Legislation for a dying culture

I'm a staunch supporter of Québec's Charter of the French Language (a.k.a. Bill 101). Its purpose is to give new stock Québécois the means to integrate with the provincial majority. Without it, a rift would build between the population and its minorities. In most countries, such a legislation is superfluous, but Québec faces an uncommon linguistic challenge. Although not unique, it has very few parallels in the world.

Québec's Charter of the French Language is sometimes singled out as discriminatory by the average citizen. This seems odd to me. It doesn't prevent anyone from speaking or learning any language. And the government offers several programs to citizens willing to improve their command of the French language, skills that can only open new horizons.

I also happen to be a supporter of the Canadian Content legislation. You see... an industry servicing a market of 34M people doesn't stand much of a chance against a competitor almost ten times its size, especially since they both share a common language and similar cultural references. From where I stand, providing Canadians with adequate opportunities to appreciate the cultural production of their own country is commendable.

Does favoring artists on the arbitrary criteria that they were born North of the border seem discriminatory to you? It certainly doesn't to the average citizen. At any rate, anyone pointing it out in the name of international agreements would have a hell of a hill to climb with UNESCO's convention on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity.

I believe Canada's cultural production is a plus to the North American whole. I also believe Québec's cultural difference is an asset to Canada. I sometimes read on blogs and forums that any culture relying on legislation to ensure its survival is a dying one. Of course, such words take aim at the Charter of the French Language.

When I ask their authors for their assessment of the state of Canadian culture and their point of view on the Canadian Content legislation, I invariably get many thumbs down, but no replies.


Saint-Jean hangover

Saint-Jean celebrations in Montréal were kind of damp this year. Even though I live at walking distance from Parc Maisonneuve, I skipped the big event. Despite the weather, The Gazette reports that attendance at the parade and the show was still respectable, 50,000 instead of the usual 200,000.

I opted for the drier floor of a movie theater and saw the film Gerry, the very touching tale of Québécois rocker Gerry Boulet. My wife and I were flabbergasted my Mario St-Amant's [Google translation] performance (he personifies the singer). My thirteen years old son loved it... which tells me this movie will appeal to the mainstream.

Back at home, I watched the end of the Parc Maisonneuve concert on Radio-Canada. Veteran Robert Charlebois was his usual self. Rufus and Martha Wainwright did a medley of their mother's former duo. I can only assume many saw them as the token Anglos of the evening. Still, they were welcome.

I've written about June 24 before, explaining the difference between Saint-Jean and Fête nationale and how patron saints aren't equal in the Canadian psyche. Despite the fact that Saint-Jean-Baptiste is the patron saint of all French Canadians, like Saint-Patrick for the Irish, national media tend to oversee the holiday.

This morning, I wondered about celebrations outside Québec. I found some festivities were carried out in Squamish, British Columbia and in the Battlefords, Saskatchewan. I hope they had nicer weather than we did.


A province of panhandlers: a myth

Some people believe that Québec owes Canadians and a quick look will lead most to agree. With 23% of the Canadian population, the province receives 55% of the country's equalization payments and offers social programs that are unaccessible to other Canadians.

Still, a closer look reveals that transfers (including equalization) from Ottawa only account for 25% of the province's revenues. In comparison, Ontario receives 22% of its revenues from Ottawa. Some people will maintain that a 3% difference is enough to label Québec a parasite. In reality, if Ontario were to get that same percentage (25%), the additional amount would come to $3B. Sounds like a lot?... well... that's what Queen's Park spends in nine days.

Other provinces are more dependent on federal transfers than Québec. Manitoba and Nova Scotia receive 36%; New Brunswick, 37%; Price Edward Island, 43%. Newfoundland and Labrador once received more than 50% of its revenues from Ottawa. Today, it's at 23%, the Canadian average.

The Québécois aren't living at the expense of other provinces. If they have more generous social programs, it's because they pay higher taxes... and because they are more in debt...

Click here [Google translation] for the whole story.


Ô Kébèc!

Well... the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste is at it again. A national anthem for the Québécois? Click below to hear it or click here for a look at the lyrics.

I can't say I find it very uplifting. I personally would've chosen a younger songwriter than Raôul Duguay, someone with a fresher look on our society... and why not?... someone who was born abroad and embraces Québec's culture wholeheartedly like Bernard Adamus [Google translation] or Luck Mervil.

This isn't the first time the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste is involved in promoting a national anthem. It did the same back in 1880. And I can't help but think that English speakers of the time must've reacted with the same disbelief some do today. Yet, 100 years later, the majority of them acknowledged it as their own. They now embrace it. I'm sure you heard of it... Ô Canada!

Read the second verse of the original French poem carefully. It reeks my home province. Writing an anthem for an independent Québec that doesn't sound anything like our country's national anthem would be quite a challenge.


Why are so many young Quebecers still sovereigntists?

English speaking Canadians who believe national media suffice to have a thorough understanding of the political dynamics of our country rarely get the chance to read articulate points of view when it comes to the federalism vs. sovereignty debate. Articles in favor of federalism are usually shallow; there's no need to go very far on the topic when addressing a crowd that already accepts the option. Articles in favor of sovereignty basically don't exist. Authors of articles trying to explain the rationale for sovereignty often lack the background to go beyond the usual economic arguments.

André Pratte is both a staunch federalist and a Québec nationalist. He's also the Editor-in-chief at Montréal's La Presse. Here's an excerpt of an opinion piece he published in The Globe and Mail yesterday:
"For the past 30 years, support for independence has been remarkably stable at 40 per cent. That stability has frustrated separatists, whose constant efforts to convince Quebecers to follow them has fallen on a majority of deaf ears. It also confuses Canadians outside the province, who wonder why on Earth so many Quebecers still believe that separation would be good for Quebec.

Younger separatists [...] are full of confidence in themselves and therefore do not fear separation. They travel all over the world to study, work and visit but have never found a reason to go to Toronto or Vancouver, let alone St. John's or Regina. To them, the rest of Canada is a foreign country, with a different culture and different values. They see the election of a majority Harper government and Quebecers' massive vote for the NDP as the latest demonstration of the unbridgeable canyon between Quebec and English Canada. They believe the federal system is inefficient and that Quebec could better tackle the challenges it faces if it had all the tools of government in its possession.

Younger Quebecers are rarely exposed to passionate, intelligent arguments in favour of federalism and the Canadian experience. Most of what they hear from English Canada transmits, at best, indifference toward Quebec and the French language (witness the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games). Having not lived through two referendums and endless constitutional debates, they don't understand English Canadians' hostility toward changes that would be advantageous to Quebec."
Click here to read the whole story.


Learn French in one word

In The Marriage of Figaro (1784) the French dramatist Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais observed ironically, "The English, in truth, do add here and there some other words when speaking; but it is obvious that 'God-damn' is the foundation of their language" (III v).

French, like any language also has all-purpose words that can be used in many situations. Click below to learn more about the variety of expression a single word can take.

That works fine when in Paris. But swear words are highly dependent upon the culture they build on. French-speakers on this side of the Atlantic don't have the same taboos and, although sex related words will be recognized, using the Word of God in vain will have much more impact. Click below to learn more about the variety of expression a single word can take when walking the streets of Montréal.

Click here for more information on Québec French profanity.