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Sunday 9 October 2022

"Unlikely Canada": First Quebec and Now Alberta

Does Canada make sense?

Peter Zeihan's 2015 anatomy of world geopolitics, The Accidental Super Power, is fascinating reading largely because of his bold and confident predictions about the near future (2015 to 2030).  I felt both taken aback and vindicated to read his chapter entitled "Unlikely Canada."  I was taken aback to read that my country is unlikely to exist for much longer but vindicated that his rationale echoed an observation I made in a presentation entitled "The Concept Formerly Known as Nationalism" in 2002 at the University of Toronto. I pointed out:

At first glance, Canada doesn’t make sense as a country.  Everything about the country’s social and physical geography suggests that it should not exist.  We live in a country that is three thousand miles long, in which 90% of the population lives within a hundred miles of the American border; the vast territories to the north remain largely unknown to the majority of the population.   We are divided by language, race, ethnicity, gender, by sexual and political orientation, province, region and class.  The urban centres are growing, largely in isolation from one another, while every place else stagnates and shrinks.

My point, unlike Zeihan's predictions of disintegration, was that "Such a place can only be held together through conscious and considerable human effort."  If geography, demographics, economics, provincialism and short-term self interest are allowed to play out uncontested, then Canada's future, as Zeihan claims, is "unlikely."

First Quebec

As a citizen of Quebec, I witnessed the independence movement grow from a fringe terrorist group, the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), in 1970 to the ruling Parti Québécois in 1976. Through two referendums on independence--1980 (40.44% for; 59.56% against) and 1995 (49.42% for; 50.58% against)--I came to realize how messy, unpredictable and even mercurial democracy and the future of nations can be.

Zeihan's take sounds a lot like the Quebec bashing I'm used to hearing from Anglo Canadians, especially when he describes the federal system of equalization payments as "bribing Quebec" to the tune of $16 billion a year using tax money from Alberta. 

Indirectly, Zeihan makes a point I have unsuccessfully tried to present to my Québécois friends: Canada wouldn't necessarily survive provincial independence. As a Québécois comedian quipped during an early referendum campaign, "According to advocates of independence, Quebec will still have Canadian passports, Canadian money, and the Canadian military. Gee, maybe we're already independent and don't know it!"  

The underlying motivation for Quebec's independence tends to be maintenance of the language, culture and identity; in other words, all the features of ethnic homogeneity while at the same time adamantly denying ethnic nationalism.  The rational justification for independence is that a sovereign Quebec would be a better country than Canada.  I have argued that you can't have a sovereign Quebec and a strong, thriving  Canada; you can't have your Canadian cake and eat it too.  Most Quebec independentists refuse to acknowledge this claim, perhaps because there isn't an exact translation of this expression (French equivalent is, roughly,  "you can't have the money and the butter"), but more likely because French language and culture would arguably fare less well without a Canada, in an expanded USA or as one of a number of Balkanized countries on the US northern border. 

Having outlined in detail how Quebec secession would be the end of Canada, Zeihan then concludes categorically that "the Quebec question is answered. Quebec will not secede and so the question won’t kill Canada." While Zeihan's certainty might reassure some Canadians, we should not lose track of the fact that three of the four parties in Quebec's National Assembly are officially in favour of independence.  In the most recent Quebec election (3 October 2022) the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec), led by Bernard Legault, a former PQ (Parti Québécois)  minister, won a commanding majority.  Legault is rightly described as an étapist, adhering to a step-by-step strategy to Quebec sovereignty. His current dominance might well prove a step in that direction.

Coalition Avenir Québec90
Quebec Liberal Party21
Québec Solidaire11
Parti Québécois3
Conservative Party of Quebec0

The Liberal Party of Quebec, the only federalist party to hold seats, barely managed to form the official opposition by winning seats in and around Montreal and western Quebec.  But the Liberals won less of the popular vote than the independence-minded parties which placed third and fourth on October 3rd.

Now Alberta

I have, in moments of gallows humour, predicted that if Quebec were to leave Canada, it would not be the first province to do so.  It would be third behind Alberta and British Columbia.  Zeihan is humourlessly adamant that Alberta's future is neither to remain part of Canada nor to become sovereign.  Alberta's manifest destiny is to join the USA.

With an unencumbered market for its oil and grain, and an influx of young, highly-skilled American labour, Alberta, according to Zeihan, "as a U.S. state would not simply be rich—the richest in the Union, in fact—but would have a vibrantly well-financed and diverse economy that would put its former (and a lot of its newfound) countrymen to shame."  Zeihan's evidence for Albert's immanent secession was the election of the Wildrose Party as the official opposition in 2012.  The Wildrose Party has since disintegrated but, in recent days, the former leader of the party, Danielle Smith, was elected to lead the United Conservative Party and became de facto Premier of Alberta.  Smith has promised a  sovereign Alberta inside a strong and thriving Canada.  We now have étapist Premiers in both Quebec and Alberta.


What Keeps a country together?

Both Zeihan and Tim Marshall display how countries are arbitrary--accidents of history, lines on a map.  Sometimes countries hold together because of geography (mountains, deserts, rivers and coastlines) or economics or religion or ethnicity or military might or a common enemy.  None of these hold Canada together; in fact, they tend to divide us.  I often think of Canada as a poker player who picks up his hand and sees four aces but is reluctant to bet because the guy across the table is smiling like he might have a royal flush.  Canada has everything, now and for the future.  Canada is a really good idea but I am frequently amazed at how difficult it is to sell this idea to Canadians.

The Concept formerly known as nationalism

In my presentation to the Association for Canadian Theatre Research, somewhat tongue-in-cheek for an academic plenary, I said:

I grew up being told that this country was held together by a railway.  The railway was sold because the truth was that in an age of communications the country was really tied together through its public broadcasting system.  As soon as this notion had installed itself, the budgets of the CBC were massively slashed.  Most recently the truism has become that Canada is held together by its distinctive network of social programmes: no sooner said than those programmes are under attack at every level of government in the country.  On the basis of recent history, I am not about to propose that the theatre is or should be a means of holding the country together. 

We need to take a chance and build a unified and independent Canada. And if we are not willing to do that then, at least, let's have an open discussion about why not.


Monday 16 September 2013

According to the PQ, "Loving Your Mother" Is Not a Québécois Value

Since first hearing about the Parti Québécois’ proposed “Charte des valeurs,”  I have gone through the typical range of emotions that I keep hearing all around me:  outrage, shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, fear.  What most continues to bewilder me is the idea that any democratic government feels that it can legislate the values of its people.  If a Taliban government announced that it was planning to legislate a charter of values for Afghanistan, I could at least recognize a level of coherence.  But who ever heard of a western democracy announcing plans to legislate people’s values?

Every law, every constitution, every judicial proceeding emerges from and is a reflection in some degree of the people  governed by those laws.  The laws change as a culture and its values evolve.  Laws are the purview of legislators, but values belong to the people.  Attempting to legislate values directly is by definition reactionary conservatism; that is, it is an attempt to stop any change from happening, an attempt to make the future like the past, and to stop culture from evolving.  “Preserving culture,” an expression you hear a lot in Quebec these days, is an oxymoron.  It only makes sense if  you are talking about the preservation of artifacts.  The root notion of “culture” is “to cultivate,”  to grow, and that means change.  Attempting to legislate culture, to specify a charter of values, is  indirectly an admission that a culture is dead, that it cannot survive the current environment, and attempting to compel the people to live in the government’s vision of the past.

However, in all of this I am attributing nobler motives to the Parti Québécois than they have actually shown in their proposed legislation.  The “Charte des valeurs” is, above all, an exercise in hypocrisy.  It is presented as an attempt to create equality and neutrality, but it is all too obviously intended to be exactly the opposite in its effects.  The evidentiary intent of the charter is to appeal to an imagined xenophobic base which defines itself as “pure laine” or “de souche” and at the same time pass on the not-too-subtle message that if you are not part of this mono-culture then you should not feel too welcome or comfortable in Quebec.  This ugly real-politicking is designed to mobilize those Quebec ethnocentrists who attach themselves to the slogan “nous sommes un peuple” and discourage anyone else who might consider Quebec as home; the ultimate goal being, of course, winning an eventual referendum in favour of Quebec’s independence.

You might ask why I am ostensibly talking politics on this blog about education.  I’ve been hearing the slogan all week and then the brochure arrived in my mail announcing “Parce que nos valeurs, on y croit.”  (I am not the first to immediately ask if my tax dollars are being used by the Parti Québécois to spread their message of xenophobia and ethnocentrism.)  No doubt the government will try to claim that this is an “education” campaign.  The fallacy and disingenuousness of using propagandistic, tautological arguments under the pretense of “education” was the subject of my first posting, and, in many ways, the raison d’être of this blog.  Excuse me for quoting myself, but just to remind you, this is what I wrote on the first posting, May 15, 2013:

"Education" too often means simply replacing one set of ideas with another set that the educator likes better. Unfortunately, whenever you ask someone why one set of ideas is better than another, you very quickly find yourself running in a circle, trapped in a tautology, exhausted by a conversation that never quite takes place. 'My ideas are better because they correspond to my values.  My values are better because they correspond to my ideas.'

