Charest on primetime TV

Tout le monde en parle is a popular talk show on Radio-Canada. Broadcast weekly, it regularly draws over a million viewers from a potential audience of 7.8 million (BBM numbers do not take French Canadians from other provinces into account).

Last Tuesday, I heard on the radio that Premier Charest was going to be on the show this coming Sunday. With his recent lost at the Kamouraska by-election, disastrous polls and all the bad press he's been getting, I wondered what he could rely on to pull a positive performance from the show.

I got my answer this afternoon in La Presse [Google translation]. According to Raymon Bachand, Minister of Finance, the government is heading for a deficit of $3.1B instead of the $4.2B initially planned. That's a 25% reduction! That would be very good news if it weren't for the opposition pointing out that these new numbers are mostly the result of creative accounting. They're putting forward that provincial debt this year will, in fact, increase by $10B [Google translation].

Why would the government make such a shoddy attempt at spinning public opinion?... I wondered. And then it struck me... the recording of Charest's appearance at Tout le monde en parle is tonight. Is this just a coincidence or am I being paranoid?


An Anglo in Québec

Christopher Hall [Google translation] is a popular Québécois comedian. Although his mother tongue is English, he earns most of his living in French.

August 26th, 2007 marked the 30th anniversary of the Charter of the French language. Mr. Hall was invited to participate in the commemorations that marked the event. Here's an excerpt of what he said:
"I remember when it came into force because we had just arrived in Montréal; my father had accepted a job at McGill. We were living in Westmount and some people came at the door asking us to sign a petition against Bill 101. My father told them he wasn't interested because he felt it was normal for Québec to ensure the perpetuation of French.

They were flabbergasted; they just couldn't believe that he would say 'no'. That's when I learned the meaning of the word 'ostracized'. After that, not even Jehovah's witnesses came ringing at our door.

Of course, my father was right to do this, but I must say his commitment started way before that when we were living in Saskatchewan. He, and my mother, co-founded Saskatoon's French school 40 years ago and counting. They didn't want their children to have the same handicap they had, being English-speaking unilinguals.

I'm real happy for their ideal, but, for me, it was a 'pain in the ass'. I was getting kicked around by everyone. For Anglos across the street, I was a 'fucking frog'. For the Fransaskois I attended school with, I was a 'fucking bloke'."
Click below to watch his speech [only in French] and learn how he takes a crack at how we speak French in my part of the world.

Of course, he may come across as "colonized" to some, but I love the way he takes the heat out of the linguistic duality of my hometown.


Comment of the day

A recent Globe and Mail article entitled "Looking for the cracks in medicare? Try the Ontario-Quebec border" takes a look at the effects of different provincial regulations on its respective residents. The story prompted this reaction from a reader:
"While Quebec wishes to exercise its autonomy from the rest of Canada, the rest of Canada is implementing its autonomy from Quebec.

Autonomy is a two way street."
Click here for more from the author of this comment.


Duceppe in Europe

Gilles Duceppe continues his pilgrimage in favor of Québec's sovereignty. In a recent stop in France, he crossed politicians with a much more level-headed perspective on the project than President Sarkozy did in early 2009, when he hinted that sovereigntists were sectarians.

Click here for the full story.


Mordecai Richler's legacy

On July 3, 2011, Mordecai Richler will have passed away 10 years ago. Many people recognizing his talent are pushing for a way to commemorate his legacy. Two Montréal city councilors have started an online petition calling for a street to be named after the celebrated author.

Others see in Mr. Richler's work, a skewed vision of Québec's French-speaking society. The president of Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Mario Beaulieu, has said that Montréal should never extend an honor to Mr. Richler such as naming a street after him. "For us, he's an anti-Québec racist because he denigrated French Quebeckers."

For his book Sacré Blues – An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec, Taras Grescoe met with Mr. Richler to confront him with his views on the Québécois. Here's an excerpt of what Mr. Grescoe had to say about the author's legacy:
Thanks to Richler, the few Americans who can tell you anything about Québec tend to tell you what a small-minded, anti-Semitic culture it is. The Columbia Journalism Review, surveying major articles on Québec in American magazines between 1977 and 1994, pointed out that half had been written by Richler.Click here for more.


Linguistic obsessions

Like many states in the Western world, Québec isn't having enough babies to sustain its growth and needs to open its doors to immigration in order to compensate. Like all states welcoming immigrants, Québec expects newcomers to learn the language of the majority to integrate.

Unlike in other states, it is fairly easy to live a comfortable life in Québec without knowing the language of the majority. The availability of English-language media, culture and services is abundant. You see... Québec is a linguistic oddity; with close to 8 million people, it is surrounded by an ocean of 332 million English-speakers. And, unlike any other states, Québec needs a legislative framework to ensure newcomers have the opportunity to become functional in the language of the majority, hence the Charter of the French language.

The recent arrival of Bill 115 in Québec's legal landscape is one of many adjustments made to the Charter of the French language to remain in sync with the province's linguistic reality and comply with the Canadian constitution. Its purpose is to restrict a loophole that allowed Allophones and Francophones to buy an access to the English public education system through what is now known as "bridging schools". As it is often the case, it was the occasion for criticism.

Some people see xenophobia in Québec's linguistics laws. This is an odd perspective, considering the purpose of these laws is to promote a common communication vehicle. Much of Montréal's Jewish community speaks English. Arrived in the 30s and 40s, they weren't welcomed by French Roman Catholic schools. Had they arrived after 1977, French schooling would have been available to them.

Some people see in Québec's linguistic laws a drive for ethnic cleansing. They obviously have no clue about what ethnic cleansing is. Hinting any kind of parallel between the situation of English-speaking Québécois and the ordeal that the Jewish or the Tutsis in Rwanda have gone through is abusive to say the least. Above all, it's an insult to the survivors of such tragedies.

Some people see a desire to preserve cultural purity in Québec's linguistic laws. Is there such a thing as cultural purity? Traditional Québécois cuisine and music have strong ties to Ireland. Today's Québécois culture is a product of its European roots and its American environment. Québec's motto "Je me souviens" is an invitation to remember both its British and French roots.

Some people see in Québec's linguistic laws an intent to prevent its population from learning one of the most powerful language in the world. Québec's population is the most bilingual in the country. There's no plan in the program of any political party to prevent anyone from learning any language.

Some people see in Québec's linguistic laws an intent to isolate the province from the rest of the world. Other would argue that other provinces, with their closer ties to the USA, are the ones isolating themselves from outside the English-speaking world. More Europeans movies are watched in Québec than any other places in North America. Of course, much of these movies come from France, but that's not the only country Québécois film buffs are exposed to, for example, the rest of the continent will discover the Millennium trilogy (a Swedish-Danish production) years after Québec did. Furthermore, Québécois artists are behind some of the most successful Canadian cultural exports. Céline Dion, Cirque du Soleil and Just for Laughs, to name a few.

