Place de résistance

Immigration is on the rise in Québec, and nowhere in Canada is the struggle to integrate newcomers more challenging. This week, the Toronto Star publishes a series of articles examining what's behind these challenges:The reports point out the courteous relationships the Québécois maintain with its minorities on a daily basis. But the series mostly underlines how everyday life courtesy doesn't necessarily translate into the workplace; it confirms the preconceived ideas many Canadians have towards Québec. A soft consensus can be drawn from comments regarding the merits of culture lessons.

Unfortunately, these articles are only available in English; French media should pick them up.


Spelling regulation

There's been a bit of a brouhaha in the English press lately about French spelling. The ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport decided to officialize the timid orthographic rectifications that were published almost twenty years ago by the Académie française. As expressed in a recent Globe and Mail editorial, some people are under the impression that Québec is being "servile to language functionaries in the old country." "Why follow France's rules?" they ask.

A better question yet... why not follow France's rules? Unlike the USA or other English-speaking countries, Québec doesn't have the weight to impose its own spelling convention. And as if our kids needed more inconsistencies in their educational environment, teachers had started publicizing these rectifications with equivocal guidelines. The Ministry of Education's recent decision simply clarifies the inevitable and it's about time!

Through time, usage strays in mysterious ways and, for some people, getting you're point across in writing isn't the main idea anymore. Their intent rather becomes to impress the reader with ones writing skills and then, get the point across. This isn't very effective in today's fast pace communications.

French spelling is downright archaic and I personally long for a robust reform, one that would put written language in its rightful place. You see, communication between human beings starts with speech, not writing. As powerful as it is, writing was simply devised to support communications, not make them more complicated. Take a look at Spanish, for example. Hispanophones know exactly what spelling is for. No ridiculous "ph" for the "f" sound and no useless double consonants. Pero (but) and perro (dog) aren't pronounced the same way and don't mean the same thing. It's simple and effective, like it's supposed to be.

Oh... don't get me wrong. I know how to spell and I derive no small satisfaction from my proficiency with the French language. I've had my share of successful sparring with Frenchmen who felt they could teach me a few things. "But you don't understand... there's a whole history in the way each of these words is spelled." I was told. "Yeah right... as if we all needed to carry that weight. Following that rubbish logic, we'd still be speaking and writing la langue d'oïl." I replied.

Do you think anyone would care a hundred years from now, if somebody decided today that French, or any language, is just perfectly ripe and shouldn't change anymore? That's simply not how it works. In French, the word "connoisseur" became "connaisseur" because it was more representative of its pronunciation. The current English spelling of the word is evidence that it passed into the language before that particular correction came into force. Nowadays, French-speakers look at the English spelling and scratch their heads. Things evolve and it's sound to keep up.

Now... the fact that spelling is dictated by a governing body some thousands of kilometers away doesn't mean that the Québécois can't be imaginative; there are other ways to assert your distinctiveness. Québec is keen on creating new words using a French logic and its Grand dictionnaire terminologique is a clear example of this enthusiasm. The province could teach a few tricks to France in this globalization era.


Please be reasonable

There's a new chapter [Google translation] being written on reasonable accommodation and it's a crooked twist. A man refused to be served by a civil servant wearing a religious scarf. Her supervisor invited the man to go back at the end of the line so he could get to someone else's wicket. That proposal didn't go well.

Situations like these have been making the news on and off for quite some time now and politicians are behaving as if they were wishing them away; they won't. As more immigrants come here to help us build a better society, the absence of a clear framework will contribute to the confusion and the frustration. A few facts...
  • In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of CN against a Sikh employee who refused to wear a hard hat at a particular work site.
  • In 1990, the RCMP accepted a precedent setting request from one of its new officers to wear the turban with his uniform. No court ruling was involved in the decision.
  • In 1996, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favor of a motorcyclist who felt his turban was enough to protect him.
  • In 2008, an Ontario court ruled against a motorcyclist who felt his turban was enough to protect him.
  • This year, the Supreme Court ruled that a Hutterite community in Alberta must abide by provincial rules that make a photo mandatory for all new drivers' licenses.
Making people of all origins welcomed and accepted involves a lot of work, but it doesn't mean they should be getting all privileges. Many Canadians will move heaven and earth to provide a Muslim woman with a lady doctor. Are there that many lady doctors in Muslim countries?

There's obviously a limit to reasonable accommodation, but what's reasonable to some isn't to others. I understand the safety concern that was in mind when concertgoers were asked to leave their kirpan behind at Gurdas Maan's concert last August in Calgary. Proponents of such a stance have been accused of misunderstanding Sikhism. I think they rather understand the deviant minds that could use religious excuses to perpetrate their wrongdoings. I personally don't mind religious symbols. However, I do expect people to drop their ceremonial blade upon entering a courthouse or embarking an airplane. I also expect people to show their faces when asked to identify themselves or upon entering a bank.

Now... someone wants to open up a sugar shack where ham and bacon are replaced by halal or kosher meat? That's great!... I'd actually be curious to try maple syrup sweeten baklavas or lekach.

When it comes to religious request, it's a given that the Québécois express reservations more easily than most Canadians. Why is that so? The average Jean-Guy is more xenophobic than the average Doug? Or is he simply less politically correct and more vocal? One thing's for sure, as demonstrated with the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Québécois aren't afraid to wash their dirty laundry in public. Perhaps the most logical explanation is the fact that the province entered modern times by shedding its religiousness out of the public place. The Quiet Revolution has left its mark.

In January 2007, Hérouxville received international attention when its town council passed controversial measures regarding practices deemed unsuitable. The code of conduct stated, among other things, that stoning women or burning them alive was prohibited, as was female genital cutting. The initiative was labeled xenophobic.

In the recent edition of its study guide Discover Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada included the following passage: "In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings,' female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."

There's still a lot of work to do.


Bloodshed for independence

In a column titled "The beautiful free ride of Gilles Duceppe" published by The Globe and Mail on Jan. 12, 2006, Lawrence Martin writes: "... the potential costs of secession: Economic turmoil. Major civil strife, if not bloodshed. Seething partitionist pressures in Quebec. Endless conflict with the rest of the country over ownership of capital and resources. A diminished Canada, subject to further breakup."

I've been expanding my sources of information with English media for many years. I've seldom witnessed references to possible violence in the event of a sovereign Québec from French-speaking circles, be they federalist or sovereigntist. When such a possibility is brought up, it almost exclusively comes from English sources. And I wonder... under what circumstance, and by whom, would fighting be considered desirable?

Of course, the province went through a somber episode in October 1970. The fact that this episode is rooted in the same ground than the current sovereignty movement may be tainting its general understanding. But the actors of the democratic thrust that prevailed before, and prevails even more since, unequivocally distanced themselves from these events. They even used them to actually galvanize support against violence in efforts for Québec's sovereignty.

Since, the province has gone through two referendums, 1980 and 1995. Both were peaceful. The fact that 1995 was lost by the sovereigntists by a hairline should have betrayed belligerent intents, if any. Nothing happened. Those nights were even more peaceful than the Canadiens' Stanley Cup victories of 1986 and 1993! The Québécois have their priorities.

So, could violence stem from outside the province? Could federalists be marching down the streets of Ottawa burning down Québec related symbols? Could federalists from outside the province be marching down the streets of Montréal or Québec City prompting local residents? It's not entirely impossible, but I don't see it happening.

