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.
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.
Ric on March 15, 2018:
If its not going away just let it happen so everyone can move on.
We can still be neighbors.
Judy Wekenman on August 02, 2017:
I am going to Quebec City in a week and have been reading up on Quebec. I didn't realize there was still a separatist issue there. I found your article and it added to my knowledge. I definitely think Quebec should stay part of Canada, but then, I never thought Great Britain would leave the EU, so sometimes voters aren't too wise (Trump, here in the U.S.)..thanks for the info.
Pat on July 31, 2017:
I have read your article and I must say, some research was done. I myself having been born and raised in Quebec there are things to be said. I must clarify one point or two points here just to clarify some issues. You are stating the we have the lowest tuition fees, there is a reason why we have the lowest tuition fees, because we have the highest tax rate in the entire country, you and I, are paying for this low tuition fee.
Yes, socialism has a lot to do with history and our French ancestry identity, you are absolutely right, but if Quebec were to separate from this country, the province would suffer greatly. No more federal subsidies, no more armed forces in Quebec, yes the R22R is a French Canadian regiment, but it is also part of the Canadian armed forces, which is federal. And they couldn't leave the Canadian forces as this is consider high trahison.
I too, when I ask French Canadian if they are Canadian or Quebecers, get the same answers as you did, however, the Canadian flag is flown higher than the Quebec flag, therefore making this province part of Canada, and. It the opposite.
Separatism and socialism is part of our culture as a Canadian population, but this mentality is very destructive and should be banished. Until this gets rectify, this country will continue to be divided and Quebec will continue to suffer as a result.
You can agree or disagree, this is my opinion
Natalia Arias (author) from Montreal on November 11, 2014:
Gary thank you for your comment. It's been a long time since I've read this post and rereading it now is truly an education in the evolution of thought and politics. In March the provincial governing parti quebecois (i.e. the separatists) called a snap election believing that they had drummed up enough support based on their divisive policies to be able to win a majority government. As an American you may not be too familiar with the mechanics of a parliamentary system, or maybe you are I don't know, but a majority government would give them the solid support they need to govern for a full 4 years.
Well their tactic backfired and they suffered a historic defeat, losing an unprecedented number of seats and handing a strong victory to the federalist liberal party. Everyone including me, was wondering what happened, especially since they were trying to take away the voting rights of thousands of English speaking people, it was a scandal and in all the papers, but they didn't even need our vote to lose, they dug their own grave and they are still sitting in it now. So what happened?
Well I am not a political scientist so I don't know exactly, my guess is that the younger voters are less interested in the separation question and more in economic issues. I think this is because the separatist movement has been incredibly successful in everything except separation, French is protected and promoted by law (bill 101 and others), people live well and most importantly it is a minority of francophones that now feel threatened by the greater English North America. Instead everyone is thinking about material prosperity. Another idea that was thrown around by all the newspapers was that the charter of values divided people but failed to unite the francophones into a concise voting block. In the case of Montreal, as a multicultural city many people do not see other cultures necessarily as intruders and outsiders, especially if they speak french, these cultures are welcomed, so creating division with a secular charter backfired.
However after having said all that and adding the disclaimer that this is my opinion and I could be wrong, If you want much more detailed information check out the links below, one is to a quebec political blog that I find fascinating to read, and the others are two books that greatly expanded my understanding of Quebec and its people and history.
Gary Conyne on November 11, 2014:
I find all of this very interesting an am trying to find out more about what is going on in and with the society of Quebec without being judgmental one way or another for now. I am an American of Irish extraction anode am well aware of the history of Ireland. I work as a Psychologist and would be very interested in hearing from you or others more about the mindset that exists in Quebec today.
I have traveled in Quebec, mostly Quebec City area and found the people to be very warm and accepting of me and my poor efforts at speaking French to them. maybe this is because of the tourist economy in Quebec City, I am not sure.
Please anyone, let me known what you may feel about the emotions and internal motivation of the population in Quebec ad what you see for the future of the society.
