Let’s Get Growing

PQ Landscaping and the Future of Anglos in the Quebec Garden

Graphic Paku Daoust-Cloutier

They told me it would be like this, but I didn’t believe them.

Considering the printemps érable, a corruption inquiry, crumbling infrastructure, decisions on far-reaching environmental projects, enormous public debt and the loss of faith in our political leaders that led up to the #QC2012 election call, I was naïve enough to believe good governance, policy and economic development might be the orders of the day.

God knows we need to deal with these subjects.

But, as they apparently always do, the sovereignty questions stormed onto the campaign trail, taking hold of talking points with the vengeance of history unresolved. The anglophone and/or referendum bogeymen had apparently been hiding under our beds this whole time.

While some of it was to be expected, the rhetoric of “stability and risk” did nothing to advance a conversation about what Quebec might look like under Parti Québécois leadership.

Mostly, it egged on misinformed, pearl-clutching”:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/separatists-stir-up-a-nightmare-in-quebec/article4503811/ opinions about the PQ (and, by extension, Quebecers) that filtered in from the Rest of Canada, producing misinformed, lengthy diatribes on comment sections across the country that put many on the defensive.

For their part at home, the PQ made hard-line promises for hard-line péquiste supporters that seemed to be at odds with their gaining the broader voting base required for a majority. Honing in on issues of language, religion and culture proved counter-intuitive to getting undecided or unsure voters to consider an electoral “oui” for the party anyway–especially as the desire for another referendum was at an all-time low.

Embarrassingly, political heavyweights like former premiers Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau also stepped out from their leadership retirement to criticize the PQ’s latest stance on this stuff, with folks such as Jean Dorion publicly calling the party out for its intolerance.

Others suggest the PQ has lost their mojo, as political adversaries Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale siphoned more progressive sovereigntist votes away, keeping the majority dream out of reach.

What happens now that the votes have been counted—on the island of Montreal and for Canadian “unity” in general—is really anyone’s guess. One thing for sure, however, is that we are about to have a very important conversation.

For her part, the first-ever female Premier Pauline Marois stated a desire to put past differences aside, telling anglo Quebecers, “We share the same history and I want us to shape together our common future.”

There are cautious hopes the PQ will forge ahead on sovereignty issues, particularly in Montreal, with the modus operandi of “constructive dialogue.” To that end, politicos across the board had much to say about Marois’s announcement of her cabinet last week.

It’s interesting to note, for example, that Alexander Cloutier was named Quebec’s first-ever minister for intergovernmental affairs and sovereigntist governance, solely responsible for pursuing Quebec’s interests in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa.

Cloutier, a constitutional lawyer and expert in international law, will be paid a cool $150,000 per annum to work full-time on the sovereignty question in the national arena, and many are eager to see how he pursues Quebec’s demands.

The other cabinet first was the appointment of long-time PQ political player Jean-François Lisée as minister of anglophone relations and Montreal. The dossier has been heralded as “a new beginning” and a show of good faith for anglo/franco relations, even if the man in charge has a black and white record in newsprint on the sovereignty questions.

A journalist, Lisée writes openly and often about his belief in the primacy of francophone culture in Quebec, as well as its apparent decline in Montreal.

So it’s no surprise that many—particularly The Gazette’s columnist on Quebec affairs and noted “#BadAnglo” Don Macpherson— ripped into his record following the announcement and are suspicious as hell of Lisée’s presence on the program, given his past.

His first few actions as acting anglo/Montreal minister were certainly notable.

Calling for “reciprocal empathy,” Lisée painted a picture of how he imagines Quebec quite literally growing in the future: “Quebec is a garden,” he said, imploring anglophone, francophone, allophone and aboriginal people to think outside the box on the issue. 

If there’s a way to cultivate everyone to bloom to their best and brightest, Lisée claims he wants to find it. His blue eyes sparkled. He then proceeded to troll Macpherson on Twitter. (“Hey! Don! I’m your new best friend! Get over it! Hugs! JF”)

So, yeah. About that constructive dialogue…

While my initials are also LBB, I am not a direct aide to the premier’s cabinet, but feel the following might help the PQ navigate the eternal perplexity that are these sovereignty questions, especially as they relate to Montreal anglophones, and find ways to foster the “constructive dialogue” necessary to make this garden grow.

The first order of business is that they need to finally do the English interview—as soon as possible.

Marois blatantly blew off notable English media during the campaign, and they really deserve their time to grill the concrete lady about what’s in store for this province under her power.

It’s pretty bleak to have to remind the premier of Quebec that the relationship between the government and the media is essential—even if she doesn’t like what she reads. The Gazette in particular is an institution for anglo Quebecers, so this gesture would go a long way to show they actually want a renewed dialogue with the anglophone community.

At the very least, it would prove they’re not just afraid of Macpherson.

Second, they shouldn’t forget that Montreal is really Quebec’s special child when it comes to this stuff. The so-called issue of anglo influence in Quebec is hugely localized on this island, so whatever is on the Bill ought to be implemented in a way that reflects the true reality of Montreal in the context of the rest of Quebec.

Over 70 per cent of Quebec’s roughly 600,000 anglophones are bilingual, while a paltry 260,000 are unilingual Anglophones. In a population of 8 million, these figures are peanuts; Francophones are the majority, the anglos are supposedly “weakened.” Montreal is not really at language war, nor should it be.

As The Gazette’s Henry Aubin wrote earlier this week, if the PQ is seriously worried about French decline on-island, they might want to look for ways of keeping francophone folks from hightailing to the suburbs, as statistical trends suggest they’re the ones moving out.

Beyond that, any righteous promotion of Québécois and francophone culture would best be served through investment in education and art, rather than beefing up legislation or government-sanctioned coercion.

People who are encouraged to be genuinely engaged—not forced—might be more inclined to realize the goals of meaningful participation in Quebec society. This would also bode well for the promotion and advancement of franco cultural production and would surely involve a lot of inter-solitude collaboration.

Frankly, more education is never a bad thing, and the availability of affordable French education and enrichment programs on and off the island might also benefit the staggering number of francophones operating below national literacy averages, dropping out of high school or struggling with francisation.

There are a lot of things the PQ could do to engage with the Quebecers they turned off during their campaign, especially as it relates to the sovereignty questions and Montreal anglophones.
The question remains, however, how they are to do it. An opportunity to cultivate starts now; the garden depends on it.