Time To Stop Taking Francophones For Granted

Par Beryl Wajsman le 7 mai 2013

Yes I know. This kind of headline usually has the word "anglophone" in it. Yet last week two incidents demonstrated that politicians of several parties have not understood that the rejection of , and resistance to, Bill 14 may have done more to unite francophones and non-francophones alike in opposition to the politics of fear and the words of demonization than anything we have seen in recent history. And as much as many anglophones may be tired of some politicians taking their votes for granted through a perceived lack of choice, many francophones are tired of some other politicians taking their votes for granted by outdated appeals to prejudice and fear.

PQ MNA and former Environment Minister Daniel Breton stood up in the National Assembly last Thursday and let out a screed against Liberal MNAs who had the "temerity" to speak English. Breton said that though they may have the right to speak the English in the Assembly, the fact that they chose to, demonstrated what Breton called, "their colonized mentality."

Last Friday I participated in a meeting with CAQ leader François Legault. After he reiterated his eight points of opposition to Bill 14, he said that he couldn't come right out against 14 in its entirety because "the PQ would use a united Liberal-CAQ opposition to the whole Bill as an excuse to stir up sovereignty sentiment by pointing again to the impossibility of protecting French without a PQ majority." 

I am certainly not lumping the two together in terms of motives nor even political philosophy, but Bréton and Legault are using discredited tactics on the one hand and outdated assumptions on the other. They continue to perceive francophones as willing to respond in lockstep to the old code words and the old playbooks. They take francophone reactions for granted, but I believe they are wrong and that they are on the wrong side of history.

Evidence that the old dogmas and strategies are dying is all around us. The proof of francophone rejection of the old politics is clear in many quarters. From the opinion pages of newspapers to the statements of Chambres de commerce to the resolutions favoring bilingual status from over 70 francophone municipalities. Leaders in law and civil rights such as former Quebec Batonnier Louis Masson and Gaetan Cousineau, president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, have spoken out clearly and boldly not only warning that language laws violate international, national and provincial human and civil rights standards but that the use of these laws as a political harvester of votes will not work anymore. 

Just today, La Presse columnist Alain Dubuc made the point that Montreal is a bilingual city and that it's bilingual and multicultural character should be encouraged because those are engines of economic growth. Bilingual doesn't mean the end of French predominance and protection. It simply means that our government will be a good neighbour if some individuals and companies need information and services in English. Most Francophones realize that it is just simple decency - not a threat to their culture - and that it is time to move forward.

They, like non-francophones, want economic progress and a brighter future for themselves and their children. They don't want educational opportunities closed because of language. They are confident that they, in their personal lives, can protect the language and culture they love without Big Brother's paternalism or his heel stepping on their neighbours' necks.

They know that this battle over language is nothing but political opportunism of the most callous kind and has thrown Quebec off the economic rails, and they want to get things back on track as much as anyone. Francophones will no longer be taken for granted by those playing the old game of divide and conquer. Those politicians who would still pander to fear, or who make careful calculations to avoid speaking clear truths, may well learn a bitter lesson at the ballot box.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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