Maclean’s Interview: Louise Beaudoin

Sovereignty strategist Louise Beaudoin on ‘Frenchification,’ Quebec’s self-confidence, and how to separate from Canada bit by bit


Maclean's Interview: Louise BeaudoinLouise Beaudoin has been at the forefront of Quebec’s sovereignty movement for over 40 years. As a cabinet minister in three Parti Québécois governments, she was largely responsible for the province’s language laws. Now, as a Montreal-area MNA, she is one of the main architects of the party’s new “plan for a sovereign Quebec,” which would use “sectoral referendums” in order to wrestle powers like taxation and culture away from Ottawa.

Q: Tell me about the PQ’s latest plan for a sovereign Quebec.

A: We thought it was time to remobilize the sovereignist troops and relaunch the sovereignty debate. We want to do away with the waiting game. It’s nice to say that we are going to wait for that big night where everything falls into place, but we know this won’t magically happen. So the best way to reignite the debate is this plan that [PQ leader] Pauline Marois has presented. We want to be transparent in what we are doing and what we want. The first thing, of course, is for Ottawa to respect the constitution of 1867, that is to say Quebec’s powers, as well as those that are shared with the federal government, as well as to reclaim certain powers that we think are necessary for Quebec’s development.

Q: In concrete terms, how do you arrive at getting these powers for Quebec?

A: We’ve already started. A year and a half ago we put forward our proposed law on Quebec identity and citizenship. When we get into power we will reintroduce this bill.

Q: You are talking about how the PQ would make it mandatory for anyone running for office to speak French?

A: Yes. We’ll present that part of it as it is, but it’s negotiable. What is sure, though, is that in the next election, if the Parti Québécois wins, both the identity bill and the PQ’s new sovereignty initiative will be front and centre. We will also introduce a new Bill 101, because we believe that it has been very good as far as obliging the children of immigrants to go to French school until the age of 16. But we have to work on Quebec’s businesses. It isn’t worth it for an immigrant from, say, Pakistan, to learn French if he doesn’t need it. And this is more and more the case, especially in Montreal.

Q: This would involves applying Bill 101 to businesses with 50 employees or less. But even Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, recognized that this would be nearly impossible on a bureaucratic level to enforce.

A: I think there are ways of doing it.

Q: What can you do?

A: Look, the Journal de Montréal did many investigations, and found that it is easier to be served in English than in French in many places in Montreal. This isn’t acceptable. If Dr. Laurin was still with us, and saw the drift away from French, I’m sure he would be 100 per cent in favour of this. French must be learned inside the walls of every small business, with the blessing of the owner and the managers. The first reflex for an immigrant, and it’s very understandable, isn’t to learn French, it’s to find a job. So you have to make him learn French while, not after, he is working. That is the future of ‘Frenchification’ in Quebec in small- and medium-sized business. It’s the best way to ensure that French is made useful and necessary in the workplace. And under our new Bill 101, the PQ will mandate that immigrants will receive all of their governmental correspondence in French after three years.

Q: It’s an awful lot to say that he must find a job and learn French within three years or else . . .

A: It’s not or else. All we’re saying is that after three years they will receive their government correspondence in French. If they have a problem with reading it, they can call us and we’ll help. But at some point you have to put your foot down. If you are in Italy, you speak Italian. We will inscribe the predominance of the French language in Quebec’s charter.

Q: We’ve had a lot of plans for a sovereign Quebec . . .

A: Yeah, and if one of them had worked we’d be independent today.

Q: Why are Quebecers so apathetic about the idea?

A: I don’t know. I’m not sure they are apathetic, though. The polls say that there are “only” 40 per cent of Quebecers who are favourable to sovereignty right now, but I find that number huge.

Q: But 75 per cent of Quebecers don’t think sovereignty is ever going to happen.

A: I’m trying to find ways to convince them. What we are saying is we are going to do concrete things to get there, to show why sovereignty is necessary.

Q: But it’s been years that you’ve been trying this. This isn’t anything new.

A: Why would I stop? It’s such a lovely road. I was elected to do this.

Q: Tell me about the plans for “sectoral referendums.” I understand the plan is to have not just one but several referendums. What’s the strategy?

A: There’s no real strategy. It’s one of the ways among many to have transfers of power from Ottawa. Like culture, for example.

