The PQ on the right and the wrong kind of Quebecers

Paul Wells on the fundamental changes in the party’s language and identity policies

All the nous that’s fit to speak

Graham Hughes/CP

Je n’ai jamais lu autant de violence envers nous les Québécois dans la Gazette, j’ai refusé de donner une entrevue à ce journal,” Sophie Stanké wrote on Twitter a few days after the Quebec election. Translation: “I’ve never read so much violence toward us, the Quebecers, in the Gazette, I refused to give this newspaper an interview.”

Stanké, an actress and TV personality, was the Parti Québécois candidate in Saint-Henri-Saint-Anne, one of the prettiest ridings in Montreal. She lost. The Gazette is still publishing.

I wonder who Stanké thinks is working at the Gazette. The paper has been published in Montreal since 1778. The very large majority of its employees grew up in Quebec. I will guarantee that if Sophie Stanké and Don Macpherson, the paper’s Quebec affairs columnist, sat down for a written and oral exam in French, Macpherson would get higher marks. And yet here was a candidate for public office drawing a casual distinction between “la Gazette” and “nous les Québécois.”

Nor was Stanké alone. Stanké didn’t make it to the national assembly, but enough of her PQ colleagues got elected to form a minority PQ government. And they are all in the business of drawing distinctions between the right and wrong kind of Quebecers.

The PQ gets angry when my colleagues call this xenophobia. Fine. Call it Happy Fun Politics if you prefer. But it represents a fundamental change in the party’s policies on language and identity. It identifies bilingual non-francophones— people whose first language is not French but who can converse easily in French—as a problem. And it seeks to make Montreal a less welcoming home for them.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t condemn the despicable election-night shootings, an apparent attempt on Pauline Marois’s life by a gunman who shouted “the anglophones are awakening” as police dragged him off. I wish the cloud he stirred up were not hanging over Quebec politics now. But even if that incident had never happened, I can’t imagine much except bitterness in Quebec’s language politics for the next few years.

René Lévesque’s first PQ government passed Bill 101 in 1977. It sought to make French the common language in Quebec—the language you speak to strangers, whatever you speak at home. Its preamble was quite clear. It said the national assembly wanted to “make French the language of government and the law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.” And it said the law would be “respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Quebec, and respectful of the ethnic minorities, whose valuable contribution to the development of Quebec it readily acknowledges.”

Of course the rest of the law was a long list of restrictions on the use of the English language. Thousands of anglophones left Quebec. But hundreds of thousands stayed and raised their children in two languages. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have arrived and raised their children under Bill 101’s rules.

And now the PQ wants to change the rules. “While we must celebrate the progress of French as a second language in Montreal,” a PQ press release during the election campaign said, “the decline of the proportion of Montrealers for whom French is the main spoken language is preoccupying.”

Jean-François Lisée, a former journalist who advised Marois and will now sit as a member of her government, likes to draw a distinction between French as a “common language” and French as a “language of use.” For 40 years the test was: do you greet a stranger in public in French? Now it’s: which language do you speak at home?

“There is obviously no question of interfering in the language used by citizens in their private life or to make them change,” the PQ news release said. Instead, the PQ will stop speakers of weird languages before they get to Quebec. Lisée likes to say that a person from Shanghai who speaks French should take a back seat in the immigration queue to a person from Bordeaux, because the person from Bordeaux will speak French at home.

Now, imagine you spent 35 years playing by Bill 101 rules. Say you’re a guy like Don Macpherson, the Gazette columnist. He speaks French as easily as Pauline Marois does. He was the first reporter René Lévesque spoke to after Lévesque won the 1976 election. (Times have changed: Marois refused all interviews with English-language outlets before and since the election.)

In April, Macpherson began writing a series of uncharacteristically angry columns about the eroding political position of anglophones in Montreal. “We find ourselves once again under sustained public attack,” he wrote, “as we had not been since the controversy over the language of commercial signs in the late 1980s.”

The game has changed. “We realize it’s a game we can’t win without abandoning our own language, culture and identity,” Macpherson wrote. “And we’re tired of playing it for the amusement of those for whom we will always be not an asset but a problem for Quebec.”

Why did the PQ change its policies? Because it ran as a cosmopolitan party advocating “civic nationalism” in 2007 and suffered its worst defeat ever. Appealing to identity politics puts a floor under its support. But now the party is in a fix. If Marois’s minority government fails to implement its new restrictions on English, its base will abandon her and radicalize further. If it succeeds, a large part of the Bill 101 generation will give up on Quebec. In the meantime, there’s no way this debate can be calm and serene.


