People have been asking me – as someone who grew up in and openly loves Quebec and Montreal – how I feel about the Parti Quebecois getting back into power in la belle province.
My attitude is probably somewhat different from many former Quebecers who, like me, left because of the PQ and ‘separatism’. Having kept in touch with a few Quebecois friends over the years, I know the desire to actually separate has not dominated in Quebec for decades. It’s not something to worry about.
However, the tradition of voting for ‘separatist’ parties has continued off and on for decades primarily because Quebecois voters felt the other parties did not “have their back”, especially in Ottawa. And personally, I believe they were right. Most Canadians outside of Quebec still don’t care about “Quebec’s interests”. Exceptions would include those who know something about its history. In fact, their children often end up in French immersion, sometimes even moving to Montreal ‘to live in French’. I am on my way to the Montreal wedding of one such young woman as I write this.
I remember feeling shocked, as a young adult still living there, when a Manitoba aunt commented on the phone, ‘Why don’t they just go back where they came from?’. Meaning France. That would have been one of those arguments where I countered with, “But they were here first!” and so on. Ours would have been one of countless Canadian families feeling that division, back in the days of FLQ bombs. And many of us felt relieved at the peak of it all, when Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau sent in the army and put an end to the violence. Unlike many English Canadians, I believe Quebec could have ended up like Northern Ireland and its Troubles had this not happened. The revolution, as they say, was “nipped in the bud”.
I have mostly sweet memories of les Quebecois. As ‘a culture’, they tended to be more accepting of differences and among them I felt at home and more warmly welcome than in ‘my own’ culture. An expression I heard often was “It’s just the way he is.” It was a way of accepting out loud the eccentric or odd behavior of a neighbor or friend or perhaps a relative. “It’s just the way she is.” What could be simpler?
The culture had a generous feel to it, and I believe that is seen in Quebec’ social policies like cheap daycare or free dental care for children, and Quebecers’ willingness to pay higher taxes for these.
There were many other qualities I loved as well: the passionate discussions about everything; the open affection (unlike Manitoba-‘wasp’ frostiness of my father’s roots); the non-judgmental help with my fractured French efforts. And the obvious pleasure taken in being ‘a little different’, especially with clothing or hair style, for example. Having been raised in a conforming sub-culture, this was a most delicious introduction to freedom – perhaps akin to being let out of a convent.
The other morning a young woman in a charmingly different haircut and outfit came into my favourite café. I wasn’t surprised to learn she had just arrived from Montreal. Yes, the difference can be that obvious.
I remember how many francophones tried to be “more English” – mainly because of the lack of equality. The anglos were still in control, especially in Montreal. Oppression would not be too strong a word to describe the way things had been – and it was easy for me to feel sympathy. I was a newly formed feminist, also learning a whole new ‘revolutionary’ vocabulary to describe her own feelings of frustration at the time.
If a francophone and anglophone – with equal qualifications – were both applying for the same job, everyone knew who would get it. Likewise with a man and woman: of course the man would get the job. So remembering when things began to change for French-Canadians – thanks largely to the actions of separatists – brings a wry smile to my face. In fact, as was often the case, Quebec adopted progressive laws for women’s equality before the rest of the country did.
Canadian ignorance about the roots of separatism led many to believe it was about Quebec wanting “to stay backward”. Absurd. Many Canadians still think so.
Religious traditions were seen by many francophones as keeping Quebecers down and behind, so part of Quebec’s “quiet revolution” became the widespread throwing off the cross along with English Canada. While Quebec leapt ahead of the rest of Canada in many ways during the fifties, sixties and seventies, the rest of the country assumed it was a backward movement of some kind. Prejudice against anything ‘French’ continued, and Quebec PhD’s were more respected in Europe than in R.O.C.(Rest of Canada).
Even now, I still know the odd Anglophone who has negative beliefs about Quebecers. I think of them as the kind of people who never really get to know their neighbours. Once in awhile, this type will make some crack in public and, as they tend to be somewhat aggressive and domineering, it’s not surprising no one argues out loud with him. Most just roll their eyes behind his back.
If the Liberals ever get their act together, they may someday be back in power – or not. If Quebec wants to be a socialist province, they will – or not. And no one in English Canada can – or would – do a thing about it.
Since those protest years of long ago, Quebec has grown up, asserted itself and taken over the running of its own territory, with respectful and interesting representation in Ottawa. Once, they might have voted for the PQ to “show the anglos”. Not any more. Now when they vote PQ, it’s because they feel it’s the best party for the moment – and they know separation is not really on the table.
So how do I feel about the PQ victory? Just fine. They were probably the best choice.