Quebec’s back. And, apparently, surprised


Chantal Hébert’s column in L’actualité points out what, to her, is a paradox: “In total, Quebec has never occupied as little place as it does today in the places of power in the federal capital.”

Let me summarize Hébert’s argument before gently trying to critique it.

Quebec’s five Conservative MPs, she writes, give it the seventh-largest provincial sub-caucus in that party’s national (well, Canada-wide) caucus. Ontario has 14 times as many Conservative MPs as Quebec does. Saskatchewan and Manitoba together have about 5 times as many Conservative MPs as Quebec does.

As for the NDP, despite those 59 MPs from Quebec, 58 of them newly-elected, only 2% of all the card-holding NDP members in the country are Quebecers.

“We’re swimming in paradox,” Hébert writes. “In 20 years, Quebec has never been so cool toward sovereignty and the parties that advocate it. But it has also never been so absent from the places of power and political influence of a Canada to which it nonetheless seems destined to continue belonging. Find the error!”

Okay. I’m pretty sure the error lay in expecting any other result.

If I left my house for 20 years and then came back, I should reasonably expect the house to be in shoddy repair, or occupied by strangers. I might really be looking forward to coming back. I might have all kinds of fun ideas for decorating and entertaining. But my decision to neglect that house for 20 years would have easily predictable consequences. We can phrase this more generally: Actions have consequences.

Similarly, if the voters of a province — let’s call it “Quebec” — devoted the vast majority of their political effort, attention and allegiance for 20 years to a party that has no interest in most of the country, it would not be a huge surprise to discover that otherwise pan-Canadian political organizations would have limited presence in Quebec and vice versa. It’s great that millions of Quebecers have, at least in some limited and provisional way, changed their minds by voting for parties besides the Bloc Québécois on May 2. But their earlier actions have consequences.

Hébert anticipates and seeks to rebut this line of argument when she writes:

“The prolonged absence of Quebec from many federalist organizations or even its demographics are not alone in explaining this growing loss of influence. A certain negation of its distinct political culture contributes to this too.

“Unlike what is the norm elsewhere in Canada, none of the three federal parties has a wing in the National Assembly. In Ontario, for example, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s NDP share their membership lists with their federal cousins.”

Again, this strikes me as the direct result of political choices made in Quebec by Quebecers. I’ve had two generations of Quebec Liberal Party grandees rush to insist to me that they have nothing whatsoever to do with those out-of-touch Chrétien/Martin/Dion/Ignatieff Liberals. Fine. There used to be a Quebec provincial NDP. For a minute there in the late ’60s it actually looked like it might flourish. But most of its members left for the Parti Québécois. Fair enough. Was the NDP supposed to print tens of thousands of membership cards for phantom Quebecers who wanted nothing of it?

None of this means the Harper government has no obligation towards Quebecers. It should provide services to them on the same basis as other Canadians. It should not hand out substantially more pork, proportionately, to other provinces than to Quebec. It was maybe not super-brilliant of Angelo Persichilli to explain to the Globe that he planned to be really nice to the Quebecers, and then turn down an interview request from La Presse.

But some of these questions are hard questions. How much of a political party’s energy should go toward a population that shows it no interest? Ask Jean Chrétien, who flew right over Alberta for the duration of the 2000 campaign.

But, some say, Quebec is a nation and a founding peuple and a distinct society and a unique constituent of the Canadian mosaic, or one day it will leave. You’re actually going to get a lot more sympathy for that argument from me than from a lot of anglos. But actions have consequences. You spend two decades ignoring national parties, you should expect national parties to have atrophied Quebec wings. How long will it take to fix that? I don’t know. Not four months. Longer. Assuming everyone’s in good faith.


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Quebec’s back. And, apparently, surprised

  1. I can’t say how anyone can argue the opposite.  The same could almost be said about another province say …. Alberta and the Liberal and New Democratic parties…..

  2. I heard you on Radio-Canada yesterday, your french is a lot better than I expected.

    Assuming the Quebecois’ only wish is keep being french, is there any way Québec can reintegrate with Canada without eroding their cultural rights?