Q: But what if we go into areas like taxation? Marois wants to remove the federal government’s ability to collect taxes in Quebec. What happens if Ottawa says no?

A: Then the people can decide for themselves. It’s a democracy. Pauline didn’t exclude the possibility of one referendum on taxation, for example. There might eventually be one.

Q: Just one sectoral referendum?

A: One or two.

Q: Or three?

A: No, no. That isn’t our objective. Honestly. If a crisis arises, it will be from Ottawa, because it will be the federal government who won’t be respecting its boundaries.

Q: The thing is, it takes a constitutional amendment in order to change the powers on something as fundamental as taxation. What happens when and if Ottawa says no?

A: We’ve had constitutional amendments in the past. Pauline Marois negotiated for one when Quebec changed from religious- to language-based school boards. Anything can happen.

Q: So you have to create a crisis, as Jacques Parizeau said.

A: No. I don’t think that. I respect Mr. Parizeau’s opinion, but it isn’t my own.

Q: La Presse deemed your current plan “sovereignty à la IKEA,” in the sense that you take the powers one by one because you don’t have the support to take them all at once.

A: We’ve been very clear: our objective is total sovereignty for Quebec. One day there will be a real referendum like in 1995 and 1980.

Q: Is the idea to wrestle so much power from Ottawa, bit by bit, that people become less and less scared of outright independence?

A: That might be a collateral effect, but the intended goal of these referendums is basically to say “always more” for Quebec. More powers, more political space. That’s all.

Q: Many sovereignists seem to have an animosity toward the Quebec population because, they believe, the population is too comfortable and too indifferent. After all, as René Lévesque used to say, Canada isn’t hell.

A: You’re right. Canada isn’t hell. It isn’t a gulag.

Q: In a way that’s your problem, isn’t it?

A: Maybe. But it’s up to us to convince people. It’s a democracy, and democracy means convincing people, not forcing people. Look, people could have elected the ADQ into official opposition again if they wanted to, right? But they didn’t. And our objective, and it’s very clear, is to get out of Canada. And what we say in the meantime is that Quebec wants more. More powers, political space.

Q: When you were minister responsible for Quebec’s French charter, you attracted a fair amount of ire from Montreal’s English community. I’m thinking of that caricature by the Gazette’s Aislin, where he had you dressed up as a dominatrix . . .

A: Ah, yes. My friend Aislin. I’m his fantasy. I hope I still am, despite my age.

Q: What I’m wondering is if you think attitudes have changed on the English side.

A: Yes. I think the anglophone community has become more bilingual and has become more aware and accepting of the French majority. The new challenge now, for us, is getting new arrivals here to become part of the French majority.

Q: But you could say that the English community has done so in the last 15 years because there hasn’t been the threat of separation. The second you bring that threat back . . .

A: What English people in Quebec need to understand is that the PQ has never questioned their rights as a minority. McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s are subsidized to the hilt by the Quebec government, with our tax dollars, so you can’t say that English institutions aren’t respected. It’s changed, but for a long time you could say that the French were a sort of majority ruled by English Rhodesians. Bill 101 changed it, and for a long time it worked. The problem is, globalization has made English the dominant language again. So it is important to reinforce the French fact again.

Q: And you need sovereignty for this.

A: I’ll tell you why we need sovereignty. To have confidence in ourselves, to be as open as possible to others.

Q:You need sovereignty to be open to others?

A: Yes. To be open to others you need to be sure of oneself, and the only way to be totally sure of ourselves is to be sovereign. If you and I talk in 10 years after sovereignty, I’m convinced that Quebecers will have even more self-confidence, they’ll be far more advanced individually and collectively, and everyone will be more happy. There you go.

Q: It’s almost a religion.

A: Oh, good God no. I’m secular, as secular as they come.

Q: So it’s a secular religion, in the sense that you have to proselytize.

A: And federalism isn’t? Federalists do the same thing, so I’m as religious as they are, I guess. Look at Charest, when he raised his Canadian passport in the air during the referendum in 1995. You’re telling me that wasn’t cult-like? When it’s time to fight, Quebec federalists like Jean Charest all become preachers for Captain Canada.

Q: The end result is that Quebec is constantly at war with itself. It’s an obsession. I wish I could come here and interview you about the weather instead. Anything else but this.

