Opinion piece submitted by Brian Lipson
Based on the response in the English-language media to the election of Pauline Marois’ minority government, it seems that some Quebec anglophones still have trouble accepting the existence of the French language Charter. In my view, this reluctance is counterproductive and based on misunderstandings that are more easily remedied than they might appear. More specifically, I think it’s important to separate three ideas that often get lumped together: protecting the French language, the policies aimed at doing so, and the desire for a Quebec independent from Canada.
Understanding the focus French-speaking Quebecers put on their native tongue involves really listening to the francophone community and realizing that for a French speaker, language is a part of who you are, not merely something you use to communicate. It should be perfectly understandable to any of us that francophones would want to protect a language that they view not as communication, but rather as identity and whose regional predominance is both recent and, in their eyes, tenuous.
Against Bill 101
As for the chosen method for this protection, I, like, most anglophone Quebecers, am against expanding Bill 101, especially insofar as it “protects” French by demonizing English, because English bilingualism is essential if Quebec is to realize its full potential. And we are not alone: I personally know many francophones who are in favour of the French language Charter but who are opposed to the law’s being extended past where it is now, and who don’t view bilingualism as renouncing their native language or their wish for a francophone Quebec.
Finally, there is the question of sovereignty and of separation from Canada. It is clear from recent polls that the vast majority of francophone Quebecers are both concerned about protecting French while at the same time attached to Canada. In other words, the two priorities are very distinct. But even those who want an independent Quebec are not, in my personal experience, the xenophobic racists that the English media sometimes make them out to be (are you reading this MacLeans – Ed).
Sovereignty can be an ideology we disagree with but it should not be villified or conflated with protecting French.
So how to unravel these three elements of political discourse that really have very little to do with one another ? The fact is that a sovereignty referendum is not likely to secede, that is, succeed, any time soon.
We in the English community don’t need to overreact to the protection of French by equating it with secession. We can allow ourselves, as many French-speakers already have, to remain opposed to sovereignty and to expanding Bill 101 while emphatically supporting French as the province’s common language. I cannot even count how many francophone Quebecers I know who feel this way: I have joined them.
Tremendously priviledged to be bilingual
As one dyed-in-the-wool anglophone friend put it to me, the vast majority of Quebec anglos, in response to Bill 101, either voted with their feet (and so now live elsewhere) or resigned themselves to a fate as an oppressed minority within Quebec. In my view, anglos are anything but oppressed, as Bill 101 restricts francophones and allophones more than it does us; we are in fact tremendously priviledged to be bilingual, unlike our English Canadian and American linguistic brethren.
Let’s forget the victim mentality: with respect for those who were here before the Quiet Revolution and who have found adjusting to these changes painful, Bill 101 changed everything, is thirty-six years old and is not going anywhere. In my view, respecting the specificity of Quebec and of French as its main language, and the strong, bilingual and competitive place that such a Quebec occupies within Canada, can be a common bond for Quebecers of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
About the author:
Brian Lipson is originally from Detroit. After living in Montreal for eight years beginning in 2003, he moved to Quebec City to study law at Université Laval and will stay in Quebec City as an articling student at McCarthy Tétrault LLP.