Bienvenue en Alberta
Quebecers, in record numbers, head out to Wild Rose country
MARTIN PATRIQUIN | October 1, 2007 |
Camille Forest decided to leave his home and family on Christmas Day a year and a half ago. A house framer by trade, he hoped to find work along his tear across Western Canada -- work that was proving more and more scarce in the quaint corner of Quebec's Eastern Townships from whence he hails. Stopping in Edmonton, he found a sizable French community and more work than he can handle. He dearly misses Quebec, but he isn't likely going back any time soon.
"The mentality is different here than in Quebec," says the 41-year-old. "Everyone here is very polite, very respectful. People say hello to you in the morning."
Forest isn't the only Québecois who has decamped for Alberta's greener pastures and bountiful oil sands. Some 9,300 Quebecers moved to the Wild Rose province in 2006 -- more than double the 2005 number -- making it the No. 1 destination for Quebec migrants. And it's not just the recent oil boom: save for a few years in the 1980s, Quebec has seen a net loss of people to Alberta every year since at least 1972.
Quebecers moving to Alberta have access to French schools, government services and support groups, as well as established French communities around the province. Forest's 10-year-old son, who joined his father shortly after he got there, attends a French school with a bevy of anglophone students. Learning French is suddenly the chic thing to do, says Sylvain Tardif of the ACFA, the province's French-Canadian association.
"It's very easy to live your life in French here," Forest says. This is particularly true in the Edmonton area, home to six primary and secondary French-language schools and two of three of the province's officially bilingual municipalities. Forest even found a local restaurant serving decent enough poutine.
And lest anyone think it is solely a brick-and-mortar migration of construction and oil patch workers, consider the case of William Simard -- a pianist and producer by training who found more work in Alberta. "There just aren't enough contracts" in Quebec, he says. "Except for a few who are considered the elites, the competition is intense and salaries are too low."
Employment remains the main reason to come to Alberta. But two prominent Internet sites aimed at Quebecers, as well as French-speakers outside of Canada, suggest another: Quebec, they say, is hobbled by its ongoing political battles, stifling bureaucracy and protectionist job market. "Montreal is becoming decrepit ... and we've lived years and years of inertia, complacency and mediocrity," wrote Richard Comeau, a 54-year-old from Quebec City on the site quitterlequebec.com("leave Quebec")recently.
Jonathan Bouchard created quitterlequebec.com partly as a lark -- he registered it on June 24, 2005, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. But he also wanted to give a voice to the thousands of Quebecers who have left their home province. A computer programmer and Internet radio DJ, Bouchard himself is a Québécois de souche from the province's Beauce region. Apart from a visit to Florida in 1997, he has never left the province. This hasn't stopped him from urging others to do so, however. "People who leave do so because they feel blocked," Bouchard says. "There is a union-driven mentality here, a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Taxes are too high and we don't get what we pay for."
Bouchard has a kindred spirit in Yann Takvorian, also a computer programmer, who hails from France. Lured to Quebec by promises of jobs and stability from Quebec's foreign office in France, Takvorian's 12-year sojourn in la belle province ended in May, when he returned to Côte D'Azur utterly disillusioned. If the "quitter le Quebec" site is abrasive, Takvorian's immigrer-contact.com is out-and-out bitter. Hundreds of the site's 6,000 members decry Quebec society as inward-looking, intolerant, and, horror of horrors, too North American for their European tastes.
"We really feel that there are three castes in Quebec: immigrants, anglophones and pur-laines," Takvorian said in an interview from Côte D'Azur. His solution? Go to Alberta. He even provides a link to the Alberta government's immigration website from a banner that reads, "Don't waste your time, don't waste your money, forget Quebec. Come to Alberta."(Told of this, a somewhat shocked Alberta immigration spokesman told Maclean's the government would soon ask that the banner be removed. "[We] do not directly engage in promoting interprovincial migration," he said.)
Not that all expats have given up for good. Camille Forest hopes to return home one day, and William Simard says he misses "the cultural fire of Quebec." They might like Alberta, but Quebec is home -- no matter how messed up they think it might be.