    • Is there any way Québec can reintegrate with Canada without eroding their cultural

      One so wishes but good luck with that! Quebec won’t accept that!

      • I think that the bulk on of the original premise of this article was that Chantal Hébert was admiting that Québecers were feeling a little more warmth for federalism lately. How much of a stretch would be to assume that a respectable portion of the Québec population would proudly call themselves Canadien?

        • I don’t think there was any warming to federalism. I think that goes too far. It is simply the fact that separatists became tired of Duceppe and decided they liked Jack Layton and his socialist policies better.

          They knew that Layton had no chance to form the government but they continued to support a protest party who could do little for them politically speaking.

           If they really were interested in becoming a fixture in Ottawa again with some real political leverage they would have voted for one of the parties that actually had a chance to form government.

          • “They would have voted for one of the parties that actually had a chance to form government”

            On May 2, there was only one party that had any chance of forming government, the Conservatives.

            Clearly few people realized how poorly the Liberals would actually end up doing, but their chance of forming government was exactly the same as the NDP’s – zero.

            So, what you’re really saying is that Quebecers should have voted for a party they don’t support, because that would have given them “leverage.” No, it would have given the Conservatives a bigger mandate, which they would bring up even more often than they do now and there would be very little difference between that scenario and the situation now.

          • Jacob….Then Quebec has no reason to complain. We were all given the opportunity to cast a vote. Some did and some didn’t but at the end of the day the Conservatives won a majority government.

            However, it is disingenuous for anyone to complain that they are being shut out of the process. Quebecers made their choice as is their right. However, when another party wins then that’s how the cookie crumbles.

            This in essence is what Hebert is saying. Quebec somehow should vote and if the party they support does not win the election then somehow it is somebody elses fault.

        • I get what Chantal was saying but as much as many Quebecers have warmth towards federalism they are not there yet. Still want their cake and eat it too. It is not going to be an easy thing to achieve as a matter of fact will get quite messy before it gets any better. IMO

    • Thank you for the compliment on my French. You caught me on a good day.

      I think (perhaps naively) it’s easy for Quebecers to reintegrate with Canada without eroding their cultural rights. No federal party contests Bill 101. James Moore as Heritage Minister has spent many more incremental dollars on culture in Quebec than his predecessor cut from arts touring before the 2008 election. The commissioner of official languages is the country’s biggest francophile, Graham Fraser, who wrote a definitive book on René Lévesque (Lévesque’s own ministers used to refer reporters to Graham’s book to check their facts). When Quebecers engage and propose, they often win, as do most Canadians when they do the same. Two decades of pouting has produced less frequent victories. 

      • I went to high school in the Golden Years of la FESFO when not a month would go by without one of their militants coming up from Ottawa with their academic french and make us all feel bad about our Saguenay joual while warning us on the dangers of assimilation.

        Then I went to College in Sudbury and saw the real damage of assimilation. It’s not that their communication skills has taken some sort of mutant form, it’s the guilt they felt about it.

        Then I went to an English College in Ottawa and that really opened my eyes. I’ve lived with francophones all my life and while I’ve met anglophones on a daily basis I’ve never lived with them.

        The reason I’m saying all of this is because I think Quebec must looking over the border and see us as the failed experiment: “See! Bilingualism doesn’t work!” For all our efforts in Ontario, la francophonie is losing the battle. Whether it’s because we’re not asking for the right support or because anglophones are just petty about bilingual government jobs, we’re not surviving the assimilation, let alone thrive under the rose.

        I think that as long as bilingualism will fail in Ontario, Quebec will see fit to keep pouting. Cases like the Town of Russell vs Galganov certainly doesn’t help.

        • No offense, but at least Ontarians have the stated goal of bilingualism and make the effort, despite little reason to do so beyond the ideal itself. Short of a desire for a cooperative union, there’s nothing that’s been built upon to help it progress beyond that point.

