Here are some basic questions all Québécois (Anglos and Allos included) need to ask themselves prior to voting in this year’s provincial election:
1. Why does Québec need to become an independent country?
2. Is there any actual empirical evidence either the French language or French culture of our province and/or country is in any way threatened?
3. Given that there is no official effort to assimilate Francophones in this country, why are separatist parties so concerned with the spectre of assimilation?
4. How would ten million ethnic French Canadians, almost all of whom speak and work in French on a daily basis, lose their language and/or cultural identity anyways? (without some kind of external compelling force)
5. Are Québécois specifically and French Canadians in general incapable of preserving and promoting the use of French on an individual basis? Why does the state need to be involved?
6. If we’re to have yet another referendum, what will it be on? Independence? Sovereignty? Sovereignty-Association? Another round of constitutional negotiations? Why isn’t this clear?
7. Is it right to destroy one country in order to build another?
8. When was the last time an ethno-nationalist movement created an ideal society anyways?
9. Is Québec a colony of the British Empire? Are we a colony of Canada? And if we’re not a colony, why do we need to be ‘free’? If we are held in bondage, who holds us down? And can any of this be verified, proven?
10. Are we not already free, given the protections, rights and responsibilities afforded by our national constitution and charter?
11. René Lévesque did not sign the constitution document; does this mean he spoke for all Québécois at the time? Does he continue to speak for us today? Have we, alone, been administered by the British North America Act since 1982? Are we not protected by both it and the charter regardless?
13. If Québec were to become an independent country, how would it justify its actions to the international community? What is the basis for our desire to become independent? Is it based on 2014 conditions, or based on a laundry list of real and imagined aggressions dating back to the mid-18th century?
14. How can a political movement designed to protect minority rights (the PQ, as it was originally conceived) turn around and infringe upon minority rights (the PQ, today) and claim any kind of political legitimacy? Bill 60 is institutionalized racism: it specifically singles-out religious minorities working in the public sector and demands they choose between their jobs or wearing religious garments or symbols.
15. We speak often of perceived Francophobia and Québec-bashing on the part of the Anglophone media, yet the single largest source of anti-Québec sentiment in Canadian English-language media is arguably the Sun News Network and the associated Sun newspaper chain, both of which are owned by Pierre-Karl Péladeau, a PQ ‘all-star’ candidate who also happens to own Quebecor, the largest media conglomerate in the province. Given this concentration of power, money and media in the hands of a single political party, should we be so readily accepting of their negative portrayal of competing media? Is this not an immense conflict of public interest?
I found the following statement posted to Reddit’s Montreal community page. It’s not entirely clear where or what the original source is, but it’s nonetheless attributed to Dr. Joe Schwarcz, a well-respected local chemist, professor and published author. Schwarcz is a mainstay of Montréal’s vibrant intellectual and academic class; he keeps a regular column in The Gazette, runs McGill’s Office for Science & Society, and is a frequent guest on CJAD and the Discovery Channel.
He rose to prominence as a popular ‘de-bunker’ of magicians and mentalists (such as Uri Geller) by demonstrating that there are simple, scientific explanations for myriad phenomena. In other words, hardly the type to make rash judgements based on emotional (and unnecessarily so) political decisions.
Consider for yourself, I think the man has an excellent point:
“Within the last ten days I’ve been in New York, B.C. and Washington.
I was there to talk about various issues in chemistry but in each instance the topic of conversation with my hosts quickly focused on “pastagate.”
I felt ashamed to be from Quebec. We have become the laughing stock of the world. It is sheer lunacy that with numerous legitimate issues to be addressed, the narrow minded Quebec politicians worry about the French language losing its eminence because of what they see as a treacherous restaurant menu.
And it’s equally disturbing that while the Parti Quebecois commits these linguistic atrocities, the Federal government just stays silent.
The simple-minded critter who was in charge of the language police, and that is the proper description, claims that her heart was in the right place. Maybe so, but it is her brain that is missing.