The PQ on the right and the wrong kind of Quebecers

  1. The situation of french remains a problem in Quebec.

    The power of attraction of french in Quebec remain low. The only thing that make the situation not completely a disaster is the high number of anglophones and anglicized immigrants who leave Quebec each year. If this continued exodus didn’t happen, we would be in deep shit.
    This is not normal that we depend on an exodus to keep Quebec francophone.

    As a software engineer working in Montreal, I am constantly in situation where I must communicate in English with immigrants working with me. Too many immigrants expect that it is up to francophone to speak English to them and that they have no responsibility to learn and use french. I feel like I am getting assimilated in my own country.

    Vive le Quebec Libre.

    • And with attitudes like that I’m doing my best to assimilate you guys. My 6th generation QC francophone wife just gave birth to my two beautiful twin boys. Both of whom will speak English first , will go to school in English, and will likely marry two other 6th generation QC girls. You can’t legislate my approach to dealing with your racism. See ya!

      • What is wrong with my attitude? I want to live in Quebec in french, how is that racist?

        • You REALLY care what other people speak? It really impacts your life that much? I get the pride factor but suck it up! Canada (including lower Canada aka Quebec) is a MELTING POT. People are allowed to come here and keep their language and religion. It adds to our society. French/English/First Nations were the pillars of our young nation, but immigrants (which the English/French are) have made this country better. I can’t wait until you’re in a nursing home, refusing your sponge bath because your caretaker speaks English and Cantonese instead of French. If French were so great, it’d be flourishing naturally, sans legislation. Time to get with the times.

          • Speaking is bidirectional. Why should the immigrant preference to use English override my own preference to speak french?

            Just this afternoon I went to a korea restaurant in montreal, tried to order in french, the asian waitress immidiatly told me “can u speak in english?”.
            I switched to english and didn’t show anything but inside I am raging.

            Imagine a anglophone going to a restaurant in Toronto and be told to order in french by the waitress. just imagine.

          • “The immigrant”… That is your problem right there. We’re all Canadians! No upper class….no superior beings. If you were THAT offended about speaking English (you could’ve tried Korean as well), then you should’ve left and gone to a French speaking Korean resto. It is her right to speak in whatever language she wants. She may make more money and do better business learning and speaking French, but it’s her right! The law shouldn’t dictate anything…your dollars are a much better mean of voicing your displeasure. Go where you want to go, eat where you want to eat, speak what you want to speak. QC is Canada…a melting pot!

          • We’re all Canadians! No upper class….no superior beings
            That’s exactly the problem as a francophone (french is one the official language of Canada I remind you. Official mean something) I feel like I am treated as inferior. I do not feel like an equal Canadian.

          • My friend, you need to get out more. In BC, you have to sign your child up AT BIRTH to get a coveted spot at a French immersion school… They’re so popular, they are being built and private schools are joining the rush…us evil Anglos actually want to learn another language. In QC, bill 101 is being strengthened to block students from studying in at English CEGEP or University. As if Franco’s learning English will convert to Anglos.

            If you wanted to open a business ANYWHERE in Canada, and operate soley in French (signs, employees, etc) you have that right. Hopefully you have enough Franco customers, but it is still your choice. In QC, it is not only illegal, there are roaming Gestapo looking for language violations.

            The government here (yes I live here and am bilingual) is actively working to make the population stupider. In hopes that they’ll stay in QC and make up for the demographic time bomb we’re sitting on (oldest population + lowest immigration + largest exodus = no tax payers or workers)

            You need to read a little less fear manger ing by PKP in Le journal de Montreal and actually experience Canada.

          • I assume that if as a Francophone I am hired by RIM in Waterloo to work in the next blackberry and I choose to work in french (write my code in french, design document in french) then you’ll support me.

            Because we are all Canadian, we are all equal, This is my choice!!!

          • You’re misrepresenting my argument. You can’t force another person to operate just because you’re French. But you can start your own company and code in Greek if you want. Your rights are NOT > than mine or any other canadian’s.

          • Dummy, Canada is not a melting pot. USA is a melting pot. Canada is British neo-colonialist apparatus. Based on the oppression of people for the advancement of british.

          • Why the heck are you raging? Do you feel rage when you write a “do {} while;” loop?