Some people see discrimination in Québec's linguistic laws. They're right. Like all immigrants coming to Québec, I don't have the privilege to send my kids to an English school. Of course, I would rather have this privilege. Would I use it? Maybe for a year or two... English is fairly easy to master. Oh... I'm sure I make mistakes, but I trust you get the picture.

In Québec, there are plenty of ways to learn English as a second language. Schooling simply isn't one of them.


Duceppe's USA visit

The Globe and Mail published a story yesterday about Duceppe's recent visit to the USA, "Quebec independence 'by no means settled,' Duceppe tells Americans." In the article, the politician is quoted: "I am here to tell you that the question of Quebec's political future is by no means settled." Note the difference between our national newspaper's headline and Duceppe's words.

To my Canadian friends... I know most of you are fed up with these neverendums. But you have to realize that, although not all Québécois are for sovereignty, the majority is fed up with the Canadian Constituquo. There's more to Québec's political future than independence or maintaining the current federal relationship. I sometimes get the feeling you're simply wishing this thing away. It's not going anywhere.

Now... if Québec's sovereignty can be achieved by the Québécois on their own, constitutional reforms require all Canadians. As naïve as this may sound, Québec's political future could be settled within Canada. Wouldn't you say that Canada is in deep need for an inspiring federalist politician who could sell our country with the same passion sovereigntist leaders sell Québec? Click here for Duceppe's complete speech.

I know... I'm not proposing much. I simply hope that some of you realize they're holding the key.


Thank you Maclean's - Part 2

A significant portion of Canadian politics is being carried on in a language unknown to the vast majority of the country's population.

French media are run by individuals roughly divided half and half on the merits of federalism and the merits of Québec sovereignty. French speaking reporters brush with the other side on a daily basis. Their reports and opinions have to be well documented for them to maintain their credibility.

English media are run by a vast majority of federalist individuals who don't get the opportunity to challenge the merits of their position as often as their French speaking counterparts. Canadians are under the impression that national media suffice to fully understand what makes this country tick. National media aren't enough.

Maclean's story has inspired many interesting reactions in French language media, but these reactions missed the magazine's target audience. Today, Jean-François Lisée takes the time to directly address this audience in an articulate and passionate response; he was an adviser to Lucien Bouchard. This is what he has to say about the PQ's attempt at balancing the province's monies in the days that followed the 1995 referendum:
"We found a stubborn willingness on the part of the Chrétien government to make things as hard as they could and to impede our (in the end successful) attempt at balancing our own books. Their take was that separatist politics hurt our economy—and they tried to make that happen. Our take was that a fiscally sound Quebec would be in better shape to become independent."Click here for the full story.


Thank you Maclean's

"As politicians and experts from every facet of the political spectrum told Maclean's, the history of corruption is sufficiently long and deep in Québec that it has bred a culture of mistrust of the political class."

Who are these politicians and experts?... a professor of ethics in Toronto, Amir Khadir from the left-wing, Éric Duhaime from right-wing circles and a Liberal MP. There!... we're covered!

Of course, other provinces have had their share of scandals, e.g. three premiers of British Columbia left under a cloud of criminal allegations, if not outright accusations. No country in the world is immune from corruption, but you see... in Québec, it runs deeper. It's somewhat in the collective psyche. And Maclean's most recent cover story is not to prove what everybody knows. It's to submit a sociological explanation. Why are the Québécois as they are?

Well... it's because of nationalism... while the Québécois constantly debate on the place of their province in Canada, no one follows-up on the schemers. That's that!... plain... simple and to the point. Everyone knows that Maurice Duplessis, was extremely nationalist. Say what?... one of the cleanest governments in Canada was run by René Lévesque from 1976 to 1985?... this government voted one of the most severe laws on political parties financing?... it inspired Jean Chrétien to do the same in Ottawa?... the exception that proves the rule, I gather.

But wait! That's not all!... Québec media are also allergic to constructive self-criticism. Even worst... they see any flaws exposed nationally as Québec bashing. Say what again?... Québec media were the ones to expose the collusion in the construction industry?... another exception that proves the rule, I suppose.

Ok... I admit it... it's possible that corruption's more prevalent in Québec. But shouldn't the authors of this story display a minimum of journalistic rigor? Such an assessment must rely on solid data, not just a collection of headlines.

Has a Québec publication ever exposed Canadian scandals in a similar manner? What would be the Canadian reaction to a report stating that Toronto's regulatory organizations are the worst in the world because of Bre-X, Nortel and Conrad Black? A report stating that, according to a Chicoutimi historian, the English-Canadian psyche has such propensity for greed that it conveniently turns a blind eye and lets billions vanish from the stock market? Such a report could then quote the late Robert Cliche, who chaired a Royal Commission investigating corruption in Québec's construction industry in the 70s: "Below $20,000, it's a fraud, above this amount, it's high finance."

Even punchier!... what would be the Canadian reaction to a report, citing Pickton and Olson, stating that, according to a psychologist from Trois-Rivières, British Columbia is the land of Canadian serial killers because of its annual rainfalls?

Where on Earth is Maclean's heading? Don't they know a recent Léger poll suggests that the Québécois aren't satisfied with the Bastarache inquiry [Google translation]? 78% of the province's population actually believes a full fledge inquiry on the construction industry should take place.

Isn't this a blatant example of not letting facts get in the way of a perfectly good story? The real story here, I'm afraid, is that, like all struggling printed media, Maclean's is simply fighting for its share of the market at the newsstand.

This being written, and on behalf of the sovereigntists who feel that pitting the two solitudes against one another serves their cause, I would like to thank "Canada's only national weekly current affairs magazine" for their contribution.

Adapted from a column by Yves Boisvert, "Le Bonhomme Carnaval enfin expliqué" [Google translation] published in La Presse, September 27th, 2010.


Duceppe: 20 years in Ottawa

In the words of Québec's Arab and Muslim communities: "Man of integrity and of national aspiration, Mr. Gilles Duceppe defends Québec's interests with strength at the House of Commons and claims legislative powers to preserve its society's cultural and linguistic specificity. We support his political actions for a strong Québec with regards to its culture, its language and its inclusive social model."

Click here [Google translation] for the full story.


Heroes of the North

I stumbled on the trailer of this upcoming movie. Please help me out. This is a joke right?... right?


Québécois cinema is too white - Part 2

When it comes to criticism, the Québécois are a sensitive bunch. Especially when... well... a non pure laine voices that criticism. I gather you could compare it to a friend taking a shot at a member of your own family... unwelcome, even when true.

Jacob Tierney's recent words about Québécois cinema being too white raised many voices. Most reactions built on the fact that the Québécois represent only 2% of a predominantly English speaking North American population and were thus entitled to a cinema exclusively about themselves. I don't subscribe to that line of thought. It simply removes oneself from any type of forward dialog.

So... when I stumbled on a very articulate letter in the pages of La Presse about how wrong Mr. Tierney simply was, I was pleasantly surprised. When I realized this response was from a new-stock Québécois who felt compelled to react, I was delighted.

Click here [Google translation] to read it.


