Quebec bashing has become quite a common characteristic of Anglophone media in Canada. For lack of relevant arguments, journalists and commentators compare Francophones and Quebec separatists to extremists, fascists, and even xenophobes. The Gazette’s Barbara Key has likened Quebec intellectuals, such as Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, to anti-Semitic and anti-American sympathizers. She once even went so far as to compare these intellectuals to Hezbollah.
Most recently, Ben Reedjik’s article on Bill 14, published in the English section of the Political Bouillon, alludes to common ideas typically associated with Quebec bashing.
1. The hidden agenda of the Parti Québecois (PQ) consists of deterring bilingualism in Quebec.
Many journalists accuse the PQ of targeting bilingualism and refer to the recent Bill 14 as an example of that policy. The facts, however, suggest otherwise. Francophone and Allophone students wanting to enrol in Anglophone Cegeps will encounter more challenges as they would be required to pass a French-proficiency exam before they can carry on their studies in another language. By imposing those requirements, the PQ wishes to foster the acquisition of both languages by all students graduating from Cegeps. The same bill requires Francophone Cegeps to strengthen their English learning programs as a way of ensuring functional command of both English and French.
2. The PQ is brandishing an anti-Anglophone rhetoric vis-à-vis bilingual towns and municipalities.
Contrary to what Ben Reedjik and others suggest, the PQ will not force towns and cities to give up their bilingual status. In fact, the Parti Québécois will only retain the right to withdraw the bilingual status of a city when the latter’s Anglophone population drops to less than 50%. These new regulations are being put forward as a reaction to the socio-demographic transformations that have occurred over the past few decades. Certain bilingual municipalities continue to translate public documents and signage into both languages despite a significantly low Anglophone population (for instance, the city of Ottenburn Park enjoys a bilingual status but its Anglophone residents represent only 6.8% of the total population). This policy has been implemented elsewhere in Canada without necessarily provoking accusations of anti-Francophone rhetoric.
3. The xenophobic speech of a select handful of Quebeckers is reflected in Quebec’s public policy.
There is no denying that Francophone Quebeckers are worried about their language and culture diminishing. According to a recent survey carried by Léger-Marketing, 90% of them believe that, when it comes to the island of Montreal, the French language is hanging on by a thread. The survey also highlights how only a negligible minority of the Francophone population responding to the questionnaire adopt a hostile attitude vis-à-vis fellow Anglophones.
Unlike their European counterparts, Quebec’s political parties do not engage in xenophobic discourse. On the contrary, they actually express a collective desire to protect their culture while participating in global diversity. These parties are also fully aware of the fact that Quebec shares its geopolitical space with the giant superpower to the south of its border, and that in this space the English language is hegemonic, to say the least. In comparison, European nations the size of Quebec belong to a geopolitical community comprising more than 27 languages and multilingual federations such as Switzerland and Belgium; however these nations are dotted with a very strict regional and territorial linguistic laws and policies that buffer the possibility of a unilingual hegemony.
4. Quebec should adopt an alternative policy consisting of promoting French language and culture, imposing the presence of French in the public sphere and encouraging the implementation of state-subsidized French language courses.
Statistically speaking, and on a per capita basis, no other North-American state or province has ever equally strived to promote its language and culture since the 1960s. On the international scene, Quebec also stands out amongst non-sovereign states and nations.
When it comes to imposing the use of French in the public sphere, Quebec has certainly already done its share, and sometimes more. Quebec also set up a francization program designed for its new immigrants and uses public funds to subsidize the project. However, Quebec’s Liberal Party, considered by some to be the champion of bilingualism, cut more than 5 million dollars from the francization program budget during its last term. The PQ hopes to be able to reinvest these entirely necessary funds soon.
Does all of this mean that we should just accept the language laws and propositions put forward by the PQ?
Definitely not; none of the existing political parties can claim to possess the miraculous solution to the longevity of French in Quebec and the reign of linguistic peace. For example, it would be legitimate to claim that there are some fundamental discrepancies in Bill 14: after all, is it really fair to withdraw the bilingual status of a municipality just because its Anglophone inhabitants represent less than 50% of its population?
PQ minister Jean-François Lisée has personally declared the possibility of reconsidering this seemingly arbitrary and circumstantial clause. In addition, why does this bill ignore the 40% of Allophones who do not acquire sufficient skills in French, and who, for now, do not have access to the government’s francization program?
In conclusion, it is really important to avoid making sweeping generalizations and defamation when it comes to such a sensitive issue as language in Quebec. A positive attitude is primordial in maintaining a constructive debate and disabling a long-term, and growing perception among francophone Quebeckers that their fellow Anglophones are unaware of their aspirations and unable to understand them.
– Pier Alexandre Lemaire, translated by Ali Hajali
Original article: Québec bashing: le sport national des médias anglophones
(Featured Photo: by Lothann, Flickr, Creative Commons)