          Quebec has spent decades of my life, much of it in Montreal, slamming anglos and essentially trying to make them second class citizens along with other minorities. I still remember the shock of Jacques Parizeau’s harsh attack on non-francophone Quebecers after the latest referendum, and have heard only too many times how anglos and minorities have “taken over Montreal”. Oh well excuse me for living.

          Frankly, you can’t expect these rampant xenophobic opinions that one hears everyday in Quebec to do anything to support your complaints.

          And that’s the crux right there: Nothing that Quebecers have done en masse over the past 20 some odd years suggests they have any real interest in a partnership with the rest of Canada.

          So why be surprised when the rest of Canada ceases to care?

          I don’t think Canada would really be Canada without Quebec. In fact no one is more Canadian than Quebecers and Ontarians when you consider the history.

          And yet here we are. I no longer live in Quebec and have no intention of ever returning. I’m sick to death of the whole thing in fact and don’t give a rats behind whether you stay or go.

          Just make up your damn minds already, because until you do, nothing lasting can be built.

          • “Nothing that Quebecers have done en masse over the past 20 some odd years suggests they have any real interest in a partnership with the rest of Canada.”

            Since 1960s, nothing Quebecers have done suggests they want partnership with Canada. All Quebec pols put their prov first, they all seem to be Nationalists, and Canada distant second. 

            It has been forty years of Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Some Quebecers join Libs as Federalists and some join separatist parties and rest of Canada is subject to this constant melodrama. Rest of Canada has to constantly provide Quebec with danegeld or they threaten to leave.

            I wonder if Harper is trying new tactics – I think of it as the ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ strategy – with Quebec. 

            Also, I might go postal if I have to listen to ‘Quebec wants in’ complaints for the next decade or two because we have had forty years of Quebec Prime Ministers and they always seem to have Quebec Minister that no other prov gets. 

            Que has had disproportionate influence on politics for decades, time to change.

          • What, Tony – no quotes?

            An even bigger shocker: for once, I actually more or less agree with you.

          • I’ve kept my comment vague specifically to demonstrate the animosity this love-hate relationship with Quebec has built up makes very important civil discourse on the subject damn near impossible, but I am sorry that it had to be you who would prove my point.

            I’m not defending the separatist movement, I’m trying to figure out what keeps it going when it has obviously become a dead end for Quebecers.

            I’m also not saying that bilingualism is essential in Ontario, I’m saying that it’s not having its intended purpose. Anglophones are annoyed to no end about the constant reports that such and such didn’t have mandatory bilingual services, and then lash out their frustration on the francophone population, who, at 5% of the population, are just at the mercy of the anglophones. Looking at Ontario, it must be hard for Quebecers to imagine that, at 23% of the Canadian population, things would be any different for them.

            What I would propose is to scrap the bilingualism law, but allow proportional representation. Instead of forcing french across the board, let them concentrate in areas of their choice and organise these zones for themselves.

          • I have no problem with mandated services for either official language, and I also believe that bilingualism is a good thing over all. I don’t even disagree that it is wise for Quebec to promote the french language and its use in french communities across Canada. It’s something they should do in my opinion.

            My problem is that for too long now bilingualism has been one sided to the extreme. That the rest of Canada tryies to promote bilingualism while Quebec discretely tries to outlaw English is too much to bear.

            Quebec politicians have made a culture out of hating the English and immigrants, and they’ve acted proud of it while doing so.

            I wouldn’t be so emotional about it if I didn’t care, but the majority of Quebecers seem bound and determined to cut themselves off from the world around them.

            So we can talk and talk about various small fixes, but unless this new generation of Quebecers has more to offer than a xenophobic outlook, I can’t see anything improving at all.

          • re Phil’s comment:

            “the majority of Quebecers seem bound and determined to cut themselves off from the world around them.”

