Reasonable accommodations, free parking


Marty’s post on the Bouchard-Taylor leak fiasco got me thinking, yet again, about what a peculiar beast the Bouchard-Taylor “commission” on reasonable accommodations is. Was. Uh, still is, until tomorrow’s news conference.

It’s still not entirely clear what Jean Charest was trying to accomplish by naming this commission. My very strong hunch is that he wanted to kick a nasty debate forward past the then-looming election and deal with the mess later. If his goals were as modest as that, it seems to have worked. If he was actually seeking wisdom on the proper saw-off between the standards of the metropolitan community and the immigrant communities (plural), well, he seems to have gone about it in odd ways.

I’ve never been entirely certain, for instance, why a commission on recent trends in immigration, and essentially Muslim immigration, should comprise a Scot past retirement age and a Saguenéen not much younger. It’s a defensible choice. You could argue, for instance, that the adjustments, if any, need to be made by Quebecers who have been around a long time, so it’s up to them to talk among themselves.  Ken Whyte used a similar rationale in 1995 when he had Andrew Coyne and David Frum debate gay marriage in the pages of Saturday Night. I asked Ken why it had to be two conservative straight guys. Ken said: “Because that’s the group that’s going to have to decide, eventually.” And indeed it was so, a decade later.

Still, a panel on diversity chaired by Statler and Waldorf seemed a bit odd. The funny thing now, given how its report is being pre-reviewed as an arch-federalist sellout of Real Québécois Values, is that in the early going it seemed that Bouchard, a committed sovereignist whose brother was in the headlines fairly often a decade ago, would lead the discussion. Don Macpherson in The Gazette, using a fair reading of some early Bouchard interviews, was certain the commissioner would insist the only way forward for a diverse Quebec was through the sovereignty door. (Here’s another good Macpherson column about how messy things got once Bouchard and Taylor actually started inviting people to talk to them.)

Most of all, I still don’t see how any two people can give advice that’s likely to be followed on such a complex morass of issues as this. (And by “this,” of course I mean, “this bunch of things I can’t even define comprehensibly.”) Charles Taylor says I should be more open to newcomers? Gérard Bouchard would like the term “Québécois de souche” replaced by “Québécois d’origine canadienne-française?” Sure, whatever, have a nice day, gents.

Which is not to say the report will be inconsequential. It will probably be an engaging read — Taylor and Bouchard are scholars of rare accomplishment. It’s just not clear how any report will move public perceptions, especially since it’s being pre-emptively dismissed by the two opposition parties in a minority legislature.

There is, finally, this thread sticking out: Bouchard and Taylor are said to have problems with the definition of the term Québécois. It is a word that appears in both the English and French versions of the motion on the nationhood of les Québécois that Stephen Harper had Parliament pass at the end of 2006. Would a debate over Quebec identity provide surprises during a federal election campaign? Oh, maybe.


Reasonable accommodations, free parking

  1. Your last paragraph is the key. It occurred to me as well, that redefining “Quebecois” as anyone with Quebec citizenship – sort of implied in the leaks – could become a federal politics issue. We’ll see tomorrow!

    Its interesting if the seppies go after this too hard – afterall, hasn’t their post-Parizeau project been exactly that: an effort to re-define the movement as a civic, citizenship based movement and not an ethnic one?

    Its a tricky issue and the contradiction will be hard for seppies to manage. The beauty of the United Canada resolution is that by cleaving Quebec from the Quebecois nation – which the Bloc supported – it makes the separatist argument for the territorial integrity of a separate Quebec very unconvincing.

  2. We all need to be on guard, vigilant against the thieves, bullies, abusers we have Canada wide, in Alberta as well as in Quebec.

  3. The idea that you can acquire a “national” identity by geographic residence is risible. But don’t mind me, I’m just an old geezer who thinks that words have meanings.

    Perhaps more to the point, there’s nothing to have an issue over. Parliament passed its motion – with all-party support, you’ll recall – and that would be the end of it. What’s the campaign issue? “Vote for us and we’ll destroy all the copies of Hansard and pretend we never passed that motion”? “Vote for us and we’ll propose a new motion denying the existence of the French-Canadians – who will continue to exist anyway”? Sounds promising.

    And lastly, the fact that the government of Quebec doesn’t wish to function as a national government of the French-Canadian nation has nothing to do with the existence of that nation. And the existence of that nation was the sole point of the federal motion. So, no issue there.