The most "promising" potential for discord can probably be found between factions within the province. Like Mr. Lawrence, many believe that some residents would prefer to remain Canadians. Is this desire actually strong enough to lead to violence? What exactly would be worth taking up arms? It's not like anyone would be asked to go anywhere. English-speaking communities of Montréal's West Island would keep their land, so would Natives and any other group. It's a given that Natives feel they have a better shot at territorial claims with a Canadian government, but resorting to violence to simply maintain "a better shot" sounds like a convoluted scheme. If not for land, what would anyone be fighting for?... to keep the Canadian passport?... to keep the Canadian currency? I believe that the vast majority of Québécois would want to continue living in a peaceful Québec and that those who feel differently are overrating the Canadian identity.

Perhaps, Mr. Lawrence's point of view betrays his opinion that Canada would have more to loose from an independent Québec than the province itself.


A day in the life

"Dad, what's Pure Laine?" asked my daughter as she looked at my blog over my shoulder. "Simply put..." I replied "the expression 'pure laine' identifies descendants of the first French settlers who arrived here some 400 years ago. Now... be careful if you use these words to describe yourself. Sadly, some people confuse the expression with a symbol of exclusion from the province's majority towards its minorities."

Both my children are being raised as true Montréalais, mixing at school with first and second generation immigrants from all over the planet. Wow!... when I was their age, growing up in the Townships, mixing with Anglos and people from Chicoutimi was considered cultural diversity. Times have obviously changed.

My wife and I spend a lot of time with our children and, by extension, their friends. They are always welcomed to spend some time at our place. Having them over is often like going on a short trip without leaving home. Accommodating them (if you can even call it that) takes very little open-mindedness. I mean... finding chicken weenies isn't that hard, nor is pointing in Mecca's direction. During one of these short "in-house trips", my wife prepared some maple syrup dumplings for dessert, a sugar shack favorite that Muslims and Jews seldom get exposed to. My daughter's friend had obviously never tried it; she liked it so much that she left with the recipe.

I recently stopped by this young person's place to pick my daughter up. While chatting with the lady of the house, her relaxed husband leaned over and told me he tried dumplings with the whole family. "How did you find it?" I asked. "Weird." He replied. "Weirdness is a relative concept." I added. We all burst out laughing.

Once in a while, a friend of my children's invites me on facebook to become her/his friend. I take it as a compliment and always jump at the opportunity. In this day and age, Web socializing can't be ignored. Getting involved is just another way to better understand the world my kids are growing up into. I don't actively participate, but I sometimes browse their profile. I can see all kinds of interests.

When I see young teenagers with international roots embracing Québec's culture with open arms, it just gives me hope for this nation of ours.


Parizeau is at it again

The Toronto Star just published an editorial on Parizeau's most recent, and probably last, essay [Google translation]. As it is so often the case with English media, arguments against Québec's sovereignty are exclusively economic. Here it goes: "Quebec is burdened with a $150 billion debt, high by provincial standards, and would have to assume another $100 billion as its share of the national debt. It would also lose equalization payments worth close to $80 billion over the last 15 years."

Yep!... Québec is burdened with a $150B debt, which is less in gross domestic product (GDP) percentage than the USA's and the average of OECD countries. Québec would have to assume another $100B, which is less than Hydro-Québec's market value. Québec would also lose equalization payments worth close to $80B over the last 15 years, which is less than the amount it sent to Ottawa over the same period ($38.4B in 2006 alone).

What on Earth is wrong with these editors? Have they even read the damn book? Don't they get that Québec's sovereignty isn't about money? What's wrong with their readers? Don't they get that they're being fed one side of the coin only?

Yep!... Premier Jean Charest's Liberals and other federalists should challenge Parizeau's claims head on; I'll be listening carefully when they do.


Anglos are Québécois too

"Oh!... I thought you were from Ontario." I spontaneously dropped. He looked at me in dismay and replied: "God no!" As it turns out, the English-speaking acquaintance I was chatting with was a damn proud full fledged Montrealer, a member of the minority within the minority. There are many Anglos like him.

Karl Moore is an associate professor at McGill University. Of Irish-Finnish descent, he's married to a Québécoise Pure Laine. On June 24th, 2007, he wrote an article for the Toronto Star about his Québécitude, "Ich bin ein Québécois". Speaking the language of the majority is important, he concedes, but it's not the only thing: "I tried to do an interview in French for the 10 o'clock news for Radio Canada. As a regular viewer, I was excited to be on this program. However, after a few minutes of trying, the journalist from Radio-Canada, in the midst of gales of laughter, put me out of my misery and switched to English."

The average Jean-Guy thinks all Anglos are the same. He doesn't see it, but the vast majority that's still around after thirty years of Bill 101 wouldn't live anywhere else. Ok... most won't admit it wholeheartedly, but their staying here, despite the Charter of the French language, is a tribute to this distinct society that we share and many will demonstrate the affection they have for our province.

On June 24th of this year, the Montreal Gazette published an article titled "Québec, je t'aime! 24 things we love about our province". The list goes like this:
  1. Bring your own wine
  2. Ça sent la Coupe
  3. Cheap chic
  4. Construction holiday
  5. Humble hyphen
  6. Political contrariness
  7. Rules of the road
  8. Sexy male dancers
  9. Terrasse-ville
  10. Tout le monde en parle
  11. Ubiquity of stripclubs
  12. Xavier Dolan
  13. Bikes and cigarettes
  14. Cheese, please
  15. Fleeing the city
  16. Chocolate blueberries
  17. Extra! Extra! Four daily newspapers
  18. Made for Québec
  19. Marriage? Why?
  20. Multilingualism
  21. One per cent
  22. Vistas
  23. Têtes à claques (available in English here)
  24. Quebec City renaissance
Say what?... that doesn't make them Québécois? Well... what are we suppose to call residents of this province if not Québécois or Quebecker? Of course, as in any society, you'll find individuals who won't embrace the ways of the majority. Is that a reason for alienating them? Isn't that the behavior of many Québec nationalists towards Canada? Do some people question their Canadianity?... hmmm... ok... bad example, but I trust you get the idea.


A sovereigntist leader in Toronto

On November 11th, 2009, the Royal Ontario Museum held a debate about the impact of one of Canada's most significant battles. The debate, between Bernard Landry (former Premier of Québec) and Jack Granatstein (Canadian historian), examined whether Britain's victory over France on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 was ultimately good for New France, its inhabitants and their descendants.

The event didn't spur much curiosity in local and national media. The National Post did publish an interesting overview of the Battle before hand, but nothing afterwards. The radio of Radio-Canada sent Mark Starowicz to cover the debate. His report is available in French here.

Over 500 Torontonians attended. It unfortunately was more or less a rehash of many clichés, Mr. Granatstein denouncing the cash pipeline from Ottawa to Québec and Mr. Landry puffing up the vision of a paradisiacal New France. He did however take the opportunity to outline that his support for sovereignty is not driven by resentment towards Canada, but rather by a concern to give a worthwhile culture the leverage to fully control its destiny.

According to the reporter, there was no clear winner. But the former Premier's eagerness to participate did inspire some respect from the audience.


Dan Aykroyd on Québec's nationalism

An Ottawa native and the son of a French Canadian mother, Dan Aykroyd is very familiar with the relationship between Québec and the rest of the country. As a young adult he often came to Montréal where he actually got his first acting gig. He was there on November 15th, 1976, when René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois came to power. Here are his impressions on the event, as reported in today's La Presse [Google translation]:

"My friends and I were at the victory's parade. It was a very vibrant evening, but we had mixed feelings. We know how proud Quebeckers are of their culture, but as Canadians from Ottawa, we were worried because Quebec holds an important place in our hearts."