Make Money from Ontario on September 28, 2013:
The PQ contends the move is necessary to ensure the public service presents a neutral face and protects equality between men and women. Quebec’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the Jewish community “will not accept to be co-opted or manipulated by the dubious objectives of some of the organizers of the demonstration, who include religious radical fundamentalists with whom the Jewish community will never make common cause.” See, there is already animosity between some groups here in Canada. Adil Charkaoui, the spokesman for the Quebec Collective Against Islamophobia, the group that organized the demonstration has trained in a Jihadist camp in Afghanistan. Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) testimonies included opinions that he would also "have been trained in such areas as: operating rocket-propelled grenade-launchers, sabotage, urban and assassination" and suggested that Charkaoui represented a sleeper agent. He shouldn't even be a Canadian citizen. Considering the animosity between these two groups already it is necessary that the public service presents a neutral face.
The PQ's charter of values is an initiative to prevent some of the situations that we have seen in Europe. We don't want that crap to happen here in Canada. That is why so many Canadians from coast to coast are in favour of the charter of values. Muslim women can wear a pair of crescent moon and star earrings. Wearing a tucked-away cross is fine. A Star of David ring is also acceptable. If they want to work in the public service and present a neutral face then this should be acceptable. Considering their history against outward signs of Christianity the Liberals and the NDP are being rather hypocritical now by being against a ban on outward signs of religion in the public service. The Tories too, as far as that goes.
Natalia Arias (author) from Montreal on September 27, 2013:
when I think about Canadian democracy I am thankful for the fact that our government has not yet been completely sold out to corporate interests like that of the united states. I am not cynical about our system, it fails a lot but it fails a damn site less often than many comparable countries. I count my blessings rather than my curses. The pq values charter is what it is but I reiterate the fact that it makes no difference what it is because it wasn't written for any purpose other than to create division, take a glance at it and notice its not targeting Islam but all religions, the Jewish hospital in Montreal for example isn't happy about it. I am saying all this as a person of no faith at all. the 3 main political parties all have issues, i really can't pick one for the next election however ever day I read the news and follow up on events in European and American politics and I become thankful that I am here and not there.
Make Money from Ontario on September 27, 2013:
The problem Natalie is that the three main federal political parties are not representing the will of the majority of Canadians on this issue. That is why there is support right across Canada for the PQ's charter of values. As far as that goes, the three main federal political parties are not representing the will of the majority of Canadians on a number of issues. It's not much of a democracy if they are not.
Natalia Arias (author) from Montreal on September 26, 2013:
Make money, thank you for your comment, but you do not understand exactly what I know. I moved to Quebec on purpouse to learn French, that wasn't the issue, I've been bilingual since childhood (russian/english) so French was something I was deeply passionate about learning. for over a year I lived in a neighborhood that was entirely francophone and dated a french Canadian whose family welcomed me with open arms. that's why I put the disclaimer in my comment about not all french Canadians fitting the stereotype. But i arrived in 2011 right before the federal election and I remember feeling warm and fuzzy about being here, very happy that year. the following year changed everything, watching the pq march to victory and seeing the student protests first hand (at the time I was enrolled at concordia) made me increasingly bitter. I did research, tons of it, I know the history well and I know the contribution that the french canadian population has made to Canada as a whole, including giving us some of our best prime ministers. I agree with you that in the rest of the country no one speaks french and most miss the childhood french classes, which is a shame, why call ourselves a bilingual nation when that's far from true. But I can't help being a passionate federalist, I believe in a united Canada, and I believe Quebec can thrive within it. The separatist cause is something I had sympathy for 2 years ago but not now, not once I had met enough of them and listened to their views. What they want will harm many people and help very few, it is fundamentally a selfish and tribal response to a real problem. I support bill 101 and did so in 2011 but I do not support the attitude of us vs them that i see promoted around since the pq came to power. for me this is personal because my country of birth kicked me out and withdrew my citizenship because I was of the wrong blood so when I see tribalism manifested its an instinctual gut feeling of mine to despise it.
as far as your comments on foreign policy and syria go, all I can say is that I spent time in england on exchange and saw what heavy muslim immigration looks like, I hated it, I even supported geert wilders and read the works of ayann hirsi ali and christopher hitchens. Islam will always be a death cult to me, but and this is a big but, Quebec is not europe, there is no large scale islamic migration here and it is unlikely that there will be, the charter was not written to curb islamisation, it does not make a distinction between a christian cross or a hijab, and while I am against face veils and would support banning those, I see in this secularization charter nothing less than political hackery again with the us vs them. The motives of the pq are not so pure, they are not trying to do good, all they want is division and this policy is simply designed to help that.