If you have ever tried to have an in-depth conversation with a Québécois/e who labels her/himself as “pure laine” and  “de souche” then you have already faced the passionate closure of this tautology.  The brick wall pictured on the PQ’s propaganda brochure is a good representation of what you will be hitting your head against if you attempt to challenge the project with logic or rationality.  The PQ wants the world to believe that Quebec’s ethonocentrism is an impenetrable fortress.  
The wall of cinder blocks in the PQ brochure is also an ironically apt representation of the Bloc Québécois.  Decades ago when Mordecai Richler described PQ policies as “non-violent ethnic cleansing,” I thought the description was exaggerated and inappropriate.  This week the expression seems stickily appropriate.  It is universally acknowledged that the Quebec government has a very poor record both in terms of attracting immigrants and employing minorities.  The charter is going to make that record a lot worse, and it is very hard to imagine that this result is unintended.  
Maria Mourani’s exclusion from the Bloc caucus and her eventual resignation from the party have made her the icon of “ethnic cleansing.”  It was astounding to hear her Bloc colleagues (on Le Club des ex) claim that she was excluded from the caucus because she had described the PQ policy as ethnic nationalism, when television viewers who heard her comments only moments before could recognize that that is not what she said.  They excluded her without even paying attention to what she actually said.  She had made it clear that she wanted to fight against the misperception of her constituents that the charter was proof of ethnic nationalism.  Now we know that, no matter what the context, the words “ethnic nationalism” cannot be spoken.  I wonder why?
The whole idea of a charter of values is not just an absurdity, it is a perfidious absurdity.  If it was really intended to represent what we all really believe and value, shouldn’t “loving your mother" be included as one of our common values?  What about compassion, fairness and kindness?  Shouldn’t the charter indicate that we are all against bullying?  And against fascism?  And pedophilia?  And exploitation of the young and the elderly?  The point is there are lots of values that we hold in common.  If we already hold them in common, all the less reason that we need laws to spell them out.  If those values already exist in law, all the less reason that we need a special charter of values to repeat them.
This realization brings us to a whole new level of the hypocrisy and misrepresentation with which we are dealing.  The project is not to create a “Charte des valeurs.”  This phrase is just part of the sales pitch which the PQ is spreading in the media in order to sell the idea to its ethnocentric base.  The proposals are supposedly beneficial additions to the existing CHARTE DES DROITS ET LIBERTÉS DE LA PERSONNE to encourage greater equality, clarity, tolerance and harmony.  The very serious question which I have yet to see debated or even mentioned is:  What changes is the government planning to make to the existing charter?  More precisely, what “rights and liberties” are they planning to remove?
If you take a look at the existing CHARTE DES DROITS ET LIBERTÉS DE LA PERSONNE it becomes patently obvious that the PQ’s inclusion of sexual equality in the new proposal is redundant, purely an exercise in political gamesmanship.  The inclusion of sexual equality in the "Charte des valeurs" simply means that everyone who wishes to oppose it is forced to say, “I agree with part of the charter; the part concerning sexual equality” before they can go on to register their objections to what the charter proposal is really all about.  For the same reason, the PQ has already rejected the repeated suggestion that the sexual equality and religious neutrality proposals be dealt with separately.
In other words, “égalité hommes-femmes” is already covered in the existing Charter, and what is really being proposed is the removal of rights and liberties related to religion and ethnic origin, and the amending and limiting of rights to liberty of religion and expression.  

When we come to consider the proposals for religious neutrality, the hypocrisy and perfidy of the PQ prove even more profound.  While head scarves, mandalas and turbans might be banned, the loopholes which will allow Catholic symbols not only to exist, but to proliferate and become more visible have already been written into the proposal.  The cross which will be allowed to remain in the National Assembly is the leading and most infamous example, but it is just one example of how the same loophole will be allowed to operate across Quebec.  Not only will numerous levels of government and institutions be allowed to write their own rules, but any religious symbol which is considered part of Quebec’s history and culture can also remain, ensuring that Quebec will remain dominantly and visibly Christian and Catholic to the detriment of all other religions and cultures. 
Of all the disturbing suggestions in the PQ proposal, the most disturbing for me is that the government will control history.  The PQ plans to protect religion (we can safely assume Catholicism) on the grounds that it is part of Quebec history and heritage  (and in the name of “preserving culture” we can assume that Quebec history and heritage will end the day the Charter of values becomes law).

So much for religious neutrality.  But what makes the proposition even worse is that a PQ government seems comfortable with the idea that they will determine how history gets written and taught.  Presumably, from now on, Quebec history will be all about white Catholics, and the artifacts and symbols will be maintained to ensure that the story gets told and taught that way.

This idea that history can be controlled by government and rewritten to suit policy is the kind of thinking we used to criticize the old Soviet Union and 1950s China and various totalitarian regimes for.  How did this mode of thinking suddenly become acceptable in Quebec?  Is there anyone literate enough in the Parti Québécois to remember Winston, the hero of Orwell’s 1984?  Winston’s job was to rewrite history for the government.

This week Barry Wilson delivered a Postscript editorial on CTV television lambasting the Charter project as ethnic nationalism, but he eventually commented in an offhanded tone that he does "not believe this will ever be voted on in this legislature because the PQ does not want it to pass." The cartoonist Aislen also claimed the legislation would never pass, and journalist Jennifer Ditchburn implied the same on CBC television.  Have any of these people done the math?  Of the 125 seats in the national assembly, 2 are currently vacant.  The PQ and the CAQ together currently hold 72 of the Assembly’s 123 seats.  By my count that is more than 58% and more than enough to pass this legislation. 
According to the party press release, CAQ (the Coalition Avenir Québec) is not only in favour of most of the Charter’s provisions, CAQ representatives claim: “We’ve debated enough in Québec. It’s time to take action.”  With the CAQ’s urgent support most of the provisions of the charter of values are bound to pass.  The CAQ’s official position is that 
The CAQ’s urgency remains as mysterious as the imagined problems which the PQ is supposedly solving with the charter.  As if to prove that their ethnocentrism and determination to legislate Quebec values are even stronger than the PQ’s, the CAQ has already announced that 
Sometimes it is easy to forget that François Legault is an old-time PQ sovereigntist with the same ethnocentric baggage and attitudes.  But the important point here is that the PQ and CAQ have the votes to pass this legislation, or am I missing something?  Why is the English-language media so certain that this legislation will not be passed?
I truly empathize with Maria Mourani because like her I have allowed myself to maintain an open mind toward the PQ and the sovereignty movement in general, believing that they could be open, inclusive, socially responsible and  democratic.  Right now I feel that my open-mindedness has been simply foolish.  I have been conned by the humanistic faces that the PQ have occasionally been able to show to the public. However, now I realize that behind every René Lévesque there is a lobsters-in-the-pot Jacques Parizeau ready to blame the “ethnic vote” for the referendum loss and a Bernard Landry ready to accost an innocent hispanic bystander with the same accusation.  We might want to think of the PQ as being like Lucien Bouchard in his 1996 address to the Anglophone community saying: 
No, none of these “values” made it into the charter, unless you count a redundant, hypocritical use of “equality.”  In fact, we can now recognize that the charter is designed to resist these values and ensure that they do not take hold in Quebec. Behind the humanist face of Lucien Bouchard there will always be the PQ reality of an Yves Michaud chastising Montreal’s Jewish community for failing to vote in favour of Quebec’s independence, and of course Drainville’s Herouxville-style Charter, and Premier Pauline Marois still pushing the PQ’s failed enthnocentric slogan, “Nous sommes un peuple.”  Et les autres?  Well now we know; they are expected to remain invisible.  

Saturday 19 November 2022

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left

                                                            Jay Sour
                                                            Université Laval
                                                            May 26, 2001

Competing Dramatic narratives   

The objective of this presentation is a discussion of competing dramatic narratives, in fact, melodramas, of Canadian history: a conflict between English and  French solitudes on one hand, and a political struggle opposing the proletariat and a capitalist hegemony on the other. Although neither of these binaries is an adequate structure for the re-telling of Canadian history, 19th century melodrama has proven to be the dominant narrative structure within which the popular media typically constructs contemporary news stories.  This attempt to construct the news and history as a display of strict moral justice, in which a good and innocent protagonist is seen to be oppressed by a stereotypically evil antagonist, has the effect that stories become “news,” are brought to public awareness and general consciousness, because they can be presented in this form.  Narratives are further sustained and gain longevity because they can be presented in terms of the stock features of melodrama: mounting suspense, hidden documents revealed, unexpected reversals, the need for last minute rescues, and even occasional comic relief.  Over time these melodramas become the dominant myths and, as a result, all attempts to tell the story of Canadian historical events are forced to locate themselves in relation to these established binaries in order to have an audience.