Our infrastructure is crumbling, our education system is a mess, our emergency rooms are stressed to the limit and we are funding the Office Québécoise de la Langue Francaise to the tune of some 30 million dollars a year.
This is a crime!
A colossal misappropriation of public funds. We are actually paying people to go around measuring signs and telling stores to cover up “on” buttons on microwave ovens.
It is time to disband this foul operation and put the expertise of the employees to use in measuring the depth of potholes. Filling them probably lies outside their capability. It is truly amazing that Minister Diane de Courcy, when announcing the resignation of the head of the OQLF and declaring that questions in English would not be entertained, did not recognize the irony of standing in front of a sign declaring “Un Quebec for Tous.” Surely that rusty brain needs some oiling.
Educated Americans used to be ashamed to say that George W. Bush was their president. Compared with our premier, he was an intellectual giant.
There is simply no threat to the stability and sanctity of the French language in Montréal, Québec or Canada, nor is there any doubt whatsoever of the predominance of the French language in the public sphere of Montréal. English has been chiseled off the façades of our heritage buildings, bilingual signs covered up and monolingual ‘À Vendre’ and ‘À Louer’ signs are now far too predominant on our city streets.
It’s quite frankly a crime, a deceit of profound public irresponsibility, to campaign and dictate social policy based on the fabricated notion not only that the language of the majority of Québecois and Montréalais would be threatened with extinction, to the point of cultural genocide, but further that a small minority of English speakers are somehow holding Québec back from it’s place in the sun.
There are at present some seven million speakers of Canadian French, representing about 22% of the national population (it should be noted as well, somewhat astoundingly, that there are several small pockets of those proficient in our variety of French in the Northeastern United States), of which roughly 6.2 million speak the Québec variety as mother tongue. How many more have at least basic knowledge of conversational French, or who understand it perfectly while being unable to speak it (for whatever reason) likely puts the total number of people familiar with the language and it’s socio-cultural implications far higher.
There are at present some 661,000 Anglo-Québecois, with about one million calling it their first official language, out of a total population of eight million Québécois. Roughly 40% of the Québec population is bilingual to one degree or another in both Official Languages, while 53% of Québécois are monolingual Francophones.
The largest the Anglophone population ever got in this province was just under 800,000 people, in 1971, when they represented 13% of the population. Today the Anglo-Québécois community represents about 8% of the Québec population. It has been growing, modestly, since 2001, after an equally steady thirty-year decline immediately prior to that.
Political instability in Québec since 1970 has resulted in a net out-migration of 400,000 people, of which 285,000 compose the Anglo-Québécois Diaspora.
In Québec, Bill 101 has so far mandated that all immigrant students be educated in French regardless of mother tongue or at-home language proficiency. All businesses with more than fifty employees must conduct all official business in French. Government services are to be first and foremost in French, though with limited English services for communities where the Anglophone minority is prevalent. And all this to guarantee the supremacy of the French language in Québec.
It worked. There is simply no question French has been guaranteed forevermore in Québec. The Anglophone community is no threat – they’re no longer in control of everything and sitting on all the money. In fact the most successful among us split some time ago, taking their money with them.
There’s no question whatsoever that Québec is a French province, a robust and still far-too homogeneous nation of Francophones on the not-entirely Anglophone and increasingly inter-cultural North American continent. I’m glad it worked – I’ve benefitted from it personally. I am the product of cultural integration, bilingual by choice, mixed by birth. I know why Bill 101 was important, why it’s still relevant, and how it has positively impacted parts of Québec society.
But the party that was never supposed to be more than a movement to secure constitutional talks with the federal government (another success for Lévesque – he helped push repatriation and the Charter more than any other premier, even if he didn’t sign it, he succeeded in making Canada more sovereign – federalists owe him that much) has fallen on bludgeoning an already dead horse. A non-issue conjured to life like a modern-day Golem to scare the Anglophones out of Québec (again).
