English Canada’s Double Standard for Québec

Canada Eighteen Sixty-Seven

English Canada’s Double Standard for Québec

Posted by OCTOBER 6, 2010

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A little while back, I was on the website for Radio-Canada, the French sister network to the CBC, and I came across an article about how British Columbia’s Liberal government intends to cut funding for the few services offered to B.C.’s ever growing (especially in downtown Vancouver), Francophone community. My initial reaction after reading the article was one of minor disappointment, but not of surprise, as Gordon Campbell’s B.C. Liberals have continued to make a rash of cuts to social programs, so what else is new? The fact that the cuts were aimed at Francophone British Columbians was the only interesting angle to what has been the norm in B.C. under the Liberal regime.
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However, out of curiosity I decided to see if either of the two major newspapers in B.C., the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Province, had picked up on the story on their respective websites. After not finding any mention of the cuts to French services and programs in B.C., I thought I would take a look over at the CBC’s regional page for British Columbia and then those of all the other major Canadian media outlets in English; needless to say that the story was nowhere to be found.
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Frankly, it is not really shocking that the story of British Columbia’s government cutting funding to services for B.C.’s relatively small Francophone community only made waves on Canada’s national French media outlet. However, it did get me thinking about what would be the possible reaction from Canada’s English media if the Québec government did the same thing to government services now provided in English?
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(And contrary to popular belief amongst many outside of Québec, the Government of Québec provides basically all of its services in both English and French, despite the fact that Anglophones only make up about 8% of the provinces population.)
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Think about it for a moment; imagine a headline reading, “Québec Government cuts funding for English Programs in Québec,” or, “Québec ends services for its English Speaking Minority.”
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Undoubtedly, the reaction from English Canada would be fierce, with the typical claims of Québec being home to a bunch of xenophobic, racists, traitors. Yet, British Columbia is all set to cut its services to Francophones in that province and it is ho-hum, business as usual, without a peep from anyone in the English Canadian media.
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So where does this double standard come from and how is it justifiable?
Racist
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I know firsthand that there exists a general misunderstanding of Québec society and politics from those outside of that province. Not to mention a general lack of knowledge about Canada’s history – a history which goes a long way in explaining French Canadian’s place within Québec and in Canadian society as a whole. But overall, the real basis for the negative perception of Québec throughout English Canada emanates from the idea the all Québécois are ‘separatist-traitors’, who have held two referendums on Québec’s independence in an attempt to destroy Canada (once in 1980, and again in 1995); and that Québec’s language law, Bill 101, is extreme and a direct attack on the English speakers of that province.
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Both of these misconceptions are oversimplifications and unjust to say the least. Without getting too much into the underlying reasons behind Québec nationalism and why there exists a want for sovereignty amongst a minority of Quebeckers (yes a minority! It has been some time since the polls have shown support for a new referendum in Québec going over the 35% mark), I will just briefly say that one only needs to quickly look at how French Canadians viewed the Confederation of Canada as being a partnership and duality between two cultures and two linguistic communities; an idea that was sold to French Canadians in Québec as the benefits that would come from Confederation and which has never left the mindset of Quebeckers. Furthermore, one can also refer to the shockingly immense socio-economic disadvantages faced by Francophones in Canada, including those in Québec, throughout Canada’s history, changing only after Québec’s Quiet Revolution starting in the 1960’s. The treatment of French Canadians as second class citizens finally came out in the open thanks to the final report from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, issued by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1963.
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Despite the fact that the view towards Quebeckers as being “separatist scum,” is a grossly unjust and inaccurate, especially seeing as most in Québec don’t want independence, it is the misconception about Québec’s language laws which are really where the hypocrisy lies. For starters, Québec’s Bill 101 does not prevent Anglophone students from getting an education in their language, nor does it prevent businesses from having English on their storefronts or signage. In essence, Bill 101 is simply aimed at making French the language of government and the law in Québec, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business in the province. However, businesses are permitted to have signs in English, as long as those signs are first and foremost in French, and the English speaking community, based almost exclusively in Montréal, is offers public education in English schools. Furthermore, Québec also provides post-secondary education in English, with several of the CEGEPs (the schools that make up Québec’s college system) in English and the province also is home to three English universities, and once again, this despite that fact that only 8% of the population are Anglophones.
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In fact, Bill 101 is simply the entrenchment of French as the official language of a province that has 84.5% of its population as being Francophone. The law is also a means to ensure Québec’s French linguistic-cultural heritage in the face of the sea of English language which basically surrounds Québec on all sides within Canada; a situation only compounded by the ominous presence of the cultural and economic hegemonic power of the world just to the south – the United States. One only needs to look at the reality of the linguistic situation in the world today, where English is now the dominate language of commerce and international relations, to find reasoning and justification for why the predominate French society of Québec wants to protect its language. Even in other non-Anglophone countries, there is a struggle to resist the Anglicisation of their societies.
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We need to start asking ourselves in English Canada, what if Québec lost its battle to preserve the French language in that province, what would that do to the Canadian identity? If you prefer that Canada just become another monolingual Anglophone country then so be it, but as far as I am concerned, the French language and French Canadian culture (especially that of Québec), is an immeasurable component of Canadian culture and the Canadian identity. Therefore, there should be an understanding and acceptance that Québec is the bastion of the French language in Canada and the lynchpin of the French Canadian element in the make-up of our country.
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But the real hypocrisy towards the Québec language laws coming from English Canadian society, is found within the ever present attitude that many Canadians in English speaking provinces have towards non-Anglophone immigrants. I will take my province, British Columbia, as an example because I of course know the situation in the Greater Vancouver region first hand.
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Growing up in Greater Vancouver, the sentiment of animosity towards immigrants who can’t speak English is a constant. The idea that immigrants should learn ‘our’ language is shared by the vast majority of British Columbians. Furthermore, many British Columbians (I must admit, myself included), do not like at all the fact that in many parts of Greater Vancouver, one can find signage exclusively in another language other than English.
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I am confident in assuming that this sentiment is shared by Canadians in other major cities having large immigrant populations and probably even in the rural regions of Canada. Therefore, what the heck is the difference if Quebeckers actually did something about it and made a law towards ensuring that the place for French in Québec society remains dominant? And again, now living in Montréal, I will reiterate the point that the idea of Québec infringing on English speakers rights in that province is just ridiculous.
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There is undoubtedly a double standard in Canada, a typical situation of the majority’s hypocrisy towards a centralized minority, and as long as that exists, Canadian national unity will always be in question. Often times I find myself saying, who can blame those Quebeckers who have thrown their arms in the air and simply said enough of this. That being said, I will continue to fight the good fight on two fronts, telling English Canadians who resent Québec that they need to look at the facts and take a look in the mirror, while at the same time telling Francophones in Québec that the constant menace of separation has bred mistrust and ill will. Above all else, I believe in the argument that that good found in the principles and ideals of Canada outweighs the bad elements that are present in this country, such as the semblance of hypocrisy directed towards Québec that sometimes comes from English Canada.

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