Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose To Remember

When I accepted Peter Kerr’s offer to write this column I saw it as an opportunity to engage in a conversation with Montrealers about why we choose to live here. Most of the Anglos and Allophones I interviewed for my recent documentary film ( felt closer to Montreal than to Quebec. We love our city but many of us do not have strong connections with the regions.

Many people in the regions look at Montreal with dismay and even fear. Why? Because it is cosmopolitan and diverse? Most Anglos, Allophones and Francophones in Montreal want their children to speak at least two languages. Are increasing levels of bilingualism a problem?  During the election campaign, Premier Legault repeatedly stirred up fears about the demise of French, comparing our situation to Louisiana. The French language is vulnerable, and ‘bonjour-hi’ is an annoyance for some, but our situation has nothing in common with Louisiana where only 2.8% of the population speak French. In Quebec, 77% are Francophones and another 16% can speak French. The Cajun comparison was ludicrous, but politically effective.

Another election fear was ‘immigrants’. During the election campaign, Premier Legault claimed that accepting more than 50,000 immigrants per year would be ‘suicidal’. Really? Jean Boulet, Minister of Immigration and Labour (elected in Trois-Rivières), put the fear into words, opining that “80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French and do not adhere to the values of Quebec society.” Such an absurd misrepresentation would be laughable if it did not have disturbing consequences. 

“Does the CAQ have a plan to gather up the pieces of this politically

and geographically divided society to glue it back together?”

Many Montrealers see themselves as immigrants because their ancestors did not have roots in France or the Catholic religion and French is not their mother tongue. In 1760 Montreal was a village of about 8,000 citizens. The modern, prosperous, peaceful, and internationally renowned metropolis we know and love was built by wave upon wave of immigrants. Immigrants are not a threat. We are co-creators.  As one of the interviewees in my film says, “We have made a choice to come here. We are courageous people! ”

It often felt during the election campaign that the Coalition Avenir Québec party made a calculation and was prepared to sacrifice Montreal and Quebec’s non-francophones for electoral purposes. If that was the intent, then the CAQ must be thrilled with the blue ocean that now fills the province, with the exception of the red and orange island of Montreal. Do they have a plan to gather up the pieces of this politically and geographically divided society to glue it back together?

I am now hearing more discouraged people talk about wanting to leave Quebec than I have since the 1995 referendum. And I have heard angry people talk about calling for a referendum to separate Montreal from the rest of Quebec. I remember, vividly, the bitterly divisive referendum in 1995. The next day was Halloween and we wondered if it was safe to open our doors to masked strangers. It was. And the collective healing process that followed was one of the finest moment in Quebec’s history.

Now that the election is over it is time for some fact-checking, truth-telling and leadership – with a vision that includes us all.

Guy Rex Rodgers was founding Executive Director of the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) and recently returned to filmmaking. You can reach guy at: [email protected]     

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