Parti Quebecois Premier Pauline Marois just doesn’t get it. Since her victory, she’s embarked on a campaign of intolerance against the non-French in Canada all in the name of a free Quebec and preserving a language and culture.
Marois is re-excavating a dinosaur era when her party’s late founder René Lévesque shook his fist in victory and pledged laws which were a blatant attack against the rights of English-speaking Canadians.
The premier needs to take a reality check and ask herself do Quebecers really want to separate today?
Like Lévesque, Marois is proposing tough legislation that treats non-French-speaking Canadians as second-class citizens. But she should wake up to the fact things have changed and Canadians, including Quebecers, are tiring of the same old rhetoric.
Justification for separatism turned to plain stupidity recently when a report, funded in part by the Parti Quebecois, alleges Francophones across Canada are the “victims of soft ethnocide.”
The study by the Quebec pro-independence group ‘Conseil de la souverainete du Quebec’ identifies “92 ways” in which “the Canadian system hinders Quebec’s development against the interests and values of Quebecers.”
How quickly they forget Canada’s provinces have proven respect for the French language and culture and promotes it among younger citizens through Francophone schools and French immersion programs. In return, Marois continues to claim Anglophones are intolerant towards the French.
The Parti Quebecois is no stranger to intolerance. Who can forget Lévesque’s Language Laws which at one time made education in French compulsory for immigrants attending Quebec schools, even those from other provinces? Students were prohibited of speaking in their mother tongues even on playgrounds.
Now Marois is hinting at making French compulsory for immigrant children attending daycare.
Then there’s the controversial French-only sign laws which Marois is toughening in ludicrous proportions. Huge chain stores like Walmart have been told to change its copyrighted name to Le Magasin Walmart (The Walmart Store, in English). Walmart has joined other giants ordered to do the same like Costco, the Gap, Best Buy, Old Navy and Guess in a combined court action.
The report claims Ottawa has allowed Anglophone provinces to commit this alleged “ethnocide” on Acadians and French-Canadian minorities. “We’re reminding people of the evolution of Canada when we systematically eliminated French at the start of the 20th century,” said Gilbert Paquette, head of the group that authored the study.
English-rights activist Beryl Wajsmann begs to differ, saying the report’s use of the word “ethnocide” is “immoral” and the report is “full of lies.”
In once instance, the report claims Quebec is losing money to the rest of Canada.
Quebec in fact collects billions of dollars in provincial tax and will receive $7.38 billion in equalization payments over the next year – twice as much as any other province.
“We have spent so much of our treasure and talent and time to be inclusive, however imperfect . . . while in Quebec every PQ government has spent their talent and treasure to do those injustices by rule,” Wajsmann said.
The report also fails to mention that of the 13 cities and towns surveyed in the study, 70 per cent of Quebecers rejected the sovereigntist option.
In January, the town Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, population 10,000, was dismayed when the “language cops” ordered the community to stop including one page of English-language information in its monthly bulletin to ratepayers. There’s only 500 English speaking citizens in the community.
Their French-speaking neighbours were incensed with the order, and the mayor subsequently provided the English version on the town’s website.
The order had absolutely no bearing on the preservation of the French language on a broader scale. It smacked of hatred and intolerance. To say otherwise, one has their head buried in the sand.
The key to preserving a culture and language comes through education and understanding, not threats or bullying. Canada has responded in that regard.
French immersion school programs to promote bilingualism are available in all provinces and territories. More than 315,000 students are enrolled in the more than 3,000 schools offering French Immersion, according recent statistics.
The majority of these students come from families where French isn’t spoken at home.
Further, 120 French-speaking community colleges exist and about 20 Francophone or bilingual universities are open to enrolment.
Our Constitution recognizes the needs of the French, stipulating that all Canadian citizens who have French as their mother tongue have the right to full access to francophone schools, regardless of their province or residence of birth.
As Canadians, we must promote a unified country where all needs are met. Marois is turning back the clock, standing in the way of Quebecers who want to get on with the future.
Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.