  4. If you read the leaked chapters, it doesn’t seem that they are telling people what terms to use so much as explaining why *they* have decided to refer to French Canadian Quebecers as “Québécois canadiens-français” instead of “Québécois de souche” in their report. The Gazette in its reporting before they published the leaked chapters seems to have seriously misunderstood what was written. One is led to wonder how good the reporter’s French was.

    The authors do say at another point in the report that it is problematic that *some* people use “Québécois” by itself to mean “French Canadian Quebecer”, and say this should be avoided. It’s much as if people in the U.S. used the word “American” to mean “WASP American”.

    The issue is complicated somewhat by the fact that while few Japanese Americans, say, would be reluctant to be called Americans, a presumption exists that immigrants do not identify with Quebec. So some francophones misguidedly avoid referring to anglophones and allophones as Quebecers, or “Québécois” in French, believing that they would not wish to be identified that way. This may be true in a few cases, but they are Quebecers whether they like it or not, just as we are all Canadians – even sovereigntists.

    The practice of using the word “Québécois” in French to mean anything other than “Quebecer” (of any ethnicity) is already widely condemned, and virtually never found in print. Would the Parti Québécois refer to its new MNA Maka Kotto, of Cameroonian origin, as not being Québécois? Certainly not.

    What the report says about this has been misrepresented. I don’t think they are saying that people should stop speaking of “Québécois” and start saying “Québécois canadien-français.” There has been criticism that they are calling for a return to an ethnic term. What they are saying is that when it *is* necessary to refer to French Canadian ethnicity specifically, one should not simply take the shortcut of using “Québécois”, in order that that term can remain ethnically neutral.

    As unwieldy as “French Canadian Quebecer” may seem, “francophone Quebecer” includes Haitians and other francophones (such as some children of allophone immigrants), so when one does want to refer specifically to French Canadians, there doesn’t seem to be a better way, for now. Perhaps with time, “Québécois français” will catch on (like Italian Canadian), and that can be distinguished from “Québécois francophone”. In the meantime, the Commission’s choice of vocabulary *to be used in its own report* seems perfectly reasonable.

  5. Small point of information: Jeff Heinrich speaks impeccable French, studied in Paris for a year, married a francophone and is raising his kids in French. Everyone is free to debate his interpretation of a partial report, but I’m quite sure his comprehension is up to snuff.

  6. All right, it was merely conjecture that that was the source of the problem. Still, when they write that they “reject” the term “Québécois de souche” it’s pretty clear that they’re talking about the choice of vocabulary to be used in their own writing (though they do offer their rationale for that choice). “Reject” would be used this way in a scholarly article, to specify a choice of term among competing alternatives.

  7. But in writing a report, why would anyone use “Quebecois de souche”? Did they mention they opted not to end sentences with “tabarnaque”?

    I’m hoping this report isn’t basically about how they wrote the report.

  8. I don’t think conservative white males had very much to do with gay marriage. Mainly they just stayed out of the way of (white, mostly male, apolitical) court decisions on the issue. Even in 1995, M v. H must have been at or near the Court of Appeal. Trust Whyte, though, to automatically assume a certain demograhic would be dictating the result, rather than a pesky little notion like equality under the law.

  9. In practice, “Québécois de souche” is often used, even by informed, pluralist speakers, to designate French Canadian Quebecers. It’s a good deal more acceptable than plain “Québécois”. I think it was sensible for the report to avoid the term, but it was worthwhile saying why they chose a longer, less common term like “French Canadian Quebecer”.

    I don’t think the report is mainly about how they wrote the report. But the Gazette focused on that and made it sound like they were telling everybody else what to say.

    Here’s what Heinrich of the Gazette wrote in an article called “Time to change our lingo”:

    “Be precise and refer to “people of French-Canadian descent,” not “old-stock Quebecers.”

    French-Canadian, not old-stock: The professors also don’t like the term “Québécois de souche” – roughly translated as “old-stock Quebecer.”

    “We reject the expression ‘Québécois de souche’ as a description of Quebecers of French-Canadian origin.” This expression is loaded with negative connotations in two ways, they say: It makes people whose family history here is shorter feel less important, and it makes French Canadians themselves “seem a bit folkloric … an image they want to shake off.”

  10. JOHNP Wrote: “As unwieldy as “French Canadian Quebecer” may seem, “francophone Quebecer” includes Haitians and other francophones (such as some children of allophone immigrants), so when one does want to refer specifically to French Canadians, there doesn’t seem to be a better way, for now. Perhaps with time, “Québécois français” will catch on (like Italian Canadian), and that can be distinguished from “Québécois francophone”. In the meantime, the Commission’s choice of vocabulary *to be used in its own report* seems perfectly reasonable.”

