Living in the Land Where the Cement Never Quite Dries

Living in the Land Where the Cement Never Quite Dries


Submitted by Peter Stuart  

I was born and raised in this province of Canada and it never ceases to amaze me how we are never quite able to agree on how to proceed with just about anything. We’re obsessed with proceeding forward together as one united ‘tribe’ or ‘nation’ and are very particular about our longstanding values of ‘solidarity’ or group-centeredness, but just can’t seem to unite into one large enough group to be able to agree that ‘this’ or ‘that’ is what we all actually ‘agree’ on!!! 

I think it’s all a legacy of the Conquest. When the British took over, the French-Canadians hunkered down onto their land and for several hundred years their elites were obsessed with ‘la survivance’ or quite literally ‘survival’, meaning their survival through the French language, culture and for a time, the Roman Catholic religion. It became important that, in the face of the common ‘enemy’ of the British ‘occupier’, and later the federal government, representing ‘Canada’, the continuation of the ‘British Crown’ or ‘occupier’, that the French-Canadians present a sort of united front to this big bad, English-speaking, monolithically hostile and often Protestant group, so that it could better defend and promote its interests and not let any chinks in its armour show to the outside world that would be cause for the ‘enemy’ to exploit for its benefit. 

I think this ‘bunker mentality’ amongst the nationalist-secessionist elites of Québec still persists and it has been showing up most recently with the latest round of social unrest in our province in the form of the student ‘strikes’. These manifestations of social discontent have been very thinly-veiled renewals of the 1960s and early 70s student agitations which swept through our province and which had distinctly secessionist and anti-English overtones to them. Radio Canada television even had a program where they compared the ascendency of such secessionist politicians as Bernard Landry, Gilles Duceppe, and Louise Harel, all prominent PQ or BQ politicians, and their links with the late 1960s student strikes in Montréal. 

So it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that the current crop of student protesters, such as Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, of the CLASSE organization, is using this current protest, ostensibly over tuition hikes, to launch a wider and much broader movement of protest against the Québec government’s policies, even its federalist option of wanting to stay in Canada. Mr. Nadeau-Dubois has made it quite clear, in fact, that this is the case, in the various speeches he has made to students over the last several months.

Every student protest that I’ve witnessed personally or in the media has had protesters carrying the old 1837-38 Patriote Rebellion flag, symbol of resistance to the British Crown and also an early symbol of Republican resistance in French Canada. You see it at just about every protest in Québec. 

So when I say that Québec is the land where the cement never quite dries, I mean that we’re a civilization where we’re always waiting for Goddo, so to speak, waiting potentially for a positive outcome, as if we’re all waiting patiently by the edge of the newly-poured sidewalk, watching the cement dry, but it dawning on us that the mix never quite dries properly, because the way that the ingredients were mixed, poured and laid out, were done in such a way that has caused seemingly permanent conflict and confusion in Québec society: If one compares the ‘cement sidewalk’ to Québec society as a whole, and the Conquest as the defining moment which stirred things up in the mixture, then one comes to the conclusion that there are some people in this province who still disagree with the addition of roses, thistles and shamrocks to the mixture of fleur-de-lys, crushed stone, sand, and limestone. 

I daresay nobody’s going to be able to walk on the sidewalk, because the people who’re behind these student protests still won’t let the cement dry, so to speak, so that everybody in this province, as well as the whole country, can walk on it. 

In the meantime, sidewalks, roads, bridges and other sundry forms of infrastructure in this province continue to crumble as the denizens of ‘contestation’ continue to raise a stink in Montréal, Québec City and elsewhere. Being born and raised here only goes to reinforce my conviction that you can call yourself a ‘nation’ all you want, but you still can’t ignore your sense of belonging to the greater whole, which is Canada, an entity which has resulted from hundreds of years of struggle and compromise between two civilizations and that instead of focusing on just what the ‘national tribe’ wants to do with its sidewalk here in Québec, maybe we should be reaching out and focusing on what the whole country wants and needs. 

I think cement mixed with fleur-de-lys, roses, thistles, shamrocks and maple leaves for that matter would make for a great sidewalk that everybody in this province and country could walk on, if only we’d have the patience and the foresight to let the stuff dry properly so that we can all walk on it together!!! God bless you all.

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and and has published his first book, entitled ‘The Catholic Faith and the Social Construction of Religion: With Particular Attention to the Québec Experience’.

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