Last August, a week before her election victory, Mme Marois tipped the sacred cow by declaring that, as part of her plans for Quebec’s language laws, knowledge of French should be a requirement for basic citizenship rights like running for office and petitioning the government. She recanted a day later, but like it or not, she’d set the stage – under the PQ, Québec’s language identity was going to be on the menu… as front and center as pasta at an Italian restaurant.
The government’s proposed modifications to Québec’s language laws, which have already been skillfully elaborated elsewhere, are now providing a catalyst for protest and discussion. In other words, we’re finally having the debate we’ve been putting off for so long. We’re going to settle, once more, what the relationship is between the French language and the Québécois identity for the next generation. And I’m overjoyed.
It’s not just that we’re long overdue. Sure, a decade of Liberal governments (and ADQ oppositions) have staunchly refused to split their base on the issue, while the PQ spent nearly twice that much time trying to recover from the racist overtones of its “money and the ethnic vote” debacle following the 1995 referendum – so everyone in power has had good reason to sweep the issue under the carpet for almost 20 years. Québec has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. It’s high time, for our own sake, that this debate be had again before it really starts to fester. But that’s not the only reason I’m so glad we’re finally airing out this question again.
Mostly, I’m glad because, so far, we’re doing it right. When faced with such a thorny, contentious issue, it’s easy to fall into our baser tribal instincts and vilify our opponents. Lord knows the ammunition to do so isn’t lacking. No doubt some of us will eventually lose their better senses and slip into this vulgar rhetoric, but so far we’ve managed to remain civilized about it. Discussion and debate is being held in good faith. All sides are listening to each other. If we’re going to get anywhere, this must continue throughout our collective discussion. For what little it’s worth, I call out to everyone, on every side of this question, to check their passions, argue from reason, and remain civil with their opponents in the weeks to come. Remember we’re all in this together, we need each other, and we are a culture that values civil respect and reason over irrational fear and anger.
Québec’s culture cannot continue to exist without a thriving French language. On that, I do not disagree. However, proponents of Bill 14 insist that other languages must be further suppressed if French is to thrive. On that, many of us disagree.
So… let’s talk.
About the author:
Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.
He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.
It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our in-house writing team.