Why Life is Better in 2006 than in 1706
by David Schlachter
The 1700’s were a bad time to live in Quebec. With miserable peasants dying off in droves, corrupt local governments who didn’t want to help the people, and an insane king thousands of kilometers away who could never fully understand people’s horrible condition, but who was determined to make some cash from his vast territory in North America. Even the church was corrupt! However, life in Quebec now, in 2006, is better than it has even been. Major improvements in medicine, communication, and quality of life have radically changed life in Quebec for the better. However, one of the most important changes has been one of choice. We now have free agency. We can elect the government that we want, and we have more freedom than ever before.
The government in New France was a monarchy. King Lois was the French king for quite a while, and whatever he said was the law. So, if he was having a bad day, he might refuse to send life-saving aid to New France.
The king lived a very comfortable life in a huge palace, no doubt funded by the people’s taxes. For the king, this was a good thing, but for the peasants that payed taxes life was hard. They already had trouble growing enough crops to feed their families, but when taxes were taken they had to work even harder, just to keep the king comfortable.
Of course, since the king was living thousands of kilometers away from New France, one might question his ability to rule over the people of Quebec, who he would certainly not understand. From the king’s actions though, one might suspect that the king was trying to boost the economy of New France, so that he and his friends could raise their standard of living even more.
For example, the king figured that the best way to boost the economy was to have a larger amount of people in the country. Not only would more people pay more taxes, but there would also be more people available to join the military. So, the king set about to marry off the colonists. He sent over the Filles du Roi, French women who were sent for settlers to marry. Not only this, but the king bribed the settlers by giving them money when they got married. Although the money was likely swallowed in taxes before long, the king would also have settlers pay a hefty fine if they were no married before the age of 20 (for boys) or 16 (for girls).
However, it is unlikely that all of the king’s decisions were the result of greed and self-interest. For example, Jean Talon was the governor of New France. Although he was restricted by higher powers in France, Talon helped the people.
In 2006 though, Canada is not ruled by a greedy king thousands of kilometers away. We don’t take that chance that a king will be grumpy one day and, say, attack China and the US. Instead, today’s Canada is ruled by the Canadian people. Thanks to our democracy, the citizens decide what the law will be. The citizens are ultimately the ones with power. Clearly, power should belong to who it affects, just like in modern Canada.
In the 1700’s, the church in New France was undoubtably corrupt. The motive of the church’s avarice and hunger for power may be a mystery, but there is no doubt that it existed. For example, Lois Gaboury was a regular French citizen. His problem was that one year, he didn’t fast for Lent in a way that satisfied the church. Because of this, he had to pay a cow to the person who caught him not fasting (a bribe from the church, perhaps?), he was tied to a public stake for three hours to plead for forgiveness, and to add insult to injury he had to pay a fine of 20 livres. Clearly, this was intended to inspire fear among the citizens, by making Mr. Gaboury an example of what even a bit of disobedience would cause the church to do. The church wanted to keep public order, by making sure that no one dared question their authority.
Not only did the church do its best to intimidate the French colonists, but they also attempted to spread their religion to the natives. For thousands of years, the natives had been living in their own sort of peace. Although they had wars, they enjoyed the right to practice their own religions. However, when the church arrived, they did their best to remove this challenge to their religious monopoly. They set up stations in the forests to manipulate the natives, by giving them gifts and aid. The doors of such places were open to, “all friendly natives.” Of course, what this meant was that after a group of natives became dependant on the station, the church would decide to cut off their help, unless the natives forsook their own religion and joined them.
However, even though the church was saturated with corruption, and their motives could point to the king employing them to keep the peace or perhaps a religious global domination, the individual priests and nuns were not necessarily trying to manipulate the people. Clearly, the cause of the corruption was from a group high up in the church leadership, an example of how in the 1700’s power was given to the people who could afford it, instead to the individuals who the power affected. This, combined with the attempts to intimidate citizens and ruthlessly convert natives, suggest that someone high up in the church was an avid reader of the Italian author Machiavelli.
In 2006, though, things are much better. We do not all belong to the church, instead we have religious freedom; we can join the church that we think is right. If a church is doing something damaging, such as continually pressuring a native group to give up its time-tested religion with threats and violence, the government can stop them. This contrasts vividly to when the church was the government. Today, if someone disobeys a law in their church, they don’t have to worry about being fined by the government and publicly humiliated, so long as whatever they did is not illegal. In short, 1706 knew only the church, the people had no choice about religion. If they disagreed with doctrine, they were seriously risking a lot. Their property could be confiscated, and they might lose their job. However, in 2006 we have the freedom to believe what we think is right.