Outraged in Quebec? Wait 10 minutes-you'll be outraged again - Macleans.ca

Outraged in Quebec? Wait 10 minutes–you’ll be outraged again

Martin Patriquin on a political pas de deux


Jacques Boissinot/CP

Nearly three years ago, in the midst of some sort of cover kerfuffle, I wrote the following about Quebec’s unique brand of political decrepitude:

On one side we have federalists, whose perpetual goal of “saving the country” has brought an equally enduring sense of self-entitlement amongst many federalist politicians. On the other the sovereignists, who purposefully stymie Canada’s political machinery if only to show to what extent the whole mess doesn’t work.

Back then, of course, we were in the former bit of the equation—which saw, among other things, the indictment of a sitting cabinet minister; a deputy premier (and municipal affairs minister) who received money, Céline Dion tickets and roses from a construction company owner; another cabinet minister who met at a swishy club with Frank Zampino, Paolo Catania, Bernard “Mr. Three Per Cent” Trepanier just prior to a notorious Montreal land sale that may well land Zampino and Catania in jail on corruption charges; the harvesting of millions of dollars in illegal campaign donations from a variety of engineering firms; and so on.

Today, after last summer’s jag of tear gas-drenched student riots and a subsequent provincial election capped by an attempted political assassination, Quebec has lurched to the other side of that equation. The Liberals gave us scandal and corruption. The Parti Québécois’s main course is language and outrage. Liberals gain power by promising stability and an end to les maudits chicanes over language and national unity, while the PQ returns once the population is thoroughly grossed out by inevitable indulgences on the part of the Liberals. Then as now, political corruption is as much of a problem than it was in the 1970s, if not more. Then as now, the language issue is just undead enough to wake at any moment. Such is Quebec’s political history for nearly five decades: a pas de deux between two entrenched camps that can’t seem to live without one another.

It’s why I can’t get outraged at anything language-related any longer. I know, contrary to what was reported at the time, how things like Pastagate—in which l’Office québécois de la langue française wagged fingers at a restaurant for using the word ‘Pasta’ on its menu—aren’t just isolated incidents perpetuated by overzealous inspectors. Before Pastagate (and WaterClosetgate and JoeBeefgate) , there was McKibbinsgate (2008), Cigargate (1998), Chinatowngate (1998), Gravestonegate (1997), and SmokedMeatgate (1996, 1986), among many others. These things inevitably happen when the regulation of words is set into law. The various ‘gates’, if you can call them that, are by-products, not anomalies.

And I know, with a few exceptions, that in nearly every case the OQLF has backed down when evidence of its hubris has been broadcasted to the world at large. Besides, if I get outraged now, I’ll just have to get outraged again in 10 minutes, when something else happens. It’s easier just to slip on hip waders and wallow around in all that inadvertent satire.

But back to the Parti Québécois. If you don’t quite understand what the current PQ government is doing, you can look back to when it was last in power and be just as confused, because in all likelihood it was doing the exact same thing then, for the exact same reason. Case in point: faced once again with a gloomy truth—its warhorse of sovereignty is about as popular now as it was 10 years ago—the PQ has dreamed up all sorts of gimmicks to gussy up the old gal. As part of its “sovereignist governance” plan, the party recently tapped Gilles Duceppe to co-lead a commission looking into the apparently awful effects the Conservative government’s changes to Employment Insurance will have on Quebec.

Asleep yet? No? Here you go, then: today, the PQ demanded that Ottawa “open the books” on supposedly nefarious dealings regarding the signing of the Constitution in 1982. Grrrrr! “It puts the legitimacy of the Supreme Court of Canada into question,” said PQ minister Alexandre Cloutier. Rawr!

That other noise you just heard, apart from an entire generation of would-be voters dozing off, is the dull rattle of history. The party was doing the exact same thing just over a decade ago; premier Bernard Landry, full of his usual bluster, promised sovereignty “within 1000 days”. He mused about a referendum in 2002. He commissioned another round of reports on the subject.

Apparently bored with the subject or, more likely, with his handling of the economy, Quebecers turfed Landry out of office in 2003. And the dance continued: Jean Charest’s resounding victory over Landry, declared the Globe, “[C]ould mark the beginning of new phase of co-operative federalism aimed at consolidating Ottawa’s drive for national unity in Quebec.”


If history has a habit of repeating itself, then Quebec history has Tourette’s and a stutter, making it repeat itself faster and more spastically than anywhere else. And if its history is any indication (and it most certainly is), then Quebec is in for another Liberal government sooner rather than later. Premier Pauline Marois leads an inherently unstable minority government. She has performed a near-record swan dive in the polls. The PQ has never been kind to its leaders.

Meanwhile, the Liberals just elected Philippe Couillard, a fairly popular politician whose pet cause is getting Quebec’s signature on the Constitution.

And so the dance goes on. Yay nous.


Outraged in Quebec? Wait 10 minutes–you’ll be outraged again

  1. “Such is Quebec’s political history for nearly five decades: a pas de deux between two entrenched camps that can’t seem to live without one another.”

