Quebec is more fearful about the future—with good reason - Macleans.ca
 

Quebec is more fearful about the future—with good reason

La Belle Province is ‘like a cube of sugar beside a gallon of coffee’


 
People celebrate the St-Jean Baptiste on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. The day is designated as a national holiday in Quebec province. (Mathieu Belanger/CP)

People celebrate the St-Jean Baptiste on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. The day is designated as a national holiday in Quebec province. (Mathieu Belanger/CP)

Can it be? There is an astonishing degree of like-mindedness in our Canada Project survey of 1,515 Canadians. Affinities abound in family and children, sports and country, entertainment and fashion, food and drink, money, lifestyle and even the fearsome “Canadian values” department. And this, not only between English-speaking provinces, but between Quebec and the ROC. Who nous?

Of course, someone itching for a fight could always make something out of the “What would you miss most from this country?” question. In every region, save Quebec, respondents pine for “our people.” In La Belle Province, food is what makes us yearn for home. A sure sign of hedonism gone awry, a nitpicker might say. Or just too many good French restaurants? But, otherwise, let it be known, we feel the same about not paying more taxes, affordable housing, patriotism, homosexuality, Facebook, having kids, homemade meals and (drumroll) being the nicest people on Earth. We share the same guilt about what we’ve done to Indigenous people and the same laissez-faire attitude toward the environment. We are equally confused about what to do about Syrian refugees and quite clear about letting people die with dignity. Even bilingualism, an age-old bone of contention, is now seen rather warmly from coast to coast.

    But enough with all this harmony. Canada would not be Canada, especially 150 years down the rocky road of Confederation, without some kind of fundamental discrepancy between Quebecers and Canucks. While I do not think we are a meaner, more selfish and more corrupt kind of place, I do think—and the survey does point in this direction—that Quebec as a whole is a more fearful one.

    The telltale question here is “What do you worry about most when it comes to your kids’ future?” Most everywhere in Canada, the number-one concern is “the availability of a good-paying, secure job.” There is notable anxiety in this regard in places where jobs are scarce (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and where immigrant populations are high (Ontario). In Quebec, however, the number-one fear is “international conflict and extremism.” The fear in this case is associated with the outside, rather than the inside. Quebec also stands out when it comes to increasing the size of the military, increasing border security and decreasing the number of Syrian refugees. Still more signs that Quebec wants protection from external forces.

    What does it mean? Let’s first of all resist the temptation to interpret this as proof of an anti-immigrant bias in Quebec. Now that we know how incredibly keen Canadians are to “screen new immigrants for Canadian values”—a whopping 84 per cent!—it would be unfair to single any of us out as being especially immigrant-shy. The fact is we are all a little worried about losing something of ourselves in the ethnic mix. Only, the rest of Canada has tended to keep this information to themselves while Quebecers have worried about being wiped out as far back as the Plains of Abraham, and express this anxiety at every turn.

    “We are like a cube of sugar beside a gallon of coffee,” as novelist Yves Beauchemin once put it, describing Quebec’s situation within North America. Perhaps a tad alarmist, but the metaphor nails French-speaking Quebecers’ sense of vulnerability on the head. This is precisely what is so often misunderstood about Quebec: behind the hedonism, the fireworks, the jaywalking, the prize-winning filmmakers and the general hoopla, there is a sense that the lights may go out, perhaps not at any minute, but eventually. As a result, we are burdened with a permanent knot in the stomach which makes us want to party, drive dangerously and rudely ask people what country they are from.

    Joking aside, this survival business does influence the way we treat one another. Among the old-stock French Quebecers, there’s a sense of “I know you!” (even though of course you don’t), a feeling that we’re all in this together, a real bond among people that I haven’t felt anywhere else save Newfoundland, Canada’s other distinct society. It’s a great feeling if you happen to be inside that circle, but not so great if you happen to be on the outside looking in.

    Which brings us back to the immigrant question. In Quebec, a foreigner is not simply someone who looks, talks or eats differently. He or she is someone with the potential to blur the lines of a proud 400-year history, maybe even blot it out, seeing the natural tendency of immigrants to join the English-speaking ranks in Quebec. Hence the fear of the outside and tendency to hunker down. I wish it were otherwise. I wish we could cash in on the effervescence, ingenuity and creativity that comes with existential doubt and leave the finger-pointing aside.

    But, hey, according to the survey, we still believe in being nice.