On June 17th, 1994, Aykroyd received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree at Carleton University. The comic actor, writer and director made a passionate pitch for National Unity, a plea for tolerance for all Canadians, as reported by the Canadian Press the following day:

"I have a great love for the French Canadian people. It's an issue that is very divisive and burning on people's minds and I just want to say formally that I love Quebeckers." Aykroyd told graduates he has heard a "lot of rancor and tremendous hostility" directed at Québec and its people, especially in Western Canada. But it's also an issue in the Eastern Ontario town where he maintains a home. "That's exactly the kind of discrimination, racism and supremacism that we've got to avoid in the world if we're going to change things."

Aykroyd called for "a sane and just solution - whatever that is" in the event Quebec opts for separation. "If the majority of Quebeckers vote to go, what are we going to do? Send in the army? Of course not. We're going to help them with their ship of state. It's a democratic process. Let them decide for themselves. But unless and until Quebeckers vote to separate, Canadians should encourage them to "continue in nationhood with Canada, albeit with the proper recognition that their rich and highly contributive culture deserves."


Being Québécois

"Boy!... do Frenchmen ever crave on you guys!" I was told by an English-speaking classmate during my Bishop's University years. "Le Québécois, c'est une langue qui gratte!" he added. "What do you mean, Québécois is a language that rakes?" I asked befuddled. My friend had just met with a few international students who were discovering the Québécois accent in real life.

Those were the late 80s. Québécois singers were invading France. They're still very much present today, but that particular period was especially rich and the French reception was very positive. The phenomenon gave much exposure to the particular way French is spoken on this side of the Atlantic, a tad more guttural than its European counterpart to say the least.

I always liked cultural encounters. I'm usually very enthusiastic and blunt about such situations and, from time to time, my curiosity has been interpreted as invasive. I've experienced the feeling. I've also learned to be more tactful with those who would rather blur their cultural differences.

While travelling France in the early 90s, I was having supper with English-speaking tourists in a youth hostel. A few were from Canada and obviously spotted my origins. Most were from Australia, New Zealand, England, the USA... and hadn't realized English wasn't my first language. Upon ordering more wine to the passing garçon in French, all eyes turned on me.

"Where did you learn to speak French?" I was asked. "It's my mother tongue" I replied. I was then the center of much attention about my province and what it's like to be Québécois. Here are a few examples of what I (might or should) have said. Being Québécois is:
  • giving English-speaking North Americans a little bit of France without the Parisians and giving Frenchmen a little bit of North America without the Americans;
  • feeling as comfortable in Paris as in New-York;
  • being reminded by a Parisian garçon that you are in a French bistro, when feeling at home and nonchalantly ordering nachos to satisfy your late afternoon munchies;
  • listening to Plume Latraverse on your iPod while visiting the Louvre and making perfect sense out of it all;
  • being able to make the rapprochement between a tartiflette au reblochon, a French dish from the Savoie region, and a poutine, a North American greasy spoon favorite;
  • having the opportunity to appreciate French movies and their American remakes in their original versions, e.g. La total with Thierry Lhermitte (an easy going police comedy) and True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger (a overblown popcorn movie); Nikita with Anne Parillaud and Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda;
  • having the option to easily steer away from McDonald's or Tim Hortons to eat a decent meal at a decent price;
  • giving a North American fast food classic, a burger, a Mediterranean twist with lamb meat garnished with steamed spinach, garlic and feta cheese (ok... this one's not typically Québécois, but it sure is a good example of interculturalism, whereas multiculturalism would have offered an exotic side dish with an ordinary burger);
  • turning a North American greasy spoon favorite, poutine, into a "Tunisian" meal, by adding merguez sausages, or turning it into a gourmet meal, by adding foie gras;
  • going beyond pâtés and appreciating rillettes and cretons for what they are;
  • being able to choose from over 200 different local cheeses that rival with centuries of European tradition and savoir-faire;
  • realizing that more people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean are familiar with your own culture than people on the other side of the Ottawa River and being labeled by some of them as closed-minded;
  • watching or reading your own national media on a local issue and getting the impression the report was prepared by a foreign journalist;
  • listening to homegrown music, watching homegrown TV and movies and feeling that unmistakable sense of belonging.
So they say...


Explaining Québec separatism

On October 30, 1995, the Québécois were asked a simple "yes or no" question. The collective answer to this simple question was a resounding "maybe!"

The event stirred some attention, to say the least. In the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, a few attempts were made at explaining what motivates Québec separatism. Hillwatch, a service government relations firm, wrote an article to explain this peculiarity of Canadian politics to a foreign audience.

The article builds on an analogy using a fictitious New California and Spanish Americans to draw a parallel with the Canadian situation. Although interesting to read, there is a very significant difference between the USA and Canada that the article fails to acknowledge. Americans quickly drifted away from England and they are the ones who basically "invented" their country, not the Spanish Americans. In contrast, British North Americans have only recently embraced their own canadianity, an identity that was mainly forged by French Canadians (see The Québécois aren't truly Canadians).

The article also lists some preconceived ideas that it identifies as lies Québécois politicians have been feeding residents of the province. I remember 1995 quite well and, although I've heard most of the statements listed, I can't say I heard them from the sovereigntist leaders in the way they are being presented in the article. These statements (in italics below) deserve to be commented:
  1. The Federal Government takes more money from Québec than it gives back. In 2006, the Québécois sent $38.4B to Ottawa and received $12.8B in transfers from Ottawa. Québec obviously receives other federal services that aren't accounted for, but either way... if the economic discrepancy between both parties were so clear, wouldn't have the demonstration been clearly made?
  2. An independent Québec would be able to create more jobs. Maybe, or maybe not... who knows exactly what would happen in a sovereign Québec? If all economic ties were to be severed, jobs would obviously be lost.
  3. A separate Québec would have no problems becoming a member of NAFTA. Then again... maybe, or maybe not... but with such a well integrated economy, why is that so hard to believe? And if NAFTA didn't work, perhaps the European Union would be interested; France still seems to be very much attached to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
  4. If Québec separates, Quebeckers will keep their Canadian citizenship and passports. Why are the Canadian citizenship and passport such a big deal? There are plenty of countries the size of a sovereign Québec would be that have an appealing citizenship and passport (Finland, Danemark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland...).
  5. An independent Québec would provide better education and healthcare. That depends on the resources it would have at hand. It probably wouldn't change all that much.
  6. A separate Québec will absorb all federal civil servants in the province. Well... unless federal civil servants aren't doing anything productive, someone would be required to carry on the added work that comes with being sovereign.
  7. Independence costs Quebeckers nothing. Has anyone really being saying this? Independence comes with a price.
  8. An independent Québec will be able to use the Canadian or US currency. Why not?... as long as it adheres without a say to the monetary policies that comes with it, any state can use any currency.
  9. A separate Québec could keep its present territorial boundaries. Obviously, if the country can be divided, so can a province. But it's safe to assume that Ottawa would want to maintain its own territorial integrity along current borders to prevent other claims.
  10. An independent Québec would offer its citizens a better quality of life. Again, that depends on the resources it would have at hand. It probably wouldn't change all that much either.
  11. Québec cannot control its own affairs in Canada. Canada has to deal with the USA's influence, so does Québec. Let's just say that the challenges would be different.
  12. Québec is in debt because of the federal system. Like any province, part of Québec's debt is under federal control. A sovereign Québec would be in debt on its own.
  13. Once Québec declared independence, the rest of Canada would rush to form an economic association. Probably not... some sort of backlash is to be expected. However, is it so hard to believe that Canada would come to reason after a while?
  14. Québec agriculture would still have access to the Canadian market after separation. See NAFTA above.
  15. Québec could pay the interest on its share of the national debt but not assume any responsibility for the principal. I've never heard this one. Like it does today, Québec would assume its share as any other province. The challenge would be to find a transition formula that's respectful of both parties.
Some of these statements lack background to be taken seriously; others are simple exaggerations or embellished perspectives. Federal politicians don't have monopoly over such techniques; sovereigntist politicians obviously use them as well.