            That is the thing that kills me — I just returned from a trip to Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and in those countries there’s an absolute passion among the people to learn and be fluent in English.  English is taught in schools at a young age and encouraged.  Land at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and count the English-only signs compared to the signs in Dutch — the former outnumber the latter by a huge margin.  Yet these countries have little or no official connection to England or any English-speaking country.  But the Scandinavians and the Dutch are smart, practical people.  They understand that English is the lingua franca and that their language is not.  They understand that it’s in their commercial and economic best interests to know English and to be able to conduct business in it.  And yet despite the prevalance of English in a place like Amsterdam, you don’t hear the Dutch claim that their language and culture are in danger of being wiped out by the evil English.

            I realize Quebec will cite the geographical issue, being surrounded by English-speaking jurisdictions, but still, a big part of their kvetch is plain old paranoia, fear-mongering and xenophobia, fuelled in part by their historic animosity towards anything English.  It’s unfortunate, because Quebec ends up quite often shooting itself in the foot as a results.

          • @OrsonBean:disqus Couldn’t agree more bud. It’s a crazy counter-productive attitude that really only hurts Quebec in the long run.

            I hate to see it, but can’t act surprised.

          • This is really a reply to OrsonBean but to your point about Scandinavia and Holland I would point out that English is not an official language of these countries.  Holland does have a close association with England BTW.  The laws of these countries are debated and written in the the official language of these countries.  Quebec is still bound by law (The old BNA act that is still part of our current constitution) to pass and write laws in English and French and provide courts and services in English as well as in French.  They make a big stink of it but you should have seen the stink people made when Manitoba was obliged to provide French services and passe law on both languages as always had to.  I would suspect that the Dutch and Scandinavians would be less incline to learn the English language is that meant that they had to unlearn Dutch or Swedish etc… in their own countries! 

          • in reply to Phil King

            over 40 % of Quebeckers speak English, compared to less than 7 & of ROC Canadians who speak French, so be careful when accusing others of cutting themselves off. Also, Montreal has the highest proprtion of people who speak 3 languages or more in the WORLD.

            just saying…

          • @twitter-38472560:disqus Montreal has more people who speak multiple languages, sure, and most of them aren’t french canadian, so what’s your point? You wouldn’t believe the nonsense I’ve heard while living in montreal. The hatred is palpable.

            I’m not surprised more Quebecers speak english than the ROC speaks french, because they’re surrounded by English media on all sides. That’s why I support the promotion of French by Quebec. It’s something they need to do.

            That said however, it’s gone waaaay to far. Quebec is the only place in the world that I know of where one is not free to choose where they educate their children or what signs they put out front of their businesses. It’s freaking insanity, and not a little fascist.

            The ROC of Canada is officially bilingual, but Quebec isn’t?

            Sorry, but that’s just offensive.

          • With all due respect, perhaps the Quebec/Montreal of your youth is not the same as the Montreal of today? There’s probably a significant difference in age between you and I, so your experiences are probably from a different time than mine.

            I’m an anglo / allophone, who has never experienced the hatred and xenophobia towards anglos that you’ve described. Not even a hint of it. Some have even expressed jealousy: “Gee, you speak English fluently? I wish I could do the same, but I’m a unilingual francophone…”

            Sure, I’ve read about it in the media, about how some idiotic French-advocacy group went public to fret and decry creeping bilingualism or some such thing, but it’s the vocal minority that gets all the air time. The majority are perfectly happy with the current situation.

    • There is nobody stopping Quebecers from speaking French in Quebec. However it is unrealistic to expect that once they leave Quebec that the 80% of Canadians who live outside of Quebec will speak French. If Quebec ever became independent do you think the United States and the rest of the world would worry about speaking French? Not on your life. Quebec would need to speak English otherwise it would be left behind. Then you would see how long their language and culture survived in the vast North American continent.

  3. Fortunately, this is a problem with an easy solution.

    As Quebeckers re-engage, they’ll rocket to the top of the existing political parties, all of whom really, really want to have a strong Quebec presence.

    We have four years till the next federal election.  There’s plenty of time.

  4. Your analogy is excellent, and the conclusion, that the house is occupied by strangers, absolutely correct.  The Canadian HoC is now ruled by a group of British North Americans led by a man who ridiculed  Canada abroad as a second-rate failed expiriment to appeal to his core voters, those who have claimed for decades their shame of being Canadian.   These people despise Canada and Canadians, our common history, the choices made by our ancestors, and our symbols.