    “But back to the Parti Québécois. If you don’t quite understand what the
    current PQ government is doing, you can look back to when it was last in
    power and be just as confused, because in all likelihood it was doing
    the exact same thing then, for the exact same reason”

    “Asleep yet? No? Here you go, then: today, the PQ demanded that Ottawa “open the books” on supposedly nefarious dealings regarding the signing of the Constitution in 1982. Grrrrr! “It puts the legitimacy of the Supreme Court of Canada into question,” said PQ minister Alexandre Cloutier. Rawr!”

    LoL…It’s difficult to know what to quote. Such a great post. Very funny. Great writing. Merci or thankyou if that’s allowed?

    The dancers dance on,long after the music has stopped for the rest of us; locked in a grim embrace in which it seems much of QC – let alone Canada – long ago found grotesque and now pitiful. Someone. Anyone. Bring the curtain down, please.

    Edit: Bit carried away with my rhetoric there. Bring down the curtain on the old dichotomies between the political actors , not separate or leave of course.

  2. Been around too long to get wound up about Quebec. Their performance are, sadly, like a perpetual-tragic-comedy-play.

    • Yeah yeah, you just wished you lived in a province that got anywhere near as much attention in this country. :)

  3. Is “corruptionin” some sort of Amazonian poison, or can’t Martin Patriquin spell?

    • Those sub-headlines are generally added in by online staffers, JR, so you’re free to blame one of us. :) But (assuming you mean the heading in the “More by Martin Patriquin” section) it should be fixed, now. Appreciate the heads-up.

      • Also, Martin Patriquin can’t spell.

  4. Lets not get rid of corruption, instead lets “open the books” from 1982. Pathetic is what this is. But you know, I don’t blame “La Vache Qui Rit” Marois. She was voted in after all. So let’s ask these voters what kind of medicine they were on the day of the ballot.

    • Quebec IS doing something about corruption. What’s the ROC doing about it? Ignoring it?

      • Of course corruption is going on in other provinces. That is why Martin is doing the right thing. I live in Alberta and the more that is exposed about the nasty crap in our government, the better. This isn’t about pride, it is about flushing it out and getting rid of it. You can’t do that if you don’t acknowledge it exists.

  5. About a year ago my husband and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Montreal. Our expectations were not that high. It’s a wonder that we went. People told us that no one would speak English to us, even if they could speak English. People told us that everyone would be rude. Add to that our impressions of Quebecois gained through watching and listening to the media. However, it was nothing like we imagined. Everyone spoke English to some degree and most were completely bilingual. No one refused to speak to us in English and everyone was very nice and very helpful. Not just people who stood to make money off us, like in restaurants and hotels. But people who we would meet on the street and ask directions or about bus schedules. And speaking of restaurants, they all had English menus for us non french speakers. Besides being felt very welcome in Montreal, we loved the city, the food the architecture, the vibe, and everything else. My idea is to let Quebec separate, but keep Montreal in Canada. When we were eating in Shwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, another customer came and sat down at our table. He was born and bred in Montreal and he was very friendly, asking our impressions of the city and what sights we had seen. That was very typical of our experience in Montreal. My husband and I both want to go back.

    • My wife and I have had equally delightful experiences in Quebec City. Can we keep it too?

    • As Josh Freed likes to say: Quebec works in practice, not in theory.

  6. My province sucks…well…except for subsidized daycare. The generation that is at the helm needs to be old yeller’d and it is time for the sane to take it all back.

  7. Bon bon encore du Québec bashing so what else is new. If you can’t stand the heat…

    • …leave the province of my birth? Gotcha.

      • Exactly, love it or leave it.

        But if you want a better suggestion try understanding Québec and its people because you don’t.

        You have your biased opinion and you stick to it. This applies to a lot of people who think the English language is the issue and that Anglos are treated as second class citizens in Québec.

        The people of Canada have become so americanised that they don’t realise that they are not in a different country (than the US) anymore. If that is what the ROC wants, that’s OK with Québec but don’t drag us in that maelstrom. Even if they don’t necessarily vote for the PQ because they are afraid of the consequences of the separation, most Québécois don’t necessarily want what the ROC wants, although I’m sure a good part of Canadians feel the same but don’t know how to express it. One thing for sure the Anglos in Quebec are not ostracised and they are treated much better, in all respects of life and individual liberties, than most of the Francos in the ROC.
        Been there, Done that but I got rid of the T-Shirt.

        • I disagree that English people are treated better than francophone, it depends where you live and by whom. Je travaille à Montréal mais qui vie dans les banlieues, I have an accent when I speak in French but also in English, je suis très bilingue. On m’a refusé des entrevues à cause de mon accent anglais, not even allowed the chance to prove my worth and show my experience.

          J’ai commandé un café au Café Depot récemment et j’ai été interrompu par le client derrière moi parce que je parlais en anglais. It was not the employee that spoke to me in English, it was me and I was told I should order in French from another client. Je reçois des mauvais regards quand je parle en anglais. Where do we draw the line?

          I’ve also traveled both in the United States and Canada, let me assure you -we- as Canadians are very different. What the country wants and what the province wants has more to do with what the politicians wants than the people.