The article pretends to explain Québec separatism, but it builds on the premise that its foundations are faulty. As it is too often the case in English media, the article doesn't give the idea of sovereignty a fair shot. It does give, however, Francophone readers a very good idea of how Anglophones rationalize the sovereignty movement. Still, explaining Québec separatism is a lot simpler than the length this article goes into (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism):
  • Over the centuries, French Canadians developed their very own culture. A culture based on French, but a culture which is very different from what you'd find in other French-speaking states.
  • In the last century or so, French has been steadily declining in the majority of provinces without great concern. With its French-speaking majority, Québec has been able to use its provincial legislative platform and oppose this assimilation trend.
  • Canadians who fail to see the value of this important asset to the Canadian identity are putting Ottawa in front of a Gordian knot. They are forcing Québec to keep using its provincial leverage and they are fueling the sovereignty movement.
Those who value Canadian culture and feel Canada's independence towards the USA is justified should understand this.


"Wouf!" goes Snowy

I just finished reading Hergé Foundation's latest publication, Colocs en Stock [Google translation], a Québécois adaptation of The Red Sea Sharks. I'm always wary of these regional adaptations.

This venture into Canadian French territories is a fine example of how things can go overboard. The author of the adaption is obviously more preoccupied with stuffing as many Québécois expressions as possible than giving life to the characters in a Québécois setting. Everyone speaks Québécois like an old uneducated person, even the custom officer at a Middle East border.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there isn't anything funny to do with the way French is spoken here. I'm simply saying this book misses the appropriate dosage to make it feel natural and enjoyable. Anyone interested in reading colloquial Canadian French should try Paul dans le métro [Google translation] by Michel Rabagliati, a much better representation of the way French is spoken in my part of the world nowadays.


The Québécois aren't receptive

So... the Conservatives settled the fiscal imbalance, recognized the Québécois nation and gave it UNESCO representation. Despite these gestures of good faith, Québec sent only ten members of the governing party to Ottawa in 2008. Even worst... a recent EKOS Research survey puts the Tories at 40.7 per cent support compared to 25.5 per cent for the Liberals nationwide, but gives the Bloc 50 seats, up from 47.

What's wrong?... are the Québécois ungrateful?... why aren't they receptive?

The fiscal imbalance is a discrepancy between means and responsibilities. This situation was particularly acute during Paul Martin's tenure as finance minister in the late 90s, while Ottawa experienced repeated surpluses and the province experienced repeated deficits. In March 2002, the Report of Commission on Fiscal Imbalance (a.k.a. the Séguin Report) recommended three steps for eliminating the fiscal imbalance:
  1. Stopping financial pressure by increasing transfer payments for health and education;
  2. Freeing a new tax room for the provinces;
  3. Restricting "federal spending powers" to prevent overlaps with provincial jurisdictions.
In March 2007, the Conservatives provided a package to settle the fiscal imbalance. It included a new, enriched equalization formula, increased transfer payments for post-secondary education, training and infrastructure, and key reforms to the way health and social spending is structured. The package did provide some fresh air, but transfers for post-secondary education still aren't at the levels they were in the early 90s and measures to address the second and third steps recommended by the Séguin Report remain to be seen.

In November 2006, the Conservatives passed the Québécois nation motion (see The Québécois form a Nation). For many Canadians in other provinces, the motion is a major breakthrough for Québec. For the majority of Québécois, the motion simply is an acknowledgement of what they already know. French Canadian culture is a prominent defining characteristic of the Canadian identity and Québec is an important component of this culture. The Conservatives' motion is a step in the right direction for Canada, but what will come out of it in practical terms remains an unanswered question.

In May 2006, the Québec-Canada agreement on UNESCO entered into force. It gives the province permanent representation to Canada's mission to UNESCO. In practical terms, it guarantees access to all official documents and participation to internal efforts before Canada takes a position or votes.

The Canadian identity has been marked by French Canadian stubbornness (see The Québécois aren't truly Canadians). When it comes to popular culture, the Québécois watch and listen to more homegrown productions than other Canadians (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3). With its rich production, Québec contributes more than its share to Canadian cultural exports. The province was also instrumental in UNESCO's 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (see Cultural diversity).

The Québec-Canada agreement on UNESCO now ensures that, before taking a stand on cultural issues, Canada will hear Québec's point of view. When it comes to asserting its own cultural distinctiveness, Canada doesn't have much to show off. Shouldn't one render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's?

The Québécois aren't being receptive. Is anyone wondering why?... and what are they doing about it?


Québec is shrinking

Demographics are playing against Québec. Birth rates and net immigration aren't high enough for the province to keep its relative weight in the Canadian bosom.

As if it weren't enough, the province's contribution to the government's mix has been depleting since the Conservatives' arrival at the helm in 2006. At first, Stephen Harper courted Québec, hoping the province would give him the edge he needed to achieve majority. But unfortunately, settlement of the fiscal imbalance, recognition of the Québécois nation and UNESCO representation haven't touched voters as expected and didn't translate into enough votes for a majority Conservative government in the 2008 election. Many irritated Conservatives see the Québécois as ungrateful.

In recent months, Stephen Harper has been pushing another alternative to boost his representation in the House of Commons, an alternative that thrives on the higher growth rate of western Canadian cities. A first attempt last year, at riding redistribution, died amid howls of complaint from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty; his province received far fewer new seats under the proposed bill than its fast-growing population warranted. But the fruit is now ripe for many and a recent proposition may well suit Ontario's concerns and leave Québec with the highest population per electoral district, a proposition that would leave each Québec voter with the weakest say at the House of Commons.

Canadians seem to agree with Stephen Harper's plans. A recent EKOS survey done for the CBC has the Conservatives at 39.7 per cent and the Liberals at 25.7 per cent. A Strategic Counsel/Globe and Mail/CTV poll released earlier this week had similar results. Ontarians are now turning their back to the Liberals, even in Toronto, and Québec may very well pay the price. A Conservative majority government with minimal Québec representation is kind of like a blank check; it doesn't call for a disproportionate number of Québécois ministers to go forward.

Such a scenario might very well be the beginning of a vicious circle. Who would want to play the part of the token Franco in a government who doesn't need Québec? A federal government with low Québécois representation would become even less appealing for politicians of the province and would drift away from the rich heritage the province has contributed to the country. Through time, Québec has often been instrumental in governmental decision making for prioritizing political, social and economical issues such as free trade, not following the USA in Iraq and gay marriage.

For many Conservatives, and even many Canadians, Québec remains the unbearable spoiled child of the Canadian federation. What a treat it would be not to have to cater to it! As much as a fantasy this may be for some, many sovereigntists are rubbing their hands at the thought. They believe that a Harper majority will serve their cause better than 20 years of patient education to the Québécois.

Inspired by a column by Vincent Marissal, "Le Québec ratatiné?" [Google translation] published in La Presse, October 9th, 2009.


Cultural diversity

Canadian culture is more or less a variation of a greater North American whole. Roughly put, Canada's English speaking population comes up to 24.7 million people, less than a tenth of the USA's population. Canadians know exactly how it feels to be concerned with the perpetuation of a culture confronted with the overwhelming domination of another. Rightly so, they generally welcome initiatives intended to bolster opportunities to appreciate the country's cultural production. They're not alone.

