What a difference a year makes.
What a difference a year makes.
Last June 24, we were all just heaving a sigh of relief that our kids white-knuckled it through the pandemic to the end of the school year.
Today, some English-speaking Quebecers are wondering whether to pick up stakes and move to Ontario so the kids can finish high school without a sword of Damocles hanging over them when they get to CEGEP.
OK, maybe that’s just the panicked flight response of a few to the recent fight against Bill 96, Quebec’s new law to protect French. The divisive debate surrounding the legislation awakened the ghosts of language wars past and disturbed the relative peace that has prevailed between the Two Solitudes for the last quarter century. All of a sudden, Anglophones and other minorities who have felt at home in Quebec are questioning whether we still belong — and whether our children still have a future here.
Despite assurances that Bill 96 is “nothing against English Quebecers,” as Premier François Legault insisted the day it was unveiled, it feels an awful lot like it is. During the process leading to its passage, we were gaslit, dismissed and escaped. And now that it has been adopted, unilaterally redrawn the constitution, elevated the Charte de la langue française over the Quebec and Canadian human rights charters, and shielded it all by pre-emptively deploying the notwithstanding clause, there’s a lot of angst about what comes next.
It’s not just a question of wondering when a beefed-up Office québécois de la langue française might knock on the door of our favorite local business to seize electronics without a warrant. With an emboldened Legault seeking to make immigration the next front in his campaign to wring more powers from the federal government and his recruitment of two known separatist politicians as candidates in the fall election, the S word has reared its head again.
Legault and his cabinet ministers insist sovereignty is not on the table, but he has frequently said one thing and done another. He seems to be pursuing an incremental, in-everything-but-name version of separation anyway. Why bother to hold a referendum when he can just browbeat Ottawa to get his way? With the opposition Liberals whipping up fears of a secret agenda, and the separatist Parti Québécois goading Legault into taking a harder line, the national question has blown up again like a grenade.
For Indigenous Peoples trying to protect their own languages but being denied an exemption from the more onerous requirements of Bill 96 and for religious minorities being prevented by Bill 21 from positions of authority in the public service due to their articles of faith, there is a whole other layer of angst.
All this to say, the Fête nationale will be a time of reflection as much as celebration this year for many Quebecers who aren’t pure laine francophones.
But make no mistake, whether we arrived in recent decades, are the descendants of Irish refugees fleeing famine, or have ancestors who were here before Europeans sailed down the St. Lawrence River, we are just as attached to this place as those who can trace their origins to les Filles du roi.
We are here and we don’t want to go anywhere. We have made contributions to this vibrant society that deserve to be acknowledged. We have established thriving bilingual institutions that serve all Quebecers We have made great strides in learning French. We are willing to do our part to ensure French continues to thrive in North America. We, too, feel the “pride” in our Québécois identity that Legault is trying to stoke in his pre-electoral campaign — even if we come from a diverse array of backgrounds we are equally proud of.
We do, however, resent that divisive, us-versus-them politics that are trying to make us feel like we’re the problem instead of part of the solution, when we have more in common with our francophone brethren than our leaders want people to think. And if standing up for our rights makes us the most spoiled minority in the world, we’ll re-appropriate that label and wear it willingly.
The St-Jean-Baptiste holiday should also be a reminder of the reasons we love Quebec. We wave the Fleur-de-lis along with the Maple Leaf. We cheer for the Habs and revive the Maple Leafs. We buy our beer at dépanneurs, get our steamés at the casse-croute and meet for a 5 to 7 on a terrasse. We attend parades on June 24 and move on July 1.
But seriously, clichés aside, we believe in social solidarity and collective rights, even if we insist they must be balanced with individual rights. We embrace the vivre ensemble, striving to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to forge bonds with our neighbors regardless of origin. We know Quebec is a distinct society and we feel we are a part of what makes it so special.
No matter how much easier it would be to live life as an English-speaker in some other province, we would be giving up a piece of ourselves if we abandoned Quebec and stopped speaking French — alongside English or our mother tongue.
So, here we are. Bonne fete nationale.