Québécois cinema is too white

Jacob Tierney is the director and screenwriter of The Trotsky. The action takes place in the Anglo part of Montréal. The movie has received considerable coverage from the French press and media; click here to listen to an interview on Radio-Canada [in French only - I love the way Jacob's father tells a listener he's colonized because he feels the French dubbed version is too Québécois]. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's been in my list of flicks to see since I saw a trailer early this Spring.

Mr. Tierney is in Los Angeles to promote the premiere of his film. In an interview with La Presse [Google translation], he stressed that that mainstream franco cinema here all-too-often ignores Anglos, Immigrants and most anyone who isn't old-stock Francophone. You can read about it in The Gazette.

I'm always a bit surprised when I read that type of comment. The homegrown shows I watch on TV usually have their share of non pure laine characters. In L'Auberge du chien noir, for example, there's a gay guy, a Latina, an Haitian and an Anglo played by Jonathan Lajoie (check out his videos on Youtube.com, he's hilarious!). And all these characters look like regular people living their regular life, no caricature here.

Still... I live in a country with a French speaking community that accounts for almost a quarter of its population. I watch its television, its cinema... I read its news... and I can't identify with them very much. I know exactly how Mr. Tierney feels.


Canada Day in Québec

In Québec, Canada Day is a Holiday for the few; the majority of Québécois celebrated its joie de vivre last Thursday. La Presse is probably the most federalist of the province's French newspapers. To underline today's holiday, it invited its readers to share what their plans were for Canada Day.

Click here [Google translation] to read it.


Parizeau on the CBC

Jacques Parizeau was interviewed by the CBC this week to promote the recent English release of his book, "An Independent Quebec, The Past, the Present and the Future". His main point is that there's room in the global economy for small nations as long as they're part of a bigger economic ensemble.

Click here to listen to it.


The world would love to be Canadian

According to a recent international survey commissioned by the Historica-Dominion Institute, 53 per cent of adults in the world's 24 leading economies said they would immigrate to Canada. It's always nice to read these things.

Still, I couldn't help thinking about an anecdote while visiting France in my early twenties. Those were the days when the Canadian passport had a mystical aura (Harper put a few dents in it since his arrival) and I was hitchhiking my way around with a Canadian flag. At one point, I was picked up by an old French couple who told me that when they saw the Canadian flag they instantly knew I could only be a good person. I candidly told them that we also had thugs in Canada; they simply wouldn't believe it.

More recently, I was chatting with a colleague who moved from France in the early 90s, during the biker war in Montréal. He, like the old couple, had an idealized vision of Canada and was shocked to discover thugs also existed on this side of the Atlantic.

With his usual caustic humor, La Presse's Pierre Foglia pens down a delightful column this morning. He makes a blatant point at how lame these surveys can be.

Click here [Google translation] to read it.


A constitution for unity

In the words of Benoît Pelletier (former Liberal minister of the Charest government): "In most countries, the Constitution is a source of unity. Here, it's a source of divisions."

Click here for the full story.


Patron saints aren't equal

Saint Patrick is the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland. Celebrations for Saint Patrick's Day began as a purely Catholic holiday and became an official feast day in the early 1600s. It has gradually become a secular celebration of Ireland's culture. The longest-running Saint Patrick's Day parade in Canada occurs each year in Montréal, the flag of which has a shamrock in one of its corners. The parades have been held in continuity since 1824.

In 1834, inspired by the celebrations in Montréal, several attending Patriotes got the idea of organizing something similar for all the Canadiens and their friends. By the late 1800s, the idea had spread to French speaking communities across North America and they started gathering to mark June 24 as an important holiday. In 1908, Pope Pius X officially designated St. John the Baptist as the patron saint of all French Canadians across the country.

St. Patrick's Day was March 17. To mark the event, Google.ca had one of its customized logos; both The Globe and Mail and The National Post printed a story about the origins of the holiday.

St. John the Baptist Day is today. Celebrations have started last night on the Plains of Abraham in Québec City and continue today at Parc de Maisonneuve in Montréal and across the province. The concerts in Québec City and Montréal commonly draw more people than Canada Day usually does one week later in other major cities of the country. Still, the holiday is a non event for the majority of Canadians. Google.ca, The Globe and Mail and The National Post are silent about it.

June 24 was made into the Fête nationale du Québec in 1977 by the PQ government to encompass all residents of the province. In the minds of many, St. John the Baptist Day has become intricately associated with Québec's sovereignty movement. Yet, the St. Jean Baptiste Society is behind the Canadian Maple Leaf and our country's National Anthem, symbols that Canadians of all stripes embrace as their own.

I wish French Canadians from across the country a very good St. John the Baptist Day and Québécois of all origins a very good Fête nationale du Québec.


Constitutional and PQ ambivalence

Jean Charest believes Marois should clarify the PQ's stance [Google translation] on the next referendum. Parizeau believes the PQ should have a clearer agenda on the next referendum.

Mr. Parizeau points to a public-opinion poll conducted last month by the Bloc Québécois showing that while the vast majority of Québécois (more than 70 per cent) want a new political arrangement with the rest of Canada, an equal number in the rest of the country refuse to bow to Québec's wishes. "This poll is a bombshell," Mr. Parizeau said. "The door is shut. Reforming federalism is gone."

Québec is like an unhappy employee with a decent job who's too scared to start his own business with all its pros and cons. Canada is like the employer of this unhappy employee. He recognizes the value of his contribution. He acknowledges this employee's particular need, when in private, but he's afraid to make them official because of what other employees might say.

Until one or the other makes a move, the bickering will continue.


Northern Fox

Thirty years ago today, Ted Turner flipped a switch and the face of news was never the same again. Struggling with its ratings, the network can now say the same about the audience. "People are drawn to the echo chamber, and they want to have their opinions validated more often than they want to have their opinions challenged," says Campbell Brown. "And trying to present an unbiased perspective is simply harder."

Today, Quebecor announced its intent to launch a 24-hour right-leaning "à la Fox" news channel on Jan. 1, 2011. Additional news channels are a good thing, but what's wrong with this picture? Is the only way to sell goods and services to cater to the consumer?

In their continuous quest to sell more goods, marketers have been exploiting preconceived ideas and have succeeded in comforting consumers into thinking they are always right. Now, news network must follow that path to be commercially viable. Objective information is losing ground.


Victoria Day in Québec

Tomorrow is a national holiday in Canada. For most of the country, it's Victoria Day. For the Québécois, it's la Journée nationale des patriotes. It was instated in 2003 by the Péquiste government to underline the importance of the struggle of the patriots of 1837-1838.

The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 and 1838 in response to frustrations in political reform. For many Canadians today, the Patriots' doing was an act of heresy, a somber episode associated with today's sovereignty debate in support for the French language. The fact that Québec's response to Victoria Day was instated by the Parti Québécois even furthers this line of thought. There's more than meets the eye.