    They are now in the process of correcting historical wrongs, starting with the removal of Canadian cultural icons from public buildings to replace them with their British culture. They had previously, at unknown cost,  removed the official colours of Canada from the government website.  I expect to see the return of the Union flag.  I certainly would welcome it if they were to adop a new anthem; they have just massacred enough our fine, upbeat Canadian march, turning it into some country and western lament in every hockey arena from coast to coast.

    The Canadiens will rise again and ask to reclaim the name that was exclusively theirs for four centuries, their symbols and their anthem – their country.    

    • Is all that kulturkampf panic this year’s version of “60% of Canadians actually meant to vote for a Liberal-NDP coalition?”

  5. This is a very good column and Mr. Wells makes some valid points. The comments are also interesting.I have a bone to pick with Mr. Wells. Both he and Ms. Hébert are missing the point. Younger Quebeckers identify with things Canadian much less than the previous generations. They don’t suspect the ROC as having malicious intentions toward Quebec the way  their parents did, they just don’t care. Survey after survey has shown the gap between Quebec and Canada to be widening, culturally, economically, socially. The young don’t feel the need to separate with all the angst and bad feelings that would generate when the separation is happening organically almost unoticed by astute observers such as Wells and Hébert.. Quebec’s dwindling share of the federal parliament will only accelerate this tendency. The ROC’s vision of a strong central government will eventually clash with Quebeckers desire to have a minimalist central government.Putting the royal back into everything is just another visible, and some would say almost comical  sign that  the gap  is growing. Does anyone in Canada really believe that a foreign head of state is a unifying factor, or is it just to reassure the dwindling  core of British origin Canadians that they are still top dogs in the great stewpot of multiculturalism that the big cities have become ? 

    • Well, judging from the polls that show Canadians favour restoring the Royal titles to the navy and the air force, including a majority of the Quebeckers who don’t support the Bloc (i.e., 41% of the population of QC including them) — there’s apparently SOME unifying element in these historical names and titles.

      • sorry I can’t follow your logic, are you saying  the majority of Quebeckers who didn’t support the Bloc asked to have the royal back in the pudding ? I don’t remember the subject ever coming up during the election campaign.

        • Here.

          QUOTE:  “Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris/Decima, said the bare numbers in Quebec may conceal a deeper reality, however.

          “Within the partisan scope it’s really only Bloc Quebecois supporters who are opposed to it,” he said.”This means that actually among all the rest of the voters in Quebec who are either considering a federalist party or not considering the Bloc Quebecois, there must necessarily, mathematically, be overwhelming agreement with the move.”

    • I don’t really think that’s separatism you’re talking about though.

      In fact, I’d call it out growing the inferiority complex.

      Most people I know identify with their home province first and foremost, so I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      It’s just the endless angst and xenophobic nonsense that most of us can’t abide.

      • You are right but identifying with a province and identifuing with a cultural/linguistic group is not the same.

        The angst and xenophobia are dying off with the babyboomers, only to be replaced by serious indifference among the younger generations. I would argue that indifference is a much more serious threat.

        • They can be the same thing. Just ask us Newfoundlanders. We were our own country prior to 1949; we take pride in our culture, which is different that the rest of Canada. And some would argue our language is somewhat distinct, as well ;-)

          As for indifference, it’s not limited to the youth of Quebec. Political indifference is a nationwide phenomenon among the young.

        • First off, of course I’m generalizing. I don’t mean it to apply to everyone, but at the same time these are and have been the dominant politics, and those politics can only be dominant with overwhelming support.

          For me, indifference would be a relief from the hatred I saw on a daily basis living in Montreal for so many years.

          Culture is what we live. Nobody can take that away from you, but expecting nothing to change over generations is foolishness personified, and any relief from that endless spewing of hatred is an improvement.

          Stay or go, I think most of the rest of Canada is over it. We don’t care anymore, or worse, we’ve had too much of it and don’t even want to hear it.