Now the PQ says Bill 101 needs to be strengthened. It needs teeth. At a time when we have to cut healthcare and education spending (resulting, as expected, in a raise in tuition despite all the campaigning to the contrary), it pushes for more OQLF inspectors (something the PLQ was planning on doing principally to mollify the soft-nationalist vote) and sets them lose amongst the small-business classes, a challenge to civic harmony if i ever dared imagine one, and hopelessly inept at containing bad PR as witnessed recently by the appropriately named pastagate – the suffix ‘gate’ so overused and meaningless it now appears to be entirely fitting when covering anything to do with the over-zealous law school drop-outs and philosophy minors who constitute the rank and file of the tongue troopers.
It’s a kind of political theatre. The appearance of actually doing something to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
If Québec French was actually threatened with disappearance ‘within a generation’, as the PQ and other linguistic-supremacists sometimes imply, UNESCO would have a local office working round the clock to create a full record of the language and would have provided funds for local French-language schools. If that seems ridiculous I’m glad – it is. Such a thing would happen if there were fewer than 10,000 local speakers. Canadian French is a growing language that ranks roughly among languages such as Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Xhosa, and Haitian Creole in terms of number of native speakers. These languages, much like Canadian French, can sustain themselves, and are not about to disappear.
The video above is from 1998 and features commentary by the incomparable Mordecai Richler. Richler first brought the world’s attention to our idiotic and obviously punitive linguistic laws back in the 1980s and 1990s in some articles he had written for the New Yorker, irking the separatists to the point where he is typically today lambasted as ‘anti-Québécois’ in the same manner that he might have accused some elements of the separatist elites of being anti-Semites.
It never ceases to amaze me how the mere mention of his name in certain circles will produce a torrent of denouncement from people who, by their own admission, have never read any of his books and thus for that matter can’t give you any examples of the apparently rampant ‘Québec bashing’ strewn throughout his prose.
As a fan of Richler’s, I haven’t found it either.
In any event – just a few thoughts on a festering, oozing sore. Enjoy the video, it seems clear to me Morley Safer found the whole thing rather amusing, least of all because of Louise Beaudoin’s near-hysterical defence of Bill 101’s excesses (such as the language cops). It’s quaint seeing how a recently neutered PQ government, such as it was in 1998, returned to using the OQLF to give itself the appearance of legitimacy. Fifteen years later and we’re in just about the same situation.
Final thoughts – why doesn’t the OQLF do anything to support Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada? Why do they send language inspectors after small-business owners and restauranteurs when, by virtue of their own protocols and operating principles, they refrain from adopting a standardization of the French language in Québec? Curiously, I suspect the answer is in fact that they want Québec French to be as mutually intelligible and malleable as possible, and thus refraining from standardization will facilitate integration with French-speaking immigrants. Ergo, linguistic integration, but only as long as you don’t speak any English.
Anyways, I have to cut this short. Presentement, je prend un cours de français et je dois terminer mes devoirs. Cet semaine je re-lis ‘Les Aurores Montréales’ de Monique Proulx, un livre assez impréssionante comme collage de petits vignettes des vies de divers Montréalais dans les années 90. Un analyze socio-culturelle assez profond – un livre clé pour comprendre la société et l’histoire récent de Montréal.
We need to change the question of Québec independence.
From the ground up, in fact.
For nearly forty years Montréal has been on a veritable decline – in terms of economic security, long-term investment, population growth and relative political power among others – and the single driving force of this decline is the as-yet unresolved (and I would argue fundamentally dishonest, historically inaccurate and politically hypocritical) issue of Québec separation.
