Anglo-Québécois musicians

The recent success of Montréal band Arcade Fire at the Grammys, BRIT awards and Shockwaves NME Awards has given exposure to a sensitive issue in Québec. How do English-speaking musicians fit in the cultural landscape of the province?

In an unusual move, the Canadian Press called the organizers of the Fête nationale du Québec and asked if they would welcome the recent Grammy winners. The answer to this hypothetical question was short: "Yes, if they sing in French." It inspired several reactions.

In an opinion piece, The Gazette stresses that "Arcade Fire gets warm welcome in Quebec only after Grammy win" and asks the question: "How do English-speaking Quebecers become Québécois overnight?" Much of the text builds on the premise that the Québécois aren't really interested in their Anglo scene. As if it could have been any other way, it stresses that the high priest of Québec popular culture, Guy A. Lepage [Google translation], tweeted "Bravo Arcade Fire!!!!" and promised to try to book the group for his popular television talk show, Tout le monde en parle.

Of course, the Québécois don't know the Anglo scene as well as the Franco one, but they still give plenty of room to English singing artists. Guy A. Lepage hosted Montréal band Simple Plan on his show many times. Patrick Watson hit the number six spot on Canadian charts with his 2009 album Wooden Arms in good part because of the Québécois. It reached number two in Montréal and number three in Québec City. In contrast, the album reached the top twenty in only three other major cities, Vancouver (#17), Toronto (#13) and Ottawa (#19).

As for Arcade Fire... they ignited Longueuil and created a stir in Sherbrooke last summer in preparation for the release of their recent album. These crowds certainly didn't wait for the opinion of others to enjoy the band.

So... can English be part of the Fête nationale? It's interesting to note that it was on the advice of René Lévesque (then at the helm of the Parti Québécois), that June 24 was declared the Fête national du Québec in 1977. The intent was to encompass Québécois of all origins and backgrounds.

Ok... so... can English be part of the Fête nationale or not? Well... actually... the question misses the point. You see... the Fête nationale has a lot more to do with identity than language. And because language is very much a part of our identity, it's kind of hard to tell them apart. Honestly, I think artists like Arcade Fire should be thoroughly embraced as they are, but that doesn't mean I'm all for French-speaking Québécois artists, like Céline Dion, performing in English. There's a difference between welcoming an Anglo artist and cheering to an English song.

What's that difference you wonder? Perhaps an analogy using the Canadian identity would put feelings to what I'm trying to illustrate.

Envision yourself in Ottawa for Canada Day. Kingston's own The Tragically Hip are in the lineup for the celebrations. Now... imagine them getting on stage and opening up the show with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA"... I know... it's not the same... it won't happen... etc. So, what's my point?

My point is that the Fête nationale is about identity. My point is that a French-speaking Québécois singing in English has more to do with the lost of an identity than celebrating it, but that an Anglo artist singing in his mother tongue is a given. My point is that this blurry distinction remains to be made for a majority of people.


Conservative majority

Newspaper headlines don't exclusively tell you about the article they promote. They also give the reader a hint of what the editorial board wants to put forward.

The Globe and Mail published a story about the attitudes of Canadians towards a potential Conservative majority government. La Presse covered it as well. Both articles are based on the same poll.

The Globe's headline emphasizes that "Voters cool to a Harper majority government", while La Presse's angle is more about the fact that "Canadians are wary of a Conservative majority government" [Google translation].


Scrapping Bill 101

Perhaps, you've read about Maxime Bernier's recent stance against Bill 101. The Globe and Mail didn't actually publish the story, but it did cover the stir it created in French-language media. Yeah... yeah... I know... French media are obsessed with these language issues. But you know... English media are obsessed with the French media's obsessions. Don't they make a nice couple?

Anyway... back to Mr. Bernier's blurt. The Conservative MP bases his opinion on a poll published last summer in The Gazette. It shows that 61% of French-speaking Québécois support the right to choose the language of education. No surprise here... the question is about the right to choose something. Who in his right mind would answer "no, I'd rather not have the choice"? Come to think of it, it's kind of odd that so many did give that answer. I can only assume they realized the social implications of this freedom of choice.

At any rate... Mr. Bernier concluded that since a majority of Québécois support the right to choose the language of education, this same majority feel that Bill 101 is no longer needed. Hmmm... a truly edifying intellectual shortcut.

In reality, a recent Angus Reid poll [in French only] concludes that 79% of Québécois feel the 34 years old law is a "necessity" in Québec; this percentage reaches 90% among Francophones. Why such an overwhelming proportion you wonder? No, no, no... the population hasn't been brainwashed by the méchants séparatistes; it's much simpler and much less Machiavellian than that.

Despite the fact that Québec is the only officially French province in the country, it has the most bilingual population (40%). New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province, is second (33%). There are more bilingual Canadians in Québec than in the rest of the country. There you go... isn't that nice?

"But... more and more, Anglos in Québec speak the language of the majority... isn't that the idea?" you say. "Absolutely!" I reply. Bilingualism among English-speaking Québécois has been steadily rising, from 58% in 1991 to 66% in 2001. So, why not consider relaxing the reach of Bill 101?

