Manitoba's French-Language Crisis: A Cautionary Tale


293 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2790-7
DDC 323.1'111407127




Reviewed by Paul G. Thomas

Paul G. Thomas is the Duff Roblin Professor of Government at the
University of Manitoba, the author of Parliamentary Reform Through
Political Parties, and the co-author of Canadian Public Administration:
Problematical Perspectives.


To the rest of the country, the image of Manitoba might be quiet
moderation, but beneath the surface of the province’s political
culture there has always been the latent potential for intolerance and
polarization. This became evident during the French-language crisis of
1983–84—a set of events that were historical in their origins and
national in their significance. This meticulously researched and
detailed study of the crisis documents how the francophone minority lost
the language rights granted them when the province was founded. It notes
that the Constitution provided little protection for those rights and
that after their removal, the issue of linguistic fairness remained off
the agenda of governments for nearly 50 years. Some progress in terms of
education and service provision to francophone communities was made
during the 1960s, but the constitutional issue of enforceable language
rights reappeared in the late 1970s over an English-only parking ticket.
There ensued a period of deep divisions, high emotions, even violence,
and the near paralysis of the workings of the provincial government.

The main sections of this book examine these events with remarkable
insight. The resistance of the Progressive Conservative government of
Premier Sterling Lyon (1977–81) is contrasted with the search for a
creative political compromise by the New Democratic Party governments of
Premier Howard Pawley (1981–88) which sought to avoid a court-ordered
translation of all English-only laws back to 1890. At one point, the
Legislature was shut down by protests. The role of opposing groups and
the media frenzy that surrounded the controversy are brought out in a
riveting fashion. In short, all the actors and all the key turning
points in the drama are identified in Hébert’s compelling account. He
closes his book by using the theory of right-wing authoritarian
behaviour to explain how bigotry can be mobilized in a province that
likes to celebrate its diversity and tolerance. This is a book to be
read by a national, as well as a Manitoba, audience.


Hébert, Raymond M., “Manitoba's French-Language Crisis: A Cautionary Tale,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,