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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
1960's to Present
Assimilation and marginalization: these were the two most serious challenges facing Franco-Albertans in the post-war era. While their ancestors were able to resist over 200 years of English dominance, Alberta's Francophone communities began to feel the strain of being contained by a dominant and seemingly unsympathetic majority. In the 1960s, however, the Franco-Albertan community saw a shift in attitude and witnessed some efforts by the Canadian government to stave off the effects of assimilation. Increased immigration from abroad meant the cultural make-up of the country was diversifying, and the concept of multiculturalism entered the political theatre in Canada.
During this period, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (RCBB) identified that Francophones living outside of Québec were under tremendous pressure. Supported by a nationwide wave of pluralism, the Commission was formed to address issues raised by Québec's Quiet Revolution. Recognizing French and English as the two founding nations of Canada, the Commission's job was to study and recommend steps that would foster an equal partnership between the two groups. The result of their findings was the Official Languages Act of 1969, whereby French and English became Canada's two official languages.
During this turbulent period, Franco-Albertans could not escape the unrest that surrounded the Quiet Revolution and the rise of separatism in Québec in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a time when many French-Canadians living in Québec undertook to redefine their identity and called for bilingualism, biculturalism, autonomy and equal status in the Canadian Confederation. However, the language rights set in place by the RCBB, although guaranteeing Canada was a bilingual nation, were not provincially enforceable.
Despite a spurt in the population during the 1970s, thanks to the province's booming petroleum industry, Francophone communities were steadily shrinking in the second-half of the 20th century. In 1976, the Parti Quebecois was elected in Québec, and Franco-Albertans faced what appeared to be a very real threat - that Québec might separate from Canada. Confronted with the notion they would be threatened by increased cultural isolation, many Franco-Albertans opposed the separatist movement in the east, and embraced the notion of a united Canada.
The work of Pierre Trudeau had an enormous impact on Franco-Albertans during this period. In 1980, the first referendum on the separation of Québec was defeated, and by 1982, Trudeau's Liberal government had, through the Canadian Charter, solidified the protection of language rights in Canada. Franco-Albertans now had the right to access education offered entirely in French. Conflict would arise however, over interpretation of the charter and who was to take responsibility for ensuring language rights. Franco-Albertans would have to wait until 1990 for provincial recognition and support of exclusive French education. That year, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the Alberta provincial government had violated the rights of its French minority population by declining to promote all-French schooling. Still, the threat of assimilation and isolation remains. In 1995, a second referenum on the separation of Québec was defeated, but this time by a narrow margin of only one percent. Like their French counterparts in Québec, Franco-Albertans still seek recognition as a distinct community as one of the country's founding nations.
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