We’ve been lucky – the decline has been steady and, at the best of times, appearing to be on the way out. It certainly helped that, since the creation of the Parti Québécois most of the significant prime ministers – Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien and Martin – have Québec roots and strong personal connections with Montréal. But alas, it’s 2013 and the City of Montréal finds itself in a perilous state. Now the prime minister is a schmuck, a mail-room clerk with a spending habit, decidedly anti-Québécois in manner and speech. We also have a separatist dimwit premiere trying to impose austerity measures, something I would have figured ran counter to progressive, perhaps even historically Keynesian economic approaches valued by the PQ. A considerable portion of the local population is now thinking about greener pastures elsewhere, a brain drain is occurring, militant student protesters clash with police in our city’s streets, we have no faith in municipal officials and our initial enthusiasm about Ms. Marois (thinking she might, at least, focus on the economy, progressive social values and seek to run a corruption-free government) has all but disappeared as we begin to see her true colours as a vindictive and short-sighted wannabe iconoclast.
We have a place-holder mayor and our public focus, of late, has been on the over-zealous actions of a state-sponsored public annoyance while we wonder whether the Charbonneau Commission has anything more than quick wit and a sharp tongue-lashing in store for the criminal shit-stains who have robbed us of an immense wealth in tax-revenue with kick-backs and socks stuffed with cash.
Our city isn’t just held hostage by an unstable political situation, it’s that such a situation is being purposely maintained, and has been for quite some time in fact, quite to the benefit of the organized crime element in the city. As long as the political situation remains unstable, political parties of every shape and size will seek to attain some new leverage by feeling compelled to bend or break rules to secure a militant voting base.
Is it any wonder our best and brightest refuse to involve themselves with politics? It’s a losing proposition, particularly if you actually value clean government over whatever bribe might get waved in your face. The altruistic among us leave – if we can’t get our shit together here why even bother trying to create a more perfect and just society, we were best suited to make it happen, and look at us now. Forty years of stasis.
At the provincial level it seems as though one party is in bed with the mob while the other is in bed with the unions that work for the mob. The rest don’t owe anyone any favours and thus aren’t likely to get elected, even in a province as progressive as our own. This situation trickles down to municipal level, especially when it concerns Montréal – that from where nearly all the money flows. Either way you slice it, it’s the people who wind up fucked.
This has been going on for far too long, and I know I can’t be alone thinking we fundamentally need to change the question, change the political situation, so at the very least it is the people of Montréal who force and shape the issue.
As long as the question of Québec independence remains unresolved, we cannot hope to grow, to develop, to progress as a city. We’ll remain stuck between the apparently competing interests of Québec and Canada. We’ll remain hostages.
If the twentieth was the century of nation-states, then the twenty-first shall be the century of great cities; already we’re seeing the development of an entirely new network of key cities that focus the world’s cultural, social and political development, a trend that will assuredly grow as cities begin to implement new methods to lessen their negative environmental and ecological footprints. A lot of progress will flow forth from cities the world over, and I want Montréal to regain its position as a global city, a leading city, a city that defines itself and future orientation, rather than one caught between outside interests attempting to settle scores from a quater-millenium ago. Our greatness cannot and will not be denied.
I want the brain-drain to end, I want an end to the instability. Most of all, I don’t want our city to continue having to go hat in hand to various levels of government seeking funds to grow. Enough is enough, we have nearly two million people within the city and another two living in bedroom suburbs that simply would not exist without the city’s economic power. Why are we not in control of our own destiny?
Is it not time for us to be masters in our own house?
I propose we change the debate – permanently – so that Canada and Québec work for us, and we cease to be the battleground for this ridiculous war of attrition. Let’s be real – don’t tell me these student demos concern the rise in tuition exclusively – this is just as much an expression of extreme public distaste for the Harper regime and the ‘out-of-left-field’ development of a socially-regressive and economically incompetent conservative element in Canadian politics.
But we cannot be a permanent political battleground, which is why we must forge ahead and seek to do what is best for ourselves first and foremost. I’m not advocating that Montréal seek to make itself a sovereign and separate entity – far from it – but it wouldn’t hurt us to steer the conversation, and possibly seek to create new revenue streams and strategic wealth reserves so as to throw a bit of weight behind our demands, our interests as a city and metropolis.
So how do we change the conversation?
Either Montréal will become Québec’s metropolis and economic capital or it will be rejuvenated as Canada’s cosmopolis and international city. But it’s high time the matter is settled permanently so that we can get on with our lives and start planning our city’s future.
