This all started as a series of ‘tweets’ between myself and a young acquaintance of mine – he’s an intellectual, a play write and an actor. He had tweeted globally out something like, ‘No Anglos were openly supporting the PQ.’ I tweeted him, ‘Not privately either.’ We then got into whom we might be supporting and why. It made me review/remember my Quebec history. And the next day was the election and time for reflection.
The results of the most recent Quebec election – PQ [Parti Québécois] 54 seat, PLQ [Liberals] 50 seats, CAQ 19 – are clear in their numbers, but in little else. While the results do give the PQ a minority government, there is much debate as to what that government has a mandate to do. Naturally, PQ supporters, and the first expressions of party leader Pauline Marois have made it clear that it is a fully valid mandate to make the changes promised- the tightening of Bill 101, the extension of limited schooling in English to CEGEPS, the cancelling of the fee hikes to university students, and ways to engineer the need for yet another referendum on Quebec sovereignty [whatever that actually means] – among others. Many members of the English community have already signaled gloom and doom for themselves. News commentators added to this frustration and fear by actually asking Anglos if they thought their house values would drop, and/or if they were now planning to move out of Quebec.
Others have taken solace in the fact that the PQ, which was farther ahead in the polls leading up to election day, barely squeaked out the most votes, and can easily be outvoted by a PLQ/CAQ coalition. Some feel that this offers some protection to the English community. Some have spoken of a quick next election as if the results would be different.
One can go way back to 1976, the year of the first PQ victory, a majority government, to see what might really be in store for Quebec as a whole and for Anglo Quebecers in particular. It was that PQ government, led by René Lévesque, which wrote and passed Bill 101, creating the Charter of the French Language, effectively changing, or some would say, restoring the face, or tongue, of Quebec to this day. It is this document, though ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, which is the benchmark of the PQ, its supporters, and even other Francophones who might not embrace sovereignty [what that actually means]. No doubt then, that tightening this law is the least Anglos can/should expect over the next little while. Also from 1976-1980, Anglos marked time waiting for the next election to, “Get a Liberal government back in there.” History shows that the PQ won that next election, Bill 101 came into full force and Quebec experienced its first referendum on sovereignty [whatever that actually means].
Of course, Anglos still have a viable PLQ presence, for all the good that party has done them since, well, 1966. It was a PLQ government under Robert Bourassa which brought in Bill 22 in 1974, the first restrictions on access to English schooling. It was the more recent, and now gone, Charest government which closed the wrongly termed ‘loophole’ in Bill 101, that allowed a way for immigrants and other none qualifiers to gain entry to English schools and piggy back their siblings in after them. Bill 101 was drawn up by that Lévesque government. This right was written in by him, the godfather of the PQ. One can only infer that he meant for it to be there, that he thought English education should be somewhat available. The current PQ and even the PLQ no longer agrees. Hmmmm, . . . .
During the campaign Marois claimed that she has always been open to the English community. The PLQ relied on that same community to support it, as they have always done, in spite of that fact that the PLQ has done little of nothing for them in decades, if ever. The CAQ courted the Anglo communities of the West Island. It was a UN –who? [Union Nationale] – Government which last guaranteed parents the right to choose the language of schooling for their children as late as 1968. That seems to very long ago.
Still there is the wild card CAQ which promised no referendum for 10 years, and whose leader, Francois Legault, made it clear he was neutral on the idea of sovereignty [whatever that actually means]. Now there is a clear stand to grasp on to! On the most crucial issue the man who hoped to lead the province was neutral. And, in effect his party holds the balance of power in this newly elected National Assembly.
For the Anglo community in Quebec, there seem a few possible scenarios. One, that Marois and the PQ accept their limited mandate, make limited changes to Bill 101, put sovereignty [whatever that actually means] on the back burner and try to govern in a fiscally responsible manner in these trying economic times. And, that she/they reach out to the Anglophone community as 70% of those surveyed –English and French- have suggested be done. This would bring some stability to a province that has been all too disabled by the recent student protests and the soon to be uncovered corruption that runs through this place way better than any of the roads.
Then there is two, that Marois takes the more likely approach, the one she has said she would, using her ‘mandate’ to not just tighten Bill 101, but to extend it, to make demands of Ottawa for more provincial powers, and to force both issues to the point of either to an election and then a referendum on sovereignty [whatever that actually means].
While this second one might seem to more reasoned minds unattainable, with the support for sovereignty [whatever that actually means] hovering around 28%, one need only go back in Quebec history see the future a bit more clear. In the spring of 1995, MacLean’s Magazine sported the front page, “Is Separatism Dead?” In the referendum held that very fall, the ‘dead issue’ lost by a mere 1.6% of the vote. Others might add that the presence of the CAQ has in effect made this impossible for the 10 years of their promise of ‘no referendum.’ Would they not block the attempt? Again one has but to go back in Quebec history to 1976, when there was a viable third party- the once all powerful UN, at the time being led by one Rodrigue Biron, returning to the National Assembly after a four year absence. Some Anglos, dissatisfied as they were with the PLQ at that time, a party which held the largest majority in history of the National Assembly, voted UN in this election as a safety measure. Other Anglos actually voted PQ as a form of protest. One Anglo teaching colleague crowed in the staffroom the next day how the party he voted for had one. [Of course, a couple of years later he moved to New Hampshire, but I digress.] The PQ victory was a surprise as much as it was a shock. Equally surprising, but lost to history, was that this Biron fellow eventually crossed the aisle in the National Assembly and became a member of the PQ, showing his true colors and thereby ending the UN forever.
It would not be that surprising, then, if Francois Legault or any of his CAQ counterparts, many of whom are former PQ, would take a similar stroll, and that could be cause for serious concern for the Anglophones in Quebec. Tightening of Bill 101, which all parties erroneously agreed was necessary, would be but the tip of the iceberg. English CEGEPS would be next, and then referendum after referendum until the issue is, ahem, ‘settled.’ And then what might become of the Anglos of Quebec?
Some might say by even suggesting this as a possibility the writer is being ‘hollow’ and ‘caustic,’ but then he has lived through and studied history.