On October 20, 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopt the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The convention seeks to strengthen the five inseparable links of the same chain: creation, production, distribution/dissemination, access and enjoyment of cultural expressions, as conveyed by cultural activities, goods and services. The Convention was adopted with 148 yeas and 2 nays. The USA and Israel are the only countries that voted against the convention. It entered into force on March 18, 2007.

Why and how did UNESCO come to this?... well... as early as 1984, while the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was being drafted, Québec deemed it a good idea to exclude cultural industries from the agreement.

On June 16, 1999, the Péquiste government officially declares that an international agreement allowing states to support their artists and creators would be a good idea. Louise Beaudoin, then Minister of International Affairs, did particularly good a job in convincing Lucien Bouchard, Premier of the province, and Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister of France. As a result, the Québécois government convinces Sheila Copps, then Minister of Heritage, and the federal government to join this important battle. Mrs. Copps rallies Ministers of Culture from many countries. Elected in 2003, Jean Charest carries on the work initiated by the Péquiste government.

In October 2003, the Director General of UNESCO is appointed to draft a project that would address the issue, a project to be debated at the 2005 General Assembly. At first, countries such as Chile and Argentina join with the USA against it, but they soon drop their reserves and work in favor of the project.

The final convention proclaims the right to set out and implement cultural policies, and to create the proper environment for their circulation. It also proclaims that such policies can't be superseded by other international agreements, namely free-trade agreements.

Upon its adoption, the convention is celebrated by many countries, including Canada. It legally allows them to control any cultural invasions, for example, by establishing quotas and by subsidizing local artists and producers.

Of course, Québec didn't do it alone, but it played a major role in promoting an important agreement that serves countries like Canada particularly well with its Canadian Content Regulations (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3).


Unconditional love

It's October 30, 1995 and the referendum campaign is finally over, one month of arguments against and for sovereignty. They say campaigns should be a time to debate ideas. It rarely is and this one was no different. But these are complex issues to vulgarize and the fact that either camp hasn't been able to clearly demonstrate the advantages of its own option doesn't make things any simpler. Let's face it. If it were so clear that Québec would be better off on itself, the sovereignty movement would have made a clear demonstration. If Canada understood Québec's contribution to the country and what it brings in return, it wouldn't have to rely on such hollow symbols as the passport and currency to boast its appeal.

I voted "Yes". For a lot of people, that makes me a sovereigntist, or a separatist if you prefer (either word is acceptable, it simply indicates how one values the impact of an independent Québec). But labeling people isn't that simple. La Presse's André Pratte, for example, is a renowned federalist, but he voted "Yes" in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums. Other famous federalists such as Pierre Trudeau have considered Québec's sovereignty as an acceptable option in their younger days.

The opposite is also true; many sovereigntist leaders once believed in Québec's place within Canada. Before joining the Parti Québécois, Jacques Parizeau and René Lévesque had been actively involved with Québec's Liberal Party.

Regardless of their convictions, these four Québécois personalities have (or had) a rich perspective on whether or not Québec should become a sovereign state, something that the current debate (if any) lacks blatantly. For the most of it, current positions in both the federalist and the sovereigntist camps, sound like a binary equation, on or off, black or white, day or night, good or evil... you get the picture... can you hear Darth Vader's Theme? In all truthfulness, hardline federalists and hardline sovereigntists aren't listening and they pretty much sound the same. Each camp has its radicals, rednecks on one side and bluenecks on the other.

I don't understand this unconditional love that prevents people from considering the merits of their opponent's option. I mean... both of these options obviously have their cons and their pros. How can there be any dialog if you aren't willing to consider and properly respond to your opponent's arguments?

I voted "Yes" in 1995 because I believe sovereignty is a better alternative than the current status quo. Many people don't understand this "fair-weather" attitude. I simply think that the current federal model should be challenged, in return, I accept the idea that Québec's sovereignty isn't the Holy Grail. If you feel uncomfortable with this statement, well... perhaps you're part of the current trend that believes constitutional talks should take place only when pigs fly.

In the meantime, I'll be carefully listening to what Ottawa has to say.


FLQ and the ordinary man

The blades of the Moulin à paroles [Google translation] have been peacefully turning on the Plains of Abraham since 3 p.m. yesterday. The event pays tribute to people here and everywhere, who, by their words, their writing or their voices, have shaped this part of the world. It salutes the pride to exist still, despite the ice, the cold and the loneliness. It reasserts memory over oblivion.

Over 150 texts have been selected for their significance in the history of Québec and to the nation canadienne, texts such as:
Among these texts, one in particular caught media attention, the FLQ manifesto. French media reported the news with the whole spectrum of pros and cons whether the text should or shouldn't be included. English media on the other hand, generally leaned toward the cons, questioning the sovereigntists' acumen for associating with the manifesto. Perhaps, René Lévesque's reaction to the discovery of Pierre Laporte's body on October 18th, 1970, best illustrates this enduring sentiment: "If they really thought they had a cause, they killed it with Pierre Laporte and, by disgracing themselves in such a way, they more or less smeared us." "S'ils ont vraiment cru avoir une cause, ils l'ont tuée en même temps que Pierre Laporte et, en se déshonorant ainsi, ils nous ont tous plus ou moins éclaboussés."

I see the FLQ for what it was, young criminals who called for extraordinary measures. The majority of Québécois did as well on October 15th, 1970, when the Gouvernement du Québec formally requisitioned the intervention of the Canadian army in "aid of the civil power" under the National Defence Act. All three opposition parties, including the young Parti Québécois, rose in the National Assembly and agreed with the decision.

I can't say I was very familiar with the FLQ manifesto. I assume I was like the majority of Québécois and had only heard excerpts on television reports of the October Crisis. All I see in it is resentment. I gather it illustrates why some people see the sovereignty movement as fueling on anger and phantoms of the past. I'm sure some hardline sovereigntists still do, but that's not the message being conveyed by sovereigntist leaders in recent decades. They know all too well that a viable independent Québec would need a strong Canadian partner.

The Moulin à paroles [Google translation] is obviously an event in favor of sovereignty. But at the end of the day, regardless of your intent or your political bias, it's pretty hard to talk about significant moments in Québec's history without referring to the FLQ manifesto.


Becoming Québécois

I have fond memories of my French-speaking North American upbringing in the Eastern Townships. Both my parents were, and still are, typical Québécois who knew English enough to get by. I, on the other hand, knew English because I liked it. Most of my cultural references were North American bands, TV shows and movies. All my French-speaking friends spoke English fairly well. My few English-speaking friends spoke French fairly well also. Each and everyone chipped in to compensate for anyone's linguistic limitations. All was perfectly fine.

As a teenager, I would often spend my weekend nights in any of Lennoxville's joints, the Georgian Pub (a.k.a the "G"), the Golden Lion Pub, the Len Pub... you get the picture. The music scene wasn't all that diversified, but it still was kinda cool. It felt right and I didn't think much of all the Québécois stuff. I still had fun at the Saint-Jean celebrations on the slopes of Mont-Bellevue in Sherbrooke, but Paul Piché wasn't my cup of tea and I couldn't care less for the sovereignty movement. What can I say? I was a Canadian who spoke French... it was as simple as that.

When the time came to choose an institution for my undergraduate studies, Bishop's University was it for me. I knew I could expect some kind of cultural shock, but I felt pretty confident about my decision.

As much as I was familiar with the "Lennoxville scene", I wasn't prepared for the student body mix of the institution. Half of it encompassed young men and women from other provinces. The main thing that struck me was how different they were from the Anglos I already knew, Anglos who managed in French and were familiar with Rock et Belles Oreilles, Offenbach and Plume Latraverse.