A: The weather is never good in Quebec City. What do you want to talk about? Life’s purpose? Death? Love? Sure, but this is part of my life, and I love it.

Q: There’s a cartoon that ran in Le Devoir not long ago of a guy sitting on a horse, obviously from Alberta, screaming, ‘Separate already!’ It seems some Canadians can’t wait.

A: Part of it is that all of this debate happens peacefully. That’s a big thing. Look at what happened in Ireland for 30 years. Look at the Basque territories in Spain. Here we are an example of how to do things. Sure, we piss each other off, and English Canadians say they wish we’d make up our minds, and we say that they don’t understand a thing. But it is exemplary because the debate is civilized.

Q: So because we aren’t violent we are condemned to this endless cycle.

A: Yes, but it’s better than being violent, isn’t it? It’s much, much better.


Maclean’s Interview: Louise Beaudoin

  1. The PQ live in lala land. I amvery disappointed Macleans did not ask the tough questions such as:
    1) What currency will you use?
    2) How will you pay for your share of Canada's debt?
    3) How about trade pacts. Quebec is NOT included, they have to start from scratch.
    4) Passport and other international affairs??
    The separatist movement is pathetic. They live in a bubbled world. Enough is enough. Goodbye. If you do not like our great country, Get the H$%% out of here. Bye PQ!!!

    • Very sad position :(
      sovereignty is not about hating "your" country like you said (if its only "your" we got effectively a big problem) !
      sovereignty is more about a basic survival instinct…. a feeling that maybe you couldnt never understand ?
      this feeling is really close to our great rich culture and french langage….
      Place yourself in a situation where youll be assimilated…… lost your english….see your friend, your family speaking in for example "chinese", because a lot of chinese people are becoming apart of your close area for some reason….
      just imagine this situation, you have a lot of chinese people that dont care about english (they dont need to talk in english, they can do everything in chinese !) now you are one of these alone english people in this area,
      are you still in "your" country ???? would you learn chinese ???? Or promote your own english langage ????
      Maybe it could apear less pathetic.
      i know my english is very poor, but at least i try and i have some interest of learning ;)
      Have you some interest in learning our french langage ?
      best regard

    • 1) What currency will you use? DOESN'T ANYBODY CAN USE PAYPAL?
      2) How will you pay for your share of Canada's debt? TAXING FREIGHT GOING TO ONTARIO WITCH WILL HAVE NO DEEP SEA PORT ANYMORE.
      3) How about trade pacts. Quebec is NOT included, they have to start from scratch. THINK ABOUT LAST ANSWER AND GUESS WHO WILL WANT TO PACTICIZED FIRST…

      • Nom Monsieur. As a proud Canadian..bilingual, merci!
        If Quebec wants to be a 'sovereign' nation, then that is your choice however; This certainly will involve the termination of Canadian currency, Canadian pensions, Canadian passports. This will mean NO Canadian loans, and Quebec will pay her debt back. If going on your own means leaving, then you leave without mom and pop giving you the means to survive. I will not support my tax money going to help a 'nation' that wants to get out of Canada. I wish you well, but you're on your own.

  2. "It's changed, but for a long time you could say that the French were a sort of majority ruled by English Rhodesians. " Like Rhodesians?? Oh lord…

  3. A: We've been very clear: our objective is total sovereignty for Quebec. One day there will be a real referendum like in 1995 and 1980.

    (A) Clear, (B) total sovereignty, and (C) the referenda of 1980 and '95. Your not so onerous challenge is to select the one item that does not belong with the other two, Madame Beaudoin. J'espère que vous avez bien célébré la Fête du Canada?

  4. @ David
    1) What currency will you use? //Canadian dollar to begin. We'll see after…
    2) How will you pay for your share of Canada's debt? // I don't mind. There is a price for leaving Canada. There is also a price for staying (called assimilation) wich we are not ready to pay.
    3) How about trade pacts. Quebec is NOT included, they have to start from scratch. // Why couldn't we? We are not good enough? Not smart enough?
    4) Passport and other international affairs?? // Again, aren't we good enough to have our own passport and international affairs? To manage our economy or to handle our international policies! Your attitude is called contempt!, my friend!

    • Bonne chance mon ami…mais les portes sont fermé et barré derriere vous. Notre argent Canadien ne vous appertiens pas…alors cela est un gros NON.