I know about kenya and pakistan, but it is pointless to debate those here, canadian foreign policy does not have to reflect the views of everyone, the beautiful thing is that our democracy still works and we can vote out those we feel misrepresent us.
Make Money from Ontario on September 26, 2013:
Well it sounds like you are just starting to learn about it Natalie. But to have "tearing apart Canada is treason" beside the No vote in your survey is just ludicrous. "Treason"? You've got to be joking. I voted Yes but I think you should have added something like this to it. First off, they didn't have to earn the right to separate; they have that right without having to earn it. So it should have read, "Yes - of course they have a right to separate but I hope they don't."
What you and some other anglophones in Canada need to learn is that Canada has two official languages, French and English. Do you think if a French only speaking Canadian traveled to say Alberta and asked for some help they would receive any help from the average person on the street. Of course not. This may explain why some French Canadians do not travel much outside of Quebec. Same thing in Quebec, like you said many people in Quebec do not speak English. Then you say some in Quebec do not even try to speak English. Well it goes the other way in the rest of Canada, most anglophones do not even try to speak French. It sounds like you are a little pissed off that you are having to learn how to speak French. And to some extent it sounds like you are being a little discriminatory against the French language. If you don't like having to learn to speak French in a French speaking Province then don't move to Quebec. It's as simple as that. You may want to learn about how the French Quebecois have contributed to North America, both before and after the Plains of Abraham.
Just so you know, I am in Ontario and do not speak French. I seemed to have miss the French classes when I went to school. I wish I did speak French. If I was around French speaking people, even a few of them then I would learn how to speak French.
And also just so you know Natalie, the PQ's charter of values is receiving a lot of support, not just in Quebec but all across Canada. I am old enough to remember the time before the multicultural political correctness was forced on Canadians. Canadians did have a culture back then, a Christian culture. Now we are not even supposed to say Merry Christmas because it may offend some. Christian prayers have been banned from schools and government buildings because it may offend some. Enough is enough.
Meanwhile in places like Saudi Arabia you can be sent to jail for just wearing a cross. And meanwhile we see in the news where bishops are having their heads sawed off, priests, nuns and Christian lay people are killed by the Free Syrian Army terrorists just because they are Christian. And Christian churches are being desecrated and Christian literature is being confiscated and destroyed by the Free Syrian Army terrorists. Yet our government is supporting the Free Syrian Army. How twisted is that. We are seeing some young people that were born in Canada converting to Islam, getting radicalized in Mosques here in Canada then traveling to Syria to fight for the Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood backed Free Syrian Army terrorists or traveling to Somalia to fight with the terrorists there. It makes you wonder how many Muslim terrorist sleeper cells there are in Canada right now. To continue, a couple of days ago 60 some Christians were killed coming out of church in Pakistan. Plus just the other day 70 some people were killed in the Nigerian mall attack and the Somalian terrorists that did it were trying to just kill Christians.
Personally I would go much further than the PQ's charter of values. If it were up to me I would ban all Muslim immigration to Canada and pull out the deport papers. Enough is enough.