    This has no logic:

    The people we are talking about are:

    multi-generational (3rd 4th … 9th ..12th ..?)
    mostly White,
    mostly Catholic,
    French decedents,
    That speak primarily French,
    Who live in Quebec.

    “French Canadian Quebecer”

    The French and Quebecer part I get.
    but does “Canadian” therefor mean:

    multi-generational (3rd 4th … 9th ..12th ..?)
    mostly White,
    mostly Catholic,

    Very strange logic.

  11. The fact is that “French Canadian” has long been used as an ethnic term, referring to the descendants of the original French settlers in Canada.

  12. Alberta already has a policy if firstly looking after it’s own, meaning those born in Alberta as the Albertan Minister Ken Kowalski has personaly told me. So do not pick on just Quebec to be fair.

    Alberta is also known as “rednecks” or ” Western Seperatists”

  13. In a motion adopted unanimously by all parties in the National Assembly yesterday, the motion affirms Quebecers’ “attachment to our religious and historic heritage represented by the crucifix” in the assembly. But the motion also reaffirms the promotion of the French language, “the history, culture and values of the Quebec nation in a spirit of openness and reciprocity,” borrowing language from the report. The commissioners suggest that judges, crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the speaker and deputy speaker of the assembly refrain from wearing religious signs. But teachers, civil servants, health professionals and all other government employees could continue to wear religious signs. “The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of us are ever going to erase and of a very strong presence, in particular, of the Catholic church, and that’s our reality.” “As the premier of Quebec, my first role is the supreme responsibility to protect and perpetuate the French language,” and it’s culture, Premier Jean Charest . Charest called on the opposition parties to join the government in adopting Bill 63, which proposes an interpretive clause, affirming the equality of women and men in Quebec’s human rights charter

    The Catholics themselves now have not denied that Jesus Christ is Lord God for 2000 years too..

  14. Raskie- No, it seems to me that the ‘white, catholic, multi-generational’ thing actually would make more sense applied to Québécois de souche… My family immigrated to Quebec after the second world war- from France. We refer to ourselves as ‘french canadians’. My question now is whether “Québécois canadien-français” is being used only to refer to people whom one would normally call old stock Quebecers, because in my mind a ‘french-canadian’ is a francophone in Canada, no question about it.

  15. >>because in my mind a ‘french-canadian’ is a francophone in Canada, no question about it.

    and where have you been with your head in the sand still?

    For decades the term Francophone has been used to mean the Ontario French Canadians soley..

    and Quebecois is used to define French speaking people of Quebec..

    and these two seperate French groups never get along for decades too..

    and then there is the Acadians of NB, NS, who do now still see themselves as the different French Canadian group too. In fact one definately told me so last week too.

    There are also different english groups in Canada, they too now are not even one.. there is the Scottish sect… and …

    some people when they speak of Canada they mean only Ontario now still too.

    This country is badly divided for sure… with big power strugels too

    BC, Alberta, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, Maritimes, NFLd… etc…


  16. Marie-Claire

    I think you miss understand my point.

    It was proposed that for the purpose of this report that “Québécois de souche” be replaced by “Québécois canadiens-français”. and JOHNP wrote that “this seamed perfectly reasonable”. I think that it is a strange decision to imply that “Québécois de souche”, which is a very accurate and specific definition of the group of people the report was attempting to address, should be replaced with the “Québécois canadiens-français” Why? because it passes the buck and a implies a subservient position to Canada. It implies that a “Canadian” is understood to be “old stock” and every one else needs a hyphen to be described with in Canada. Like Indo-Canadian, Japanese Canadian, etc. If we are actually a Canada of multiple nations this seems insulting to all Quebecers, just as if a report came out that decided to use Canadian-Americans (which arguable we are) in place of Canadians.

  17. I think I was misunderstanding you, because I agree with the concept that it is wrong to equate being french canadian with having been here for generations. Québécois de souche is very specific in that it refers only to people who have been here for generations. If they are now going to refer to them as Québécois canadiens-français, then what are the rest of the francophones in Quebec? People arrive from different francophone nations in Quebec frequently. After the first and second world wars, french people descended en mass. I understand why a distiction should be made for demographical purposes, but I don’t understand why we aren’t just all a)Québécois and b) Canadian.

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