    • Please. The same people who desire sovereignty have the same ethos and world view that the people in Toronto do. Post-modernist relativism and love for the social welfare state. You've pretty much rejected everything that made you unique and distinct in Canada (such as the Church), which is why you worry about how big the lettering on signs is. It is the only thing you have left.

      The assimilation that you experienced has nothing to do with your involvement in Canada. It is the logical conclusion of nihilistic left wing philosophies where you reject your own traditions.

  5. The gist of Beaudoin's arguments is that the English are anti-French caitiffs and the French are poor oppressed victims of the English regime. The PQ has never stopped questioning English people's rights as a minority, particularly since (1) “English” has always been the equivalent of a swear word to them and (2) they have no interest in alternatives. If she wonders why Quebecers are so apathetic about this whole sovereignty thing, she need only look at the referendums of 1980 and 1995, both of which ended in a “no” despite wordings designed to be cloak-and-dagger.

  6. Another P.Q. hypocrisy—".. democracy means convincing people ,not forcing people". That's why we have language laws and a police force to enforce them. I no longer speak my mother tongue …. big deal…I still am who I am. The Mass is no longer in Latin…..big deal….I'm still Catholic. People still have not caught on ….the basis of seperation and language laws is racist: how a country like Canada allows ,indeed condones these hostile laws is beyond me. My French is much better than Beaudoin's English.

  7. I'm was born English, but went to French immersion for two years to learn French because I live in Québec. Yet, when I talk to Francophones older than 30 I am labeled as a "maudit anglais" or "un autre." You tell me, Beaudoin, who's racist? The PQ stating that "because the sounds that come out of your mouth sound different than mine, we are not equal," yet it's "equalité ou indépendence."
    Most Québecers under 25 and immigrants (the growing majority) don't want separation, so the PQ and Bloc have realized "it's now or never." Beaudoin and her xenophobic nationalist ilk sicken me to no end. There's no "English conspiracy," Beaudoin. Québec should be French, people who move here should learn French, I have no problem with this. You don't need to separate to do this. Give it up, quit acting like a child and actually do something positive, instead of destroying Québec roads and cutting health care costs (thanks for that Marois), the only thing the PQ has done since the early 90's. Bosclair lost because of separation, clearly the PQ hasn't learned their lesson.

    • Hear hear. "We can only be self-confident once we're independent" tells you a heck of a lot more about PQ insecurities than about Quebeckers en masse. Separatism, as opposed to Quebec nationalism, will soon be as dead as the cult of Mithras.

      • Don't get cocky, kid…

  8. Ms Beaudoin, if Quebeckers want to do well in life, they should abandon this blood and soil tribalism. Nothing but grief will come of it. At the end of the day the French language has to serve the interests of the users of the language and not the other way around. I've read in a few places that China has the world's largest number of English speakers, I've also read the same about India. N. America has more than 300 million English speakers, more than 100 million Spanish speakers and 7 million French speakers. The writing for the French language is on the wall. Quebeckers can swim in that little pond and limit their life chances or they can swim in the wider ocean. BTW I'm not an Anglo chauvinist, my parents are immigrants from Italy and English was not my first language.

  9. let them separate on January 1, 2012, that will give them enough time to design, finance and print their new currency. Next, let's tell everyone today that this will happen and watch the catastophe unfold:__Many major companies will leave Quebec due to the unknow value of the new Quebec currency on the world market. (No they cannot continue to use the Canadian dollar, they are no longer Canadians)__

  10. Part 2 Next problem: Quebec will manage everything that the Feds used to manage but they will not have the dollars to do so, Federal highways and infrastructure will deteriorate driving away more people and again reducing Quebec's income, dollar value and ability to sustain itself.__Their solution will likely be to borrow money from other countries which will again reduce the value of the new Quebec dollar.__By this time, anyone with any foreign currency will see Quebec as a buying opporunity due to the strength of their foreign currency in that country.__Foreigners will begin to flood into Quebec buying buildings, houses and closed business. Few of these people will be French speaking so the country of Quebec will now be multi cultural just like Canada, USA, Great Britain, etc.__Do you really want to go down this path which is in reality a full circle?

  11. Better that Quebec separate than continue to violate fundamental human rights through Bill 101.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this interview. Looks like she really knows what she's saying.