Summit of the Americas, April 2001

    My original intention for this presentation was to tease out this competition of narratives from a number of Canadian plays and films, including evidence which has emerged from their productions and receptions.  However, since I first proposed this topic last November, two very obvious examples of what I had intended to “reveal” have been widely and extensively exposed.  The first was the premiere of Pierre Falardeau’s film, entitled Le 15 fevrier, 1839, in which he tells the story of  the rebellion of 1837 in Lower Canada.  The second was the Summit of the Americas held here in Quebec City in April.  
    I must confess that as the Summit approached I became convinced that my argument that the Left existed in a state of erasure in Canada would lose all credibility as the growing attention to the protest and the protesters against the summit (a loosely leftist coalition of  socialists, feminists, ecologists, nationalists, anarchists, human rights advocates and so on)  seemed guaranteed to garner a high profile and visibility.  However, as the television editorialist for the news-magazine show, 60 Minutes II, commented:  “For a week we were shown images of protesters in Quebec, but no-one ever bother to tell us what they were protesting about.”   

Free Trade and the People's Summit

    More striking still was to see Premiere Bernard Landry, whom I have always taken to be a  strong advocate of free trade,  addressing the People’s Summit and describing free trade as a threat to democracy, human rights, the environment and national sovereignty.   In Quebec, the context of his remarks was weeks of media coverage of the debate over Landry’s not having been  invited to address the Summit of the Americas, a battle of signs in which signs put up by Quebec officials were taken down and replaced by those of the summit organizers and vice versa, and a controversy over the fact that Landry had addressed a group of delegates to the summit in French when they were English, Spanish and Portuguese speaking. In short even this ostentatious conflict of proletarian and corporate agendas could, in Quebec, be overwritten as a language debate.

The Prevailing Myth of "Two Solitudes"

    My point in these comments is not to claim that language, culture and politics are mutually exclusive or even separable issues.  In fact, the genesis of my interest in this topic was an interview I did, in 1997, with Marianne Ackerman, founder and Artistic Director of Theatre 1774, a company set up to do cross-over, bilingual and bi- and multi-cultural productions in Montreal.  When I asked Ackerman if the imminent demise of her company was proof that the myth of two solitudes was still intact, she responded, 

“Absolutely.  There is huge resistance to the truth of how Quebecers live, English and French,  which is rather well. On any planetary or historical scale, people here get along well and work together–that’s a fact.  That fact cannot be reflected on stage because it flies in the face of two deeply entrenched visions.”  

The issue I have found myself considering since this interview is not if a conflict of linguistic cultures is allowed to frequently occupy centre stage in the dramas of Canadian and Quebec history and politics--I take this as given--but how and why the dominance of a narrative of conflicting solitudes is maintained.  Seemingly the most obvious response is that this narrative serves the interests of nationalist politicians and the sovereignty movement in Quebec, but even this answer is becoming less and less true. 

Policing the Myth

    In fact, when Ackerman spoke of resistance to her company’s mandate, the institutions she cited were the Centaur Theatre, English Quebec’s main stage, and the Montreal Gazette, the English-language daily.  In an NFB film entitled, Breaking a Leg, Theatre 1774's founding and first production, Echo, directed by Robert Lepage, are documented.  At the company’s first press conference it was Gazette theatre critic Pat Donnelly who asked the question, in French, “What will the  language of the production be?”    As the narrator of the documentary film ominously noted, language would return to haunt the production.  Robert Lévesque, theatre critic for Le Devoir accused the company of false publicity in using a Francophone director and actors for what turned out to be an English-language production.  Pat Donnelly commented that: “If this is what happens when a great French talent crosses over, then maybe separation isn’t such a bad idea.”  And in his own defence, Lepage noted that it was not the production, but the absence of French in the production which had been the basis of criticism of the play.  In other words, no matter what else might have been said about or learned from the production, all discourses were marginalized, displaced, erased or analogized  to the dichotomy of languages, and both English and French critics and the director were drawn into the process. 

Why Mythology works

    These first examples demonstrate that the reason this mythology is invoked is simply that it is easy.   It is an easy means of framing and inflating criticism and offers an equally easy means of deflecting it.   Why this should be so is answered in the fact it is a mythology,  a pattern of beliefs that is almost automatically accepted, with little inquiry into its truth value.  That, of course,  is how myth operates.   The reception of   Pierre Falardeau’s film, Le 15 février, 1839 offers a clear example of the further advantages of appealing to this mythology.

For Love Quebec and Octobre

    To put my reading, and more to the point, my reaction to the film in full context: in the late 70's The Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa, produced a play called For Love, Quebec by Robin Mathews, in which Mathews portrayed the FLQ Crisis of October, 1970, as a working-class rebellion.  The criticism of Mathews' play, at the time, was that in portraying the October crisis as a socialist insurrection he had failed to accurately represent the Quebec situation.  Against this background, in 1977, seeing Pierre Falardeau’s film Octobre, which recounts in detail the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, I was struck by the similarity between Falardeau’s purportedly highly accurate account of the events and the tenor of the Mathews play.  In both cases a Marxist-socialist discourse dominated the dialogue and, in particular, the characters expression of their intentions.  Although the existence of an oppressive English hierarchy is noted in the film, within the enclosed environment of the film the political struggle is expressed in a conflict between Pierre Laporte, a well-to-do Francophone Québécois and his captures, a group of working-class men who are also Francophone Québécois.  In this instance Falardeau showed a willingness to sublimate the specificities of the Quebec situation and the image of conflicting solitudes to the broader political discourse.

Falardeau's Le 15 février, 1839

    However, in his most recent film, Le 15 février, 1839,  Falardeau conspicuously reverses this tendency.  Although the film recounts a number of the events of the Papineau rebellions, it focuses on the imprisonment and executions of a number of les Patriots in 1839.  As such it becomes an intense psychological drama.  In embracing a melodramatic structure Falardeau overtly constructs les anglais as the personification of evil.  The portrayal of the English as villains is hardly new in Quebec narratives, as William Johnson’s book, Anglophobie: Made in Quebec, extensively documents.  Nonetheless, it is surprising that Falardeau would revert to this caricature at this point in time.  

Brault's Quand je serai parti, vous vivrez encore

    In 1999, Michel Brault, a renowned cinematographer and director released a film entitled Quand je serai parti, vous vivrez encore which presented the same historical events (the rebellion and executions) and characters (les Patriots, including the young François-Marie-Thomas Chevalier de Lorimier).  Brault, like Falardeau, is a recognized sovereigntist and his 1974 film, Les Ordres, also on the October Crisis and its aftermath has been described as a chef d’oeuvre.  In relation to the dominant mythology and to the Falardeau film, Brault’s treatment of 1837 was a breakthrough.  The salient elements of this breakthrough were, for example, that Brault afforded a special, sympathetic status the English-speaking Irish, that the Patriots' lawyer,  Drummond, is portrayed as a passionate, bilingual advocate of his clients, and Brault’s film included passing acknowledgment that a sister rebellion was taking place in Toronto.  

The CBC's A People’s History: Rebellion and Reform (1815 - 1850)

    The same week that Falardeau’s film was released, the CBC was broadcasting A People’s History: Rebellion and Reform (1815 - 1850).   Interviewed on the television show Maisonneuve à l'écoute, Falardeau was categorical that the image presented by CBC that “nous étions tous ensemble était faux” [that is, that the image of the rebellion crossing linguistic and cultural lines was simply false].   Falardeau’s claim was not questioned; he was simply repeating the commonly accepted truths about the rebellions in Lower Canada. 

The Patriot's Rebellion in fact and fiction

      As a parenthesis, I should highlight that in Quebec the Patriots rebellion of 1837 is typically taken as the genesis of the Québécois nationalist movement.   For example, in his introduction to Surrealism and Quebec Literature: History of a Cultural Revolution,  André  G. Bourassa claims:  “The voice of our people was first heard in 1837, and this book begins with writings from that year” (xii).  Every year, I  lead a graduate seminar, which includes a comparison of  Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille’s 1837: The Farmers Revolt and Jacques Ferron’s Les Grandes Soleils, which treats the 1837 rebellion in Quebec. English Canadian students are frequently unaware of the 1837 uprisings in Toronto, but for Franco-Québécois the existence of this historical event seems to come as a shock, because, I have surmised, it problematizes the received knowledge of  the Quebec rebellions as a conflict in which, to quote at least one of my students, “our ancestors died to protect the French language.” 

In an MA thesis prepared at the Université de Sherbrooke analyzing seven disparate dramatic treatments of the rebellions–Papineau by Louis-Honoré Fréchette (1880), Cérémonial funèbre sur le corps de Jean-Olivier Chénier by Jean-Robert Rémillard (1974),  Les Grandes Soleils by Jacques Ferron (1969), 1837: The Farmers Revolt, by Rick Salutin and theatre Passe Muraille (1975),  “Hero at Hatch’s Mill” by George Salverson  (1967), The Patriots by Eric Cross (1955), and At My Heart’s Core by Robertson Davies (1950)–the author, Rod Wilmot, contends that

In Upper and Lower Canada the sources of trouble were essentially the same: the absence of responsible government and the opportunity this gave a select few to abuse their power. . . .
    All the important differences between the two Rebellions stem from the fact that in Lower Canada the struggle for reform had inescapable racial overtones.  (8)
Wilmot goes on to point out these “racial overtones” would almost immediately come to dominate accounts of the rebellions in Lower Canada.  