I felt these young people from outside the province didn't know their country very well and it pretty much blurred my understanding of how Canada differed from the USA. Still, I was more than willing to exchange and help each of us get more acquainted with the other. In most cases however, my curiosity was simply equaled by their indifference. And as if my dismay weren't enough, two events rattled the delicate linguistic stability of my Bishop's years. First, the notwithstanding clause was enforced by the Bourassa government to maintain the restriction against the posting of any commercial signs in languages other than French. Second, the Meech Lake Accord unraveled.

Needless to say, my studies in my second language were an eye popping experience. It broadened my horizons, but not in the way I expected. It very much challenged my Canadian sense of belonging and heightened my awareness for my own cultural specificity. It helped me appreciate the richness of the distinct society I live in and gave meaning to the motivations of the sovereignty movement.

I realize of course that most of the young Canadians I met were having their first experience away from home and were taking advantage of the leniency of my province to experiment with some of the facts of life. But I've been complementing my news intake with national media for a decade now and, too often, find myself frustrated with the way some of my perspective is being portrayed. I wish Canadians in general were more knowledgeable of this country that we share.


The Québécois are racists

According to Statistics Canada, unemployment rates for immigrants living in Québec in 2006 were significantly higher than for immigrants in any other province. For very recent immigrants, the unemployment rate in Québec was an estimated 17.8%. This was nearly three times as large as the Canadian-born unemployment rate in Québec (6.3%). For recent immigrants, the unemployment rate was still more than double the Canadian-born rate in Québec (13.4% vs. 6.3%). Such hard evidence doesn't lie; the Québécois are racists. That's what some people want to believe and it's kind of hard to argue.

Still, my personal experience is that Québec's society is generally curious and welcoming for minorities. I mean... that's what those I've met in school, at work or in my leisure time have been telling me. Although I've seen some discontent, I've never experienced it up close. Of course, there's the occasional "maudit [fill in the blank]!" here and there, but most of the time, it's more along the lines of an aggravating "Fatso!" than a true racist slur. I think the average Jean-Guy is more exuberant than the average Doug.

The Bouchard-Taylor hearings?... xenophobic you say?... maybe. But the media mostly focused on the controversy and some testimonies were consistent with my personal observations. Most clashes presented at the hearings were religious based, not of the racial type or out of fear of the stranger. Having booted the Catholic Church stronghold out of the public place less than 50 years ago, the Québécois know exactly where religion, whichever one, can lead some people.

The Québécois are worried about the 'purity' of their lineage?.... not sure either. Most have Amerind blood running down their veins and don't seem to mind it. In 2006, the Québécois, with a smaller population, adopted a third more non-Caucasian babies than Ontarians.

Intolerant?... probably not. In 2006, five census metropolitan areas had police-reported rates of hate-motivated crime that were well above the national average of 3.1 per 100,000 population. Calgary led with a rate of 9.1 incidents for every 100,000 population, followed by Kingston (8.5), Ottawa (6.6), London (5.9) and Toronto (5.5). Provincial comparisons of hate crime were limited to Québec, Ontario and British Columbia. Ontario was highest at 4.1 incidents per 100,000 population, followed by British Columbia (2.5) and Québec (1.4).

Immigrant unemployment rates is hard evidence that the Québécois are racists?... perhaps, but that's not the only explanation. Signed in 1991, the Canada-Québec Accord came on the heels of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and largely accomplished what would have taken place in the area of immigration had Meech Lake passed. Similar agreements followed for other provinces, but the Canada-Québec Accord gives the province the most latitude. Is it possible that federal civil services are doing a better job at finding immigrant skills for the market needs?


We love minority governments

According to a poll published in yesterday's La Presse [Google translation], 29.7% of Québec's residents have a positive appreciation of the work that has been done by the three consecutive minority governments we've had since 2004. Based on a national average of 18.5%, the corresponding average in other provinces is at 15.2%. Compared to the rest of the country, Québec's support for a minority government is almost double. This discrepancy could be explained by Québec voters' liking for a federal government having to cope with the Bloc's demands to carry on. This perspective is in sharp contrast to a Canadian Press report by Jennifer Ditchburn titled "Canadians grow weary of minority government" published by The Globe and Mail on July 13th, 2009.

Never, since the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties in 2003, has the Bloc's pertinence in Ottawa been so blatant to the Québécois. In the ten years that preceded that merger, Canada's natural governing party achieved majority simply because right-wing votes were divided.

The future is bleak for Canadians looking forward to a majority government. Some have already recognized the hurdle the Bloc has become and are juggling with ideas to limit its reach. In a column titled "Knock a chip off the old Bloc" published by The Globe and Mail on August 15th, 2009, Andrew Stark questions the party-allowance formula. He submits that the principle of federalism could take precedence over popular votes. In order to get an allowance, for example, a party could need to have elected representatives in a minimum number of provinces. Isn't ironic to think that the party-allowance formula, aimed at cleaning up political practices, was inspired from a Québec legislation introduced by René Lévesque himself?

Along with the sovereignty movement, the Bloc has been boasting the democratic path it has chosen. Many obviously don't agree with its purpose, but most have behaved as though they recognized its legitimacy since it was created in 1991. Now that the Bloc's presence in Ottawa has finally gotten some people scratching their heads, someone thinks that changing the rules, in lieu of addressing the root cause, would help federalism in Québec and Canadian unity? I think not.

What on Earth is wrong with Canadians? Don't they realize that the Québécois aren't satisfied with the federal status quo?... that the majority of those who voted "yes" in 1995 aren't bluenecks, but good citizens contemplating a democratic alternative to the status quo?... that the vast majority of Québécois would be interested in an alternative other than sovereignty?... that such an alternative can only come from Ottawa?... that they are the ones holding the key to the sovereignty movement's demise?... that the sovereignty movement is as legitimate as the thrust that made Canada into a sovereign state in 1867?... that they need to understand what motivates the Québécois in order to address it properly?... that they can't simply shove the whole idea by the way side?

Come on Canadians... aren't you tired of being politically strangled by a province? Apart from a few lows, support for sovereignty has remained above the 40% mark and has plagued federal politics for the last 30 years. It's an intrinsic part of the political landscape. It's not going to simply fade away! Is the great Canadian tolerance mere indifference? What are you waiting to give the sovereigntist's proposal a balanced democratic response that would steer voters away?

Canadian movies - Part 2

Having raked in more than $9M in less than two months, "De père en flic" (Father and Guns) is Québec's top blockbuster this year. The homegrown comedy beat "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and other box office giants. Chances are it's going to keep the top spot for the whole year.

Canadians in other provinces aren't too keen on homegrown flicks and much prefer foreign movies. Homegrown productions account for approximately 1% at the English Canadian box office. The fact that "De père en flic" has remained four weeks in the Canadian top 10 (it's still in the top 20) without a mention in national media illustrates that trend rather well.

Ironically, according to La Presse [Google translation], the movie's success hasn't gone unnoticed in Hollywood and a producer has expressed interest in a remake. Well... it looks like Canadians in other province might enjoy the Québécois movie in the near future after all.


Sovereigntist tokenism

Maintaining a balance between the integration of immigrants and welcoming different cultures is a constant challenge for any society struggling with its demographic decline. Political parties of all stripes recognize the value of having immigrants among their ranks. Opponents sometimes question the good faith of their political adversaries when they succeed in recruiting candidates of foreign origins for office. Opponents sometimes accuse their political adversaries of tokenism, the inclusion of members of a minority group to create a false appearance of inclusive practices.

