Quebec’s English and French communities have more in common than mainstream media tell us

Pulled into the same anachronistic battles time and again, anglophones and francophones neglect larger issues confronting us all
Photo: Doug Zwick

When former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau passed away, social media reactions were fast and furious. This was, after all, a man who elicited strong emotions — both good and bad — depending on which side of the political fence you like to play.

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The Montreal Gazette quickly published an obituary referring to him as a great Canadian, while the Journal de Montréal, in a quick attempt at controversy, published a compilation of ugly tweets from a variety of people in the rest of Canada. I considered both reflexes major media faux pas.

Even though Parizeau was a citizen of Canada, to refer to someone who spent most of his political career and life working towards Quebec’s independence as a “great Canadian” was an unnecessary jab. It rubbed me and many French-speaking Quebecers the wrong way, not because we have a problem with great Canadians, but because Parizeau was a Quebecer first and foremost.

As for the compilation of hateful tweets, what purpose did they serve, other than to incite and upset Quebecers who were in mourning for one of their most influential politicians? Was it done to drum up support for a party that conveniently happens to be led by the majority owner of the Journal de Montréal?

Mainstream media repeatedly fail to raise the conversation, routinely choosing to go for below-the-belt articles that incite a reaction. Clickbait and outrage have become certain columnists’ bread and butter — nuance and moderation don’t sell as much as anger and tension.

Quebec’s identity politics have long been fodder for ugliness, as both English and French communities continue to suffer from minority angst, unable to see just how much they actually have in common. Belligerent voices aggravate the divide, drowning out the moderate and reasonable voices that plead for cooperation and mutual respect.

It’s frustrating to watch the drama play out every time someone stokes the fires of intolerance. And someone always does, because it pays to do so.

As an allophone living in both worlds very comfortably, I’m constantly fascinated and frustrated by the lack of comprehension and communication between these communities. Anglophones and francophones often assume the worst of each other, always looking for the next slight, the next insult, the next injustice to confirm their worst fears and prejudices. Perceptions are coloured by what we expect to happen. And when it occasionally happens, all we notice is that one jab, and not the other incident-free 364 days that preceded it.

The simple truth of the matter is neither federalism nor sovereignty are right or wrong. They’re just choices. Legitimate choices. But past grievances and grudges have allowed the majority of Quebecers to treat those who vote differently in a referendum as sworn enemies. It’s a strange dynamic.

Voltaire said that a long dispute means that both parties are wrong. Especially with the issues that Canada and Quebec face in terms of punishing austerity measures, erosion of civil liberties, and environmental mismanagement, it’s unfortunate we continue to find ourselves engaged in the same anachronistic battles that get us nowhere.

As a federal election approaches, most Quebecers may have more in common these days with Albertan voters who just voted in an NDP government than with Conservative voters at home. Bill C-51, perhaps one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation to be introduced in the House of Commons, must be torn up. The appalling Truth and Reconciliation Commission report findings require action, not mere apologies. And Stephen Harper’s solidification of Canada’s shameful environmental record needs to be blown apart. We should tackle these issues together, regardless of our linguistic, religious, or cultural background.

It’s time to expand the conversation to include more than just the loudest and angriest voices concerned with the same old slights and grievances. A whole bunch of us live somewhere in the middle, and the issues we consider most important don’t get the air time they deserve. It’s time we changed the narrative.

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