The Making of Melodrama

    Returning to Falardeau’s most recent film then, Le 15 février, 1939 could only maintain its melodramatic structure at the expense of an atavistic interpretation of the historical events and a corresponding vision of les anglais as stock villains.   For example, in Falardeau’s portrayal anyone who is identified as English is unable to speak or understand a word of French.  This vision of the English garrison certainly contradicts much of the available historical information.  In fact, in her play L’Affaire Tartuff, or the Garrison Rehearses Molière, which became the signature piece of  Theatre 1774, Marianne Ackerman dramatizes the common practice of the English Garrison in Lower Canada of presenting plays in French.  As Jean Béraud observes in 350 ans de Théatre au Canada français si le goût de théâtre s’implanta rapidement et fermement à Montréal, c’est aux soldats de garnison et aux artistes de langue anglaize que nous le devons” (qt in Théâtre Québécois I 31)   A number of other historical facts would problematize Falardeau’s interpretation of events including the revolt in Toronto, the Chouayens who were the French-speaking antagonists of les Patriots, and  the presence in Lower Canada of a number of English-speaking supporters, including the John Neilson of the Quebec Gazette, and Doctors Wolfred and Robert Nelson who were leaders of  the Rebellion.  Robert Nelson is the subject of Mary Soderstrom’s book, The Words on the Wall: Lower Canada’s Forgotten Hero of the 1837 Rebellion.  

Melodrama Trumps politics

    In a television documentary about the promotion of  Le 15 février,  Falardeau complained about being described by the press as wearing “son costume de revolutionnaire.”  Falardeau’s appearance is always stereotypically lefty, unshaven, cigarette butt between his fingers, leather or denim and workman’s plaid.   Certainly Falardeau decorates this film with leftist rhetoric. However, when Falardeau introduces a moment into the film in which the melodrama of a French-English conflict might be abandoned in a gesture of working-class solidarity, he uses that moment to reinforce the linguistic and cultural divide.   A young English private on guard duty approaches Chevalier de Lorimier to express his sympathy and solidarity.  The young Englishman explains that he was in the street and forced to go into service to save his family from starvation, but in Falardeau’s film de Lorimier refuses to acknowledge him.  On the scaffold, as the young Englishman is placing the noose around his neck, he pleads with de Lorimier to say something to him.   Finally de Lorimier tells him “I’m not afraid anymore.  Now it’s your turn to be afraid.”  To reinforce the melodramatic structure we subsequently see an English soldier rifle butting one of the condemned men swinging from the gallows in front of  the innocent gaze of a little girl who has accompanied her father to the executions to deliver a load of coffins.

Maisonneuve à l'écoute

    When de Maisonneuve, the television interviewer, asked about the English private, Falardeau allowed Luc Picard, the actor who play de Lorimier, to respond.  Picard, who was obviously concerned in his response, claimed that as an actor he saw de Lorimier’s silence as a way of claiming, of insisting upon, the dignity of his own execution.  When de Maisonneuve then asked if  this was a correct interpretation, Falardeau grunt, shrugged and finally said “Oui.”  Nonetheless, this interaction between the working-class Englishman and the upper-class Frenchman flies in the face of a number of attempts to underline the necessity of solidarity for a left-wing revolution and, for that matter, for the independence of Quebec.  Although, as Ric Knowles points out, the reception of David Fennario’s Balconville depended on its “naturalistic, well-made-play structure . . . together with its political softness . . .” and the play is often publicized as a dramatization of the conflict between French and English, the clear intent of the drama is to argue for the necessity of working-class solidarity across linguistic lines.  In Ferron’s Les Grandes Soleils, which uses the events of 1837 in the presentation of a magical fertility ritual, the future of Quebec is seen to depend on the fecundity of Elizabeth Smith who is from England and the only woman in the play.   She is described as “une petite anglaise qu’on a enquébecquoisée” and is portrayed as an ardent Quebec nationalist.  In Ferron’s vision the future of Quebec depends on the creation of a community out of all the elements of its diversity.

Embracing the Myth in English Canada

    When Falardeau arranged a press conference in Ottawa in anticipation of the premiere of  Le 15 février, a television camera crew accompanied him to document the fact that no-one from the English press showed up.  If we can claim that a melodrama of English-French conflict will overshadow other forms of political and historical dramatization in Quebec, the other side of the coin is that any attempt to present Quebec history as a left-wing struggle is equally resisted in  English Canada.  My conjecture at this point, an intuitive conclusion if you will, is that left-wing theses have been resisted in Quebec because they put into question the myth of conflicting solitudes, and they are rejected in English Canada because they give credibility to the image of the Québécois struggling against the oppression of the English.

Reception and Rejection

    I take the reception of Robin Mathews’ For Love, Quebec as one example of the latter.  And the protracted story of the Vancouver Playhouse’s refusal to present George Ryga’s Captives of the Faceless Drummer in 1970 and the consequent departure of David Gardner as artistic director as another.  Within Quebec, when David Fennario presented his play The Death of René Lévesque at Centaur in 1990, it was booed on opening night.  The play presents a cogent argument that René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois came to power with a left-wing agenda but swung to the right once in power.    Robert Lévesque’s vitriolic panning of the play was published on the front page of the Montreal daily Le Devoir.  

Resistance to History:  Paul Almond's For the Record

    The resistance to understanding or abstracting the history of Canada in relation to Quebec as anything other than the already taken for granted conflict of solitudes puts at risk our ability to read the past and to fathom the future.  In 1979, director Paul Almond produced a television film for the CBC’s For the Record series in which an Ontario engineer accidentally discovers a Canadian military plan to invade Quebec.  In order to protect national security the engineer is tried in camera, convicted and sentenced to prison.  What is remarkable about this little CBC film is that it could well have been a true story and there was, as far as I know and I had occasion to meet the director at the time, virtually no public reaction when it was broadcast.  The salient details of the film’s narrative can be found in a Maclean’s magazine cover story, November 1978,  entitled “The Armed Forces: In from the Cold” prepared by Roy MacGregor in which he describes how a 3,500-member Canadian Special Services Forces was

Formed last year by combining a number of crack Petawawa units with the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment, which was transferred under much controversy from Edmonton, the SSF’s lack of any specific task has led to continuing rumours concerning the military and the possible separation of Quebec.  Though the force was planned for more than a decade, its inopportune announcement–just two weeks after the 1976 Parti Québécois victory–and opportune location directly across the river from Quebec have given rise to questions that are also without answers.   (20, 21)

Based on what we now know about how the Airborne Regiment performed in Somalia, we might well have had something to fear in 1978.  And many of you will no doubt remember that in the early 70's a Canadian engineer was in fact arrested, tried and convicted on charges related to National Security.  The public was never allowed to know the reason for his conviction or any information about his crime or the process of his trial.

October Crisis, Keable Inquiry and “Monsieur X”

    I offer these provocative details as my own attempt to provide a competing melodrama of suspense and mystery and, in so doing, to underline that one of the effects of a prevailing mythology is that it prevents us from asking questions.  Histories which partake of the mythologies of a particular audience will be heralded as revelatory, realistic and true.  These same mythologies can also be used as a way to dismiss, or ignore, or claim as an already worn-out story of passed history any number of legitimate and pressing aspirations.  The state of affairs I am describing is one in which a mythology, which can serve as a conduit to communication, becomes a barrier.  Within this state what I continue to find most fascinating is what happens when new information is brought forward which might problematize a mythology.  I will leave you with one more example.  Since at least 1978 there were widely published descriptions of “Monsieur X” who was the sixth member of the Liberation cell responsible for the kidnapping of James Cross.  Testimony in the Keable Inquiry into the October Crisis revealed that police had been aware of his identity since 1970.  It was only in 1980, after the Keable Inquiry, that Nigel Barry Hamer an English Quebecer, who taught electrical engineering at McGill, was arrested as an FLQ terrorist.  In 1981 Hamer was convicted and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for his part in the kidnapping of James Cross.  But who noticed?  What I find myself wondering is this: Is it possible that Nigel Hamer cannot be seen as a significant figure within the Canadian or Québécois collective imaginations because he cannot be rectified with the prevailing mythologies of the historical event of which he was a part?  That is a question, which to my mind, warrants further investigation.  

