A passionate learner and traveler currently living in Montreal.
In 1995 I was 7 years old, so I was too young to fully understand that my country Canada was almost torn apart by sectarian strife. Two years ago I moved to Montreal, a decision I don't regret, but one that has taught me a lot. I fully believed in 2011 when I saw the federal separatist party the Bloc Quebeçois almost disintegrate after elections that separatism was a dead cause.
A year later in the wake of extreme student protests and the victory of the Parti Quebeçois after provincial elections, I realized that I couldn't have been more wrong. But why was I wrong? Why did this cause look dead one year and resurface with a vengeance the next?
I began to really want to know these answers, I was an outsider, an anglophone Ontarian for whom French is a language in progress, but more than that I was an outsider who had come to Québec full of sympathy and respect for the French and who a year later had lost all respect for the political and mob opinions that I was encountering. To my biased point of view it seemed like common sense had simply evaporated. I wanted to know why, where did this come from, and where would it lead. And so I began to do research. And here are some of the conclusions I've reached, bear in mind not all of them are very nice.
1. Historical Grievances
During the 7 Years' War, where Britain conquered Québec, the lives of the local French population were left untouched for the most part, even with respect to religion but the overlords became English.
Later, this dynamic evolved so that wealth and power in Québec was concentrated within the hands of the English minority. The French majority were mostly agrarian farmers with large families and little education
This power imbalance created resentment on the part of the French, Bill 101 was passed to preserve the rights of the French language and disenfranchise English, the result was a huge economic loss to Québec as hundreds of thousands of English-speaking people and their companies (e.g. the Bank of Montreal) left Québec for good and set up their headquarters in Toronto. This dynamic still exists today; the economy suffers when the separatists win.
The quiet revolution was the beginning of the francophone population's attempts to assert themselves. Much was achieved because of it (Bill 101), but it had elements of terrorism, and the tensions raised then have never really gone away.
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2. Cultural Differences Between the French and English
There are large gaps in understanding between the French and the English, if I were to speculate as to the origins of French/English strife, I could very well sit here all year and write a book. For the purposes of Québec, the cultural differences stem largely from religion and from different ideas of the division of goods and services.
- Québec has the highest level of socialism on the continent, this translates to the lowest post secondary tuition fees, extensive social benefits, free healthcare and a culture of open and active protest to perceived provocation (the student protests).
- Québec is also the most highly secular part of the continent, while for the most part religion is dying all over the developed world, in Québec there are actual laws on the books that discriminate against religious imagery and that ban women from changing their names upon marriage.
- The protestant ethos of individual responsibility is less visible here as the culture focuses more on communal co-dependency.
3. Linguistic Antagonism
Many people in Québec do not speak English, and most English speaking people in North America cannot speak French, in the fear of losing their own culture and language the French can be antagonistic to English, many are also resistant to learn English and never travel outside of their province and so in a sense they live in a bubble and have no perspective on the outside world.
4. Racism or Tribalism Based on an Us-vs.-Them Context
I cannot count how many people I've met who have complained of racism in Québec, I've met plenty of others as well who can't wait to graduate and leave Québec because of racial tension
The Québec francophone's are a tribe, a cohesive culture, they feel like members of the same community and even though many do not wish to be racist they can still be perceived that way simply because of their paranoia about keeping their culture alive.
5. They Do Not Feel Like a Part of Canada
Because of the tribal feeling that the francophone community has towards each other it is difficult for them to feel like they are part of a greater whole, a nation state that is not based around ethnic/cultural lines but rather on the rule of law and democracy.
Even those who have never believed in the separatist cause and have always voted against it did so because they felt there were real economic benefits to remaining in Canada, not because of a feeling of love or loyalty towards the united nation or to the British monarchy.
I have heard many non separatist francophone's frequently say "I am a Quebecker first and a Canadian second if at all."
The opinions above are my own conclusions derived from having lived here and from books and articles I have read, if you wish to know more about the history of Quebec or about various aspects of the culture here please take a look at the books I've recommended below for further reading. I am greatly interested in your opinions on this piece, so I would love to read your feedback in the comments section.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.