Achieving tokenism obviously calls for members of minority groups to be willing to take part of it, individuals who either don't have much of an opinion, who lack wits or who are simply dishonest. It also requires some sort of winning recipe that allows political parties to have these individuals elected. And finally, it needs the population to fall for it.

Societies with generally low levels of education and in which information to the public is controlled may be fertile ground for tokenism, but Canadians are among the privileged few when it comes to access and quality of education and information. Can Canadians be massively fooled by token characters with reduced capacity?... seriously? With our political system, an accusation of tokenism mostly sounds like an insult to the voters and the candidate they've elected.

When it comes to recruiting candidates of foreign origins, the sovereignty movement faces a challenge. Parizeau's faux pas in 1995 (see Parizeau is racist) has been cultivated as one of many demonstrations of intolerance (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2). Many Canadians are under the impression that the sovereignty movement doesn't accept anything but old-stock Québécois. In reality, it greets people of all origins and backgrounds.

Bernard Cleary (of Aboriginal descent), Marie Malavoy (born in Germany), Alexis Wawanoloath (of Aboriginal descent), Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac (born in Vietnam), Maria Mourani (of Lebanese origin), Joseph Facal (born in Uruguay), Vivian Barbot (born in Haiti) and Maka Kotto (born in Cameroun) have all been elected as Parti Québécois MNAs or Bloc MPs. The most outspoken individuals in this select club (Maria Mourani, Joseph Facal, Vivian Barbot and Maka Kotto, for example) can hardly be mistaken for token characters with reduced capacity.

Granted, the sovereignty movement will never appeal to immigrants at levels comparable to those found among old-stock Québécois. Several factors may explain this. Some of these new-stock Québécois are restricted to national media to forge their initial political opinions on the subject; most of these media lack the diversity of opinion available in Québec (see National media suffice). But mostly, many of these new-stock Québécois came to Canada fleeing unstable political states and simply couldn't care less for the confusion that may accompany Québec's transition to sovereignty.

Be they sitting in the House of Commons or driving a cab, members of a minority group who embrace the sovereignty movement have overcome several hurdles. I believe people should try listening to what they have to say before dismissing their contribution as tokenism.


Canadian movies

As usual, this summer's blockbusters in most of the country are international movies. Until last week, the buzz in Québec was a homegrown comedy.

Entering its sixth week, "De père en flic" (Father and Guns) has kept the top spot for most of its first five weeks. As of August 9, the movie gathered over $8.1M in a market of 7.7 million people, more than the faster declining "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". The movie's success in the province is such that it remained in the top 10 movies in Canada during four weeks.

The Canadian box-office is a strange creature. In its 2007-2008 annual report, Telefilm Canada outlines that French-language feature films saw their share of the global market go from 17.1% to 16.2%; Canadian English-language films went from 1.7% to 0.9%. It's no wonder that Hollywood considers most of the country as its domestic market.

In 2006, it took a while for "Bon Cop, Bad Cop" to get some attention in national media. This summer's Québécois blockbuster is no different. In contrast, "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie" swiftly grabbed national media attention with less than half the entries of "De père en flic" on a similar run.

It's little things like this that trample my Canadian identity.


A better Canada without Québec

Scowen, Reed, Time to Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Québec, McClelland & Stewart, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7710-7981-8.

As its title so clearly suggests, this book explains why Canada would be better off parting with Québec. In a few words, Québec's and the country's political values are incompatible. Canadians should firmly reaffirm who they are and make a proposal for Québec to accept or to go its own way. And time is running short; the province is impoverishing itself and it may soon be economically too late.

The author, Reed Scowen [Google translation], knows Québec very well; he was a member of the National Assembly from 1978 to 1987. To support the book's intent, Mr. Scowen submits a definition of Canada without Québec and puts forward that the province's nationalism is ethnically motivated.

One would expect a (former?) staunch federalist to come up with an inspiring vision of the country; he doesn't. His vision, or definition, is disappointing. Mr. Scowen roughly defines Canada as an administrative arrangement, almost as if the Canadian nation were exclusively a geo-political invention... I trust Canadians have more to say.

One would also expect a seasoned politician to come up with a strong argumentation on the province's so-called ethnically motivated nationalism; he doesn't. Most of his rationale rehashes anecdotal situations that are commonly expressed by English federalist circles (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2). Of course, there is an ethnic motivation to it for some people, but so does any patriotic movement. I believe that Québec's nationalism has more to do with language and culture than ethnicity (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism).

However, one thing that particularly stands out in this book is the tale it refers to, the gains of the French language from an Anglo-Québécois perspective. Québec's culture is obviously worthwhile and calls for suitable legislation, much like CanCon does for Canadian culture, but reading about it in this book is an eye-opening experience. It helped me better understand the emotional response I sometimes observed at the simple mention of Jacques Parizeau's name when exchanging with an Anglo friends. This book should be mandatory reading for all sovereigntists.

Still, the most puzzling aspect of the book is how the author specifies that he would remain in a sovereign Québec. By simply pointing out that this is the place where he was born and grew up, by stating that it's as much his province as any other Québécois, he doesn't give much explanation. I wish he had elaborated, even if it isn't the book's topic.


Flirting with the enemy

When Michael Sabia took helm at the Caisse de depôt et placement du Québec on March 13 of this year, his swift nomination sparked controversy. Several questioned the lack of transparency of the process; some questioned his credentials; a few questioned his commitment to the growth of Québec's economy and to the Caisse's role in it. Comments about his origins made many people uneasy and it's rather simple to understand why this calling into question was denounced. Still, Mr. Sabia isn't the first person to face discriminatory criticism when arriving into office.

On May 1st, 1998, the appointment of David Levine as Chief Executive Officer of the new Ottawa Hospital was announced. He began his duties on June 15 following six weeks of tumultuous public outcry led by the media and a select group of individuals discontented with his politics. Like the Caisse, Ottawa Hospital was facing enormous challenges. But unlike Mr. Sabia, Mr. Levine's origins (Jewish and Anglophone) weren't contributing to the outcry; his political affiliations were. He was a sovereigntist.

As if these affiliations had any connection with the tasks at hands, public demonstrations took place. Even Mike Harris, then Ontario's Premier, suggested that the board would have done better to select a "non-Canadian who believes in Canada and keeping Canada together" than someone of Levine's background. Much to his credit, David Levine downplayed the furor. When talking to reporters, he attributed the anger to frustrations with hospital restructuring and suggested that he was just "the lightning rod."

In contrast, Michael Sabia used the media to portray his opponents as bigots and silence them. The Globe and Mail exploited that angle in a report titled "New Caisse boss defends Quebec roots", published on May 5th, 2009. Of course, some of the reluctances expressed toward the Caisse's new CEO did reek discrimination. But in his haste to end the debate, Mr. Sabia fostered the erroneous idea that any questioning was out of place and dodged valid interrogations.

In recent months, Louise Harel has been subjected to heated attacks from members of Montréal's Anglo milieus. She's running for the mayoralty this coming November, but, for some, she mostly is a sovereignist associated with Bill 101, sovereignty referendums and the forced municipal mergers.

Renown Canadian lawyer Julius Grey works as an election adviser to Harel. He recently had a glimpse of what such an association entails. On July 7th, Hampstead town council passed a motion to terminate Mr. Grey's status as legal adviser to the town. Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg vetoed the vote. In Mr. Grey's own words, "it is wrong to demonize another person because of their opinion on one issue." His support for Harel reflects his recognition that he has a common interest with her on social-justice issues. I share Mr. Grey's wisdom and salute Mr. Steinberg's leadership.