Well... you have to realize that the provincial law was devised to counterbalance the hegemony of the English language in this continent. Looking at the numbers, this goal is yet to be reached. Bilingualism among Anglos in Québec is still lagging that of Francophones in other provinces by almost 20 percentage points (85% of Francophones living outside the province spoke the language of the majority in 2001). It's rather clear that without Bill 101, the knowledge of French among Québécois whose mother tongue is another language would steadily decline and stir unnecessary social tensions in the long run.

Like the majority of Québécois, I feel that the vibrant culture of my province is an asset to this country and that French is a prerequisite for this vibrant culture to continue evolving. Without Bill 101, Canada would lose this asset.


Incendies at the Oscars

Roger Ebert gives his thumbs up to the Québec film Incendies for the Oscar in the Foreign language film category this year.

The movie is the heartwrenching tale of two young Québécois in search for their lost father and brother in their mother's country of origin. It grossed over $3M in the province last year. The movie is currently out in France where it's experiencing its share of success [Google translation].

The Oscars ceremony takes place on February 27.


Egyptian news in Montréal

Mubarak's departure takes a whole lot of room in current events this morning. In sync with the media of the world, La Presse [Google translation], Le Journal de Montréal [Google translation] and Le Devoir [Google translation] all made it their number one story. With its Arabic headline, La Presse's front page is the most striking. Exciting days ahead...


A cowed legislature?

I learned a new word a few weeks back. And when I read the Globe's editorial, about Québec's move to bar the kirpan from the National Assembly and prevent four men wearing it from entering the building, it took me a while to get it. I couldn't honestly reconcile the headline with the story that was being told. And then it hit me!... the Globe and Mail was being contemptuous; these people obviously knew better. That's also the attitude they had when covering the niqab story almost a year ago.

A few days later, The Gazette printed an editorial on the incident, a text in which the authors state that there is no record of any incident in this country of anyone being injured by a kirpan... hmmm... a little journalistic integrity is in order here. And then what!?... you guessed it!... it's all because of the sovereigntists!... "the only logical explanation" concludes The Gazette.

Today, the National Assembly unanimously voted against the kirpan in the legislative buildings... that's right!... unanimously! Whether an individual should enter parliament with a blade or not may be an issue in other provinces, but it isn't in Québec.

You think this is being racist or xenophobic? I think not. You see, from where I stand, everyone's equal. Wearing a kirpan is a personal choice, not a human right. Of course, freedom of religion is, but is forbidding the kirpan really about depriving someone from her, or his, religion? Have you ever seen someone with a ceremonial blade on an airplane? Is this a pleasant thought?

Simply put, anyone with a blade can't enter Québec's legislature, regardless of her, or his, personal convictions. On the other hand, anyone complying with the rules of the house is welcome. And these rules equally apply to women, Sikhs, Hindus, Anglos, midgets... name them!

Clean and simple... no ambiguities... fair to all...

Oh!... but I don't understand Sikhism you say? You're probably right. But I do understand the deviant minds that might want to use Sikhism to justify wearing a blame when entering premises they wouldn't normally have access to.

You're not sure about the soundness of my stance? Here's a little food for thought. A few years ago, a couple of Québécois whom I had common friends with sincerely converted to Sikhism... they grew their hair all over their bodies and wore the clothes. Now... do you honestly believe they would enter the parliament building in Ottawa as easily with a kirpan as any other Sikh?


Mon pays, ce n'est pas Vancouver!

In the words of Pample the Moose: "I had to shake my head in amused bewilderment in reading Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong's whining in his memoirs about how the issue of French in the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies was criticized by people like Graham Fraser and James Moore..."

Click here to read the whole entry.

Note: I simply couldn't have written it better myself.


Linguistic immersion

Someone had a good idea at Marianopolis College and Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Next year, both institutions will launch a student exchange program that will have interested students spend their last semester at the other CEGEP in an effort to improve their language skills.

I like it and the initiative hasn't stirred much controversy. OK... no news here... let's move on... except that... while both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois haven't commented on the initiative, some people see politics into it.

In the story published by La Presse [Google translation], Michel April, general manager at Brébeuf, is quoted saying it is a nice opportunity for Québec society to think things over. "Une belle piste de réflexion pour la société québécoise", he says. Of course, some people need this type of initiative to think things over, but Québec society? Gimme a break!... Québec's population is already the most bilingual in Canada. Yep!... even more bilingual than New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in the country.

The Gazette and the CBC also see some politics into it. They both emphasize the apparent contradiction between this initiative and the Parti Québécois' discussions about banning Francophones and Allophones from attending English-language CEGEPs. Both media also conveniently omit that these discussions provide for institutions wanting to launch immersion programs to be able to do so [Google translation]. Which is exactly what both CEGEPs will be doing! Like I wrote above... no news here... but you have to wonder about the journalistic integrity of the authors involved at The Gazette and the CBC.

Someone had a good idea at Marianopolis College and Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, but it's no revolution. Many French-language elementary schools already have these types of immersion programs.