Most are aware of the fact that the rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. But it also should be noted that it involved other leaders such as Thomas Storrow Brown, Wolfred Nelson and Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan. In Upper Canada, the rebellion was led by William Lyon Mackenzie. A key shared goal was the allowance of responsible government; it was a movement against the British colonial government.

The rebellion of the Patriotes Canadiens of Lower Canada is often seen as the example of what might have happened to the USA if the American Revolutionary War had failed. Tomorrow, the Québécois will be remembering people who felt Canada would benefit from more autonomy. Other Canadians will be remembering the monarchy of Canada.


"Le but" by Loco Locass

Loco Locass is a popular Québécois hip hop band. Their lyrics are amazingly rich. They are famous for their political stance, ferociously in favor of Québec's sovereignty. Their song Libérez-nous des Libéraux [Google translation] was a tremendous hit in 2004; click here to listen to it. Unfortunately, there lays the appreciation of their work in the minds of many English-speakers.

One thing I like in particular about their contribution to the sovereignty debate is their very open perspective on what Québec society should be. Us, you, them, we... you know... the thing about being a pure laine or not. In their song Engouement, they sing:On peut être pour toutes les indépendances, j’ai tendance à penser que quand surgira la nôtre, même ceux qui se sentent pas des nôtres ne nous voyant plus à genoux seront plus que jamais chez eux, chez nous.In other words, "We can be for independence in all its forms, I tend to believe that when ours will come, even those who don't feel part of us, watching us stand up, will be more than ever at home, with us." Of course, the rhythm of the words was lost in translation.

More recently, Loco Locass wrote a hockey song, Le but [Google translation]. As usual, it's sparkled with references to their political stance, but above all, it's a rallying song for all the Québécois, including those who aren't of French descent.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail points to a controversy about the lyrics. The article underlines that the song speaks of the old glory days, a time "so long ago that Francophones still called themselves Canadiens." Incidentally, the correct translation should drop the word "still" and read: "so long ago that Francophones called themselves Canadiens." Yes, of course... le Club de hockey Canadien was founded in a period when French Canadians didn't have much to be proud of, in a period when English-speakers still considered themselves British North Americans and pretty much controlled everything in Montréal. The idea of an all Canadien team was precisely aimed at exploiting that feeling among French-speakers.

The article also underlines that the song refers to that annual heartbreak that is so familiar to Habs fans, they say they have faith, and "like René said, 'next time.'" Why shouldn't it?...

Le but is an uplifting ode to an important part of what has shifted from a French Canadian to a Québécois pride. There's nothing controversial about that.


Media eclipse in Québec

Last night, les Canadiens eliminated the 2009 Stanley Cup champions. Anything is now possible. La ville est hockey.

According to Influence Communication, sports are at the top of all priorities in Québec media. And 85% of sports news is about les Canadiens. Other NHL teams and other sports, be they professional or amateur, account for less than 10%. Every day, 35% of what's written on the NHL in media around the world comes from Québec. The rest of the country, home of five NHL teams, produces 50% of NHL coverage. The USA, with 24 teams, produces 15%.

For comparison, sports news in Québec account for 16 times the weight of national news; 25 times the weight of news on poverty, elders and natives. Four games by les Canadiens generate more news than Africa does over the course of a whole year.

With the second round of the playoffs now over, we will see, hear and read about the Habs all day today and Friday. Governments and companies that have been holding on bad news for the Québécois can now take full advantage of this media eclipse. Nobody will notice.


The Canadian Constituquo

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Meech's demise. Gilles Duceppe is working hard to highlight the Canadian apathy regarding Québec's support for the constitution. Last Saturday, the Bloc Québécois published the results of a poll it commissioned.

In short, there are twice as many Québécois (82%) as people in other provinces (39%) who favor a new round of constitutional negotiations designed to get Quebec's signature on the Constitution. The Bloc is hoping that the results will lead the Québécois to a simple conclusion: The only avenue for political reform in Québec is a third referendum on sovereignty.

Federalist commentators quickly denounced the proposal as a "neverendum" (a blend of the words never-ending and referendum - the holding of repeated referendums on the same subject). I always thought this expression to be clever and felt there had to be a way to find another catchword that would describe the federalist stance.

The "Canadian Constituquo" might do the trick. And it works in both official languages. Anyone with a better idea?


Bill 101 hinders bilingualism

Comedian Sugar Sammy was on Tout le monde en parle a few weeks back. The popular French-language talk show regularly draws almost 2 million viewers across the country.

Sugar Sammy is enjoying a brilliant international career, but isn't well known in his home province. He decided to change this and, much to his credit, is now reaching out to French-speaking Québec.

Son of immigrants, the comedian talked about the realities of growing up in one of Canada's most multiethnic neighborhood in the 90s, Côte-des-Neiges. He was raised in Punjabi and Hindi at home, learned English on the streets with his friends and tackled French in school. In terms of linguistic abilities, the result is astonishing. As far as I can tell, Sugar Sammy speaks perfect French and perfect English. This didn't come without its share of downsides.

"There was an underlying tension between students, children of people who chose Canada to better their life, and Québécois teachers, who were predominantly sovereigntists." He stressed. "Although we didn't think too much of mandatory French schooling at the time, I must admit I can now appreciate all its benefits. The only thing I don't like is how linguistic laws hinder bilingualism in the province... how the Québécois don't have access to the rich English-language heritage." He added. The crowd in the studio reacted with a "deafening" silence.

I often read or hear that argument and can't help wonder how it continues to prevail in some circles. I was born from French-speaking parents who had no particular need or interest in English. I was raised in a French-speaking neighborhood. I went to school within the realm of Québec's linguistic laws. Yet, here I am, fluently bilingual, writing in Shakespeare's mother tongue. I look around me and can't think of a single friend or relative who doesn't, at least, get by in English.

My province is the only one whose sole official language is French, yet it's at the top of the Canadian list when it comes to bilingualism. In fact, bilingualism rate increased from 1991 (35.4%) to 1996 (37.8%) and again in 2001 (40.8%). With 34.2% in 2001, New-Brunswick is the runner-up, the only officially bilingual province.

Of course, learning English is important. And I personally go through great lengths to ensure my children become proficient. But the Charter of the French Language has never represented a significant obstacle in me providing them sufficient exposure to their second language. Books, magazines, music, the Internet, television, Summer camps... there's plenty to choose from. English schooling is simply not an option; the trade-off is too costly.


A day in the life

Like most loving parents, my wife and I take great care in exposing our children to new experiences and in trying to keep their minds open. Culinary enthusiasm is among the few easy things to cultivate and promote, especially in a city such as Montréal [Google translation]. It's also a very simple way to open doors and get to know other cultures.

I'm particularly fond of Mediterranean cuisine and I mean it in a very broad way, starting from Spain (even Portugal), all the way to the Middle-East and coming back to Morocco through Northern Africa. I'm obviously more familiar with certain regions, depending on the importance of their diaspora in my hometown [Google translation]. In one of his recent urban escapades, my son discovered shish taouk by himself, a dish that Montréal's Lebanese community popularized in a very specific fast food version. In fact, it's so popular that les Cowboys Fringants, a Québécois néo-trad band, wrote a musical piece about it. My son and I now share this taste.

