Archive for April 2008
Did French and English Montrealers ever live in the same city?
Was there ever a Golden Age when French-speakers looking west and English-speakers looking east had a converging point of view on the history and future of Montreal?
In 1941 the National Film Board of Canada hired my grand-father, Vincent Paquette, as the agency’s first French-Canadian filmmaker and head the embryonic “French Unit”
It is important to emphasize that, as his name does not indicate, Vincent Paquette was as bicultural a Canadian as this country has ever produced. His Franco-Catholic father, Albéric Paquette, met his mother, Eva May Hathaway, the daughter of a Loyalist minister, in Toronto. The couple raised their children in Montreal and in the still very English Sherbrooke, Québec of the 1920′s where my grand-father grew up thinking of himself as an English kid.
“In Sherbrooke I went to French primary school”, he wrote – in French – in his unfinished memoirs. “Since my mother tongue was English, since English was the usual language at home and in most of the streets, it made for a rather difficult start.”
He went on to complete all of his studies in French, studying in Montreal’s Collège Saint-Laurent with such Québec icons as Félix Leclerc.
That said, it is needless to say that his English background had something to do with the NFB’s decision to put a 26 year old with no filmmaking experience in charge of the Board’s first French filmmaking department, a department originally created to translate propaganda films during the Second World War.
In 1942 my grand-father set off to direct a film on the celebrations commemorating the tercentenary of Montreal, which would become the first movie ever shot – as opposed to translated – in Canada’s two official languages.
Even with his Upper Canadian roots counterbalancing his Franco-Catholic education, it quickly became clear that my grand-father’s understanding of Montreal was not what the head office had in mind. Right from the start, serious incompatibility between the English and the French perspectives became apparent and on at least two occasions proper Anglophones were hired to finish the project.
In the end my grand-father would get credits for both versions of the film, but while his cut was used for the French version, the English version followed the storyboard from upstairs.
NFB historian Pierre Véronneau writes about differences between the French and English versions in his PhD. thesis: “It would be quite simple to show that the English version trivializes certain actions or certain situations perceived as important or heroic by the Québécois.”
The French version was anchored around four themes: modern Montreal, French Montreal, Montreal at war and religious Montreal. Véronneau notes that the modern and religious themes occupy more or less equal time in the French version, and that the latter is all but evacuated from the English versions.
The religious images are quite frankly astonishing for someone born after the Quiet Revolution. It is near impossible today to imagine the bishop taking the vows of hundreds of new priests in the streets of downtown Montreal, surrounded by thousands of nuns in black and white and clerics in red and gold. The protestant businessmen of the Sun Life building might have been the future of Montreal, but the Catholics had cooler hats
On the war effort, the commentary of the French version went: “Today, grandiose realization of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve’s dream, Montreal put all of it’s energy and all of it’s resources to the service of peace in plenitude. Concordia Salus.” Véronneau wonders aloud: “Can we see here a covert position? A diaphanous echo to the French-Canadian resistance to any direct participation to the war?”
Athough the metaphore is not quite politically correct, I do note with much relief that my Grand-father had not succumbed to the fascist muses: “Paquette makes the Iroquois of yesterday the German of today, and the determination of the Québécois to combat him, eternal.”
On the question of language, “The English version emphasizes the bilingual character of the city while the French version underlines it’s French character.” Hum… sounds familiar….
Vincent Paquette made a few other films for the NFB before moving on to a career in advertising and the federal public service. Although he never was known as a nationalist, Eva May Hathaway’s son voted YES in the 1980 referendum on Québec sovereignty.
Who says Montreal should be French, anyway?
This is a complaint I’ve been hearing more and more from Anglophones.
Montreal is a bilingual city. Why should French have a special status?
Because if French didn’t have a special status Montreal would have the economic and cultural importance Akron, Ohio.
Bill 101 isn’t about wiping out English From Montreal. It’s about providing a counterweight to the massive power of attraction of English in North America and the world.
Bill 101 created bilingual Montreal.
Before bill 101 there was no bilingual Montreal. It was as Jane Jacobs and many others observed: “An English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants.” About 70% of the inhabitants actually.
Before bill 101 there was no French in the workplace, there was no French in the boardrooms and there was little or no French in the shops downtown. Before Bill 101 the Canadian National Railway and the big banks could have their headquarters in Montreal and not have to hire a single French-speaking person above the second floor.
Before the French Language Charter became law bilingualism was such a valued skill in Montreal that in his book “Sorry I don’t speak French” journalist and new Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser recalls meeting the editor of the Montreal Star, a man who’s position would suppose that he was not only well read but that he also had some very sensitive antennas in all of the city’s communities, and that he did not speak French at all.
