Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose To Remember

Last October the Coalition Avenir Québec won a landslide electoral victory, crushing the Parti Québécois and the provincial Liberals. At the CAQ convention in May Premier Legault received an extraordinary confidence vote of 98.61%, making him the most popular politician in Quebec. We are now living in the era of François Legault’s Québec. It is also true that the CAQ’s landslide victory did not include most of Montreal and that Legault is increasingly unpopular among Anglos, Allophones and immigrants who speak foreign languages and practice foreign religions.

In the days of two solitudes the foreigners were Protestant Anglos. Legault and the CAQ have greatly expanded the list of undesirable foreigners. Jean Boulet while Minister of Immigration infamously opined just before last year’s election that “80% of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French or adhere to the values of Quebec society.” Legault and the CAQ have also made themselves unpopular by acting as if democracy means the majority can pass any laws it chooses with total disregard for minorities. People who question or criticise the laws are vilified as enemies of Quebec or pawns of the oppressive British-American-Canadian-Westmount Empire.

“François Legault and the CAQ have successfully polarised Quebec, creating a climate of fear…“

During the past year, I have been touring my film What We Choose to Remember to communities all around Quebec. The people who come out to see the film are not part of the Anglo elite and they are not angry-Anglos. They are proud Quebecers who have respected the spirit of Bill 101 for decades but are troubled by the spirit of Bill 96 and the climate of hostility it is creating. Bill 96 does provide exemptions to its strict French-only policy for ‘historic anglos’ but not all English-speakers qualify as ‘historic anglos’ and not all ‘historic anglos’ can easily prove their status. This creates a confusing environment of mixed-messages.

The most recent example was in May when Languages Minister Jean-François Roberge assured the English-speaking community that services in English “will be based on self-identification. In other words, a statement made in good faith. We are not doing cards or certificates or anything like that.” Meanwhile Roberge issued an internal document to staff stipulating that as of June 1st, “The administration uses French exclusively in its written communications. It does so equally in its oral communications.” How long until a ‘non-historic Anglo’ seeking services in English ‘in bad faith’ incurs the wrath of the bureaucracy?

The CAC’s mixed messages have allowed their supporters to believe the government is defending Quebec’s interests vigorously but fairly. Bill 96 is so complex that criticisms can appear theoretical, paranoid or merely anecdotal. A law that serves the interests of the majority, who elected the government, can infringe the rights of a minority, who voted for opposition parties.  It is precisely for situations like this that Quebec and Canada created charters of rights and freedoms.

“The CAQ’s victory did not include most of Montreal and Legault is unpopular among Anglos, Allophones and immigrants who speak foreign languages and practice foreign religions.”

François Legault and the CAQ have successfully polarised Quebec, creating a climate of fear that the French language and culture are threatened with extinction unless vigorous action is taken. Laws like Bill 96 and Bill 21 appear on the surface to be fair. They also send out signals about Quebec’s priorities and values that can be weaponized against the minority if they criticize the laws or the zero-sum mentality behind them. It is perfectly possible to recognize that Quebec’s French language and culture require protection while also valuing other languages and cultures. One major source of alarm I have heard repeatedly is that complexity and diversity are becoming incompatible with François Legault’s Québec.

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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