          • Hmmm, gives me an idea.
            A C/C++ header file with appropriate #defines so that you can program using French keywords and library calls. No longer will you be forced to “open()” a files, instead you could “ouvre()” (“ouvrez()”?) it. Some details to work out, e.g., does “fopen()” become “fouvre()”; and what about non-English English calls like ‘umount()’?

            Sorry, Java programmers, you’re SOL.
            Next step to see if this is patentable (even if it has no rounded corners).

          • Yeah, we get it. As I said in another post, this the anglos’ typical way to apply double standards. They do
            whatever they see fit for centuries, and when it could be payback time, then, all of a sudden, they decide
            that what was good for the goose can no longer be good for the gander
            because it is so passé and so out of fashion, you know. The history of
            Canada in a nutshell. Because anglos are of course the ultimate authority of what’s fashionable and what’s out of fashion, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s contemporary and what’s not. They’re the Solomons of civilization.

            If English were so great and French so bad, why was it necessary to forbid French to be taught in Ontario and Manitoba schools for so long? English would have flourished naturally, sans legislation, wouldn’t it? Did the anglos really care that much what language we spoke?

            That’s why I will never shed a single tear over
            the rights of our poor persecuted anglo minority. Cry me a river. I couldn’t care less. If it were OK for the ROC to get rid of French, it should also be OK for us to get rid of English. You could enlist 200% of your children in immersion schools, you could put every sign in both languages, it will not change the fact that French communities have been assimilated and that the ROC is an English-only country. That’s also why many of us are separatists in the first place.

            Oh, and by the way, since you suggest in another post that we should get out more, let’s get out of the anglosphere. How many countries outside the anglosphere are melting pots? If multiculturalism is such an outstanding concept, it should be embraced by nearly everyone, shouldn’t it? As you said, let’s get with the times.

          • Sock it to ’em. Hit ’em with the facts! :)

        • les problem est avec vous, mon ami! Your french has blinded the fact that Whether I speak talk or write in English and can do the same in French, you will treat me differently as I can do both rather than only speak the one language.. C’est une situation dégoût! You should be ashamed of yourself. Beside, The reality is that language of the work is English, well at least for now. It very well may become Mandarin.. Then what will you do? Starve I guess.. Learn Mandarin! Oh right! Heritage,.. NM.

          • And you really think that a francophone trying to speak french in a dominant anglophone environment will not be treated differently? Are you out of your mind?

            Have you ever hear of horror stories of francophone trying to get service in french in Ottawa?

          • No, I haven’t. Ottawa is bilingual. What I HAVE heard anecdotally, is some Quebec firms hiring people from Ottawa for jobs requiring bilingualism, or hiring people from the bilingual New Brunswick, because thier Quebec applicants ONLY speak French. Unilingual Quebec youth are now disadvantaged. The PQ has made a generation of Quebecois unilingual, which is a huge shame to do to their own children.

          • I got a better idea, you go live in China..ahem.. I mean Vancouver..and we will keep speaking french. Bye!

        • You should try visiting Vancouver. There are entire shopping centres where the language is Chinese or Indian. It can be very hard to get service in English. But Vancouver (more particularly Surrey) does not pass laws requiring English.
          French will be secure in Quebec as long as Francophones are willing to speak it. The retrictions on Englsh proposed by Mme Marois have nothing to do with preserving French. They are an expression of hatred for the English, and a desire to humiliate them.
          Mais la haine appelle la haine. Ce n’est pas comme ca qu’on va resoudre nos problemes.

      • Your’e a dumbass. Language is matrilineal, meaning your kids will be french. Haha thats karma for you. My dad was french, my mom english, i turned out to be anglophone. But im not stupid and vendictive like you, so im tri-lingual. So good luck with that.

    • Have you noticed all the keywords in programming languages are English (C/C++, java, etc)? If you hate English so much you should find another profession, like serving coffee.

  2. It’s called ethnic cleansing. I experience it every day. And I am half French. That this is allowed in Canada in the 21st Century is unimaginable. But real — and with real economic results, which will come to pass soon. Scary stuff.

    • That number appears to be 336170, as indicated on page 21 of your link.

      Still, that’s an astounding number.

      It’s also interesting that the number on the francophone side is also negative, more leaving than arriving.

