Le Canada francais et la Confederation: Fondements et bilan critique. Jean-Francois Caron and Marcel Martel, eds, University of Laval Press, Quebec, 2016, 174 p.
With the 150th anniversary of Confederation fast approaching, a wave of scholarship is encouraging us to reflect on this formative period of Canada's history, and the evolution of the country over the past century and a half. In Le Canada frangais et la Confederation, edited by historian Marcel Martel and political scientist Jean-Francois Caron, a group of six scholars interrogate what the original Confederation deal was supposed to mean in terms of linguistic and cultural duality, and how this dynamic has evolved since the 1860s. While in many respects this collection represents a synthesis of existing scholarship, it provides a useful primer on French-speaking Canadians' relationship to Confederation, and their varied experiences of the system of federalism. At the same time, it inadvertently exposes the ongoing gap between Canada's English and French scholarly communities, as many of the findings discussed here echo those of historian Arthur Silver's excellent 1982 book, The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation.
The first three essays in the collection treat the Acadian, Quebecois and French-Canadian minority communities' roles in the process leading to Confederation and their expectations of this agreement. Legal scholar Gaetan Migneault attempts to determine the perceptions held by Acadians of Confederation, given that none were part of the negotiations, and no newspapers or archives existed to record their views. Migneault attempts to challenge the perception that Acadians were ignorant of the entire process. His argument hinges on the results of the Acadian counties in the 1865 and 1866 New Brunswick elections, both of which returned anti-Confederation candidates. For Migneault, these results were not necessarily the result of other, local issues, but rather may have reflected concerns about the rights of Acadians under the Confederation deal. He bases his arguments on other petitions and speeches from the periods right before, and right after, the Confederation negotiations, which suggest that education and language rights were among the Acadians' concerns.
Caron and Martel's chapters in this section largely reflect efforts to communicate existing scholarly knowledge (from English-language scholars) to a francophone audience. Caron's chapter argues that although John A. Macdonald's...