is having enough
difficulty himself with a definition and
I should think that he would like nothing
better than to see the problem shifted
somewhere else. We would certainly be
exposing ourselves to all the criticisms
in the world if we were to take this on.
I am not quite clear what the Prime
Minister’s comment means in relation to
this, but I doubt if he intends support
for the proposal.

(b) That we should develop something on the
ways in which Quebec already exercises
or can exercise “a certain cultural

It is possible that something could be
done with regard to this. I am not at
all sure, however, how profitable it
would be. I suspect that it would not
come as news to anyone that Quebec has
established Radio Québec, Office du film
du Québec, etc. A much more impressive

thing might be some outline of the
actions that the federal government has
taken to strengthen and develop the French
language and the French culture. While
that might be reasonably positive, I
doubt however that it would add very much
to the discussion that Mr. Bourassa has

You will note in the memorandum some reference
to a discussion by Dufault with “Marc” (presumably Marc
Lalonde). He apparently has expressed some interest
in “a document on the question” for Quebec Ministers to
have before the end of September. I can see that they
might, for purposes of discussion, want to have some
kind of a briefing’on the problems that are involved in
the various positions that have been taken by the
Government of Quebec on “cultural sovereignty”. This
would, however, be something totally different from the
kinds of things to which Dufault refers. I would not
want to see us doing a lot of work on anything of this
kind before we knew for sure that Ministers do in fact
want something and just what it is they want.

While I do not think that Dufault’s suggestions
are on the right track, this may be the occasion to
consider just what the best position for the federal
government and Ministers might be in dealing with this
particular debate. I do not have in mind at this point
the question of the position that ought to be taken with
regard to “constitutional guarantees” as part of the
“patriation” exercise. I have in mind rather the
question of the position that should be taken in public

Dufault suggests, on page 2 of his memorandum,
that the definition of “cultural sovereignty” would force
people “to make a choice” or at least would “polarize
them around a choice”. He implies that this is the
right course. I very much doubt if it is. It seems
to me that a much better line is to try to blunt the
debate, to get people thinking about the things that
can be done for the strengthening of French culture in
Canada by both the federal and the provincial levels of
government (see the editorial by Gilles Boyer in Le
Soleil of the other day) and provide the provincial

government with an opportunity to slide away from this
particular slogan if it can do it. We had a precedent
for the present situation in the strong position taken
by the Government of Quebec, Mr. Bourassa and
Mr. Castonguay on social policy at the time of the
Victoria Conference. It has proved possible to move
away from the rigidity and sharpness of the confronta-
tion through positive measures that people regarded as
sensible. There is no steam in the issue any more,
no-one has had to back down,and a constructive result
has emerged. It seems to me that this is the
profitable course, not one of forcing a choice or a

The two things that Mr. Bourassa has
mentioned specifically are communications and immigra-
tion. If he wants to say too much on these matters
in precise terms as a part of “patriation” we may have
trouble. On the other hand, it is not impossible
that, if a bit of time can be secured and if some
fairly positive steps can be taken, the heat may be
taken out of the debate and it may be possible to
arrive at a conclusion based on facts and common
sense rather than on precise legal definition.

Could you please take a look at the attached
material and give this matter some thought. We might
then have a word as to what best to do.

I am sending copies of this to Pierre Gravelle
and Jim Hurley for any comments they may have.

Original signed by
Original signé par



le 2 septembre 1975


De: Gilles Dufault
Sujet: Souveraineté culturelle

A la suggestion du Premier ministre, je
vous fais parvenir copie d’une note que je lui adressais
le 31 juillet dernier sur la souveraineté culturelle.

Ce theme encore mal défini, risque à mon
avis, d’être le principal sujet d’affrontement entre le
Québec et Ottawa au cours des deux prochaines années.
C‘est pourquoi j’ai suggéré que l’on prenne l’offensive.
Qu’en pensez-vous? Est-ce possible de préparer quelque
chose pour les ministres du Québec à ce sujet?


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