Quebec: The most insecure province

By Dan Delmar on November 4, 2010

« Ce que nous attendons de notre premier ministre, c’est qu’il défende ce petit peuple en Amérique, ce petit peuple de francophones…Nous sommes deux pour cent ! Deux pour cent en Amérique du nord ! »

~ Pauline Marois


Witnessing a hysterical Pauline Marois shrieking in the National Assembly a few days ago, describing the Québécois as a “petit people” could be interpreted as one of many signs that this province has lost its way; that it is the societal equivalent of a 13-year-old with adolescent angst and a desire to angrily lash out against authority figures. 

Marois’ fit provided a rare moment of honesty and insight into the attitudes of Quebec’s sovereignist political class. The leader of the Parti Québécois wants to lead a small people – in numbers, surrounded by Anglo North America, yes – but does she also want to lead a weak people; lost, confused and distracted by the red herrings of petty linguistic squabbles?

Why was she so incensed? The Charest government fast-tracked Bill 115 (its precursor was Bill 104, whose precursor was Bill 103, challenged to the Supreme Court – you can understand the urgency), legislation that would allow non-Quebec natives the option of sending their children to English public school – but only after they first entered the English private system and collected a sufficient amount of “points,” in a complex system that would make the most seasoned bureaucrat’s head spin. 

The law, although it is a half-measure that will undoubtedly lead to more administration costs at an already bloated Education Ministry, only affects a few hundred Quebec children. But listening to the panic and desperation in Marois’ voice, one would think that the government had declared October 18 to henceforth be known as Howard Galganov Day.

The panic exposes an underlying fear. The PQ’s education critic, Pierre Curzi, fears the “bilingualization” of Quebec, and Montreal in particular. 

“I think right now the equilibrium is moving in a very fast way,” Curzi told me on the airwaves of CJAD over the summer, “and I think that’s we’re going to a ‘bilingualization’ of the island of Montreal and I don’t think it’s good for you or for French people. It’s a bad situation.”

Curzi is scared. Marois is scared. Nationalists everywhere are scared because many view the French language as being in competition with the English language in the same way that McDonald’s competes with Burger King. Unfortunately for those who hope to earn political capital through division and finger-pointing, things are a bit more complicated than that. 

Montreal is considered to be one of the communication industry’s hubs worldwide and it’s precisely for the same reason that Marois and company are getting more and more paranoid by the day: Most of us speak at least two languages fluently. But how can this be? How can Quebec professionals use two – gasp, sometimes even three – different languages in their day-to-day affairs? How come the French language, statistically, is not dying a slow, painful death but is actually quite steady when you look at the number of Francophone households over time? 

Despite ramblings by Péquiste leaders, it is safe to assume that Quebec parents largely want their children to finish high school with as many tools at their disposal as possible to best enter the workforce. Bilingualism is one particularly valuable tool, but language insecurity is standing in the way of a better educated population. 

The PQ wants their petit peuple to be compliant and unilingual. Restrict English; make sure students aren’t learning it, businesspeople aren’t speaking it and Quebecers will never miss what they have never known. They can then be more easily manipulated into accepting the absurd theories peddled by Marois and Curzi; that tolerating English will diminish French, that restricting English will bolster French. They can further alienate Quebec from the Rest of Canada, making sure that the provincial-federal relationship is strained and suffering from lapses in communication. Then, they hope, they can convince the “little people” to follow them into the abyss of sovereignty. 

With a tip of the hat to Maclean’s magazine, Quebec may indeed be our “most corrupt province;” that corruption is rooted in the insecurity of the Québécois. The most insightful paragraph comes not as journalist Martin Patriquin recounts a long, sorted history of government abuse, but in analyzing the root cause of the abuse.

“I don’t think corruption is in our genes any more than it is anywhere else on the planet, but the beginning of an explanation would be the fact that we have focused for so long on the constitutional question,” Éric Duhaime told Maclean’s. The former ADQ candidate heads a ractivist group called the Réseau Liberté-Québec. “We are so obsessed by the referendum debate that we forget what a good government is, regardless if that government is for or against the independence of Quebec.”

Agree or disagree with the politics of this emerging right in Quebec, Duhaime’s comment is incredibly insightful and points to the aforementioned insecurity that plagues this province. We can’t seem to get to the business of governing properly until the question of who governs us and from where is finally settled. That question can’t be answered as long as the PQ remains in a position to plunge Quebec into a national identity crisis every time rights are (sort of) given back to non-Francophone minorities. It’s a vicious cycle with no end in sight. 

When Marois stands in the National Assembly, shrieking at the Premier like a madwoman, incensed at the prospect of parents choosing where and how to educate their children, she exposes inherent flaws in her vision for achieving Quebec independence. Who will usher the Québécois into nationhood? With a recent poll suggesting the unnamed centre-right political party, with no name (although rumoured to be Force Québec), no leader (perhaps François Legault) and no platform is leading in support over the five existing parties, one has to wonder if anyone is capable of corralling Quebec, whether it is a province or not. Marois’ voice may carry well across the assembly floor, but René Lévesque she is not.

 As is the case with the angst-ridden adolescent, an end to insecurity will come with empowerment; empowerment will come with education. And meaningful education means broadening one’s horizons – a concept that works against the PQ’s policy of sovereignty-via-ignorance.


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