          So the ball is in their court, and if they want to section themselves off while the rest of the world becomes more and more linked, well then you go right ahead folks.

          • But that’s the danger Phil – indifference. If David’s point is valid[ that the younger generation of Quebecers are indifferent too, then we face a possibility of getting what none of us really want – a divided, indifferent and possibly separated Canada. For me it’s an opportunity. The older generation of Quebecers [ and Anglos for that matter] are either dying off or giving way to the next generation,[ both in Quebec and the RoC] to those who no longer remember why we fought the old fights.The injustices of the past simply become history given enough time.[ And we shouldn’t forget those injustices were real for many Quebecers – it’s not as Orson says above, exactly analogous to Scandinavia or Holland. But IMO that’s done too] I don’t see it a a reason to quit on one Canada, although i can see why so many are tired of the crap – i’m tired too!
             We will not change minds or hearts by matching the indifference of young Quebecers with indiffernce of our own. That’s the great thing about the past; sooner or later people forget what it was they were angry about in the first place. Anger never really built anything that’s worthwhile – that’s what’s hope is for i guess.

          • So let’s build something then and leave the animosity aside.

            A new deal as it were.

            That said, the side effect is accepting one’s place in society and accepting that it will be an equal relationship of partners, ie no more preferencial treatment, but equal treatment only.

  6. Hebert is a very good columnist but she is always trying to find excuses for Quebec. Wells is right Quebec has abandoned federalist parties for years and yet Hebert whines that it is being excluded from power.

    God knows both the Libs and the Conservatives have tried to buy Quebec’s love over the years. Always to be rejected. Not so much for sovereignty but for what they could extract from Canada.

    Rather than being a truly federalist party Charest and his government continues to pander to the French nationalists and of course we have the second largest province who is considered a have not province but at the same time has services and benefits that other provinces can only envy.

    Canadians are sick to death of hearing about Quebec and its wants and needs. How about trying to be part of the Canadian family and working with the other provinces in a constructive way so that the whole country can progress.

  7. I visualize someone standing at the door saying goodbye for FORTY years! Obviously you do not wish to leave, come back inside and sit down, lets talk while we wait for a less hostile federal government to be put into place.
    You can’t have everything your way, sorry, but tails do not wag dogs. You are a part of Canada, you will not dictate conditions, terms or rules.
    Negotiate, accept the outcome and get on with life, or finish your coffee and go stand at the door again.

  8. “Actions have consquences…” says PW; i couldn’t agree more, as far as that goes. If Chantal was trying to pin all the blame on federalists for the state of Quebec as far as its atrophied position in the country goes – she’s dead wrong. But the fact remains that if we as Canadians wish to keep Quebec as an integral part of this country we call Canada – if we still have the will – then the onus is still on us to keep reaching out and assuring them, as we have been in one way or another for the last 50 years[ perhaps much much longer?], that their best interests and security, in a cold cruel world, lie within our federation.
    But inactions have consquences too. I worry the Harperites will not be able to resist the temptation to play the same game of dividing the country that they have used so successfully on the Liberals; we have the numbers now, we don’t really need you anymore – go or stay, it’s your choice Quebec,[ No doubt a popular sentiment with some of the party faithful out west in paticular ] but a dangerous sentiment nonetheless. I fear it will always be this way – we the wooer, they the reluctant, even distainful wooed. It would be intersting to call their bluff, but even more dangerous to listen to the voices that cry: ” the numbers favour us now, we don’t need them – let em deal with the consquences of their choices.”  Twenty years have atrophied the political  bridges between us – it’s not Canada’s fault; but it would be a mistake not to set out to rebuild them.

  9. Quebec is not back. It voted against the ROC when it chose the NDP. Most Quebecker don’t really care about the ROC and it being underrepresented in the federal institution will only divide further this country.

    I just hope that French-speakers in NB and Ontario will join Quebec so as to protect their linguistic rights.

  10. Another great, positive story about Quebec again.  sarcasm off.

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