The other day I had to explain Quebec politics to an American friend of mine who happens to be a very well read, politically savvy individual. The conversation took place on Face Book so it involved a lot of punctuation and very deliberate usage of words. It was not easy to do.
It started with a Table Topics question I like to post on my page every morning:
“Who do you believe is the most dangerous person alive today?”.
I was surprised when my American friend responded “Stephen Harper” – our ineffective and blundering Canadian Prime Minister.
“Harper’s gas line project is ridiculous. He should be thrown out of office”.
“Yeah well he is doing nothing for Quebec that’s for sure” I said.
“What’s wrong with Quebec?”
This is where it became challenging…
“They announced they want an election to separate from Canada”
“Why”? Ah – the question to open a can of worms…
“Let me try and explain…”
“They are trying to pass a Bill which would put a Charter into our Provincial constitution that says that people working in the public sector are not allowed to wear any religious symbols, like Hijabs or Yarmulkes.”
“What do you mean “not allowed”?”
“It’s the same as our language laws. We aren’t allowed to speak any language but French at the work place.”
“hunh?what do you mean NOT ALLOWED?”
How to explain Quebec Politics to an American…
Many years ago there was an 11 minute fight in a place called The Plains of Abraham in Quebec where the British whooped the French and they have stayed mad about it ever since. The story could actually end here…
In the mid 1700’s France imported into Quebec a bunch of prostitutes chosen by the King called “les Filles du Roie”. I am proud to say these are my ancestors. They were sent here to attract moer male settlers, and populate the country with as many good looking French people as possible. The French are known to have had an average of 14 children per family by the mid 1800’s. The culture is based in the catholic religion who believes God made everything else except condoms.
By the 1800’s all sorts of people were immigrating to Quebec because of its easy access port, busy economy and promise of some form of stability which was not being experienced in many parts of Europe. Settlers from all over found their place and established their cultures inside “New France” including Irish, Italian, Spanish, German, British and Jewish people creating individual pockets of cultural comfort in different emerging cities.
An important difference here exists between Canada and the USA which is that when the settlers arrived from Europe they maintained their original cultural identity. Canada became a “mosaic” of cultures, as opposed to the American “mixing pot” where immigrants were encouraged to assimilate into the American way of life.
By the time the 1960’s arrived, Quebec had become well established as one of the most international and welcoming places in the world. English and French were widely spoken making it accessible to anyone who spoke two of the world’s major languages. Expo ’67 heralded the culmination of hundreds of years of evolution in the Quebec political tapestry. The nations of the work gathered for a Fair that would promote peace and harmony between all nations. But the peace wouldn’t last. Somewhere in the background, the French of Quebec were still simmering, down from the generations about the events on the Plains of Abraham and the domination of the English in the emerging and booming trade economy. Prime Minister of France Charles de Gaulle came to Expo under the guise of attending the fair and declared “Vivre le Quebec Libre”, putting words to a sentiment that had been bubbling under the surface for unilingual francophone Quebecers.
The “Quiet revolution” began – but not so quietly.
People were kidnapped and killed. Bombs were detonated. It was a brief but nasty par of Quebec history and the beginning of real extremism which we are seeing a resurgence of today. My family was very involved in the political movement of what we here call “the NO side”. This is the anti-separation movement. The “other side” is the separation movement – those who want Quebec to be its own country. Everyone here has an opinion on this issue. Slowly and over time, French pro-separatist politician have gained power in the National Assembly – the political house of power in Canadian provinces, and have put into place on law after another which has irrationally eroded the personal freedoms of the Canadians living here.
Our American friends have to remember when talking about Canadian politics that we are not a democracy. We don’t have the same basis premise in our political structures. We are instead what you call a “constitutional monarchy” – which means we were poartially governed by the queen of England for a long time. Until the mid 1980’s any laws or changes ot our constitution had to be “approved” by the queen. Our government owns some of the major businesses as well, which makes us socialist.
I could go into allot of details about the people and the dramas which revolve around our politics here but my intention is not to give you a history lesson. More like a current events update…so I will give you some specific details so you can relate to the level of craziness we have reached
- You are not allowed to speak English at your work place. If the “Office of the French Language” catches you, your business can be fined. Heftily.
- Your child is not allowed to go to school in English ESPECIALLY icf you come from a country where all you ever spoke is English. Its all about blending.
- You are not going to be allowed to wear a cross, a Hijab or a yarmulke at work if you work in public
- You will not be given medical service if you don’t speak French an dthe attendant doesn’t speak english.
- You will not be given service by government agents (including tax offices and police) in English
- Retail businesses are told to address clients only in French. They have signs up no their store fronts saying “In Quebec we do business in French” (written in French obviously)
- No advertising in English. Ever.
- All products imported into Quebec have to follow regulations about how BIG and how small French and English have to be. English can only be 20% of the size of French writing.
The insanity goes on and on.
Here’s my point…
In a world where we are in DIRE and urgent need to promote understanding and cohesion between individuals and nations – Quebec is the fastest backwards moving place on the planet as far as I can see. We have all the education, technology, and social structures in place to be a wildly successful place – an example to the world even on living in integrated cultures. Instead, we spend all of our time promoting our own opinions. Conclusively, places in the world who identify with their nationalistic cultures, linguistic, religious or political structures have the hardest time.
The other day I asked the question on Face book “ How important is your national identity to you?”
I was somewhat surprised at how many people said they were “Proud Canadians” – that their country is very important to them. But when I asked myself the question, I was more surprised to understand how UNIMPORTANT my nationality has become to me. I could care less about being Canadian, or Quebecker, English or French.
I have come to believe…
Who we are is not our country. Who we are is not our language or skin colour or religion. We are part of a living system – all of us together. Our belief that we are separate or different from each other has resulted in us causing major destruction to the place that we live. It is critical that we understand that we are not only part of one geographic location – we belong to the world – and the world has no real borders.
As long as we hold on to language, skin colour, religion, culture or national identity our “personal” identity, in Quebec or any other place – we are doomed to continue making the same mistakes we have made throughout human history. Quebec is a prime example of the opposite of the direction we need to be taking to unify the cultures of the world.
By personally dropping your identity with religion, language, nation, skin colour, ancestry – each individual can contribute to shifting the perception of each other from opposed to united.
We are not our opinions – We just ARE.