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Constructing English Quebec Ethnicity

Constructing English Quebec Ethnicity: Colleen Curran's Something Drastic and Josée Legault's L'invention d'une minorité : Les Anglo-Québécois

                                                                                    (first published in 1998)

In a 1997 La Presse [1] editorial on the much discussed situation of the "les Anglais" in Quebec, [2] Agnés Gruda describes Josée Legault's title for her1991 study of the dominant discourse of the English Quebec community, L'invention d'une minorité : Les Anglos-Québécois, as "un nom évocateur"(B2). [3] Gruda summarizes Legault's thesis as follows: "Selon l'auteure, il n'existe pas vraiment au Québec de communauté anglo-québécois fondée sur une identité propre et différente du reste du Canada. Cette 'minorité' a été inventéede toutes pièces à des fins stratégiques" (B2). [4] Certainly, the connotative baggage of skepticism and suspicion of the French word "invention" seems intended, since Legault's central theme is that the dominant Anglo-Québécois liberal humanist discourse of individual rights is a mask intended to cover collective interests, reactionary, irresponsible, wait-and-see attitudes of superiority and nostalgic, elitist desires for domination. [5] However, Werner Sollors's reflections on the popularity of the word "invention" in his introduction to The Invention of Ethnicity seem to undercut Legault's rhetorical outrage at the rift between the "true" nature and objectives of the English-speaking communities of Quebec and the"false" discourse emanating from the leaders, politicians, journalists, and writers of those communities:

... that "invention" has become a rather popular category in intellectual discourse seems, if anything, an understatement. The term "invention" is, however, not just part of a fad; and we would not be better off without this buzzword, which, after all, offers an adequate description of a profound change in modes of perception. The interpretation of previously "essentialist" categories (childhood, generations, romantic love, mental health, gender, region, history, biography and so on) as "inventions" has resulted in the recognition of the general cultural constructedness of the modern world. (x)

Sollors's thesis that ethnicity "is not a thing but a process" and that it "is not so much an ancient and deep-seated force surviving from the historical past, but rather the modern and modernizing feature of a contrastive strategy..." (xiv) not only puts into question but seemingly erases essentialist distinctions between a real or "vrai" community and the communality constructed or "inventée...à des fins stratégiques."

Throughout the body of L'invention d'une minorité, Legault juggles constructionist and essentialist visions of English Quebec pointing to the constructed, invented, created nature of the community in opposition to its essential, historic, "true" character and roots in order to display the apparent disingenuousness and hypocrisy of the public discourse of Quebec Anglophones and to explain what she sees as English intransigence. Legault argues clearly and in extensive detail that the newfound solidarity and cohesion of the English communities of Quebec came about largely in reaction to twenty years of government legislation designed to limit the use of English in Quebec [6]: "Une nouvelle identité collective a commencé à se construire, beaucoup en réaction et en opposition certes à l'affirmation nationale des francophones et aux gestes faits en son nomme pars le gouvernement québécois"(57). [7]

The shrinking of the English population in the face of growing Québécois nationalism brought to the fore a number of organizations and prominent individuals as spokespersons for the dwindling English minority. These organizations and individuals, the subjects of Legault's study, themselves confirm that the English-speaking communities of Quebec have coalesced and, in many cases, drawn themselves into a defensive posture explicitly in reaction to the political, cultural and economic realities of post-1976 Quebec. [8] For example, Alliance Quebec, an English-rights lobby group, was formed in 1982, shortly after the first referendum. [9] The English of Quebec may have traditionally thought of themselves as simply English Canadians who happen to live in Quebec, or even more firmly as members of a particular region or municipality of Quebec, or as constituents of other ethnic communities where English has become the lingua franca. Whatever the feelings of the moment of individual English-speaking Quebecers, they are and have for many years now been going through a process, both internal and external, of being labeled and defined as a community. Legault's thesis that "les Anglo-Québécois" have and are undergoing the process of constructing and being constructed as a community is corroborated by masses of daily and documentary evidence. [10]

However, Legault also adopts a traditional, essentialist line of argument identifying the Anglo-Québécois as "descendants de Britanniques" (descendants of the British) and therefore ethnically connected with "les conquérants" (the conquerors): "Pourquoi remonter au passé de 'conquérants' des Britanniques du Québec dans le cadre d'un ouvrage portant sur les années 1974 à 1991? Parce que ce retour en arrière est essentiel à l'analyse et à la compréhension du discours "dominant" anglo-québécois des vingt dernières années" (18). [11] Legault completes her description of the Anglo-Québécois community with this encyclopedia of features: "La langue anglaise, la domination économique des anglophones, de même que leur culture politique propre, qu'ils considéraient supérieure à celle des francophone, étaient au coeur même de leur identité collective" (58). [12]

Against this kind of closure, Sollors's notion of"invention," once again, offers a means of re-opening and reconnecting a dialogue. He argues: 

The forces of modern life embodied by such terms as "ethnicity,""nationalism," or "race" can indeed by [sic] meaningfully discussed as "inventions." Of course, this usage is meant not to evoke a conspiratorial interpretation of a manipulative inventor who single-handedly makes ethnics out of unsuspecting subjects, but to suggest widely shared, though intensely debated, collective fictions that are continually reinvented. (xi) 

From this perspective Legault's L'invention d'une minorité is itself an attempt to invent (or perhaps reinvent) Anglo-Québécois ethnicity and as such joins a number of such publications including Sheila McLeod Arnoploulos and Dominique Clift's The English Fact in Quebec (1980), Gary Caldwell and Eric Waddell's The English of Quebec: From Majority to Minority Status (1982), Ronald Rudin's The Forgotten Quebecers: A History of English Speaking Quebec, 1759-1980 (1985), Reed Scowen's A Different Vision: The English in Quebec in the 1990's (1991), William Johnson's Anglophobia: Made in Québec (1991), Mordecai Richler's O Canada/O Quebec (1990) and so on. To this list of "inventions" we might add those fictions which are explicit fictions by and about English Quebecers, including such Canadian classics as Hugh McLennan's Two Solitudes, Mordecai Richler's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers (to name but a few). [13]

Something Drastic (1995), a first novel by playwright Colleen Curran, offers a timely contribution to the discourse, and the discourse about the discourse, of the English Quebec community. Curran is part of a new generation of English Quebec writers—which would include novelists such as Linda Leith, Gail Scott, Robert Majzels and Kenneth Radu, as well as playwrights David Fennario, Vittorio Rossi, and Marianne Ackerman—who have responded with equanimity to the growth of Québécois nationalism and the minoritization of English in Quebec. For example, in her introduction to the anthology of short stories, Telling Differences: New Fiction in English from Quebec, Linda Leith comments:

The writers who stayed and who live here now have chosen to be here and they accept, with varying degrees of alacrity, the predominantly French face of Quebec. Some of the older writers may still be shaking their heads at what they see as decline, but those who have been emerging more recently are circumspect. Anxious as some anglos were on the night of November 15, 1976 when the Parti Québécois won the provincial election (but has enough been said about how pleased others were?), and displeased as some of them remain with aspects of the French language law, the new writers view this as a society that has by and large been changing for the better. (4)

Leith's allusion to a generational split was reaffirmed in a more recent feature article in the Montreal Gazette by Joel Yanofsky entitled "The Silence of the Lamb Lobby." [14] The article was provoked by "veteran Montreal writer William Weintraub" [15] who "...wondered aloud in The Gazette last month why young anglo writers here—and by young the 71-year-old Weintraub later told me he meant anyone under 60—aren't writing about 'the social and political upheaval...the cataclysm' affecting their own community" (i4). In the article, Curran was identified, in fact featured, as one of these "young" (Curran is 43) writers. However, it was in a 1993 interview with The Gazette that Curran most clearly displayed her "degree of alacrity." The interview, which bore the title "Successful Montreal Playwright Colleen Curran Finds Home Town Tough Nut to Crack," focused on the relative lack of production that her plays had received in Montreal, and in particular the fact that Centaur Theatre, Quebec's main English-language theater, had never produced one of her plays, though she had been the theater's playwright in residence for a year. Curran's response was that "It could be that as an English Quebecer, as a minority, I'm expected to write something political or angry." But as Curran explained, "that's not my outlook. When I write really seriously, the plays are so turgid and they're so depressing. I just can't stand it. I just want to have a good time and tell a good story" (B4). 

Curran's novel is written in the same tone and with the same acceptance of the minority status of Quebec English that she expressed in the interview.  Something Drastic is a series of letters written by the heroine/narrator, Lenore, to her estranged boyfriend, in which she tries to account for his sudden, unannounced departure for Florida, tries, unrequited, to woo him home, and in the process tells him the story of her daily life in Montreal from January 6 (presumably 1990), the day he left, to December 30 of the same year, the day she is able to say "you're out of my life, I'm over you" (210). Through the process of a year's experiences as a woman alone, which included making a best friend of her tenant, Concordia University professor of Canadian and women's literature, Heidi Mavourneen (Irish for darling) Flynne; being drawn into a militant feminist group under police investigation for terrorist activities; attending a therapy session for "Women Who Love too Much," and winning a role in a musical at Centaur Theatre, Lenore comes to realize what a low-life, reprehensible cad her boyfriend is and to discover herself. 

In her letters, Lenore makes several references to Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple, and to Steven Spielberg's adaptation and film. In fact, Something Drastic offers a pastiche of the form and structure of Walker's novel. Just as Walker's Color Purple is an epistolary diary/novel of a woman's growth and individuation through adversity told in what becomes a bible of Afro-American culture written largely in ebonics, Curran gives us, in a similar form though a minor key, the testament of one year in the life of an Anglo-Québécoise as she rises from the bottom of one of life's barrels into a blossoming awareness of herself and her environment, written largely in Quebec English. [16]

The theme of abandonment seems distinctly Québécois in Something Drastic since the villain of the plot is an Anglo version of a "vendu" [17]: the term frequently used to refer to Québécois who sold their property and left the province prior to the first referendum. Moreover, the average Anglo-Québécois is very likely to have experienced the departure of friends and loved ones in recent decades. In her first letter, Lenore compiles a list of possible reasons her boyfriend, John Ferguson, (like the former "number 22 of les Canadiens") (30) has suddenly left Montreal for Florida. Possible reason number two was "You won't speak French." 

