Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vive le Québec Intolérant

Today, for a change, I write of nothing scientific.  You may find it to be educational nonetheless, particularly if you do not reside in Canada, as it concerns the provincial election of its most diverse and bizarre province: Quebec.  As the majority of my readers reside in the United States, where an election with global impact is on the horizon, I will continue on.

Let's begin with some geography.  Canada has ten provinces and three territories.  Quebec is one of the bigger provinces in terms of both land mass and population, and is located towards the East.  It is rich in terms of water, and, as a result, is one of the only North American states whose energy production is primarily sustainable (hydro power).  The population of Quebec is concentrated along the St. Laurence river, which flows from West to East.  The city of Montreal, the second most populous in all of Canada, is an island along the St. Laurence towards the western side of the province; it happens to be my home.
Quebec is culturally strong though economically weak, and the two are in many ways linked.  For example, the province is very left-winged, which tends to favour unions and social programs, both of which can be simultaneously good for its people and burdensome for its finances.  However, what sets this province apart is the fact that the dominant language in all facets of life is french.  This particular quality is a very polarizing one, as it can serve to strengthen its people, but can also be used by politicians to divide them.

Ah, Quebec politics.  Where to begin?  I suppose we might as well begin with the present.

Today, Quebec voters are faced with a choice between three major political parties, which, after the votes are counted, will govern the province, in either a majority or minority sense.  These parties are the PLQ (the Liberal Party of Quebec), the CAQ (the Quebec Coalition), and the PQ (the Quebec Party).  You may notice that the letters in the acronyms do not correspond to the names in the brackets.  That is because I have used the french acronyms and the english full names.  This is part of the fun of being a Quebecer.  Our cereal boxes, and everything else for that matter, contain all information in both english and french.  Imagine if we had three official languages - would our cereal boxes all be triangular prisms?

The PLQ has governed this province for the past nine years.  Its leader, Jean Charest, is seeking his fourth consecutive mandate.  And, while he has my vote, it is mainly because the Liberals are the least divisive of the three parties.  I would like to vote for the party who best represents what I would like my province to be, and not that which is least likely to ruin my province, but this is just the reality that Quebecers face today.  The PLQ is the only major political party that is federalist, and has no interest in seeing the province of Quebec separate from Canada.

The CAQ, pronounced "Kak", is a right-winged party whose desire to separate from Canada lies somewhere between that of PLQ, who do not, and the PQ, who would love for nothing more.  I will not discuss the CAQ further other than to say that they thought so little of the anglophone population that they chose an acronym that in english means poop.

Then there is the PQ.  This is a left-winged party whose focus is to make Quebec its own country.  Quebec, a debt-ridden province that receives the equivalent of welfare from other Canadian provinces, would find itself horribly wounded from such a separation.  But, much like politics south of the Canadian border, logic plays only a small role in the discourse spewed out by the PQ leader, Pauline Marois.  Separatism, though a major issue in the eighties and nineties had not reared its head in a major way in this millennium until Marois tried and succeeded in making it the central electoral issue over the past few months.  She aroused buried feelings of hate, and it just might get her elected.

This brings me back to the double-edged sword that is bilingualism in Quebec.

To me, it seems that speaking two globally useful languages should simply empower people.  It should lead to diverse international partnerships among commercial enterprises as well as a multicultural society.  While it often succeeds in both of these (Montreal is a cultural melting pot with a strong and diverse economy), language has been a divisive issue in this province for decades.  Out-of-towners may not believe this, but we actually have a state-funded organization called the OLF whose mission on paper is to preserve the french language, but goes about this mission by striking down businesses with signs containing english.  There is actually a law that mandates the ratio of french to english font-size on such signage in this province.

The PQ really does not understand the huge distinction between preserving the french language, and denying the rights of citizens who speak any language other than this.  In a province where 80% have french as a mother tongue, the feelings of language insecurity seem so unfounded.  That is because such feelings are not authentic; Pauline Marois' campaign has focused on instilling such feelings within the francophone majority.

There are already rules about what language Quebec citizens are allowed to be educated in.  The current PQ platform aims to expand such laws.  They also wish to make it illegal for non-french speaking people to have jobs in the public domain, including political jobs.  If all of this were not enough, Marois also supports a bill that would deny anyone in public service from wearing any religious garb with the exception of the cross; it does not matter what language you speak - that notion translates to intolerance.

I do not wish to live in a place where division and hate are acceptable.  The PQ platform is built on these pillars, and no civilized place should allow them to come to power.  If the PQ does get elected, I will need to take a serious look at my province, and ask if I want to reside in a place where a large proportion of people support intolerance.

No comments: