Into the Lion’s Den

Into the Lion’s Den

Main pic: The long dinner party downtown where Guy A. Lepage, fellow guests and I all bonded over drinks and spoke candidly about language in Quebec.

Opinion piece by Colin Standish  

My invitation to Tout le Monde en parle came through a third party, with the caveat, “I do not recommend you attend given the reputation of this show.”

As soon as I read those words, I knew I had to go.

For the uninitiated, Tout le monde en parle is the most watched and talked about (alluded to in the title) television show in French Canada.

Nearly two million viewers tune in every Sunday night. It is a rite of passage for public intellectuals, entertainers, and politicians in Quebec. The modern day salon of the “Plateau Clique”, the artists and elite with a nationalist left-leaning bent who populate Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood. There really is no equivalent to the notoriety, influence and popularity of the show in Canada.

In truth, I had never heard of hosts Guy A. Lepage and Dany Turcotte, nor their notorious cards, which are handed to guests at the end of the interview to sum up their personalities. I didn’t know they gave you wine. I did know Jack Layton had catapulted to electoral triumph after a spirited performance on the show.

Many people told me not to go. I accepted because English-speakers usually preach to the choir when discussing language rights. This would be a chance to take the message (that Bill 14 did not protect French, but eroded basic civil rights for all Quebecers) to an audience that might not be receptive to our point of view.

Since the show, I have been asked by reporters and friends alike: how did you get there and how was it? And, most importantly, how was the wine? I will do my best to answer.

How did I get there?

I was an odd choice, sidekick to the accomplished public policy commentator Beryl Wasjman, and alongside Justice Coupal of the Charbonneau Commission, well-known musician Pierre Lapointe, and pop star Mitsou.

I was asked to attend Tout le monde en parle through a surprising chain of events related to opposing Bill 14. I worked on the parliamentary commission brief for an interest group, poring over the onerous aspects of Bill 14 and researching the historical, political and legal arguments to oppose them. I then wrote an article on the virtual elimination of bilingual status villages in the Eastern Townships, which was published on and in the Sherbrooke Record.

This attracted the attention of CBC Radio’s Quebec AM and CTV news whom interviewed me. I was then was asked to speak at a rally against Bill 14 in Montreal the following weekend. I took the stand against Bill 14 in front of Mme Marois’s Montreal offices. After dismounting the stage I was promptly interviewed by reporters from the Montreal Gazette, the Canadian Press, CBC Radio, and the McGill Tribune as I tried to revive my frozen hands. “You look really cold,” one reporter remarked as I stood there shivering as others shoved recorders into my face and demanded I enumerate the legislative articles to the injustices I had just spoken out against.

The next morning I awoke to my quotations in newspapers across Canada.

I asked the Editor-in-Chief of the show, Carole Anne Laniel, and Guy A. Lepage; why me? They responded that they wanted a younger generation of language activist, and they had heard of me through the recent media attention.

How was the show?

A whirlwind.

With 24 hours notice, I was informed I had to get to Montreal, could invite three friends, had a 300$ honorarium and was booked a room at a boutique hotel downtown.

It was one of those days where everything goes wrong: stuck in traffic, missed an urgent meeting with the law school Dean, and dropped my dinner on the street.

I eventually made it into the bowels of Montreal’s Radio-Canada building. I had my own wardrobe room and there were three hospitality rooms for the guests, littered with plush couches, wine bottles, and food. The dessert room was particularly bountiful, with everything from bubble gum to chocolate éclairs on full display. Everyone was drinking wine. Two assistants apologized that the veal was finished, as I unapologetically devoured baguettes and shrimp encrusted spoons. It was decadent.

In other words, they wine and dine you before they grill you and kill you.

Going on stage…

All I could think was, “I hope I can speak for those who have been robbed of their language and voice by language laws in this province for the past forty years.”

Clapped on by the audience and greeted by Guy A. Lepage.

The interview is left to you to judge and everyone seems to have their own opinion.

What you did not see…

Editing is the producers’ weapon of choice. Most of what Beryl and I said regarding the specifics of Bill 14 were edited out; the reduction in bilingual communities, taking military children out of schools and the subjugation of minority rights to majoritarian concerns for French in Quebec’s Human Rights Charter.

The audience in the studio was not receptive to our viewpoints; the tension was palpable. One audience member shouted out, “Vive le Quebec Libre!” to hoots and hollers after the taping ended.

The francophone crew member who came up to Beryl and me, and told us he was from a suburb that would lose its bilingual status and encouraged us to continue the fight.

How was the wine?

I was too nervous to drink any…

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.


  1. peter
    peter 21 March, 2013, 23:39

    Je me Souviens of the televison show in which a hearty and frank discussion was to take place regarding Bill 14 and it’s consequences . I tuned in expecting an intelligent debate . What I viewed instead was , once again , manupilation of a serious subject regarding the rights and liberty of the individual , being disrespected , and all this for editorial expediency whose clear aim by this action was to ridiculize the subject matter and transmit to the viewing public for their amusement the worries and grievances of one of the founding peoples of this province . Fact , more time was spent discussing the artist Pierre lapointe then was spent regarding Bill 14 . I am pleased for you Sir that you had a most interesting experience as guest on this program and appreciate you sharing this , however the comment by the host stating , what you are really saying is don’t touch Bill 101 , summarized the real purpose of this interview , the result being the continuation of the agenda to eradicate any language that is not pur laine and that poses a threat to separatist ideology . As the saying goes , repeat a lie long enough and it will eventually become the truth .

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