  3. I was born and raised in Quebec in a francophone family, I speak 4 languages and have had it with identity politics. Those who are intolerant in this province are becoming more and more radical, I never thought the PQ would ever come to power again, much less on a platform I considered overtly xenophobic and downright racist. My fiancée and I have decided to leave Quebec. I am a francophone and fit in, but my partner has an English accent and is treated as a second class citizen or as this article points out, a “problem” in Quebec society. I cannot accept my tax dollars going to a government that wants to make the one I love feel unwanted or strange, and so I am moving to Ontario as soon as I can make all the arrangements.

    • As a “pure laine” francophone (God I hate that term…), I’m disgusted by the position the PQ has taken regarding the language issue, Wish I could do the same and get out of there too; but I’m stuck here.
      To win the next referendum (because there will be a 3rd one…), the PQ strategy is clear : all people who don’t fit the model of the perfect “Quebec citizen” will be treated as second class nobodys and will be pressured to get out of Quebec. Remember folks, they only need 50% + 1 vote to win it all and they won’t comply to the Clarity Bill. Quebec as a whole (and all of Canada in extension) will suffer during the process… A shame…

    • I moved a long time ago and I would never go back.

      When I live somewhere and pay taxes, I don’t feel the need for praise or recognition, nor do I ever expect to see the results of the taxes I pay. I don’t need to feel immersed in the community or culture. I just try to fit in.

      But to be treated as a liability, a second-class citizen, as you put it, that’s not something I will accept. And that’s been happening to anglophones in Quebec for a long time, not just recently, but for a long time.

    • I’m an Anglo who deserted Quebec for greener pastures in 1976. My partner is a French-Canadian (her definition) physician who left in part because of the restrictions on doctors that were instituted by the PQ.

      I find this all so sad 36 years later. I still miss Montreal and I still feel like an exile.

      When I last lived in Montreal just about all of my friends were French speakers, mostly separatist but we all got along. I have very fluent but rough and ready French with an English accent. What drove me out was the undertone of racism, anti-semetism and outright fear of outsiders in the Quebecois community that no one would address.

      My son lives and thrives in Toronto where all the PQ happily waved good-bye to those of us who couldn’t stand the continual sense of being a second class citizen.

      The sad truth is that in the end Quebec has become a backwater and simple demographics will mean that there never is a Quebecois nation.

    • Steph, it’s sad that you feel you have to leave Quebec to live in an anglophone province, where your descendents will probably lose their French identity. I thought that the PQ was trying to preserve French identity.

      • There is nothing wrong with preserving one nation’s identity. It is wrong when it is done at the expense of others, anglophones or allophones. When L Beaudoin states that multiculturalism is not a Quebec value, and you see subtle signs of this attitude in your everyday life (i.e.”Go ‘ome!” “Ici on est au Québec!!!” when having a private discussion with my husband in my native language or when being refused a higher paying job because the employees would have a hard time having an immigrant boss) there is something seriously wrong.

        I love Montreal, but it’s in a sick, sick province. I refuse to be taxed more and my money to go to OQLF, Imperatif Francais and other hogwash xenophobic organizations.

  4. “If Marois’s minority government fails to implement its new restrictions
    on English, its base will abandon her and radicalize further. If it
    succeeds, a large part of the Bill 101 generation will give up on
    Quebec. In the meantime, there’s no way this debate can be calm and

    That sounds an awful lot like a conscious decision has been taken to offer the Anglo and non compliant allophone community members no choice but to leave as a way of guaranteeing the French fact as the PQ sees it. A nasty choice that, stay and win but risk the further embitterment and radicalization of the PQ faithful, or leave your chosen province, probably for good.
    I wonder if there isn’t still some hope yet in the further splintering of the PQ by staying and fighting?[ through the courts and in the NA of course ] Sadly that still wouldn’t kill the sovereignty issue.

  5. One you’ve opened the door to denying people their human rights, it will
    eventually swing wide open. Governments will not stop at nothing to
    abuse their power and deny people their freedom if there is no
    constitution to protect the people.

    Great article Wells.

  6. Mr. Wells

    I think that text should be translated and sent (and, hopefully, because of your star power, published) in a major francophone publication, say l’Actualité or, even better, a newspaper.

    Those are points that have to be made clearly in the oncoming debate and publishing on the Maclean’s website just won’t cut it. Hopefully you get some of those arguments across.

  7. There definitly a problem of misunderstanding here. Can every one breath by the nose ?

    To those interested of understanding th real situation, theres great article in the newspaper Le Devoir today about six persons from the Quebec English community andn their view on the situation in Quebec.