But you will not be able to escape Possible Reason 2: Speaking French, because where do you think everybody from Quebec goes in the winter? There will be people speaking French all over the place and if you're in the Tourist Industry you will have to be nice to them, which you never were here. I hope you wind up working in Miami or Hollywood Beach after what you did to me. I hope you have to work in a store with customers who'll only speak French. And I hope they all find out you're nothing but a big Anglo separatist from Quebec. (13)

In contrast to Legault's image of the megalomaniac Anglo, Lenore is in a distinctly subaltern position in relation to Franco-Québécois culture and society. She tries to date Francophone police constable Benoit Archambault, makes friends with "separatist" neighbour, Reine Ducharme, by babysitting her dogs (Brioche [18] and Montcalm [19]), and works at a cabaret-style restaurant called Festin du Bois, [20]which features meat service by les coureurs du bois [21] and entertainment by les filles du roi. [22] Her big break comes when one of the singing waitresses defects to the Maison Hauntée [23] and she is invited to audition to become one of les filles du roi. When she auditions, Gaetan the restaurant manager tells her her voice is good but "my song was trop donner les bleus." [24] She prepares a bilingual version of her girl-guide songs in order to be more Festin-ish which "meant something that celebrates nature or how much fun it is to be French Canadian"—and she gets the job (51).

The style of the novel is unabashedly kitsch. Lenore is a ceaseless collector of the tawdry and arcane,which of course overtakes the structure of the novel as she sends her boyfriend macabre headlines clipped from the Montreal Gazette with each letter, describes the tacky Christmas napkins and cards she has purchased, and reveals her love for Doris Day movies, souvenir plates, and Expo 67 memorabilia. While Heidi tries to educate Lenore to a taste for Canadian and Feminist Literature, their friendship causes more of an educational exchange. Heidi eventually hires Lenore to give a lecture on Doris Day at Concordia and arranges for Lenore's home to be declared a museum. As one Tour Book describes it:

Museé d'art foklorique à Lenore/Lenore's Folk Art World: ...A kitschy , cluttered collection of taxi-dermied animals...gnomes and assorted creations à la lawn ornaments,...what may be the most extensive private collection of Expo 67 memorabilia in the world; Grottoes of the Stars;... Not what you'd expect in this English bastion in the midst of New France. It's what the Québécois would deem "trés kétaine," [25] you'll deem it trés fun. (134)

Lenore's museum serves as a mise-en-abyme for the novel as a whole. In fact, its "thrown together" style, with its lists, and headlines, asyndetic references to fragments and details of news and folk/popular culture, notes, agendas and schedules, together with Lenore's open, magpie innocence make the novel an effective vehicle for documenting the multitude of influences which form this Anglo-Québécois world. The novel creates a veritable vortex gathering in Steven King, the Oprah Winfrey Show, soap operas and sitcoms, country and western music, can lit classics, fads and fashions, People magazine and Macleans, the McGarrigle Sisters, the Gulf War, Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, Brian Mulroney, Gille Vigneault and Robert Charlebois, and the fictional trial (echoing the O.J. Simpson case) of mass murderer Jean-Luc Clossé in which, to the incredulity and outrage of the public, he is acquitted by a jury which includes Lenore's neighbour, Reine Ducharme. In this process, the novel demonstrates how Anglo-Québécois culture is formed, not through isolation and insulation but by being the site where a multitude of cultures—pop, American, Canadian, Québécois, feminist, academic and Irish—overlap. 

Literary discourse in general and the form and style of Something Drastic in particular have important roles to play in the display of ethnic culture as the site of metissage and boundary crossings. Though Legault's analysis in L'invention d'une minorité is largely of political discourse, in a 1995 commentary in Le Devoir [26] Legault acknowledges the possibility for what she qualifies as an "anglo-montréalaise" culture: nombreux anglophones demeurent prisonniers de leur refus d'une recherche imaginative et créatrice de leur identité et de leur appartenance à cette terre québécoise. Ils se replient sur leur solitude et leur crainte face a "l'autre" francophone. D'autant plus lorsque cet "autre" est nationaliste or souverainiste... Heureusement, il existe à Montréal un nombre croissant d'anglophones qui ne craignent pas l'aventure que représente cette recherche. Que l'on songe aux companies de théâtre—Centaur, Bulldog Productions, Black Theatre Workshop et Theatre 1774—ou aux nombreux auteurs, poètes et compositeurs, la volonté de communiquer et de créer une culture anglomontréalaise distincte est indéniable. (A6) [27]

Legault's choice of the regionalizing expression "anglo-montréalaise" over the broader notion of "anglo-québécoise" signals the grudging quality of her ostensibly generous vision. The expression Anglo-Québécois would doubtlessly be repudiated by many English-speaking Quebecers (not to mention Canadians) on the grounds that it inscribes acquiescence to Québécois nationalism. Québécois attachments to notions of cultural purity, signalled by such common expressions as Québécois de souche and Québécois pure laine [28] are also obstructions to an Anglo culture being recognized as Québécois. However, in his book Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Neil Bissoondath who lives in Quebec and writes in English and who is described by Linda Hutcheon as "a self-proclaimed assimilated Canadian" (29), suggests a clear preference for Québécois "centeredness." Bissoondath describes "English Canada..." as "adrift with no sense of its centre" whereas "Quebec [has] redefined its own centre, strengthened it, sought to make it unassailable" (196). 

The downside of an "unassailable centre" became apparent on the night of the 1995 referendum when then Premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the failure of the independence resolution on "l'argent et des votes ethniques." [29] And Bissoondath's attempts to attach himself to that center have proven problematic. In June of 1996, some eight months after the referendum, the theme of Bouillon de culture, the French television programme which presents round-table discussions of books and culture, was Quebec. When, near the end of the broadcast, host Bernard Pivot asked the panel, "Mais enfin, pouvez-vous me dire ce qu'est un Québécois?" Bissoondath took the initiative of responding: "Un Québécois, c'est quelqu'un comme moi." [30]  At a conference, in the spring of 97, on English literature and culture in Quebec, distinguished Québécois literary scholar Gillles Marcotte delivered a paper entitled "Neil Bissoondath disait..." (alluding to this segment of Bouillon de culture). In his presentation, Professor Marcotte was categorical that "Citoyen québécois, Neil Bissoondath n'est pas un écrivain québécois" on the basis that "Il n'existe évidemment pas telle chose qu'une littérature anglo-québécois..." (2). [31] 

In L'invention d'une minorité, Legault clearly attaches her argument to these categorical sentiments when, for example, she argues that "s'il est indéniable qu'un certain nombre d'anglophones résidaient bel et bien au Québec, on ne pouvait toutefois parler de l'existence d'une 'communité' anglo québécois"( 58) [32] laying emphasis (through her italics) on the word "québécois." As Legault makes plain, the collective identity that les anglais are beginning to construct is, in her understanding, "'québécois,' dans le sens territorial et non cultural du terme" (58). [33] Ironically, Legault's claims sound like an apologia for the largely Anglo, Quebec "partitionist" movement. [34] They also require that we overlook what Eric Waddell describes as the significant contribution of the Irish, Scottish and Anglo-Saxon traditions "to defining the personality of the province" (167).

The impasse which these binary oppositions set up seems all the more insoluble in the face of the recent tendency to identify a "true Québécois" as a nationalist and sovereigntist, and an Anglo-Québécois as, almost by definition, an opponent of independence. Certainly, Curran's naive heroine in Something Drastic unquestioningly buys into this new version of the two-solitudes myth, as she presumes separation to be anathema. However, when she  meets her neighbour Reine Ducharme, Lenore observes:

Madame Ducharme likes me because I'm bilingual and we always speak French....She's really one for justice. And for Separation! (But we always knew that.) Luckily the subject of Quebec never came up. Still, I had such a nice time with her it didn't matter she was a Separatist. (107, 108)

Something Drastic signals the writer discovering or attempting to discover herself as an Anglo-Québécoise for the first time. In fact, nothing in Curran's twelve published plays between 1981 and 1995 gives any suggestion that she is and has all her life been an English Quebecer. The typical setting of a Curran play is small-town Ontario, though she has set one-act plays in Acapulco and cottage country in New England. Curran has been described as a "tradition" at the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario, where most of her plays have been produced. 

Lenore's self-proclaimed orphan-hood (she is a fully independent adult but her parents have died before the novel opens), together with her recent abandonment, make her a distinctly disconnected, tabula-rasa character, and therefore all the more prepared as an empty vessel to be filled with the distinctly Anglo-Québécois mix of cultures she experiences. Lenore's friend, Heidi Mavornneen Flynn, for example, is passionate about her Irish ethnic roots. Heidi practices Ceili dancing, listens to Chieftain's music, talks of her fighting Irish father and brothers, and celebrates St. Patrick's Day with devotion. Lenore absorbs this Irish essence like an Anglo-Québécois cultural sponge. Curran's upholding of Irish ethnicity, which has also been undertaken by playwrights David Fennario and Marianne Ackerman, becomes all the more striking when juxtaposed to Legault's attempt to reinforce the ethnic line from the conquerors to the modern-day English population of Quebec. 