Last weekend, an Algerian friend invited us over, and other friends, for dining and wining... well... actually... just dining. Chorba, couscous and orange blossom pastries were on the menu. We were on familiar ground with couscous, but it still was great fun to discover new dishes, especially desserts, and having them served in an authentic manner. Both my young teenagers wholeheartedly honored what they were being offered.

On our way home, my daughter and son observed that other pure laine kids around the table didn't share their enthusiasm for the meal that was served. My wife and I explained that everybody's not so keen on trying new things... that what seems natural for some may not be so for others, and vice versa.

To illustrate our words, we referred to an encounter with an American couple from Northern Vermont we met while waiting in line at one of our favorite Greek brochetteries, Le jardin de Panos. They candidly mentioned that they appreciated Montréal for its abundance of ethnic cuisine and its widely available "bring your own wine" formula. My wife and I pointed out that what was exotic to them, in this case Greek cuisine, was well integrated in our habitual night outs.

Both our kids looked at us with disbelief. "Le jardin de Panos serves Greek cuisine!?" They asked. Our efforts in cultivating their curiosity had obviously given some results.


Culture Days for Canada

The first-ever Canada-wide celebration of arts and culture were unveiled this Tuesday April 20th in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Culture Days is born of six years of strategizing to try to nationalize the success of the existing Journées de la culture in Québec, which began in 1997 and now attracts some 300,000 participants to thousands of events in more than 300 cities and towns on a single weekend each year.

Louise Sicuro, CEO of Culture pour tous, the organization heading Journées de la culture and founding partner of Culture Days attended the Toronto launch to answer questions and illustrate how successful the festival has been in Québec. She was accompanied by Québec's Minister of Culture, Communications and Status of Women, Christine St-Pierre, and by the chair of Culture Days national steering committee and general director of Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Antoni Cimolino.

Culture Days, a free annual event that invites people to celebrate and explore arts and culture will take place on September 24 to 26 in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec (under the existing event Journées de la culture), New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island; and on September 17 to 19 in Alberta (under the existing event Alberta Arts Days). The Canada-wide celebration represents the largest-ever collective public participation campaign undertaken by the arts and cultural community in this country.

Read more about this new festival on:


The limits of the Canadian mosaic

In the words of Ujjal Dosanjh: "Sikh extremism is on the rise in some parts of the country, and 'politically correct' Canadians, who let it happen in the name of diversity, are partly to be blamed."

Click here for the full story.


The Canadian movie industry

Monday April 12th was the 30th Annual Genie Awards. The show was broadcast on IFC and was webcast on cbc.ca, for Canadians who don't have access to the specialized movie channel. It will be rebroadcast on May 9th on Mfest and Movie Central.

From 1979 to 2003, the Genie Awards were aired on the CBC. Since, the ceremony gradually lost its luster and much of its interest from the general public. Its current telecaster, IFC Films, is a leading U.S. distributor of independent and foreign films.

The Québécois counterpart to the Canadian ceremony is called Les Jutra. It was created in 1999 and, in contrast to the Genie, has experienced much success. Its last installment aired March 28th and attracted 950,000 viewers. It ranked at #11 that week, according to BBM measurements.

This year's Genie Awards were surprising. It ignored Québec's most talked about movie of the year, J'ai tué ma mère. It was Xavier Dolan's first attempt, a young man who turned 20 during the production of the film. It collected many awards around the world, including three at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It was also chosen to represent Canada at the Oscars.

The success of Québécois movies has taken a lot of room at the Genie Awards in recent years. This year's big winner, Polytechnique, won in nine of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including best film, best direction and best original screenplay. Such success casts shadow to the influence of Canadian movies the award was designed to help promote, thinks Hussain Amarshi, CEO of Mongrel Media, one of Canada's leading film distribution companies. "Politics has nothing to do with this." He claims. "My perspective is simply realistic."

The Canadian movie industry is intricately embedded in its North American reality. There are plenty of successful Canadians in the movie business, but the concept of an exclusively Canadian movie industry is fragile. Should the Genie Awards be limited to English-language movies only? What about French-language production from outside Québec?... where would they fit? Would such a direction really help homegrown movies gain momentum at the box office?

Québec and other provinces going their separate ways seems to be the natural trend in cultural affairs in recent years. Is it still possible to be French and Canadian?


Michel & ti-Jean

I saw my first English-language play this winter at the Centaur Theatre. Picture this... in the fall of 69, a young Michel Tremblay arrives in Florida to meet with Jack Kerouac with one thing in mind, have him read his latest creation, "Les Belles-Sœurs". He's young, an unabashed fan (in real life, Tremblay only read On the Road) and vulnerable. Kerouac, on the other hand, is on the decline, alcoholic, uninspired and blasé.

The author of the play, George Rideout, is of American origin; he moved from Texas to Northern Ontario in his teens. Son of a French teacher, and a big Kerouac fan himself, he got into Tremblay's work and quickly saw the parallel between both men's life. As if their Québécois upbringing wasn't enough, both their mothers were Métis and both their fathers were printers.

Mr. Rideout wouldn't submit his play for production before he got Tremblay's approval. Uneasy with the thought of being the center of a play, Tremblay wouldn't read it. When he finally did, his first reaction was a candid one: "I would've never taken the bus all the way south to Florida." Having finally got through it, he directly submitted it to the Centaur Theatre, which produced it.

When I first got wind of the play, it immediately caught my attention. I figured taking a look at my own culture through the eyes of an external observer would be an interesting experience. It was. I went through a roller coaster of emotions. I was most touched by the diatribe against the Catholic Church Tremblay's character goes into. Many of the arguments and the situations being denounced were reminiscent of my own parents' experiences.

Kudos to Mr. Rideout for his insightfulness. Now, he got me interested in another play of his, "An Anglophone is Coming to Dinner".


Right-thinking at the Globe and Mail - Part 2

Well... it's not only the Globe and Mail. Mainstream publications around the country have mostly published perspectives against Québec's Bill 94 to uncover faces. The gulf between Canadian media elites and the "people" seems to be generalized.

In her blog on L'Actualité this week, Chantal Hébert comments on a recent Angus Reid Opinion Poll that underlines the general consensus over reasonable accommodations. She points out that the debate is obviously simmering from coast to coast. While the issue has been discussed for several years in Québec, other provinces have only been looking away and are bound to address it.

Click here [Google translation] to read the full column.


A prosperous Québec

Last week, Chantal Hébert was on Radio-Canada radio [in French only]. She's by far my favorite political observer and, as usual, was very interesting. She talked about the place of women in politics, in journalism... I like her attitude and her wits. She also commented on a recent column she wrote in Le Devoir about Alberta's Questerre first shale gas operation in Québec. Her column, a piece of political fiction, broached the environmental decisions the province would have to face and the geopolitical impacts of a prosperous Québec.