    Everyone should read that before speaking about something they dont know.

  8. Apparently the hard line Quebec nationalists have taken the attitude that if they can’t control Quebec they’ll destroy it — because if they do succeed in alienating and causing the departure of the non-French their economy (and tax base) will make Greece’s look stable and prosperous.

  9. I love the anglo reactions, they dont want to be treated in Quebec the way they treated the french in the rest of Canada. Mass assimilation. Deportation of french settlers out of Nova-Scotia. Banning french from school, (Ontario school act 1871). Execution of french colonists in Manitoba for treason, and on and on. Think of it the french are not ”that bad” in Quebec with their anglo minority.

    • You’re applying 21st century values to events of the 18th and 19th centuries. The french behaved in the same fashion in the day.
      The acadians, as you know, were welcome to stay, they only needed to swear allegiance to the British crown. Some did, some didn’t.
      The world is a different place, with more enlightened ideals in 2012. From the article it appears that french quebec has failed to evolve.

    • There are no “anglos” or “Les Anglais” anymore, it’s 2012 not 1759. There are people who speak the English language who come from an extraordinarily large number of backgrounds. They are not “English”. Welcome to the 21st century. Enjoy.

      • Yeah, this the anglos’ typical way to apply double standards. They do whatever they think fit, and when it could be payback time, they decide that what was good for the goose can no longer be good for the gander because it is so passé and so out of fashion, you know. The history of Canada in a nutshell. That’s why I will never shed a single tear over the rights of our poor persecuted anglo minority.

  10. I am still flabbergasted by people who think that a referendum would somehow mean Quebec gets to pack up and leave with what the separatists deemed to be their things. I really hope that if there is one, it occurs during a Conservative Harper government in Ottawa. Say what you will about Harper but he’s the only person brave enough to treat separatism as the idiotic fantasy that it truly is. God bless Alberta and the west for producing Harper (…yes, I know he was born in Ontario but the Harper you see is the product of Alberta).

  11. Please don’t let fear get the best of you. That’s what PQ strategists would love but that’s not what the vast majority wants, and this includes francophones like myself.
    The reality in Quebec provincial politics is that there are only two real options: Liberals or Péquistes. When the majority is fed up with the LIberals, some federalists pinch their noses and vote PQ. So, unfortunhately, the PQ is sure to form the government once in a while. There is basically no way around it.
    However, our province is still a great place to live. The separatist disease is almost cured. Separatists represent a small minority. Like chiwawas, they bark a lot, but they can’t bite much.
    Don’t pay attention to chiwawas. Just stay focused on where you are going. They’ll continue barking, but who cares?
    Please don’t leave, together we will get rid of the PQ within a few years. By the new year the Liberals will have a cleaner slate and a much more interesting, charismatic leader than Marois. Anything less is almost impossible. The knives, which are already being sharpened, will be out in full force against madame la marquise. It will be fun to watch. And the next election wil not be too far.
    Should Marois stay on for more than two years, it will have to be at the cost of much compromise. Her racism will have to take a back seat.
    And if Marois or her successor stay even a bit longer, it may give us the chance to get rid of the separatists’ best weapon and biggest threat to all of Canada: Stephen Harper.
    So, let’s all remember, there is usually an opportunity hidden behind every problem.

  12. RE: BILL 101, on one of the indian reserves, that i have been on, have signs that are english only:
    ” Indian Lunch 2-4 p.m.” . I guess these guys are not easily harrassed, so they do not target them, They pick on easier prey, like you and I. How convenient it was, for her, marois, to speak english throughout her campaign! and, it’s marois, no ms. in front, small letter m., she won’t get any respect from me, the same as she does not have any for the hand that feeds her province. This is “Narcissism” at the highest level.

  13. In light of the Quebec election result, here’s 2 ways to save a lot of money really fast:

    1) Privatize the CBC whose French language service (Societe Radio Canada) is nothing but a separatist nest that supports the PQ at every opportunity. e.g. “reporter” Pierre Duchesne, just elected for the PQ, working for CBC until a few months ago.

    2) Stop harassing competent Federal public servants by putting their jobs on the line just because they can’t speak French well enough.

    BTW, does everyone know that the leaders of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) endorsed the PQ? When do the treason trials begin? At the very least, PSAC has shown itself to be a threat to the existence of Canada and should be banned from Ottawa.