When it established the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles in 1961, Jean Lesage’s government wished to remind us that Quebec has a distinct culture in North America. The ministry, created to defend the French language in an Anglophone environment, spearheaded many initiatives that contributed to the rise of Quebec culture, from the creation of the Office Québécois de la langue française to the establishment of a now internationally renowned film industry.
This special topic is an opportunity for us to salute the remarkable work of Georges-Émile Lapalme, of his deputy minister Guy Frégault, and of Pierre Laporte: these men have made culture a national priority.
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A francophone island on the North American continent
The history of Quebec is inseparable from its world-famous Francophone culture. The latter is expressed through literature, music, art and cinema. Quebec’s strength lies in its ability to make this dominant Francophone culture coexist alongside others, especially Anglophone and Aboriginal cultures, a relationship that allows the province to assert itself as a singular nation.
In this respect, it is important to remember that Quebec is composed of an Anglophone minority and of several Aboriginal nations with various languages and cultures (Abenaki, Algonquin, Atikamekw, Cree, Huron-Wendat, Maliseet, Innu, Mohawk, Inuit, Naskapi, Micmac).
A rich culture to promote in Canada and the world
Quebec culture is above all a popular culture that has been expressed by great individuals. Whether we think of singer-songwriter Félix Leclerc or poet Émile Nelligan, several artists contributed as early as the 19th century to the rise of Quebec culture at the international level. Today, artists like Robert Lepage, Dany Lafferière and Marie Chouinard are our best ambassadors.
The dissemination of this culture and access to it have mainly depended on voluntarist initiatives by Liberal governments, first of all through the strong leadership of certain political men and women who wished to build an institutional framework that matched our cultural ambitions. Their achievements in the past fifty years have been significant. After creating several institutions, the Quebec Ministère de la Culture et des Communications now has a substantial budget, with overall spending of 703 million dollars planned in the 2017-2018 budget. The Couillard government is prioritizing culture now more than ever, and in early 2017 announced investments of more than 22 million dollars in this sector for regions and municipalities.
Moreover, several concrete initiatives have provided financial support for artists. For instance, the last Bourassa government inaugurated the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres (CALQ) in 1993. The creation of the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) has also contributed to promoting Quebec culture.
Finally, the goal of Liberal governments has always been to facilitate access to culture for the largest number of our fellow citizens; access that is even more direct today thanks to the digitization of content. For example, users of the BAnQ can access a multitude of online resources on a number of subjects.
Continuing to promote and open up Quebec culture
In line with his illustrious predecessors, Premier Philippe Couillard intends to make the cultural sector an essential pillar of economic growth in Quebec, as well as a vehicle of social cohesion. In keeping with the strong initiatives taken by the last Bourassa government, we wished to write a new chapter in the cultural history of Quebec by renewing Quebec’s cultural policy. The new policy complements the digital cultural plan launched in 2014.
This policy takes a comprehensive approach to culture in the digital age. It is founded on several fundamental main lines. Taking account of the context of globalization that entails the growing use of English in various media, the government reminded us of the necessity, first of all, of defending and preserving the French language. But this defense and preservation requires a heterogeneous view of our culture. This is why the new Quebec cultural policy will prioritize the principal of “diversity” to take into account the cultural contribution of immigrant and Aboriginal cultural communities. Finally, at the level of governance, the government desires the active participation of all administrative levels—municipal and regional—in the cultural policy and intends to make the citizen a proactive actor in this field.
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