With the head of Quebec’s Office de la Langue Français resigning over the recent Pastagate scandal, and the ongoing hearings into toughening Bill 101, the never-ending language debate is once again on the front burner in Quebec.
Those in favour of serving up tougher language laws are doing their best to keep the pot well-stirred, suggesting that the scandal was due to the actions of a single overzealous or confused language inspector, ignoring the regularity of equally ridiculous confrontations, as well as the question of why something called a “language inspector” exists in the first place.
For opponents, meanwhile, everything from the third-world quality of Montreal’s crumbling infrastructure to the banana-republic levels of corruption and incompetence can be blamed on the dearth of English signage in local department stores. So-called angryphones (angry Anglophones, get it?) shamelessly compare their situation to that of Jews under the Third Reich, griping that at least the prisoners at Auschwitz were allowed to speak whatever language they wanted.
As part of its never-ending quest for the truth, Vice decided to put on its rubber boots and wade through some of the bullshit surrounding Quebec’s most sacred cow.
1. Bill 101 is necessary for the protection of Quebecois culture.
Francophone rights in Canada have been guaranteed since the first treaties were signed between the administrators of New France and the British crown shortly after the battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. If it weren’t for legislation such as the BNA Act and Canada’s Official Languages Act, French-Canadians would have been little more than an amusing sideshow, much like the Cajuns (originally Acadians) of Louisiana, by the time the PQ showed up in 1976.
Those who argue that Bill 101 has prevented the assimilation of Francophone minorities might want to visit Edmunston, New Brunswick, where the rate of French retention is identical to that of Quebec City, despite the complete absence of repressive language laws. When all is said and done, Bill 101 is little more than a PR exercise designed to salve the national inferiority complex of pur laine Quebecois.
2. Quebec will separate if it isn’t allowed to restrict the use of English.
Here’s the ballot for the referendum on South Sudanese independence that was approved by 98.83% of voters.
Here’s the question Quebeckers were asked in the 1995 referendum:
Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?
This is the sort of language that makes lawyers jizz all over their Brioni suits. Pundits will tell you that the country came within a few thousand votes of splitting up, but the truth is a resounding YES vote would’ve done nothing but perpetuate the constitutional/linguistic tug-of-war that has been going on for centuries.
East Timor, Kosovo, Kazakhstan – at this point, everyone who wants a country has a country. The separatists have taken their best shot – twice – and gone down swinging.
Quebeckers know which side their bread is buttered on – they’d be crazy to give up the 8 billion dollars in transfer payments they receive from the rest of Canada every year. Like a teenager who threatens to move out while demanding that his parents keep paying his allowance, it’s time somebody called bullshit on the whole separatist/federalist shell game
3. Anglos are colonial oppressors intent on destroying Quebec ‘s traditional culture.
First of all, there’s the whole pot-kettle thing. I mean, it’s not like the Indians said: “Hey French people, please come and build your settlements on our prime real estate and convert our kids to your amazing Catholic religion!”
Leaving that aside, the idea that Anglos are physically and spiritually descended from trampling armies of British redcoats is ridiculous. The vast majority of Anglo settlers would best be described as refugees. Most of them were simple farmers, forced off their land by the American revolution, or Irish peasants who crossed the ocean on typhoid-ridden ships rather than face starvation during the potato famine.
Montreal’s flag represents co-operation between the French, British, Scottish and Irish communities
Once here, they established towns and villages, built schools and hospitals and worked hand-in-hand with French people to create a society based on co-operation between people of all ethnicities.
4. The Quebecois hate everything English.
Given the decades long campaign to scapegoat les autres for everything that’s ever gone wrong in Quebec, it’s not surprising there are a few intolerant assholes running around. It would be a mistake, however, to confuse the actions and statements of a petty, manipulative elite for the attitude of the typical Quebecker.
In fact, most Francophones are bilingual, easygoing, open-minded and hate arguing about language as much as anyone else. You can walk around Montreal for weeks without ever speaking a word of French if you really want to. In fact, people who come here to learn the language often complain about how quickly everyone switches into English to accommodate them.
Pauline Marois has a language headache.
5. Quebec’s culture will disappear if it isn’t rigorously defended.
If a car company kept running to the federal government pleading for special status and demanding protection from the competition, you might start to wonder why no one was buying its cars. Why should culture be any different?
The Quebecois are either a unique and vibrant people with strong traditions, or Canada’s basket-cases, unable to survive without being pumped full of linguistic life support – you can’t have it both ways. Those of us who live here and truly care about this place tend to believe the former.
The biggest threat to Quebec’s culture isn’t an aging Anglo minority that constitutes less than 8% of the population, but the ongoing campaign to impose a desiccated, backward-looking identity on a proud people who are more than capable of taking their place on the world stage.
Quebec’s distinct society won’t be preserved by continually reliving historic injustices and whining about invisible oppressors. Culture and language are living things that flourish only when people are given the freedom to choose for themselves.
Anything else is just Living in the Pastagate.
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