The Parti Quebecois recently won the Quebec provincial election, de-throning Jean Charest’s Liberals. For those unfamiliar, the Parti Quebecois are a sovereigntist party. Left wing in nature, their one true goal is to Quebec secede from Canada. In between referenda, they tend to argue for more autonomy (and money and largesse) for the province, and they would be the strongest supporters of the oppressive language laws that Jaybird decries so frequently.
In the recent campaign, the PQ sunk to new lows, attacking religious groups they don’t like and proposing that unilingual anglophones shouldn’t be allowed to run for office. I’ve written numerous times about the bigotry of the PQ, as well as many other Quebec governments and politicians (Charest supports Quebec language laws and the NDP came out in favour of them in the last federal election, selling their progressive souls for official opposition status), but that’s not what I want to focus on right now.
Bill 101 (which contains Quebec’s language laws) is well-established. It’s decades old, and there is an acceptance with it that I find quite uncomfortable. A friend and colleague of mine, Jared Milne, has written much on Canadian unity, and has been a defender, to a degree, of these laws. Jared’s a smart guy, and a true student of Canada, so I give his words a lot of consideration. He argues that Bill 101 is necessary (again, to a degree) to protect the francophone culture in Quebec. A majority in their province, but a minority in the country and on the continent, francophones are, understandably, threatened.
He may be right. Quebec’s traditional francophone culture may be on the verge of disappearing but for Bill 101. But, in a way, I don’t care.It is, of course, sad to see a culture absorbed into a greater whole, losing much of its identity and much that it holds dear. Fears of such a disappearance are rampant in Quebec, and there is a sense among much of the population that Quebecers have a duty to learn French, and, in fact, to be French. It is not merely a bigoted pure laine sentiment; it is common among those who don’t harbour extreme nationalist views. This is how the PQ is able to survive even when hard-line separatism is wanes. middle-of-the-road voters will hold their nose and vote for separatists because they want a government that will protect their preferred culture.
Years ago, Will Wilkinson wrote about fertility panics, and the cultural gamesmanship that goes along with them:
So if you’ve got a conservative, zoological view of cultural preservation which fixes on the importance of high-fidelity copying of inessential aspects of a culture’s history (costumes, holidays, rites, cuisine, skin colors etc.), you’re going to have a hard time of it. But if you care about the essential core of liberal modernity, you should be delighted with how things are going. You’ll eat your szechuan taco pizza and you’ll love it.
This quotation has been on my mind a lot with the cultural wars that are going on in Quebec. Even anglophones in Quebec can buy into the notion that there is something magical about the french language that it must be protected by brute force, lest francophone parents allow their children to be educated in English.
If the French language – supposedly so important it seems to the culture of these Quebecers – is in such a fragile position that future Quebec generations will abandon it if given the freedom, it tells me that the language is not, in fact, that important to the people of Quebec. If we are forcing people to live a lifestyle that they would not choose for themselves, then we are oppressors. If we think that such a lifestyle is of great value, we should be able to let it stand on its own.
I know what the quick response to such an argument is; as an anglophone living in Ontario, it’s really easy for me to say this. However, I am not arguing that the people of Quebec need to adopt any particular lifestyle. I’m not arguing that everyone should just suck it up and learn English. I am arguing that all Quebecers should have the freedom to choose the language in which they will communicate. I am arguing that francophones should be given this freedom. Francophones, being in the majority, will then decide, through their actions, what shape their society will take.
The PQ doesn’t care. The prefer a language to a people.