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.