Natalia Arias (author) from Montreal on September 26, 2013:
thanks everyone for your comments, just my quick take on some of the issues you've raised. Don Bobbit has expressed a very common point when he pointed out the antagonism french canadians display towards others (even when they travel, which they shouldn't if they can't be polite). My boyfriend grew up in Kennebunkport Maine which sees a lot of Quebec tourists in the summer and he's said similar things. To Cfin, I've actually been to Ireland and am familiar with some of the history, no one in Canada is murdering Quebeckers, recently however the Quebec provincial government has come out with a charter of values which forbids religious symbols being worn by people on the government dime, this includes everything from hijabs to kippas to crosses but however in my opinion since you don't see much of this in Quebec anyway this charter was written to only further divide the populace and create strife. When you bring up Ireland I think its an excellent example of what could happen when you allow history to dictate your future. I love Montreal but I will leave, because I want nothing to do with petty tribal feeling based on an inferiority complex a mile high. Quebec doesn't want cultural diversity, they want everyone different to get out and many have left due to repressive government policies designed for just that purpouse. I read the Montreal gazette and I could go on forever at the examples of pettiness I read in there. However I will say that most people I know in Montreal are great people and are not representative of this culture of bigotry, but it is always those who shout the loudest who are heard. To Learn things Web the economic results of separation would be disastrous, just to give a hint to the scope of it. Quebec has the largest debt of any province in Canada, it is a large recipient of something called equalization payments. The federal government in Ottawa collects taxes from the entire country and then redistributes those dollars to provinces in need, some provinces receive nothing because their economies are strong enough and they usually contribute more to this pool, Quebec has historically been a very large recipient of these payments, which means that the extremely low university tuition and subsidized everything is being paid for in part by the rest of the country, this of course would stop if Quebec separated. Because of restrictive language laws banning signage in English many businesses refuse to operate here (we don't have taco bell for example as far as I know), and others that do are at risk of leaving because of these laws and the immense amount of red tape and bureaucracy they have to wade through just to be able to operate. There's a reason Toronto is Canada's largest city and economic hub, that reason is bill 101. My last point is taxes, Quebec has the highest taxes in the country and even that doesn't cover all the bills.
Phew enough of my rant, thanks everyone for the comments.
Learn Things Web from California on September 26, 2013:
Interesting hub! I've been aware of a desire to separate but didn't know what was behind it. I'm curious about the economic effects on Quebec if they did separate.
cfin from The World we live in on September 26, 2013:
This is interesting. The same thing happened in Ireland but it lasted for 600 years. We don't have issues with other English speakers and even Ireland and England (our overlords of the time)have more than good relations at this point.
I think they are using French, the language, to hide behind and realistically, their bitterness is doing nothing but causing further hurt. History is not an excuse and cultural diversity is not an excuse (try Ireland, we are about 100 cultures within our tiny borders yet we are one country).
On the other hand Ireland was enveloped by the UK a long time ago and we were treated really badly and murdered by the thousand until the early 1900s when we gained our freedom from the UK. In the case if Quebec, I am not sure why they are still hurting. Are the Canadians murdering them? Are they forcing you to change religion or language? Are they burning your homes and making life unbearable? No, so there really is no issue here. Just bitterness and an inferiority complex.
Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on September 26, 2013:
Interesting and Informative article.
As an American (US ), I see a very different French-Canadian. As I have traveled around the US in my motorhome, I would often winter in Florida. along with an enormous population of vacationing Canadians ovr the years. And the French-Canadians do not endear themselves to most people. The "other" Canadians are friendly, open and out-going, while, the majority of the French-Canadians come across as; arrogant, and not friendly at all. Now, I said majority, so don't get me wrong, I have also met and camped beside a number of very nice French-Canadians, but again, the majority are very rude. My wife speaks French (which they did not know), so she would tell me what they were saying at times. And even though they would pretend to not speak English, often the reality was that they just didn't want to deal with us "crazy Americans" as we were often called.
In fact, I watched as they would not treat English-speaking Canadians much better than they did Americans.
have had numerous conversations, over a bonfire and a cold beverage and honestly, from a third party's perspective, I, and most of the world could care less what the core reasons are for your internal strife, perhaps if you find a way to get along among yourselves then maybe you could get along with the rest of the world.
Just my personal observations here,
and they are just like any other advice,
"Worth just what you paid for it!"
Nell Rose from England on September 26, 2013:
Hi natalie, I actually saw this on my email and it totally fascinated me so I had to come and read it. In fact I could have read it for longer! lol! This was something I never knew about before and is totally fascinating! Voted up and shared! nell
Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on September 20, 2013:
Very interesting and informative Hub, Natalie. I knew that Quebec has been considering separation for many years but I never knew how deep the problems are.