The Distinct Culture of Anglo Quebecers

April 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have been on this listserv of policy wonks and academics in Canada since sometime in the late 90s.  Most of the time, I’m not entirely sure why I remain on it, a small handful of the approximately 100 people on it post, and some use it to beat their hobby horses to many, many deaths.  But, occasionally, it serves its purpose and intelligent discussion breaks out about various world events, Canadian politics, and the like.  Over the past couple of weeks, one of those broke out over the Québec election, which is underway right now.

This has been the most divisive provincial election I’ve seen in Québec in my lifetime, though, admittedly, the bar was set very low with the ruling Parti québécois’ ridiculous, offensive, and racist charte des valeurs, a sad attempt at laïcité. That in and of itself, is fine, and is perfectly consistent with the Euro-francophone world, but the way it was introduced in Québec, and the manner in which it targeted minorities,  most notably Arabs and other Muslims, was appalling.  And since then, it’s been a raise to the bottom between the PQ, the Parti libéral du Québec, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, and the 4th party, Québec solidaire.  For the uninitiated, the PQ is a former leftist, sovereigntist party; the PLQ is a rightist, federalist party, the CAQ is a right-wing, sovereigntist party, and QS is a largely irrelevant leftist sovereigntist party.  For the record, I voted QS in 2012 and would’ve again this year if I was still living in Québec.

So, to return to this discussion on the listserv.  It was between an Anglo political scientist in Montréal, a Québec sovereigntist, a lawyer in Vancouver, and myself.  Three Quebecers and an Anglo Canadian.  The discussion largely centred around the PQ and its fitness for government, though, interestingly, the major issue of the election campaign, the charte was largely ignored by three of the four in this discussion (I was the fourth).  The political scientist advocated the continuation of the status quo, a PQ minority, the separatist wished for a PQ majority (and a subsequent third referendum on sovereignty), I suggested the PQ was not fit for government based on the charte, and the lawyer ridiculed the entire idea of sovereignty.  Other issues raised included protection of the French language and culture of Québec, as well as the fading generation of sovereigntists.

Pauline Marois, the current leader of the PQ and (at least until later tonight) the premier of Québec, is 65 years old.  This puts her at the younger end of the baby boomers, who were the ones who really carried the idea of sovereignty in Québec.  Interestingly, support for sovereignty is much lower amongst my generation (Gen X) and the millennials.  The political scientist noted this, the need for younger blood in the PQ.

I argued that to simply dismiss the PLQ as incapable of defending the French language and culture in Québec is simple-minded, and I mocked the PQ for the charte and also pointed out QS’ near irrelevance.  This led the political scientist to assume I voted PLQ.  My guess, though, is that my name had more to do with that than anything.  I found this rather disappointing, given nearly everything I’ve ever said about Canada/Québec on this listserv has made it clear I am not a knee-jerk Anglo Montrealer (like one I got into an argument with on Twitter this weekend who seemed to be suggesting Anglo Quebecers are a deeply oppressed minority).

But the real silliness emerged with the lawyer, who appears to be of the opinion that Anglo Montrealers and Anglo Quebecers do not have anything distinct about their language and culture, as compared with the Rest of Canada.  He opined that in leaving Montréal for Boston, I did not give up much, as opposed to a francophone who would give up nearly everything.  I find this argument both fatuous and depressing.

Anglo Montreal, at the least, has a distinct culture, specific to location.  Anglo Montreal is often regarded as a large village, as it seems that all Anglos are no more than 3 or 4 degrees of separation from each other.  But, more concretely, as McGill linguist Charles Boberg has discovered, Anglo Montrealers speak a dialect of English that is heavily influenced by French and is rather distinct from the Canadian English dialect.  This makes sense.  English is the mother tongue of about 650,000 people in Québec as a whole.  This out of a total population of over 8 million.  Within Montréal, out of a total population of nearly 4 million, about 420,000 people are native English-speakers.  In other words, Anglos are a small island in a sea of francophone culture (to borrow the metaphor about Québec adrift in the North American sea of Anglos).  As such, Anglo Montreal and Anglo Quebec have their own distinct culture and history, shaped as it was by the simple demographic fact of minority.  This is very different than the plight of Anglophones in the rest of most of North America (except for Mexico and the American Southwest).

In other words, despite what a lawyer in Vancouver believes, Anglo Montrealers have their own distinct culture, language and identity, one that is separate and distinct from Anglo Canadians in the rest of the country.  There are both positives and negatives to this, of course.

But, my Vancouver lawyer isn’t unique.  He represents and all-too-common view of Anglo Canadians.  Quebecers are perceived to either be beyond the pale of the Rest of Canada (if we’re francophones, I once got told in southwest Ontario that I speak “good English”), or we’re just like everyone else (if we’re Anglos).

So look at that, Québec is a distinct culture all around (Allophones, or immigrants and their descendants also have their own distinct culture in Québec).  It might even be a nation unto itself.


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