Quel est l’avenir pour le Québec?/What is the future for Québec?


July 26, 2012 by LeVoyageur


The Future of Quebec?


If the increasing number of unconfirmed reports are true, Québec provincial elections, due before the end of 2013, might actually be coming earlier. Premier Jean Charest is said to be preparing to announce in the coming week that elections will be held in September. The Parti Québécois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois, has been preparing for this and they have in recent weeks been assembling a slate of well-known Québec figures to run for seats in the coming election. The most recent addition was Leo Bureau-Blouin, one of the leaders of the student protests over the past several months.

Predictably, the choice of Bureau-Blouin was greeted with scorn by Charest and commentators who see in this choice a move by the PQ that firmly associates the party with what some regard as an unruly, unlawful group of youth lacking the maturity to understand what governing is all about.

As a relative novice to Canadian politics – I am American of French Canadian heritage and have not had nearly as much exposure as I would like to Canadian culture – I have been educating myself over the past few months and trying to get a handle on the overarching themes, the interest groups, and major players in Canadian political life. It has not taken me very long to be disabused of the notion that Canadian politicians somehow play more fair than American ones. Or that unity is more important than division. Or that national commentators are somehow more polite or even-handed than our own in the States.

Most notably, when it comes to Québec, the knives come out. Or should I say, when it comes to the idea of Québec autonomy and independence, the knives come out. Just a brief survey of national Anglophone commentators shows a range of views on the topic, from Margaret Wente’s benign piece responding to Michael Ignatief’s unwitting polemical statement on the ‘mutual indifference’ that is the Canadian/Québecois relationship today; to Tasha Kheiriddin’s piece on the upcoming elections with its contemptuous view of the PQ and their motivations; to an outright caustic piece by Andrew Coyne equating Marois and the Spring protestors with mob rule.

These three articles are actually quite representative of the many I have read over the past three months in the English-language press, with more falling into the Coyne category than I would have thought possible. The contempt for Québec on the part of the Anglophone population in Canada is truly remarkable. Would that all the views were just more of Ignatief’s sense of ‘mutual indifference.’ But indeed, when it comes to the future of Québec, the idea that nationalists might be at the helm is at once repulsive to many, just as it is inevitable to others.

If I hadn’t been reading a good deal lately on the early history of French settlement in North America, I might have been inclined to think this was a new phenomenon.  But indeed, from the earliest days of British domination in trade and national affairs, the French-speaking population has been relegated not just to second class status, but to a status which is dominated by the idea that there is something inherently corrupt, venal, and coarse about the men and women whose forebears from France managed to survive their first few Winters in Québec, to build families, and to build a society ­– a culture with its own traditions, language, and religion.

From the earliest days, there was the suspicion that all of Québec was peopled by petty thieves. The journals of English-speaking fur trade bourgeois are filled with ugly portrayals of their laboring voyageurs as lazy, thieving drunkards. No matter that they rowed 2000 miles to deliver their payloads of furs bound for Europe.

Fast forward to today. Sovereignty is a bridge too far, it would seem, for this same rabble to govern its own affairs. The colonialist spirit is alive and well in North America. What I see in the bitter, prejudiced opinions of National Post and Globe and Mail commentators are the intellectual heirs of these fur trade ‘masters.’ I am an outsider to Canada, yet it is easy to see the continuity of thought: there’s simply no intent to conceal it.

It is fitting to note, I think, that as I write this it is July 26, the feast day of St. Anne. St. Anne is the patron saint of Quebec, as well as of voyageurs and the Míkmaq, and is the namesake of St. Anne de Beaupre, St. Anne de Detroit, Lac St. Anne of Alberta and countless other sites related to French Canadian and native cultures. Like other symbols and holidays, such as the drapeau de Québec and la Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, it represents a continuity of culture that for some surely illustrates and animates Québec’s sovereignist movement.

It remains to be seen how the image of last Spring’s ‘casserole protests,’ brought on by attacks on youth and corruption in government, will be painted. Will they become a symbol of a proud, self-directed people voting with their feet? Or will the so-called ‘Liberal’ (neo-Conservative?) Charest government and their PR machine successfully portray them in the same way that many writers of history have portrayed our forebears so fluently? Now the Marois team has a chance to make history. It may be now or never.

5 thoughts on “Quel est l’avenir pour le Québec?/What is the future for Québec?

  1. Shane Percy says:

    Very interesting piece. It’s also interesting to read an American’s view of my nation’s complex state of being. As far as Quebec and the grievances of other provinces too, I think a lot of said grievances are in our own heads. Living in this country while simultaneously complaining about it is, perhaps, the Canadian way.

    • James LaForest says:

      Thank you Shane. The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? : ) Great comment and thanks for reading!

  2. Benoit Archambault says:

    Enlightened point of view!

    There’s a great deal of uncertainty in this election. A recent poll shows the PQ ahead by a narrow margin putting them in the delicate position of a minority government. This election is going to be very interesting because no one can really tell who’s going to win this time. IMHO if PQ wins this election they will have to restore confidence in the government’s institutions and proove that they can do better than the liberals. Needless to say that it will be a tedious task but clearly something has to be done as «statu quo» is no longer acceptable.

    • James LaForest says:

      Thank you Benoit. It will be an interesting election to watch. I understand that the CAQ may be in a position to syphon votes from the Liberal party, giving the péquistes a boost. From what I read, people are generally demoralized from 9 years of Charest mismanagement, so what is the chance they will give him another term? But sadly, whenever there is underlying uncertainty, often people tend to ‘stay the course’ even when it is clearly not in their best interests.

  3. Benoit Archambault says:

    A large portion of the population is really MAD at this government and many feel that they’ve been deliberately misled by the PM. Furthermore, voting intentions has been estimated to be around 85% which is considerably higher than the one in 2008 (56%). So, there’s a chance that all these dissatisfied voters change the election results in an unexpected manner. In all cases, I think we’re in for a surprise so stay tuned!

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