Will The Red Rag Ever Make A Comeback At The Quebec Zoo?

Will The Red Rag Ever Make A Comeback At The Quebec Zoo?


by Peter Stuart

On January 23, 2001, Deputy Premier of Québec, Bernard Landry, made a shocking statement at a press conference at a hotel at Lake Beauport near Quebec City. It’s interesting to mark the tenth anniversary of the event this year, because it calls to the latently linguisto-cultural and political nature of the ongoing struggles which comprise virtually all of our issues of economic development in the provincial capital. 

To set the stage for the comments, one has to go back to those cold and frigid days in the early days of the current century, and look at what exactly was going on. Premier Lucien Bouchard, the up-until-then putative Messianic figure of ‘National’ salvation for the secessionist cause, had narrowly lost a vote on secession in October of 1995, had then become embroiled in a nasty federal-provincial spat over cutting the provincial budget, cutting health and social services as well as education, and now found himself having recently resigned from office before his term of office was completely over. 

Deputy Premier Bernard Landry now found himself poised to be the most likely candidate for the top job, and now found himself in the middle of another federal/provincial spat over funding for the Quebec City Zoo. The Zoo itself, which was under provincial jurisdiction, needed additional funding from the federal government to be able to complete its program of renovations to bring it up to par with other similar sites across the country. 

The Canadian government, however, as a condition of giving federal money, demanded that the Zoo meet the full gamut of requirements for bilingualism, including signage, service to customers in both official languages of Canada, and lastly, that the Canadian flag be flown from the mast along with the provincial and city flags. 

This, for an ardent secessionist such as Mr. Landry, who himself was in the process of asserting his possible future position as a likely candidate for the top job as the secessionist Premier of the province, could not let such federal incursion go unchecked. At the press conference at Lake Beauport soon after Premier Bouchard had resigned, it was shaping up to be a slow news day.

Then Radio Canada journalist Pierre Bouillon had seen the headlines of the ‘Soleil’ newspaper that morning while having breakfast with his wife, regarding the flap over the funding for the Zoo. When he went to the press conference, he approached Mr. Landry in private and asked him if he could ask him a question at the press conference about the Zoo and Aquarium funding spat with Ottawa, and Landry consented. 

So essentially, what I’m getting at is, the scenario which led to a nation-wide ‘Flag Flap’ as it was eventually to be called, was a set-up from the get go between a secessionist wannabe Premier trying to score some points with the secessionist voter constituency, as well as the more hard-line element in his caucus, and a probably secessionist-sympathizer journalist at Radio Canada who found that it was a slow news day and wanted to stir up some controversy by stirring up the pot a bit by getting a soon-to-be Premier to make a controversial statement on a hot button issue of federal-provincial import. 

What Mr. Landry eventually actually said was that ‘We are not for sale here in Quebec. Quebec has no intention to sell our body on the sidewalk for money for a few strips of red rags, or for any other reason’. He was referring directly to the Canadian flag in a disparaging way, attempting to compare our national flag to a red rag. 

Immediately ‘red flags’ went up all across the rest of the country, as people were outraged by his remarks. Mr. Landry tried to equivocate concerning his remarks by pulling out the dictionary and referring to an expression used in French which is used as a metaphorical reference in bull fighting, when the bull fighter ‘waves the red rag’, as in the red piece of material which he uses to provoke the bull. 

This, Mr. Landry said was his real intention, that he felt that Ottawa was using its ‘red rag’, IE the flag, as a tool to provoke the ‘bull’, IE Québec into attacking. Regardless of how culturally sophisticated his metaphor was, it was still a swipe at the flag of our country, and most people could see right through it. 

Eventually, Mr. Landry did become Premier of this province, and was summarily defeated in the next election in 2003. That didn’t stop the Zoo from closing, however. The flag flap didn’t help the site at all to get the funding it needed to stay afloat, and to become the world-class installation it could have been. 

In 2006 it shut down for good, and now developers are eyeing that land up in Orsainville covetously. I find it outrageous that a city of nearly three quarters of a million people can’t get its act together to have a proper Zoo. One  good thing did come out of the Flag Flap, though. The Ice Hotel was moved from Ste-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier in the west end of the city, which had no access to public transport, and is now up at the Zoo, with direct access to the RTC public transport network via route 801, which terminates at the Zoo itself. 

So next winter folks, when you take the kids up to the Ice Hotel, keep your eyes peeled for any strange red and white rags that might just be flying from some flag poles: Who knows, the bullfighter may very well end up killing the bull after all. If not with his red rag, then certainly with the power of all those tourists coming to sleep in a frozen water building! (Hey, whatever works, eh?) 

Long live the Red Rag!!!
About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and 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 is currently working on the publication of his first book. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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