Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose to Remember

Every nation has its foundational myths. For Quebec, Nouvelle France was conquered by English-speaking foreigners who have been a plague ever since. Most Anglos I know have encountered this deeply embedded psychosis. When they ask, “Am I a hateful Anglo?” The answer is always, “Ben non. T’es pas un vrai.” (You’re not a real one.)

The CAQ government acknowledges that not all English-speakers are hateful Anglos, yet Caquistes harbour deep resentment toward old-money elites that allegedly despise Quebec’s French-language and retain sinister power. The archetype of the hateful Anglo is James McGill, depicted as a scoundrel who marched into Nouvelle France on the coattails of the conquering British army, stole the fur trade from French interests, exploited slaves and amassed an obscene fortune of ill-gotten gains. His legacy, McGill University, is the modern symbol of the sinister Anglo elite.

“A rapidly growing number of young Francophones-de-souches view English as a tool and a toy, not a deadly threat.”

During the furor over the CAQ government’s increase in tuition fees, I lost count of the number of opinion leaders in francophone media who shared anecdotes about the power that McGill University continues to wield against politicians who threaten it. This helps explain the schadenfreude observed while Legault and the CAQ have subjected McGill to improvised public torment.

Language laws were never meant to endear themselves to their victims. It is perfectly legitimate and even democratic for a majority of voters to elect a government that shares its values. The majority, by definition, outnumbers minorities and can outvote them, although true democracies protect minority rights. In Quebec, we are doubly protected by Quebec’s Charte des droits et libertés de la personne and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, until a government chooses to override them. The CAQ’s justification to invoke the notwithstanding clause for Bill 96 is that English-speakers are not a true minority because of their global numbers and influence.

If the CAQ’s objective is to defend Quebec’s French-language and culture at all costs, then there is nothing irrational about warning English-speaking students, immigrants and even tourists they are not welcome in Quebec; too much English would make Montreal a multilingual, multicultural hellhole.

It would not be irrational for the CAQ to provoke an exodus of unwelcome people who do not embrace Quebec’s language, culture and values. The CAQ could justify a new 500,000 person exodus as short-term pain for long-term gain. Those who depart will self-select as not being loyal Québécois. In the same logic, the CAQ is not responsible when good Anglos become collateral damage in laws designed to punish bad Anglos. Had self-styled ‘good Anglos’ fully embraced Quebec’s language and culture they would have no need of separate Anglo schools and hospitals. “They have no one to blame but themselves.”

If discriminatory policies were expected to endear the majority toward Legault, he should have realised he had a PR problem on his hands when Boucar Diouf wrote an op ed about Bill 96. Few immigrants have become as beloved by Quebec, and the relationship is reciprocated. Boucar Diouf was concerned that Bill 96, although justifiably aimed at so-called bad Anglos, is making all immigrants feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. This would be suicidal for Quebec, given that immigrants are the only feasible source to maintain Quebec’s workforce and demographic weight.

“It’s time to realign the language debate so that a multilingual and confident Quebec can realign our collective energy around issues like education, health and housing.”  

The CAQ has focussed so much attention on old school identity politics, in order to pull Francophone support away from the PQ and the PLQ, that it has lost sight of the factors that will determine the future. Allophones educated in French become de facto Francophones, but are increasingly inclined to retain their mother tongue and speak English. A large percentage of immigrants who are mother-tongue Francophones do not choose Québec as Forteresse Français but as a foothold in America where they can practice English and Spanish. A rapidly growing number of young Francophones-de-souches view English as a tool and a toy, not a deadly threat.

The CAQ may have designed Bill 96 as a surgical strike against bad Anglos, but they have revealed the true future of Quebec. Immigrants are not going to embrace a unilingual myth of Nouvelle France redux.  If anyone seriously doubts that the majority of Quebecers – immigrants, Allophones, Anglophones and Francophones – prefer the future to be multilingual, let’s make 2024 the year of the referendum. Let a democratic vote decide if Quebec’s future will be unilingual and fearful, or multilingual and confident. Then we can realign our collective energy around issues that matter to all of us, like education, health, housing, employment and the environment.

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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