          • Well you haven’t lived much in the ROC. I spent about 15 years living
            in the Canadian West because of my work and I finally came back to
            Québec. It is excessively difficult to keep the French culture outside
            Québec. But it is not difficult to keep living in English in Québec.
            Most everything is available in English in Québec.

            I have French
            speaking family in Saskatchewan and Alberta who would be grateful if
            the lack of consideration and respect you have experienced were the only
            problems they had.

            They are loosing their identity and
            language. Very few grandparents over 70 can still speak French with
            their grandchildren because the kids were blended in and lost their

            There are some very impolite people weather they are
            French or English speaking and this is unacceptable in any language.
            It’s not only a matter of language and I agree with you, it is a matter
            of respect.

            The difference that most people fail to grasp is that
            there is no real common English culture that really remains in the ROC.
            Only about 18% of the English speaking population of Canada is of
            English (British) culture.

            The rest are of a great number of
            different other cultures which have been incorporated, over the last
            century, in the North American English speaking population of which
            about 300 million reside in the United States. Canadians might be very
            proud of their Hockey teams and their beer but have been truly
            integrated (not to say assimilated) in the North American stream. We
            like the same movies, the same TV series, the same music shows, the same
            social networks and so on.

            Weather you feel that Canada is different from the US is only a
            matter of opinion. Let me say then that the ROC is closer to the US
            it is to Québec and its not said in a derogatory sense. it’s OK but
            it’s also OK if the people in Québec decide that they would prefer a
            different arrangement with the rest of Canada, based on each party’s

            But as I said in the previous post “the Anglos in Quebec
            are not ostracised and they are well treated in all respects of life and
            individual liberties.”

      • No Martin, don’t leave…keep up the good work. We can tell you love your home province and that is why you do what you do.

  8. What a botched article. Definitely that the author Bastien is not a convinced federalist, but his book is based on numerous interviews with named officials, and written documents, of the British government.

    You may think what you want of Quebecers or separatists, and frankly the tone of your writing here is a gem example of racism, but it is John Ford, British High Commissioner to Canada at the time, who wrote to the British government after receiving information from Boris Laskin, that Ottawa’s plan to repatriate the Constitution without provincial consent was “a real attempt at a coup d’état in order to change the balance of powers within Confederation.” (from G&M).

    At a time when the SCC is asked by the current government to look into the Senate issue, the SCC is wise to take this affair very seriously, as it expressed yesterday: “The court takes its institutional independence and the confidentiality of its deliberations very seriously, and it is reviewing the substance of these allegations.”

    Or are you suggesting that the SCC and its judges have Tourette’s and a stutter, making it repeat itself faster and more spastically than anything else?

    • You had me at “a gem example of racism.” Racist against who, pray tell? Myself?

      • Instead of stopping a paragraph down, why not read her whole comment and answer her question? She’s an intelligent commenter here, and I believe also a Quebecker. I know all kinds of people who are critical toward their own community.

        • You’re right LL normally comments intelligently. But don’t you think she’s being a tad defensive and humour less here… The piece was hardly racist for goodness sakes.

          • It’s not LL I am disappointed in; it’s Martin Patriquin. He chose the flippant answer instead of addressing her comment. I do not know much about this situation, but both the author and the commenter are Quebeckers, so I feel there was a loss of opportunity for an exchange that I might have learned from. That is all.

          • I am not surprised to read that you don’t know much about this situation. Martin Patriquin’s is a rare article published in English about the irregularities that may have occurred at the Supreme Court of Canada in the early 80s, and his article did not even attempt to explain the situation to you. A gross violation of the chief justice of the SCC with deep political implications would be akin to a restaurateur giving you the English rather than the French menu, if you believe Mr. Patriquin.

            As for the Tourette disease that would afflict me, for I do have Quebec origins, it is news to me that Boris Laskin went around town and divulged information to the Canadian and British governments on the ongoing deliberations of the Court on the patriation reference. This troubling revelation comes from documents released by the British government, and published in a book by author and historian Bastien. If you read French, all newspapers cover this well. If you don’t, you’ll have to make a valid judgment of the affair based on Mr. Patriquin’s text. Sadly.

      • When you refer to Quebec history having Tourette’s and a stutter, I had assumed that you meant its political and social history, implying that Quebecers have some collective illness. It didn’t occur to me that you were talking about geological history.

  9. Cher Martin, tu pourrais en revenir du “Pastagate”? Surtout que l’histoire concerne un client franco qui s’est fait refiler un menu en
    Italien. Bien entendu, que tu vérifies les faits ou non, ta version est plus amusante pour ta clientèle.

    • Le client au Primadonna n’a eu pas besoin de l’OQLF, il aurait dû avoir suivi de deuil pour avoir été donné un menu de langue anglaise par erreur.

  10. I would love to live in Quebec.

  11. Im 78 years old born in Toronto to Irish/Scot parents – had various trips to Quebec -done business in Quebec – love the Quebec people and their culture. If they want to separate it is their choice but there are various problems for them if they do but it is their choice.Only a Quebec born should be allowed to vote on separation as they are the ones that own their heritiage.