By Chelsea Craig.
The emergence of a new activist group raised an uproar to anglophone media in Montreal. The group, which calls itself rather provocatively, ‘Anglophones for Quebec Independence’ (AQI), claims to believe separating Quebec from Canada is the best way to protect the French language. Now Jean-Francois Lisée, PQ leadership hopeful, wants to draw attention to the group, arguing anglophones need to be more involved in separation talks.
Treading down this particularly sad rabbit hole is not without its présages for the Parti Québécois: a party, so adrift and so without purpose, it’s simply abandoned all pretenses of its relevance, preferring instead to indulge the demonstrably inessential.
The latest survey from Angus Reid suggests support for Quebec remaining in Canada is as high as 75% among Quebecers.
When the Parti Québécois was first elected in 1976 it was partly due to the fact that the Bourassa Liberals had enraged the anglophone community by passing Bill 178, better known as the ‘inside-out’ law. Anglophone Quebecers, their loyal base, threw their votes behind Union Nationale and as a result, the PQ first took power.
But now AQI’s founder, Jennifer Drouin, claims to want to unite ‘anglophone sovereigntists’, saying this demographic is often underestimated; she stresses we’ve overlooked the hopes for independence among the province’s anglophones. An extremely rare notion to hear from anglophones within the province who have an established history in Quebec.
Having experienced what separation talks do to our communities personally, their mission seemed foreign to me. Indeed, perhaps it’s foreign to their founder too, since Drouin herself is neither from Quebec nor a francophone! Born in Nova Scotia, Drouin moved to Quebec, already a member of the PQ then, to pursue higher education. But the AQI, in purporting to carry the interests of anglophone Quebecers, has continued to trot out its outright fabrications and delusions.
It’s outlandish to claim, as the AQI do, that many anglophones are in favour of independence for Quebec. In reality, according to that same recent Angus Reid poll, 93% of anglophones in Montreal and 85% elsewhere in Quebec believe it’s favorable for Quebec to remain within Canada. If any more illustrations were needed: in both referendums, 1980 and 1995, Jack Jedwab, President of the Association for Canadian Studies, finds approximately 99% of anglophone Quebecers opposed sovereignty.
Anglophones account for about 9% of Quebecers, 88% of which live on the island of Montreal. For example, Quebec’s most ‘anglo-rich’ riding, Westmount-Saint Louis, located just five kilometers from downtown Montreal is home to nearly 76% of all English speaking Quebecers. It should not come as a shock then that in the 1995 referendum, 85% of this riding, 38,295 votes worth, voted no. Similarly, Gatineau, home to 10% of the province’s anglophone Quebecers, the second highest number in the province, rejected separation in the referendum with a sound 75%.
Making up about 24% of the population when Quebec joined confederation in 1867, the anglophone community has dwindled since then to about 9% in 2016. Why? Contrary to the musings of Drouin and the AQI, anglophones in Quebec have seen drastic effects on their communities since talks of separation began.
Between 1976 and 1981, 106,300 anglophones left the province – which is an odd way to show your support for Quebec independence, you would think? The majority of those who left moved to Ontario. Again, an odd act of defiance against Canada.
Even young, educated, bilingual anglophones said they found the linguistic discrimination too much for them to handle. This can’t be said about the francophone minorities in the rest of Canada, who tend to stay in their home province and rather than, say, moving to Quebec. Indeed, if the only way to assure the survival of the French language is for Quebec to leave Canada, shouldn’t the French minorities in the rest of Canada feel the same?
The logic is simply not sound when the fact of the matter remains that Canada is a bilingual country, one which offers equal services to its two linguistic groups, something Quebec simply does not. After all, the whole idea behind Quebec only having one official language was to protect the francophone culture. Anglophones in Quebec have since watched as their communities have been ripped apart by the politics of language.
Anglo-Quebecers know all too well that language laws have already been put in place to ensure immigrants coming to Quebec learn French and place their children in French schools. Companies with over fifty employees must communicate in French, whether or not the employees are francophone and English lettering on signs must appear half the size of any French lettering.
Since the late 1600’s, anglophones have been settling in Quebec. More so then than now. Boats docked in Montreal from the British isles, bringing with them thousands of new immigrants. But it was the British, after defeating France at the Plains of Abraham, who allowed Quebec to keep their culture, civil law and language rather than forcing them to assimilate. The Quebec Act (1774), then an act of good faith on the part of the crown to respect catholicism and the desire for French civil law among Canadiens, demonstrates the kind of colony (barring Durham’s aberrations) they wanted to create: one of peace, justice, and religious and social tolerance.
If the AQI’s solution to protecting the French language is to ignore our history – as the PQ have been trying to do for years – this really might true love at first sight.
For example, Bill 101, a stronger version of the PLQ’s Bill 178, made it impossible for francophone-educated parents and immigrants to send their children to English schools among other things. The result? A grave cycle of decline in enrollment to English schools as they received less and less support from the province. Bill 101 also does not apply to private schools, resulting in Quebec having the highest number of students (17%) enrolled in private schools in North America according to a government study from 2004.
During the last provincial election the PQ fought for Canadians from outside Quebec to mind their own business. Even Canadian students who were living in Quebec were being refused their right to vote; while passionately inventing excuses for this disenfranchisement, the provincial government argued the students had not been in the province long enough or had no plans to stay. Yet, the PQ, via Lisée, has warmly embraced the first transplant from Nova Scotia to defend independence. It leaves me to wonder what kind of perverse democracy, the PQ are encouraging in this province.
People having different opinions is what makes democracy work, granted, but when someone starts claiming to speak for a population of people they simply don’t belong too with a revisionist history in tow, things get complicated.
The truth is despite this recent nonsense, anglophones in Quebec have long demonstrated their contempt for independence, be it through protests, patterns of migration, or the creation of the Equality Party or Alliance Quebec.
Quebec has seen enough turmoil over the separatist ‘dream.’ With over three quarters of the province now finding it wrongheaded, why can’t we let sleeping dogs lie?
Making a pitch to the anglophones they’ve insulted over the years is a sad act of desperation on the part of the PQ. Time has moved on – calls for separatism have since waned, Jacques Parizeau is a park these days, not a premier, the last provincial election saw the first generation of voters born after the last sovereignty referendum – but the PQ, its soul frozen in carbonite, seem content as ever chasing votes for sovereignty from anyone and anyone who will listen, even anglophones.
Chelsea Craig is an advocate for youth engagement in politics. She recently graduated from Concordia University with a Bachelor’s degre in Political Science and is particularly passionate about Canadian and Quebec relations.