MONTREAL – The announcement of a new hip-hop song to promote harmony among Quebec anglophones and francophones seemed to take its cues from the lyrics of another popular tune — don’t worry, be happy.
But that didn’t stop a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister from having to field pointed questions from English-speaking media Thursday at what was intended as a feel-good event.
Jean-Francois Lisee, the minister responsible for anglophones in the provincial cabinet, denied that the government was sending mixed messages with language crackdowns one day and then funding the upbeat “Notre Home” the next.
“There are a number of issues that will always be there,” he said. “There are going to be points on which we’re going to have debates, we’re going to have misconceptions.”
The number of questions Thursday about language policy, as opposed to the government-funded language song, prompted Lisee’s aide to interject at one point and ask whether media actually had any queries about the subject of the news conference.
The song, which was given $20,000 in funding by the Quebec government, is an initiative of an anglophone organization, the Quebec Community Groups Network. It was written by Montrealer David Hodges and performed by The Honest Family, a Montreal musical artists’ collective.
Its video features images of a diverse group of youngsters playing in a park and it includes upbeat chords with lyrics such as, “We’re living in a place that we want to share. But now we’re feeling like there isn’t anyone who cares.”
The song has English and French versions, with bits of each language mixed into each version. The community group says the tune “nurtures Quebec’s social fabric” with themes of engagement and leadership as well as cultural and linguistic identity.
Lisee acknowledged there are some sour notes in Quebec’s language debate but his experience so far suggests that people are ready to work together as long as they feel included.
Hours before Lisee’s news conference, a Montreal newspaper reported that a local hospital felt that the only way to entice the provincial health minister to a meeting about its future was to invite a prominent French-language hawk.
Lisee said he was unaware of the report.
He said the first reaction of some people is “to rush to the barricades” when an issue arises and he’d rather see a dialogue based on facts.
“We have to build benefit of the doubt in our relationship and this will go a long way.”
But he said the relationship has seen its share of successes. Lisee noted that Quebecers had been “through one of the biggest identity stress tests of all mankind” in previous years and the long-term trend is encouraging.
“It’s a process and we’re trying to edge it along a little bit,” he said.
Lisee agreed that concrete measures by the government toward linguistic harmony would likely be more appreciated by some than the funding of bouncy songs.
“Stay tuned,” he added. “This is for today but we’re doing other things.”
Among that is a negotiation on how to decide whether a city merits bilingual status. Such a status is being called into question for municipalities where the Anglo population has dropped below a certain threshold.
The song and video, which will be played at events around the province starting next month, follows in the aftermath of friction from last fall’s divisive election campaign in which language and identity politics played a large part.
There have also been dustups in Montreal’s transit system between English-speaking travellers and clerks who would only address them in French.
Possibly the most disturbing incident happened the night of the PQ election victory in September when a stagehand was shot dead and another man was wounded. A man arrested at the scene declared that anglophones were waking up as he was led away.
The PQ vowed in the campaign to toughen Quebec language laws. It has tabled language legislation, although its bill is significantly milder than the measures it campaigned on.
Hodges said the song reflects his experience in Quebec, pointing out that there’s a lot of collaboration between French- and English-speaking musicians.
He said he feels the song and tour will help inspire young people to build bridges.
“This type of project, going into the schools, it’s really to inspire kids to have a sense of belonging to their culture, the English and the French aspect of our culture,” he said, adding that will be felt in future generations of leaders.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, director-general of the QCGN, said she hopes the song could become an anthem for young people to rally around.
She acknowledged the language situation isn’t completely rosy “but we have to keep plugging at it.”