An in-depth account of how Canada's Francophone minority communities renewed themselves via their struggles to obtain language education rights and eventually managed to win, with the backing of the Charter, the Supreme Court, and the Canadian government,
By the late 1950s Canada's Francophone and Acadian minority communities were in rapid decline. Demographic, economic, socio-cultural, institutional, and political factors that had sustained both the concept and the reality of French Canada for well over a century were being eliminated or transformed at an unprecedented rate. To survive, these beleaguered minority communities set out to conquer the challenges of rebuilding their provincial and national organizations, training a new generation of leaders, redefining their respective provincial and national identities, elaborating new political and constitutional policies and strategies for survival and expansion, and then defending and securing full implementation of these policies and strategies.
Convinced that education was one of the essential keys to the renewal and growth of their communities, revitalized Francophone organizations and leaders lobbied for constitutional entrenchment of official bilingualism and of a mandated Charter right to education in their own language, including the right to governance over their own schools and school boards. Having achieved their objectives in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Francophone provincial and national leaders learned the techniques of micro-constitutional politics to convince the Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba provincial governments to implement full and unfettered school governance by and for Francophone minority communities. These communities received the backing of Canada's Supreme Court, which gave a collectivist and remedial interpretation to the Charter's official language minority education rights section 23. The Canadian government assisted the Francophone minority in two ways: it made funds available to Francophone organizations and parents via the Court Challenges program and it signed lucrative financial agreements with the provinces to help defray the additional costs of establishing French-language schools and school boards. While the Francophone minority communities were pursuing implementation of their section 23 Charter rights, they found themselves drawn into the mega-constitutional negotiations and ratification procedures surrounding the controversial Meech Lake Constitutional Accord, 1987-90, and the omnibus Charlottetown Consensus Report, 1990-92. During the Quebec/Provincial Round, their Charter rights remained intact when the Meech Lake Accord failed to obtain ratification. During the Canada Round, they managed to obtain recognition of their conception of a pan-Canadian cultural and linguistic duality which helped minimize the constitutional and political impact of the Quebec government's insistence upon a territorial conception of duality, that is, an asymmetrical Canada/Quebec federation. When Canadians rejected the Charlottetown deal, neither conception achieved formal constitutional recognition. Nevertheless, Canada's Francophone minority communities were regenerated by the intertwined developments of constitutional renewal and their winning of school governance. A new, vigorous Francophone pan-Canadian national community emerged, one capable of ensuring the survival of its constituents communities well into the twenty-first century.