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.