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    Quebec is more fearful about the future—with good reason

    1. For some, that lump of sugar is what makes the cup of coffee. Hopefully, Canadians are learning to embrace diversity – we should anyway because diversity has always been a strength. One should visit the railroad museum in Squamish to see the picture posters that were used to induce hardy Ukrainians to cross the Atlantic in CP Ships steerage, bump halfway across the country in bare-bones rail cars featuring seating less comfortable than the average park bench, hike out into the grasslands (no mountain scenery like the posters show), convert some of that sod into a home, avoid freezing to death and establish what is now an important economic sector. People who filled out a necessary link between eastern and western Canada: not the mythical British colonial of the ‘old stock Canadian’ mythology promoted by Conservative party visionaries. Perhaps grit is a Canadian value. Perhaps we need only reference Canadian icon David Suzuki. Perhaps love of the environment is a Canadian value. Certainly, Quebecois can be accused of niceness – they have to be to endure the rest of us. Perhaps Ontario should go to Quebec to find out how to make cheap electricity, Saskatchewan to see how to do it without burning fossil fuel and the NEB to see that green power can be a substantial energy export. If nothing else, we need Quebec to remind us that we came from diversity.

      • “France has the greatest laws and jurisprudence in the world … regardless of its perversity, the Napoléonic Code is actually the most beautiful and grandiose achievement of the almighty Napoléon Bonaparte.” (v)

        [ Aucun pays ne possède une littérature légale comparable à celle de la France … Ce code [Code Napoléon], malgré ses défauts, est aujourd’hui le plus beau titre de gloire du grand homme [Napoléon Bonaparte] dont il porte le nom ]

        Pierre–Basile Mignault, “Préface,” Le Droit civil canadien basé sur les “Répétitions écrites sur le code civil” de Frédéric Mourlon avec revue de la jurisprudence de nos tribunaux, Tome 1, (Montréal: Whiteford & Théoret, Éditeurs Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence, 1895), v–xii.

        • “[Napoléon Bonaparte] uplifted himself, by which means no one has ever determined, to the heights of conceptual power in his knowledge of the greatest problems of jurisprudence and legislation.” (24)

          [ Napoléon … s’est élevé, on ne sait comment, jusqu’à l’intelligence des problèmes les plus ardus du droit et de la législation: “Napoléon, qui s’est élevé, on ne sait comment, jusqu’à l’intelligence des problèmes les plus ardus du droit et de la législation, pris souvent part aux discussions du Conseil. Il y déploya toujours une clarté, une méthode, et quelquefois une profondeur de vues, qui furent pour tout le monde un sujet d’étonnement” ]

          Frédéric Mourlon (1811–1866), Répétitions écrites sur le code civil contenant l’exposé des principes généreux leurs motifs et la solution des questions théoriques, 11e édition, revue et mise au courant par Charles Demangeat, Tome premier, (Paris: Garniers Frères, Libraires–Éditeurs, 1880).

          • “It is the soldier who founds a republic and it is the soldier who maintains it.” (33–34)

            [ C’est le soldat qui fonde une république et c’est le soldat qui la maintient ]

            Napoléon Bonaparte in Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher, Bonapartism: Six Lectures Delivered in the University of London, (Oxford: Oxford Univerisity Press, 1908).

            • “Corruption destroys the very foundations of our democracy … the task at hand is not to find the guilty parties: What is at stake here is the very idea of the evolution of the rational conception of right in Canada.” (79/III)

              [ La corruption porte atteinte aux fondements de la démocratie … La question n’est pas ici d’identifier les contrevenants à la loi. Il s’agit plutôt de réfléchir de manière globale aux effets des événements qui se sont produits sur notre conception de l’État de droit ]

              Justice France Charbonneau et Renaud Lachance, Rapport final de la Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction: Stratagèmes, causes, conséquences et recommandations, 4 vols., (Quebec: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 2015).

        • “[Napoléon Bonaparte] uplifted himself, by which means no one has ever determined, to the heights of conceptual power in his knowledge of the greatest problems of jurisprudence and legislation.” (24)

          [ Napoléon … s’est élevé, on ne sait comment, jusqu’à l’intelligence des problèmes les plus ardus du droit et de la législation: “Napoléon, qui s’est élevé, on ne sait comment, jusqu’à l’intelligence des problèmes les plus ardus du droit et de la législation, pris souvent part aux discussions du Conseil. Il y déploya toujours une clarté, une méthode, et quelquefois une profondeur de vues, qui furent pour tout le monde un sujet d’étonnement” ]

          Frédéric Mourlon (1811–1866), Répétitions écrites sur le code civil contenant l’exposé des principes généreux leurs motifs et la solution des questions théoriques, 11e édition, revue et mise au courant par Charles Demangeat, Tome premier, (Paris: Garniers Frères, Libraires–Éditeurs, 1880).