Guy Rocher, an actor in the modernization of Quebec

This text is part of the special notebook The 100 years of Guy Rocher

Guy Rocher is at the origin of several major changes and contributed to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, thus participating in the modernization of Quebec. As a political actor and thinker, he still influences public debate today.

Guy Rocher’s numerous contributions to political life make him one of the architects who participated in the modernization of Quebec. Although his time in government was brief, his mark on society is notable and his ideas endure to this day.

Major political contribution

Guy Rocher greatly contributed to the democratization of access to education as a member of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Education in the Province of Quebec, also called the Parent Commission, in 1961. The recommendations resulting from the report Parent allowed a restructuring of Quebec education and gave rise to the creation of CEGEPs as well as the University of Quebec network. This series of reforms is part of the wave of reforms of the Quiet Revolution.

He became directly involved in political life by serving as a civil servant in the Quebec government in 1970, as associate general secretary of the Executive Council. He then served as Deputy Minister, first for Cultural Development in 1977, then for Social Development in 1981. It was at this time that he co-wrote, at the request of Minister Camille Laurin, under René Lévesque, the Charter of the French language, also known as Law 101. This law constitutes his “great work”, according to Karim Benyekhlef, full professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Montreal and co-director of the work Guy Rocher. The scholar and the politician. Collective, economic and social rights were of great importance to Guy Rocher and were translated concretely by the Charter of the French language, which was intended “for a people”, he continues. His knowledge of law also allowed him to refine his thinking and contributed to this “important participation”, explains the professor.

Louise Harel, former minister and president of the National Assembly, considers that her opposition to multiculturalism was “decisive in the reflection of the sovereignist movement” and also recognizes having been “very inspired by the writings of Guy Rocher” in her own work.

The intellectual engaged in the Quebec agora

Louise Harel believes that the sociologist, professor and politician is in “total osmosis with Quebec society”, which he has succeeded in changing. “The Quiet Revolution did not only take place in ministerial offices, but also in the agora, during exchanges, public debates and discussions,” points out Karim Benyekhlef. It is also in this sense that Guy Rocher was a major player and “accompanied [le] development” of Quebec society. By being one of the first intellectuals to study abroad, he succeeded in bringing to Quebec “a modern, progressive vision of society, free from the institutional and religious burdens of the time,” he adds.

A committed intellectual, deeply at the heart of the public debates of his time, Guy Rocher has always asserted “courageous” positions, since the Quiet Revolution, believes Louise Harel. His opposition to the multiculturalism law also demonstrates great courage “in the context of the time”, because he was one of the only people to “openly denounce the war measures law”. For the former President of the National Assembly, her entire political life is characterized by courage, whether at the school of social sciences of Father Georges-Henri Lévesque, at Laval University, during her opposition to Prime Minister Duplessis, during the asbestos strike, or even during the October crisis. Former minister Louise Harel recalls that he was always a man of openness and dialogue, starting in 1943, when he was an activist within the Catholic Student Youth.

For Karim Benyekhlef, the great intellectual coherence demonstrated by Guy Rocher is striking. “He never turned his back or compromised on his political positions,” whether in his intellectual commitment or in his political action. Even today, his outlook remains relevant, because he is “extremely present in the world and in current affairs”, affirms the former minister. In the same vein, Karim Benyekhlef considers that his legacy [dans le débat politique actuel] is important, particularly in the collective dimension of rights “which is fundamental and can constitute the basis of tomorrow’s society”, continues the law professor.

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