Québec is in a good position to sell gas to the USA. A pipeline would financially be more feasible than linking Alaska to the rest of the USA. Even if exploiting gas isn't as polluting as the oil sands, it certainly can't be considered sustainable development. But who could say "no" to billions of dollars?

Wiping off the debt, building super hospitals and more efficient transportation networks are mere examples of what new inflow of monies could do. A prosperous Québec could then shift from beneficiary to contributor in the equalization program.

What if it did? Would a richer Québec accept to watch part of this wealth be distributed to poorer provinces such as Ontario or New-Brunswick? According to current rules, provinces that benefit from equalization can apply these amounts to whatever priorities they see fit. Would a richer Québec remain unmoved by having contributed, even remotely, to tax reductions in Ontario or an ambitious universal home care program for the elderly in Fredericton?

Up until now, Edmonton has responded "yes" to these questions. Would Québec's answers differ?... how?... and why? Wouldn't the Parti Québécois use this situation to its own advantage?

Click here [Google translation] to read the full column.

Does Canada really want a prosperous Québec? Some say the time isn't ripe for a constitutional reform. Perhaps it is.


A Québécois in Toronto

I was a young teenager the first time I visited Toronto. I participated in a cultural exchange organized by my high school. As far as I can remember, I always have been interested in improving my language skills and thus swiftly jumped at the opportunity.

Unlike most participants from Toronto, the young Ontarian I was matched with could speak very good French. I remember spending the day with him on the campus of Upper Canada College; I can still hear the squeaky wooden floors. The material being presented in his French class was child's play for us Francophones. My young Anglo friend would later have the same reaction when attending my English class.

We spent the whole weekend downtown. I was most impressed by the streetcars and the trolleybuses, things I had never experienced before. I remember one trolleybus coming to a halt and the driver putting the pole back on the electrified line. The overhead wires on some of the busier streets weren't the most pleasant sight.

The most vivid memory I have of that weekend is playing on a subway grate near City Hall. The air blowing out of it was so strong; everything we threw over it, including our spit, would fly off in the sky. We came back home dirty as hell.

I've gone back many times since for business. On one occasion, I tried calling the young man I met in my early teens. His father was still living in the same house and quickly recognized me; my Anglo friend had moved to another part of the globe.

I also went back for a short weekend to see a musical with my wife. In a typical Québécois fashion, we figured we'd grab a quick lunch before and have a late dinner after the show. The restaurant we found near the Pantages Theater later that night was about to close when we got in. The restaurateurs recognized the tourists that we were. What I first thought would be a blatant example of the number one Ontarian stereotype, turned out to be some authentique hospitalité torontoise.

For the Montrealer that I am, and even if both cities aren't that far apart in age, Toronto feels "young". I'm sure Europeans also get that feeling when they come to Montréal.

Perhaps, the thing I like the most about Toronto is the absence of linguistic ambiguity. When in Montréal, I'm occasionally approached by salespersons in Canada's other official language. They usually switch to French easily, but sometimes don't. I then always go into great length to help them with their French by promoting a constructive dialog and remaining courteous. When they admit that they can't do it, I willingly switch to English. On very odd occasions, the salesperson simply has no interest for French and misinterprets my attitude for intolerance.

In Toronto, you're never out of line when expecting someone to speak the language of the majority.


Right-thinking at the Globe and Mail

I've been following reports on the Québec niqab story since it broke out almost three weeks ago. At first, I felt reports were generally supportive of the government's decision. Commentators on discussion forums and blogs have almost been unanimous in supporting the government's decision. I'm fully aware that Web talk is skewed and should be taken with a grain a salt, but I had never seen such a strong consensus before.

Then, the Globe and Mail published "Quebec must fix its lack of diversity", a column which advocates that the province doesn't have as much visible minorities representation as elsewhere in the country. And I thought... well, diversity isn't only based on colors...

After that, the Globe and Mail wrote "Intolerant intrusion", an editorial which draws a parallel between the niqab decision and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. And I though... well, that's a rather shameful innuendo... what are these people trying to do?

Today, the Globe and Mail publishes "Quebec's view on niqab creates fault line" which states that Quebec's decision struck some Canadians as pure intolerance. And I'm thinking... where are these Canadians they are referring to and why aren't they more vocal?

I look at the reactions these stories have prompted and wonder what the staff at the Globe and Mail has been drinking.


Hijab hampers employment

This one's not about Québec. Nor is it about Canada. Actually, it's not even news.

Radio-Canada radio broadcast a series of three reports [in French only] on the hopes, the successes and the broken dreams of immigrants from Morocco. The reporter interviewed a young Moroccan lady who had just obtained her visa to move to Québec. He asked her if she was aware of the additional hurdle that wearing the Islamic headscarf might represent when looking for a job in her new home country. "I'd rather not think about it." She replied. "It's actually harder in Morocco as well."

I was befuddled by the candor of her reply; it sounded almost trivial. I suddenly wondered about the appropriateness of our country's famed tolerance. I know many Canadians will move heaven and earth to provide a Muslim woman with a lady doctor, but I can't help wonder... do women in Muslim countries actually have such abundant access to lady doctors? If not, they obviously cope with it.

A young Egyptian woman has been making headlines for the past two weeks. Her getting expelled for wearing the niqab has revived the whole reasonable accommodation debate in Québec, and even Canada. The tone used to cover the story and reactions have generally been supportive of the government's decision. Although these are empirical observations, the population seems remarkably in tune "a mari usque ad mare" on the matter. Some commentators from other provinces even seem to be looking up to Québec for leadership to keep the niqab out of education.

In Egypt, the government has already taken action on the issue and announced last October that the niqab would be prohibited in many educational institutions. A report states that "the move represents a clear choosing of sides in a religious tug-of-war [...]. Whereas conservatives believe that Egyptian society has yielded for too long to western secularism, many Egyptians, including the government, see the recent rise of religious conservatism as a foreign import."

I'm not a big supporter of the conspiracy theory, but I can't help thinking that our country's no bound tolerance is greeting fundamentalists who have a hard time being accepted in their own country of origin. Is the great Canadian tolerance being exploited by extremists? What kind of citizens is the Canadian mosaic fostering? What's the proper balance?

There's a void that needs to be filled. Governments have steered clear of the issue making room for groups of interest with their own agenda. It seems fairly clear that the general opinion recognizes the need for guidelines.

In 2008, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences submitted its final report. Its main conclusion recommended the drafting of a white paper on secularism that would clarify and formalize the implicit secularism model patiently edified in Québec. The time is ripe.

In the meantime, the young Egyptian woman who was expelled from her French class made a formal complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne. It's a euphemism to state that the adjudicator in charge of the case has an important decision to make. Let's hope the verdict, whatever it is, doesn't backlash on all minorities.


Braveheart and the sovereigntists

With his editorial, in last Sunday's La Presse, André Pratte draws several parallels between the Scottish movement for independence and the PQ. "The resemblance between both approaches is fascinating..." he writes.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) recently published its White Paper detailing the steps that would lead to the secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. The motivations are the same put forward by the Péquistes. The strategy envisioned to gather sufficient support is reminiscent of the "Marois Plan".

