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1968: One country, deux langues

He slid down banisters, dated movie stars and wore a red rose in his lapel. Pierre Elliott Trudeau is arguably the most charismatic prime minister in Canada's history. But he was more than just charisma – Trudeau helped shape Canada with his vision of a unified, bilingual, multicultural "just society." Throughout his 16 years as prime minister, he faced some heavy criticism. But when Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000, the nation mourned the man who, in the words of one biographer, "haunts us still."

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In 1968, new legislation is introduced to make Canada officially bilingual. The Official Languages Act means citizens can choose to be served in either French or English by federal government institutions. Services will be available in both official languages in Ottawa, and in areas with large concentrations of official-language minority populations. An ombudsman's office, the Commissioner of Official Languages, is also set up to monitor enforcement.

Public reaction is mixed. In Canada, language has always been a hot political issue. Although some see universal bilingualism as the hidden goal, the government says citizens do have the right to remain unilingual. Despite resistance, all federal parties officially support the bill, which is passed on July 9, 1969.

In this CBC-TV clip, PC Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield, NDP MP David Lewis, Créditiste leader Réal Caouette, and Prime Minister Trudeau agree that passing the bill is the right thing to do.

• In 1867, Canada was two-thirds anglophone and one-third francophone. Before agreeing to join Confederation, French Canadians wanted the right to educate their children in French. The 1867 Constitution Act set up federal and Quebec institutions to be bilingual.

• During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some provinces passed restrictive laws, such as the Manitoba Schools Act (1890), making it very difficult for francophones to send their children to French schools. In Ontario, French schools were abolished in 1912. To respond to the

frustration of the French population, Prime Minister Lester Pearson created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963. It urged the creation of a new "equal partnership."

• All federal parties supported the Official Languages Act (later updated in 1988). Its principles were enshrined in the 1982 Constitution through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Quebec is the only province which has not yet signed the Constitution, despite attempts at Meech Lake and Charlottetown.

• New Brunswick has been the only officially bilingual province in Canada since 1969. It has its own parallel English and French school systems, laws requiring equal treatment of both language groups, and a provincial Official Languages Act.

• In Nunavut, Canada's newest territory created in 1999, Inuktitut is the third official language, and its government's working language.

• By 1996, with multicultural immigration, both anglophones (60%) and francophones (25%) had decreased as a proportion of Canada's population. Those whose mother tongue was neither now comprised 15%. Although English-speakers are distributed fairly evenly across Canada, French-speaking Canadians are concentrated in Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and parts of Manitoba.

• More Canadians are now bilingual. More than 17% (4.8 million) were bilingual as of our 1996 census, up from 13% in 1971. A 1991 Globe & Mail survey found that 60% of English-speaking Canadians and 75% of French-speaking Canadians prefer two official languages, rather than regional arrangements.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Oct. 17, 1968
Guest(s): Réal Couette, David Lewis, Robert Stanfield, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Duration: 1:51

Last updated: October 9, 2014

Page consulted on October 9, 2014

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