Meanwhile, Michael Sabia has been working on the Caisse's risk management policies. After having put the largest pension fund in Canada on creditwatch negative earlier this year, Standard & Poor's announced it maintained its AAA grade this week [Google translation].

Louise Harel has a good shot at Montréal's top job this coming fall. Perhaps, those who currently doubt the legitimacy of her candidacy will have the opportunity to change their minds.


Bill 101 is detrimental

Much has been written on the Charter of the French Language (a.k.a. Bill 101). Few believe it's some sort of discriminating conspiracy to eradicate Anglophones from the province. They forget that English-speaking Québécois have daily newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, hospitals, elementary schools, high schools, CEGEP, universities... in fact, they forget that Anglophones in Québec have nothing to envy Francophones in other provinces.

For example, English universities in Québec receive approximately 25% of provincial subsidies and approximately 35% of federal subsidies while the Anglophone population accounts for less than 10% of the province's residents. Far from me the idea that McGill, Concordia and Bishop's should receive less than what they currently get, but please spare me Bill 101's conspiracy theory.

The preamble of the Charter of the French Language sheds some light on the spirit of the law. Specifically, it states that the National Assembly:
  • Is resolved to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business;
  • Intends to pursue this objective in a spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Québec, and respectful of the ethnic minorities, whose valuable contribution to the development of Québec it readily acknowledges; and
  • Recognizes the right of the Amerinds and the Inuit of Québec, the first inhabitants of this land, to preserve and develop their original language and culture.
Canada has not one, but two official languages with international influence, two formidable cultural vehicles. Rightly so, most Canadians are sensitive to the USA's cultural hegemony. And they generally welcome initiatives intended to bolster opportunities to appreciate the country's cultural production, such as Canadian Content Regulations (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3). With its different language, Québec has an added advantage. And that's the perspective one should take when questioning the Charter of the French Language.

In simple words, the Charter of the French Language is a framework devised to counterbalance the hegemony of the English language, spoken by almost 332 million people in North America. Without it, a proportion of immigrants would not embrace Québec's lingua franca, thus depriving the population's majority of their contribution (yeah... I know... some of you think I'm preaching... that's OK).

Of course, the parallel between Canadian Content Regulations and the Charter of the French Language has its limits. Becoming Canadian to comply with CanCon demands some sacrifices. Learning a new language to be part of the majority doesn't prevent anyone from speaking her/his mother tongue.

"Go fuck yourself?" - Part 2

As almost everyone knows by now, the individual who lacked judgment at Theatre Ste. Catherine is the manager himself. Mr. Amber finally did his mea culpa on July 22nd. Here's the English excerpt of his bilingual apology:
To whom it concerns,

There has been much media activity in recent days that began with an email that I sent to the theatre's mailing list. Les Sages Fous were upset after receiving an all-english message regarding Zoofest programming as part of the Just For Laughs festival.

I reacted inappropriately to their request to receive emails only in French and for this I would like to apologize. However, I would like to explain that I did so not simply due to this one response, but rather because I often receive a disproportionate amount of negative feedback whenever I promote English events that are hosted at Theatre Ste Catherine.

Although it is true that I lost my temper, it must be said that it was in no way an attack on Quebec or French-speaking Canadians as was implied by some of the media covering this story. As I myself am French Canadian and a francophone from La Beauce region of southern Quebec, to hate French culture would be to hate myself.

I truly regret offending any of my French brothers and sisters, however I do not believe this would have become an issue if certain media had not sought to create discontent. As such, this situation has been blown out of proportion to the point where it now stands. Unfortunately, not only has this resulted in negative publicity for both Theatre Ste-Catherine, Zoofest and the Just For Laughs Festival, but as my personal information has since been released, I have received hundreds of hate letters including several death threats.

Due to the actions of certain individuals who fanned the flames of hate within a community of extremists, a great hurt was inflicted upon me personally that I fear could threaten the harmony of Montreal. I am upset with the intolerance that I receive on a daily basis as displayed by the many hateful emails that have been written. I also believe that the French language and culture is alive and strong, and need not be afraid of others.

When I first opened the theatre five years ago, which I myself built in what was a very troubled neighbourhood, my intention was to create a venue for people of every culture to come together for the celebration of art and unity. It would be regretful to have to shut the doors to those who have come to make Theatre Ste-Catherine their home and meeting place.

Again, I would like to sincerely apologize to Les Sages Fous, The Just For Laughs Festival, Zoofest, all of Theatre Ste Catherine’s company members as well as anyone who has been affected by this situation.

I wish I had addressed this issue sooner because of the hurt it has caused.


Eric Amber
Theatre Ste. Catherine
The following day, justifying the delay in a French interview on Radio-Canada radio, Mr. Amber explained he was very busy and was overwhelmed by the turmoil. He sounded hesitant; I initially thought that perhaps his French wasn't as solid as his English. In the hours that followed the interview, he sent this email to Les Sages Fous:
You guys were the best thing to ever happen to me. The publicity has been great. Keep up the good work.One has to wonder if he still intends to protest and shut down his operations permanently on December 21st.


"Go fuck yourself?"

There's been a little language controversy stirring up Québec's blogosphere this week. It's nothing really dramatic, simply one of these sterile situations that betray the lack of judgment of a few individuals. The controversy involves Les Sages Fous, an unusual theater company, and Theatre Ste. Catherine, an English only theater in downtown Montréal.

Theatre Ste. Catherine has been distributing exclusively English information through its mailing list. All is fine. The theater is within its right to do so; the Charter of the French language doesn't prevent exclusive English advertisement for services available in English only. Other English language institutions like CHOM, CFCF or The Gazette are doing it for obvious reasons.

Still, when you're in Montréal's entertainment business, you're bound to stumble on some Francophones who might be interested in the program. One might think that simple courtesy calls for bilingual correspondence; I think it's sound business practice. As a Bishop's University Alumni, I get all my correspondence in English only. It's easy to understand why and I'm not complaining, but when I get solicited for fund raising, my initial impression is invariably: "Are they talking to me?".

Anyhow... Les Sages Fous was receiving Theatre Ste. Catherine's English only correspondence and asked for French information. According to the Journal de Montréal [Google translation], here's how it went:
  • Les Sages Fous: Bonjour, Merci de nous envoyer vos messages en français ou de nous retirer de votre liste d'envoi.

  • Theatre Ste. Catherine: The shows listed were in English and therefore so is the message. You obviously can't read in English because you are an uneducated bigot. Est-ce que vous comprenez l'expression anglophone: Go Fuck Yourself?

  • Les Sages Fous: Hello, [...] Your response is an incredibly inappropriate, ugly and aggressive message. [...] It seems that it is you the bigot. We, at Les Sages Fous all speak at least three languages, have traveled the world and are obviously more educated and open minded than you. I myself am one of the few Anglophones who proudly speaks French in a continent that insists on being monolingual. [...] [...] Ever thought of moving to Georgia Back woods Texas? They like people like you down there. [...]

  • Theatre Ste. Catherine: Just delete the message and move on with your life. ps: fuck you
Again, it's nothing really dramatic, just an example of how some individuals lack judgment, something that the manager at Theatre Ste. Catherine would normally swiftly denounce and apologize for. La Presse's Patrick Lagacé [Google translation] tried to get the story straight, but nobody returned his calls to clear things out. Instead, they decided to stop operating the venue and are now replying with these words:Due to the overwhelming racism and bigotry in French society toward minorities and non-French cultures, Theatre Ste. Catherine will be closing in protest. Effective immediately TSC will no longer be accepting bookings and will closed permanently Dec. 21, 2009.One has to wonder what they are protesting against.