Facing its upcoming 2010 referendum deadline and insufficient support for its preferred option, the Scottish Government is now considering a multi-option referendum seeking a variety of increased responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament. The appeal of the latter option is that it might be more likely to command the support of other parties.

Click here [Google translation] to read the editorial.


Muslim expelled because of niqab - Part 2

When I first saw the news about Mrs. Naima Ahmed being expelled from a French class early this week in La Presse [Google translation], I figured Québec would make front pages across the country for its so-called intolerance. I was wrong. All mainstream media treated the news for what it is, a legitimate accommodation attempt that failed:Reports picking up the story the following days generally conveyed the same outlook. "I think this is an illustration of when an accommodation becomes unreasonable," civil-rights lawyer Julius Grey said. "What surprises me..." added Gérard Bouchard "is that these managers felt they needed to go all the way to the Minister's office to resolve the issue. They had everything on-hand to make a legitimate decision."

Even readers' comments on various websites and forums were somewhat consensual. Some commentators put forward that such cases were examples of newcomers testing the limits of Canada's tolerance. The dominant general point of view is that Mrs. Ahmed went too far in her stance. The fact that she rallied both the Québécois and other Canadians is quite a feat.

Obviously, there are two sides to every story. The Globe and Mail published Mrs. Ahmed's version. I prefer the more touching perspective rendered by La Presse's Michèle Ouimet [Google translation].

Religion is important and it shouldn't be the basis for any type of discrimination. But is this situation really about religion? Even if it is, it shouldn't be used as a free pass to justify all types of behaviors.


Muslim expelled because of niqab

A Muslim student was expelled from a French class by authorities in Montréal. The decision was made by Yolande James, Québec's Minister of Immigration.

Facial expression, elocution and interaction between students are all part of the course's curricula, but the presence of three men in the group motivated the student to keep her face covered and impeded the course's objectives. Several attempts had been made to accommodate the student, such as private conversations and oral presentations with her back facing the classroom. The decision to expel the student was based on Québec's societal values, namely the equality between man and woman.

Click here [Google translation] for the full story.

Furthermore, several non-profit organizations support the decision [Google translation]. The Muslim Canadian Congress went as far as stating that: "As a Muslim, I find wearing the niqab totally ludicrous. It's a slap in the face to those of us who consider themselves moderate Muslims."


Brace for impact!

Budget season is coming. And the Charest government has been preparing the population for the worst. Economic commentators have been writing [Google translation] about Québec's massive debt as early as December.

Even Bouchard has been put to work. Of course, Mr. Bouchard's economic conservative propensity is well documented; he's one of Pour un Québec lucide's signatories. That he's recently summoned sovereigntists about the right priorities is just Charest's good fortune, right?

Now, Raymond Bachand, Québec's Minister of Finance, is proudly displaying the results [Google translation] of an analysis that ranks Québec only below Japan, Italy, Greece and Iceland in terms of public debt as a percentage of GDP (click here for the story by the Canadian Press). Why haven't the Liberals started to address these issues when they took helm in 2003?


Duceppe to discuss sovereignty in Europe

Even if sovereignty isn't currently the talk of the town, Duceppe considers that bonds need to be reinforced abroad. This coming fall, he will be heading to Europe to make speeches and demystify sovereignty. The aim is to be ready in the event of a positive referendum.

It's a first for the Bloc leader. These types of initiatives have exclusively been taken by the Parti Québécois. "We need to share our point of view to counterbalance the federalists" says Duceppe. A tour of English Canada is in the works and a tour of the USA is also being considered. Obviously, the PQ is delighted.

Click here [Google translation] for the full story.


Bouchard's recent criticism of PQ

In a recent article titled "Bouchard's harsh criticism of PQ is music to Charest's ears" published by The Globe and Mail, Rhéal Séguin writes: "Stung by harsh criticism from former leader Lucien Bouchard, the Parti Québécois became an easy target for Liberal Premier Jean Charest, who capitalized on his political rival's assessment that sovereigntists are fighting a lost cause."

"Ms. Marois' priority is sovereignty, nothing else," Mr. Charest said of PQ Leader Pauline Marois. "The economy isn't her priority. It isn't jobs. It's sovereignty."

In the words of La Presse's Yves Boisvert [Google translation]: "The rebuke to the sovereigntists really conceals another that Mr. Bouchard hasn't spelled out. Although the Liberal government doesn't carry the independence obsession, it is incapable of addressing Québec's problems with courage."


From Saigon to Granby

The years that followed the Fall of Saigon in 1975 saw over 1,000,000 Vietnamese flee the city. Many left with minimal means, swarming boats and rafts the size of a nutshell, compared to the waves of the ocean they confronted. This ordeal gave the term "boat people" the meaning it still bears today.

Among these boat people, were 10 year-old Kim Thúy and her family. Sustenance on the boat was limited to fish. Confronted with food allergies, young Kim was forced to choose between hunger and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. The family landed in a Malaysian refugee camp where children would play next to open sky septic tanks. The situation genuinely touched the Western world.

Member of the first Parti Québécois government elected in 1976, Jacques Couture [Google translation] was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities. On the heels of the Charter of the French language's coming into force, he implemented Frenchifying measures to support recent immigrants with their integration into their new society.

Upon his return from South-East Asia in 1980, Mr. Couture is profoundly shaken by the tragedy. In reaction, he pushes for family reunification and raises the population's awareness in favor of these ill-fated individuals.

The State is responsible for welcoming refugees. However, hospitality is also the responsibility of citizens through sponsoring programs. Under these programs, sponsors must provide for essential needs during a whole year. They also have the "duty to greet with warmth and dignity people who've experienced subhuman conditions." 518 groups in 215 municipalities scattered through the province sponsor 7,847 refugees until March 1981.

Kim Thúy and her family end up in Granby where they are greeted with such warmth and generosity that the young girl is marked forever. In her own words... "I often felt that there wasn't enough room within us to receive everything that was being offered." She would later mention that having the opportunity to experience small town Québec was the best integration policy the province could think of. She goes on... "I'm a child of Bill 101, a Francophile and a Francophone in my soul. I speak Vietnamese, of course, but it is the Vietnamese of childhood or cooking. The language in which I think and feel most is French."

Kim Thúy recently published a novel about her own experiences. The book is called Ru. Publishing rights have already been sold to France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Spain. It's a touching tale about the strength of human empathy.

The Indian connection

With the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France gave up Canada and all of its claims to the territory east of the Mississippi River to Britain. France also recovered Puducherry, an important segment of French India.

Jean Charest's recent trip to India saw the premier stop by the former French colony and raise local awareness for the Canadian province. In the words of Lieutenant Governor Iqbal Singh: "I would like to suggest to the Vice-Chancellor to explore the possibility of setting up a chair for Québec Studies at the university. This would facilitate the younger generation to understand Québec's rich and diverse social, historic and political realities."