Using a 1976 survey carried out by the now-defunct Montreal Star, Legault persists in attempting to carry forward a mythical connection between "les conquérants," "les britannique de souche," the modern Anglo-Québécois minority and resistance to the French language:

Selon un sondage effectué par le Montreal Star en 1976, seulement 20% des Québécois anglophones travaillait uniquement en français, et la majorité de ces 20% était d'ailleurs d'origines autres que britannique. En fait, la quasi-totalité des travailleurs de souche britannique travaillait encore dans leur langue. (45) [35]

Although one may detect incredulity in Legault's discourse here, a brief perusal of the relevant statistics will confirm that her tone is, at best, feigned. In the first place, it is universally acknowledged that bilingualism among Anglophones has increased dramatically since 1976 and has outstripped bilingualism among Francophones. There are generally considered to be 800 or 900 thousand Anglophones in Quebec. The numbers are "soft" because they are made up of native speakers of English and native speakers of other languages who live and work in English. According to the 1991 census 599,145 residents of Quebec identified themselves as native speakers of English. However, in the same census year, only 159,260 Quebecers identified themselves as English in terms of ethnic origin. Welsh is not given its own category as a language or an ethnic origin in the Canadian census statistics for Quebec. Including the Scottish (a questionable move according to my Scottish friends) in Legault's category of "britannique de souche" we arrive with a population figure of just over 200,000. In other words Legault's "britannique de souche" make up, at most, about a quarter of the Anglo-Québécois community. Are we to be amazed that in 1976 the majority of Anglophones in Quebec used some English in their work? Our incredulity (and hers) should be erased when we take into account Legault's own statistic that 75% of Quebec Anglos are in the Montreal region together with her claim that "Il faut vivre sur une autre planète pour croire que Montréal, par exemple, sera un jour unilingue française" [36] (48).

Statistically, Quebecers who claim English as an ethnic origin are significantly outnumbered by Italians (by almost 10%). 82,790 Quebecers identified themselves as being of Irish origin in the 91 census. It is these Irish cultural roots which Curran's novel tends to emphasize. To underline the point, Lenore's arch-enemy in the novel is her Anglo neighbor Jemima Farnham whom she describes as "formerly of England, a Monarchist and an Anglo Supremacist" (157).

What the novel outlines to us is that being an Anglo-Québécoise means, for example, the polyphonous experience of travelling by "Métro" (subway) going to the "Complex Sportif" (sports centre) at the Université de Montréal with a celtophile, Anglo professor of Canadian literature to attend a Bonnie Raitt concert and stopping to leave flowers at the memorial for the Polytechnique massacre. [37] It means arranging a date with a Francophone police officer to see either Les Expos or Les Canadiens and thinking "He'll probably take me to Ben's for Smoked Meat. (That's probably what he thinks all the Anglos go for)" (141). Although bilingualism may not have much purchase in French Quebec these days, in the novel it remains the center of an Anglo utopic ideal. Lenore waxes sentimentally:

The other day that musical, Les Misérables, opened here in French and in English. The same cast is doing the show, one time it's all in French, another time it's in English. That is so amazing,it's so bilingual and so hopeful or something. For our city. It's the first time its been done like that, it's all Montreal people in it. And it's professional like the ones in Toronto and New York.
And as if to confirm that her bilingualism, whose icon is a French classic, Anglosized, Americanized and presented in Quebec in French and English, is not an anglocentric strategy, Lenore continues:
That makes me think of the Gulf Desert Storm War, because the bad guys speak English. I've seen them on the news. In the other wars, it was always people who didn't speak our language, but this time they do (32).
Being Anglo-Québécois means celebrating St. Patrick's Day at a restaurant called Festin du Bois where you, the Anglo, have introduced the clientele to a new house wine from a Quebec vineyard, and being able to observe that "the fact that it's Québécois has the pure-laines pretty heureux" (69). Being Anglo-Québécois means observing on New Year's Eve that "if we were politically correct anglophone Quebec Canadians we'd watch ByeBye, that French comedy show looking back at the year, and we'd pretend we understood all the in-jokes" (25). As the novel so copiously displays, being Anglo-Québécois also means speaking a version of English which accommodates such signifiers as "joual," [38] "dépanneur," [39] réveillon," [40] "pure laine," "kétaine," flyé" [41] and "boite a chanson" [42] as well as a host of standard French expressions and institutional and commercial names.

Is there a political allegory to detect in the conclusion of the novel? Perhaps even asking the question is heavy-handed given the author's claims to being apolitical. But Reine Ducharme was captured trying to poison the other jurors with whom she had hastily acquitted Jean-Luc Clossé. There seems to be something here about the Franco-Québécois making rash and hasty decisions which they later regret. Heidi resists marrying into an American family. There seems to be some subtext here, despite Lenore's appetite for American pop culture, about resisting American domination. These are, after all, also English Canadian narratives. Feeble political correctness, tokenism and speaking franglais will not move the political agenda in Quebec. But, through the process of the novel, Lenore has become ever more clearly and fully what she was in the beginning: an Anglo-Québécoise. Her case invites us to begin seeing the hyphen between anglo and québécois, and all such hyphens, not as separations but as possibilities, as "trait d'union," a pulling together. It is a sentimental notion, not a solution, but Legault also concludes her study by giving stern counsel on the need for compromise. Perhaps what the Anglo-Québécois case best demonstrates is what philosopher Charles Taylor, himself an English Quebecer who has upheld Quebec's right to defend its collective cultural interests, [43] calls the need for "'deep diversity,' in which a plurality of ways of belonging would also be acknowledged and accepted" (183). In fact, there are no immediate, viable options other than the ongoing need for invention.

Works Cited

Bauch, Hubert. "Alliance Meeting Turns into Love In." The Gazette [Montreal] 26 May 1995: A4.

Bissoondath, Neil. Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada. Toronto: Penguin, 1994.

Bouillon de Culture. Réal. Michel Hermart. Anim. Bernard Pivot. Radio-Québec. le 2 juin 1996. France 2. le 7 juin 1996.

Curran, Colleen. Something Drastic. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 1995.

Davidson, Arnold E. "Canada in Fiction." The Columbia History of the American Novel. Ed. Emory Elliot. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 558-85.

Donnelly, Pat. "Successful Montreal Playwright Colleen Curran Finds Home Town Tough Nut to Crack." The Gazette [Montreal] 17 Feb. 1993: B4.

Daymond, Douglas and Monkman, Leslie. "Introduction." Stories of Quebec. Ed. Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkman. Ottawa: Oberon, 1980. 5-10.

Gruda, Agnès. "La confusion minoritaire." La Presse [Montréal] le 12 avril 1997: B2.

Harris, Cole R. "Regionalism and the Canadian Archipelago." Heartland and Hinterland: A Geography of Canada. Ed. L.D. McCann. 2nd ed. Scarborough: Prentice, 1987. 532-60.

Hutcheon, Linda. "Crypto-Ethnicity." PMLA 118 (1998): 28-33.

Legault, Josée. "Trois solitudes." Le Devoir [Montréal] le 15 novembre 1995 : A6.

—. L'invention d'une minorité : Les Anglo-Québécois. Montréal : Boréal, 1992.

Leith, Linda. "New English Fiction from Quebec." Introduction. Telling Differences: New Fiction in English from Quebec. Ed. Linda Leith. Montreal: Véhicule, 1988. 4-7.

Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage. Ed. Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1979.

Marcotte, Gilles. "Neil Bissoondath disait..." Conférence. "Le Québec anglais : Littérature et culture." Centre d'études québécois, Université de Montréal. 25 avril 1997.

Sollors, Werner. "Introduction: The Invention of Ethnicity." The Invention of Ethnicity. Ed. Werner Sollors. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. ix-xx.

Taylor, Charles. Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1993.

Vachon, Robert. "Qui est québécois?" Qui est Québécois? Ed. Robert Vachon et Jacques Langlais. Montréal : Fides, 1979. 119-51.

Waddell, Eric. "Cultural Hearth, Continental Diaspora: The Place of Québec in North America." Heartland and Hinterland: A Geography of Canada. Ed. L.D. McCann. 2nd ed.Scarborough: Prentice, 1987. 149-72.

Yanofsky, Joel. "The Silence of the Lamb Lobby." The Gazette [Montreal] 26 Apr. 1997: i1 and i4.

1. Quebec's second-largest French-language daily

2. The second referendum on Quebec sovereignty was held on October 30, 1995. The vote was 50.56%(2,360,717) against and 49.44% (2,308,072) in favour of the resolution to grant the present government of Quebec the right to declare independence from Canada within one year. There had been a significant and continuous exodus of English-speaking residents from the province of Quebec since prior to the first referendum in May of 1980 in which the sovereigntist declaration was rejected 58.2% (2,258,002 "no votes") to 41.8% (1,619,662 "yes votes"). The English-speaking communities have become more and more the focus of attention because of their declining numbers and status within Quebec, and
because of the pivotal role these communities continue to play in holding the Canadian federation together and, consequently, obstructing the sovereigntist aspirations of French-speaking Quebecers.