That, of course, is far easier said than done. The spineless Parti Québécois has so far fell so short of numerous campaign promises it is now focused nearly uniquely on punitive measures designed to limit the Anglo-Québécois community to a permanent underclass. Provisions in Bill 14 to change the bilingual status of numerous ‘historically Anglophone’ communities is quite literally erasing their existence and making it impossible for their presence throughout much of Québec to be sustained.
Hitting Montréal right in the pills are the provisions that demand all entreprises over ten employees to conduct all official business in French. For the innumerable start-ups and small businesses that actually drive the local economy, this may prove the final straw; why stay here when your clients are all in Silicon Valley?
The PQ wants to go further still by making it impossible for Francophones and Allophones to attend bilingual ‘Anglophone’ post-secondary institutions (literally telling adults where they can go to school, and what languages they can choose to be instructed in). And despite massive cuts to education and healthcare, there’s apparently more than enough money to continue funding the OQLF, who rather than do anything to encourage people to speak French, send petty, short-sighted zombies to harass local small businesses, charging them if they dare display a sign in English (which now includes the On/Off switch on microwaves, signs that say WC above the loo, the words pasta, caffé, steak).
All of this isn’t just bad for Québec’s Anglophones mind you, it’s bad for Montréal as well. Montréal’s future as an integrated cosmopolis is largely dependent on how the Francophone majority interacts with the Anglophone minority, and how both communities seek to pursue enhanced cultural integration. The inter-married, multicultural and multi-lingual among us should be particularly prized as a clear sign of the future – languages can coexists, even at an official level, with no cultural loss or societal deterioration. Those come about when we retreat into our silos and define ourselves in terms of opposition. It screws up literally everything we’ve been working towards over the course of the last 371 years.
Quick aside, I was overjoyed to see how quickly all this OQLF bullshit went viral, attracting international scorn and further serving to remind the world of what a pathetic laughing stock the PQ really is.
For a party that claims to wish to defend the ‘European’ or ‘Latin’ in North America, it’s remarkably poor at recognizing most Europeans have openly accepted multi-lingualism and it hasn’t had any negative effect whatsoever on the sanctity of the myriad languages spoken in Europe. For a party that suggests it is emblematic of a bright future for Québec, it’s remarkably poor at understanding modern communications and social media technologies as well. Perhaps this explains their inability to recognize our nascent high-technology start-ups, the ones that function principally in English and are focused on international business development, are so crucial to our future economic success.
In any event I digress. The future of Québec and Canada is a question Montréal wants solved, needs to have solved, in order to free us to grow, to become the great leading city we’ve always been destined to become.
I call on our potential mayoral candidates to state not a cop-out position of official neutrality on the issue of Québec separatism, but rather state a defined position that the problem must be solved immediately, and that until the issue is settled, Montréal will do what is best for its own citizens.
I would go so far as to recommend Montréal begin setting aside money as a permanent source of capital (much like the current Mayor of Atlanta did, setting aside a $100 million war chest of sorts to use as equity for a variety of long-term development projects). But we should take it a step further, seeking to unify all school boards into a single city-administered public education department and finally desegregate our schools, followed by mandatory bilingual public education (French being the majority language of instruction regardless of mother-tongue) in addition to taking a leadership role in maintaining decentralized public healthcare services. We already know superhospitals are an obsolete concept, and we should reconsider gutting our historic hospitals and selling them off to condo developers – these are our properties, our resources, and they ought to be ours to administer and use as we see fit.
Montréal must do what is best for its citizens, first and foremost. If we are unique amongst Canadian cities we should be cognizant as well of our uniqueness among Québec’s cities too.
Remaining in the middle, caught between competing interests gives us nothing but fodder for our media, and countless reasons to hate on each other, returning to solitudes and silos, something we once turned our backs on as regressive, counter to our nature.
Our city will only succeed when our own citizens recognize their inherent, personal sovereignty, and the sanctity of our own society and culture.