Click here for the full story on this potential long-term relationship between Québec and the Union Territory of Puducherry.


Modern racism in Canada

In the words of Phil Fontaine from a speech he did in 1998 for the Donald Gow Memorial Lecture at Queen's University: "It always fascinates me that I see the world so differently from many of my non-Aboriginal friends and acquaintances. Obviously, the identity of the person doing any analysis makes a difference." Food for thought... click here for the whole speech.


A day in the life

We're already well into winter. I like it when it snows. It gives the city a different feel, a different sound. When the wind is down and the sky is filled with fluffy snowflakes, everything is quieter. It's relaxing.

Daylight is getting longer, but there are still a few weeks of cold temperature ahead of us. Every time we hit those minus 20s, I think of the first settlers who got here in the 16th century and probably started wondering as early as December when this cold season would be over. I also have a thought for immigrants experiencing their first winter. Watching Haitians getting off the plane on the runway with military blankets and sandals as their only footwear is an enduring image. It's no wonder some can't deal with our climate and simply move to warmer parts of the country.

This winter's been generally mild, but we've had some cold nights. A few weeks back, I was rushing outside the sport complex to get back home for the kids to get a decent night sleep when I bumped into a lady with jumper cables in her hands. "Do you know how to do this?" she asked. "Well... uh... yes." I mumbled begrudgingly. She stood there, looking at me as if she hadn't noticed my lack of enthusiasm. I watched over her shoulder and saw her car with its door open. I went on... "you simply need to clip the two positive poles together and do the same with the negative poles." "Can you do it?..." she asked. "I'm afraid of this stuff." Ok... let's do this quickly, I thought.

While a second lady approached her mini-van, she unlocked the hood of her Volvo. I tried to pop it open, but couldn't find the latch. She called her husband; the latch was in the radiator grill. We found it and opened the hood. I looked at the battery; all I could see was gunk, no plus and minus signs. I asked the second lady to unlock her hood. Now, she's the one getting instructions over the phone. "My husband says you got to clip to the frame for the ground."

This was getting a bit more complicated than I expected... I was standing with a jumper cable clip in each hand, looking at the lady in distress, trying to reconcile advices from people who weren't even there. Both my kids were running around with impatience and I wasn't sure which one of the plus or the minus is the ground... help!

Salman is a sporting fellow; he's from Northern Africa. He saw me, as he got out of the sport center, started running and yelled "I've got a boosting unit in my car... it's the safest way to do this... hold on!" In the meantime, Abdul, with whom I also do sports, walked up to me, grabbed the cables, connected the whole thing and asked the lady to start the car. When Salman returned with his boosting unit, everything was settled. Yep... I was all set to go home and put the kids to sleep.

New-stock Québécois beats Pure Laine 2-0.

Step by step

With his editorial, in today's La Presse, André Pratte summons federalists against the sovereigntists' new step by step approach. He stresses that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Meech's demise. Although he doesn't mention it, polls show support for sovereignty has slowly, but steadily, increased in recent months.

Some dismiss the thought of an independent Québec as a passé idea carried by aging baby-boomers. Yet, the Parti Québécois has been recruiting many young and promising MNAs and candidates for whom you won't find vis-à-vis in other main provincial and federal parties.

Mr. Pratte also outlines the sovereigntists' general diligence and the environmental strategy they've been using to distance themselves from the rest of the country. What are federalists doing? "Not much" he writes... they are under the impression that 1995's scenario can't happen again. "Big mistake" he adds... I agree with him.

Click here [Google translation] to read the editorial.


Explaining Québec separatism again

Many Canadians are under the impression that Québec's independence isn't economically feasible and that the people who support it have been brainwashed by demagogues. They discard any argumentation that goes beyond the economic rationale.

Economics are important. In 2006, the Québécois put $95B in the governments' coffers [Google translation]. Of this amount, $38.4B went to Ottawa; $47.4B went to the province; $9.1B went to municipalities. In return, Ottawa sent $5.5B in equalization and $7.7B in programs that all provinces equally benefit from. Of course, there doesn't stop the benefits of the federation. Like all Canadians, citizens of the province have access to many federal services such as National Defense and Employment Insurance.

Forecasting how an independent Québec would financially be feasible isn't an easy task. François Legault tried in May of 2005 and published Finances d'un Québec souverain [in French only]. When he did, I expected solid counterarguments from federalist forces. Michel Audet, then provincial minister of Finance, simply shoved it by the way side, deeming it jovialiste. The Globe and Mail denounced it without much justification. I gather they felt the attempt was so inane it didn't deserve much attention. I was disappointed by the absence of a substantiated response.

In his recent book, Parizeau puts forward that the province's debt is less, in gross domestic product (GDP) percentage, than the USA's and the average of OECD countries. Some argue that OECD figures include all debts and that a fair comparison should include the province's share of the federal debt and municipal obligations. I haven't heard or read Parizeau's reaction.

Things aren't clear. And it certainly seems strange that the financial component of the federalist-sovereigntist debate hasn't been the object of a clear demonstration from either camp. It lends me to believe that an independent Québec is financially viable even if it's better off within Canada (especially with the economic mishaps of recent years).

So... why does sovereignty appeal to, more or less, 40% of the province's population? Canada's a great country... how can this appeal reach such proportions? In today's communication age, demagoguery isn't nearly enough to explain it.

Over the centuries, French Canadians have 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 from the federal legislature. With its French-speaking majority, Québec has been able to use its provincial legislative platform and counter this trend.

Do Canadians realize that a second language with international influence is an asset to the country? Do Canadians recognize that Québec's weight in a predominantly English-speaking continent is a quasi unique situation? Are Canadians aware that Québec is among the few states in the world where it's possible to have a successful life without knowing a single word in the majority's language?

Most Canadians are in favor of some sort of measures to protect the French language. Yet, there is a profound dichotomy between what many Canadians deem acceptable and what many Québécois feel is necessary. To put it bluntly, homegrown culture is alive and well in Québec (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3) despite the constant erosion the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has imposed unto the province's Charter of the French language for over 30 years.

Don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with where Canadians want to go culturally. It's just that it's not where the Québécois wish to go.

Canada and the USA are different countries, yet they share more similarities than Québec does with the rest of the country. Is it justified for Canada to be independent from the USA? Of course... we're looking at two very different societies. Why wouldn't it be conceivable for Québec do go its own way?

Obviously, independence isn't the Holy Grail. It would come with its own set of challenges, but it would give the province full autonomy in managing its own cultural destiny.

The majority of Québécois agrees that Québec's culture is worthwhile. What distinguishes most sovereigntists from most federalists is the difference in assessing the future of Québécois culture in the Canadian context and the financial advantage of the federation. Very very simply put, there are two ways to counter the sovereignty movement:
  1. Give the province more leverage in managing its own cultural destiny.
  2. Make the province financially dependent upon the country.
And Canadians are the ones holding the key to either scenario...