3. "A name/title intended to evoke a reaction" (my translation, as are all subsequent translations)

4. "According to the author, there does not really exist in Quebec a community of English Quebecers. This 'minority' was created from scratch for strategic reasons."

5. Based largely on her reading of journalistic and political texts, Legault concludes that the dominant Anglo-Québécois discourse is one of "desolidarization" (199) and "déresponsabilisation" (210), displaying attitudes thatare "nostagique" and "attentiste" (200) and encouraging "la resistance et la confrontation" (198).

6. Bills 63, 22, 101 and 178 were passed into law by successive provincial governments, both Liberal and Parti Québécois. They were designed to guarantee the preservation and growth of French by limiting access to education in English and the use of English on signs, and by requiring the use of French in larger businesses.

7. "A new identity started to be built, largely in reaction and, indeed, in opposition to the nationalist affirmations of Francophones and to the programs undertaken in their name by the government of Quebec."

8. The Parti Québécois, whose central mandate is the independence of Quebec from the rest of Canada, first came to power in 1976. The Parti Québécois has won three of five elections since 1976. They surrendered power to the Quebec Liberals under Robert Bourassa in 1985, and Bourassa's Liberals won again in 1989. The Parti Québécois returned to power in the election of 1994.

9. Legault cites Alliance Quebec documentation that the organization had over 40,000 members in 1989. In 1995, in an article covering the meeting between Parti Québécois Deputy Premier, Bernard Landry, and Alliance Quebec, The Gazette claimed that "Current membership stands at 3,700, down from 10,000 a decade ago." (see Hubert Bauch, "Alliance Meeting Turns into Love In.") The Equality Party emerged largely in reaction to the perception that the Quebec Liberal government under Robert Bourassa had not lived up to its promises to protect English rights. The Equality Party elected four members to the Quebec National Assembly in the 89 election, but none in the 1994 election.

10. This nascent Anglo-Québécois ethnicity might best be described as what Linda (Bortolotti) Hutcheon calls a "crypto-ethnicity" (see her essay "Crypto- Ethnicity" in PMLA). Not only is there reluctance to acknowledge Anglo-Québécois ethnicity in both English and French communities, but English Quebecers are a non-visible and, frequently, an aurally unrecognizable (when they speak French) minority. Hutcheon describes the pleasures and tensions of her own crypto-ethnicity as liberating, as "transethnic" and as "a reminder of the constructedness of all forms of ethnic identity"(32).

11. "Why go back to the past of the 'conquering' British of Quebec in the context of a study covering the years 1974 to 1991? Because this return to the past is essential to the analysis and comprehension of the 'dominant' discourse of English Quebecers of the last twenty years." In order to accept Legault's image of a pure British line (and a pure French line) one has to ignore the history and patterns of immigration and migration which have constructed the present-day communities. (See, for example, Cole R. Harris's "Regionalism and the Canadian Archipelago.")

12. "The English language, economic domination by Anglophones, as well as their own political culture, which they consider superior to that of Francophones, are at the very heart of their collective identity."

13. In "Canada in Fiction" Arnold E. Davidson, who is also the author of Mordecai Richler, judiciously distinguishes English Canadian, Québécois, French Canadian, Native and Ethnic writing but makes no explicit mention of English Quebec. There is no established critical tradition of identifying English Quebec literature. We might note the difference of nuance in Davidson's description of the first North American novel, Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague, as "both record and product of the coming into being of what will be Canada" (558) and Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkland's description of the same novel, in their introduction to Stories of Quebec, as the beginning of "the tradition of anglophone fiction set in Quebec" (5).

14. The expression "lamb lobby" has come into currency in English Quebec to identify those English Quebecers who have adopted soft or passive or acquiescing attitudes toward Québécois nationalism and the minoritization of the English community. Conversely, the French equivalent of 'wolf lobby' (as in 'those who cry wolf') has gained some currency in the French Quebec media to identify English Quebecers in the public sphere who are viewed as strident, reactionary or simply hysterical.

15. Weintraub is the author of the novel Underdogs (1979) which presents a dystopian vision of a repressive and financially bankrupt independent Quebec. The precursor to this novel was likely Richard Rohmer's political thriller Separation (1976) which ends with a failed referendum vote, "48.3%" in favour of Quebec's independence.

16. "With increasing contact between the two languages, more and more French words—particularly those connected to provincial institutions, linguistic politics, and local life—have been assimilated into English, resulting in a new Canadian regional dialect: Quebec English." quoted in the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage. Ed. Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1997.

17. "Vendu" meaning "sold" appeared on many "for sale" signs on Quebec property following the election of the Parti Québécois government and prior to the first referendum. The double entendre is that "vendu" can also carry the sense of "a sell-out."

18. "a brioche," a French pastry

19. name of the General who led the French forces and was killed on the Plains of Abraham, the decisive battle leading to the British conquest of New France

20. "A Woodland Feast" or "Banquet in the Woods" but also implies something like "Party Hard"

21. French and Metis explorers in North America who generally travelled by canoe expanding the fur trade

22. women sent to New France to become pioneer brides

23. a Montreal restaurant with "haunted house" decor

24. word for word: "too much giving the blues"

25. very tacky and/or kitsch, but leaves open the possibility of being cute

26. a French-language Quebec daily with modest distribution, but generally considered culturally and politically significant: the paper of the intelligentsia

27. "many Anglophones remain prisoners of their refusal to imaginatively and creatively explore their identity and their connection to this Quebec land. They withdraw into their solitude and fear of the Francophone 'other.' All the more so when that 'other' is nationalist and sovereigntist...Happily, there exists in Montreal a growing number of Anglophones who do not fear the adventure of this exploration. Whether one considers the theatre companies—Centaur, Bulldog Productions, Blac Theatre Workshop and Theatre 1774—or the numerous authors, poets and composers, the desire to communicate and to create a distinct Anglo- Montreal culture is undeniable."

28. Québécois de souche literally translates as being "from the stump."  The expression is usually translated as simply "old stock" but it implies that anyone so described can connect their family origins to the original pioneer inhabitants of New France. In daily usage, anyone who might appear to be a native of Quebec and who is a native speaker of Quebec French will be loosely identified as Québécois de souche. Pure laine (pure wool or 100% pure wool) is simply a more contemporary, colloquial version of the same idea. The obvious problem with these expressions is that, although they are typically used innocently and unconsciously, they inscribe a distinction between "real" Quebecers and "les autres" (another common Québécois expression). Though these expressions seem acceptable as the signifiers of a minority's pride, they take on a different tenor as the common discourse of a nation on the threshold of independence.

29. "money and some ethnic votes." Though the Premier resigned the next day, this remark continued to elicit concern, bewilderment and outrage. Mr. Parizeau is a graduate of the London School of Economics. In "Canada in Fiction," Arnold Davidson classifies the Premier's late wife, Alice (Poznanska) Parizeau, as an "ethnic novelist" (574).

30. "But finally, can you tell me what is a Québécois?" "A Québécois is someone like me." This is hardly the first time the question has been asked. See, for example, Robert Vachon and Jacques Langlais' Qui est Québécois? in which the authors conclude: "Nul d'entre nous n'est vraiment Québécois. Nous somme tous et chacun des Québécois en voie de ledevenir" (151). ["No-one among us is really Québécois. We are each and every one of us Québécois in the process of becoming."]

31. "A Quebec citizen, Neil Bissoondath is not a Québécois writer..." "There is clearly no such thing as an Anglo-Québécois literature..."

32. "though it is undeniable that a certain number of Anglophones do indeed reside in Quebec, one cannot, however, speak of the existence of an Anglo- Québécois 'community.'"

33. "'québécois' in the territorial and not the cultural sense of the term"

34. The "partitionist movement" typically traces its roots to Pierre Trudeau's declaration that "If Canada is divisible, then Quebec is divisible." One of the effects of the last referendum was to clearly identify those (ethnic/anglo) regions which were strongly against independence. Certain municipalities have attempted to pass resolutions indicating their determination to remain a part of Canada should Quebec secede.

35. "According to a survey undertaken by the Montreal Star in 1976, only 20% of Quebec Anglophones worked exclusively in French, and the majority of this 20% was from origins other than British. In effect, nearly all the workers of British origin still worked in their own language."

36. "You would have to live on another planet to believe that Montreal will one day be unilingually French."

37. On December 6, 1989, an anti-feminist gunman killed 14 women at l'École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal

38. slang term for the popular language of Quebec. It derives from a claim that Quebecers pronounced the French word for 'horse' as 'joual' rather than 'cheval.' Joual has become an object of some pride in Quebec, particularly as its poetic qualities are displayed by Michel Tremblay, Quebec's master playwright and novelist.

39. "small grocery store or corner store"

40. traditional all-night family party

41. adjective for light-headed or spirited or wild behaviour or character

42. night club featuring French folk singers and, often, sing-alongs

43. For example, in Reconciling the Differences, Taylor writes: "...there is something exaggerated, a dangerous overlooking of an essential boundary, in speaking of fundamental rights to such things as commercial signage in the language of one's choice. One has to distinguish between, on the one hand, the fundamental liberties...and, on the other hand, the privileges and immunities which are important but can be revoked for reasons of public policy..." (176-7).

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