Although the election is now past and what is done is done, the sentiment of this post remains. Please bear in mind that sovereignty will not fade as an issue and my comments from the middle to the end are not dependent on one election or another.
The upcoming election (April 7, 2014) in Québec has set off a discussion on the likelihood of another sovereignty referendum if Premier Pauline Marois is reelected with an outright majority. According to polls, a majority of Québecers currently do not want another referendum and a great deal of ink is being spilled alarming the province by raising that spectre.
Although he has benefited in the short-term from linking Marois to an impending referendum, Liberal candidate for premier Philippe Couillard has nonetheless been forced to clarify his own views with regard to Québec’s place in Canada. He has asserted that he would demand recognition of Québec’s unique place in Canada while clearly saying that he would never support an independent Québec.
Yet even as he goes on record saying that, as he did March 19, 2014 in the Montreal Gazette, he is also already setting the stage of opposition by undermining the process and legitimacy of an eventual or potential referendum as set in motion by any Parti Québécois government.
Philippe Couillard is an excellent demonstration of why a French Canadian from the US would be for not only a PQ government, but also for a future independent Québec. What Couillard is saying is that he does not trust French-speaking Québec to be in charge of it’s own affairs as an independent country or to reach that stage by honest means. By extension, he casts people of French Canadian heritage throughout North America into the shadows of history: losers and ungrateful complainers.
This mentality has been repeated ad nauseam for decades – actually centuries – ever since an Anglophone majority began to form a cultural hegemony in territories that once resonated with the languages of Thayendanegea, Tecumseh, Cartier, Brûlé, Riel, and Pontiac.
It might be instructive for some contemporary supporters of Couillard to look to the experience of French Canadian communities in the United States as a morality tale. While our culture still very much exists, it was not in a vacuum that we have (mostly) lost our language. It is not by accident that the continuity of our culture is often fragmented and ‘anglicized’ in ways such that my grandfather, born into a French-speaking family in Detroit in 1901, would have been unable to understand.
It’s not just “assimilation” that causes people to change their names and attempt to disassociate themselves from an honorable, centuries-old culture. It is the intuitive awareness that your very name will limit you in a culture the widely sees you as ‘other’ and as second class. That is part of the story of French Canadians in Michigan. So while I find it difficult to accept sometimes the ignorance on the part of my cousins in Québec as to our local history, looking to my own history helps me to honor why sovereignists are so dedicated to their cause and focus inwardly for their survival.
It is 300 years since my forebears left Québec for the Great Lakes and I am still French Canadian. But I don’t speak the French of Champlain (or of my grandfather); rare is the opportunity for ‘total immersion’ in French Canadian culture. If you’re satisfied with your grandkids understanding ‘tourtière’ to be “New Years Meat Pie,” then look to a “Liberal” future. But understand this – that is the road of the loss of culture. It is a gradual process, but it is not a slow one. It really only takes one generation to lose substantial parts of communal memory.
I’m proud to be French Canadian. I work every day trying to raise awareness of our culture in the Great Lakes. Not many Americans know much about Québec politics and Canada’s Anglophone media is very successful in painting a very ugly picture of Québec’s leaders. I’m sure that many more Americans have heard of “The Charter” than have heard of the Charbonneau Commission for example.
This is my explanation of why, if I were a Québecer, I would support Pauline Marois for premier and why I would support the Parti Québécois in its efforts to define and structure Québec society in the modern world. I believe in equality (and know that we French Canadians are often seen as less than equal); I believe in language rights (and know about the generations of French, Métis, and First Nations that were denied that primary right); I believe in progressive, secular governments (and see clear evidence of that in Québec’s approach to the environment.)
There are many reasons to believe in a sovereign Québec and to defend its leaders who do so as well. But at the end of the day, there is really only one reason that is needed above all: I believe in Québec’s right to exist on Québec’s terms. Bon courage, mes cousins – nous sommes avec vous.