Half of Québec Anglos want out. Why this isn’t news
February 25, 2014 § 8 Comments
So the CBC is reporting that 51% of Anglos and 49% of Allophones in Québec have pondered leaving in the past year (compared to 11% of francophones) But, SURPRISE, it’s not because of language. It’s the economy, stupid. And Québec’s is sinking apparently. Another report I saw today said that Montréal’s economy is lagging behind the Rest of Canada’s major cities. In the past decade, Montréal’s GDP has grown by 37 per cent. Sounds impressive, no? Well. not really, since the five major cities in the Rest of Canada (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa) have seen their cumulative GPD grow 59 per cent. As well, Montréal’s unemployment rate hovers around 8.5 per cent, compared with TVCEO’s (I think I just invented an acronym!) 6.3 per cent. Says Jacques Ménard, chair of BMO Nesbitt Burns and President of the Bank of Montréal in Québec, “Montreal has been slowly decelerating for 15 years, and now it shows. Another 10 years of this and we will be in clear and present danger.”
A decade ago, however, Montréal had the fastest growing economy amongst Canada’s major cities, from 1999-2004, as Montréal was, for all intents and purposes, a post-conflict society. Montréal was healing from the long constitutional battles that erupted in the 1960s and seemed to have been finally put to bed with the divisive 1995 Referendum on Québec sovereignty. Certainly, Québec was by-and-large still represented by the separatist Bloc Québécois in Ottawa, but the Parti Québécois government of Lucien Bouchard and André Boisclair, and then the Liberals of Jean Charest, turned attention away from the ethnic nationalist debates that had divided Québec for so long. Instead, Bouchard, Gilles Duceppe and most of the leadership of the nationalist movement began thinking in terms of civic nationalism, but the largest issue was put on the back burner. And, as a result, Montréal recovered.
I remember walking back across downtown after Maurice “The Rocket” Richard’s funeral in the spring of 2000. As I passed Square Victoria, a little boy was pointing at a crane on the skyline, asking his father, “Ce quoi ça, Papa?” He was about 5 or 6, and it hit me that he probably hadn’t seen a crane in downtown Montréal. But, in the first decade of the 2000s, Montréal underwent a construction boom, and prosperity returned to the city (and it slowly began to lose its unique character, at least in the downtown core and much of the Anglophone parts of the city as global culture took hold).
But in the wake of the 2008 Global Economic Meltdown, all bets are off. Québec is now governed by a tribalist Parti Québécois, led by the incredibly uninspiring Pauline Marois (and let me be clear, despite being an Anglo, I voted for the PQ 2003, 2007, and 2008, and for the sovereigntist Québec Solidaire in 2012 and I voted for the Bloc Québécois federally in every election), who seems determined to play to her base, whipping up a frenzy amongst the “bluenecks” outside of the metropole. And now Diane de Courcy, Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities, says that if the PQ wins a majority in the election everyone knows is coming this spring, well, then we can expect Bill 101 to be toughened. Oh boy.
I would like to point out, however, that when de Courcy says “Montreal is not a bilingual city. Quebec is not a bilingual Quebec,” she is right. The metropole is a multilingual city at this point. But, it is the metropole of Québec, which is, at least officially, unilingually French.
BUT: I would also like to point out that had anyone thought about polling the Allo- and Anglo- phones about their thoughts on leaving Québec at any time in the past decade, my guess is that the numbers wouldn’t be all that different. Most diasporic groups in Montréal have connections to similar ethnic communities in other Canadian and American cities. And Anglophones have a long tradition of driving up the 401 to Toronto and beyond, or heading to the United States (hi, there). This is not news.
In conjunction with the depressing state of the economy in Montréal and Québec, and the struggles of thereof, it’s not surprising to see so much unrest in the province. Usually when the economy tanks, people at least give some thought to moving. And the years since 2008 have seen a fair amount of mobility in North America. Since Ireland’s economy collapsed at the same time, the Irish have been leaving home in search of new opportunities. What would make this real news is if even a fraction of those who claim to have thought about leaving did pack up and leave Québec. Then we would see something akin to the Flight of the Anglos from Québec in the late 1970s. Until then, this really should be filed under “Interesting, but not news.”