Before those darn separatists took power immigrants only learned English because that’s the only language they needed to earn a living. Anglos didn’t need to speak French to get a job. Francophones who wanted to rise above the shop floor had to consider an English education. The market value of bilingualism was sweet fuck all.
By giving the French majority the right to work in French the French Language Charter’s creator Camille Laurin reversed that. All of the sudden Anglos and immigrants needed to learn some French to compete with the bilingual Francophones. The French classes suddenly got more important in English schools and the very idea of immersion programs was invented.
The children and grandchildren of unilingual Anglophones are now proudly bilingual and this proficiency with languages gives them a unique advantage other Anglo-Saxons would pimp their sister for. This ability to speak two or more languages has kept bilingual English Montrealers right at the top of the earnings pyramid in Montreal, Québec and Canada.
It has also given them such a unique access to federal public service jobs that in the West people complain that Canada has been hijacked by Montreal lawyers.
The language laws probably saved Montreal’s economy. Contrary to popular myth, the decline of Montreal as the economic center of Canada was well under way when English was the only language of business. Toronto had already caught up with Montreal by the 1940′s, a good quarter of a century before the Parti québécois came to power.
In those days Montreal was slowly becoming just another English-speaking town on the outer periphery of North America’s economic heartland. A Hartford or a Pittsburgh. By making French a central part of Montreal’s business and commercial life, bill 101 positioned our city as a unique bridge between two of the world’s most vibrant cultural and economic spheres.
A position it holds alone, without the shadow of a challenger, in North America or even the world.
So why should French have a special status?
Because that special status paid for your Lexus, biatch!
Presently Québec-based websites can use a .qc.ca domain or the generic .com, .org, etc…
There are precedents for non-independent country domain names. .cat has been available to the people of Catalunya since 2005 and the danish territory of Greenland has it’s own .gl domain.
After making sure every single product in Canada is called Canadian something and that all the McDonald’s, Sears and Wal-Marts in the land had a canadian maple leaf on their logos, Canadian patriots now want to make sure all Québec websites are properly labelled as Canadian products.
Maybe they are concerned the Canadian federation will crumble to pieces if Québec individuals and companies were allowed to post websites on the internet without the .ca in front of the .qc reminding the world that, yes, Québec is still part of Canada.
This is probably the same people who thought that the solution the near breakup of the country in 1980 and 1995 was to plaster the province with canadian flags. The same people who forced SRC to backtrack and change it’s name back to Radio-Canada, despite the fact that CBC could keep its call letters and the minor detail that Radio-Canada was a TELEVISION station.
Jeez, if Canadian unity hangs by such a weak thread maybe we should go further. Maybe we should make it illegal for websites like mine use a generic .com and force me to use a .qc.ca. Or a .ca, period.
How about all Canadian websites be forced to use a .canadakicksass domain and post links to Molson and Tim Horton’s?
We could also force Quebecers to put that little Canadian flag on their licence plates that you see in the West Island and make the canadian flag mandatory on backpacks.
Let’s not stop there! Let’s force canadians to use .ca.uk until they get the balls to show the door to the Queen!
All newly arrived immigrants to Québec, especially the French-speaking ones, take down this number:
The above number is the complaints line for the Québec’s consumer protection agency: the Office de Protection des Consommateurs du Québec.
If you came to Québec under the impression that you were entering a thriving job market in need of your education and skills of if our were led to believe that your knowledge of French would be an advantage to you, you should call this number.
You were lied to.
If you read the Immigration Québec website you will read that: “According to labor market forecasts, 640,000 positions must be filled by 2008.” You will also read that the current unemployment rate for Montreal is 9,4%.
Actually, hum… no. Immigrants who’ve been in Montreal 1 to 5 years have an 18% unemployment rate. Three times that of native Montrealers.
The Immigration Québec website also informs you that “Québec is committed to preserving and promoting its official language. French represents not only an essential communication tool, but also a common symbol of belonging to Québec society.”
Again.. Apparently not. According to a new study by our good fried Jack Jedwab of the Center for Canadian studies, an allophone who only speaks French is two times and a half more likely to be unemployed than one who only speaks English. A bilingual immigrant only gets a statistically insignificant advantage of 0.4% over one who only speak English.
These are the French-speaking immigrants we were told were going to put an end to the demographic decline of French-speakers in Montreal and Québec. The ones that would be the easiest to integrate. Well, the above numbers tell me something is already going very wrong and that it’s time we address this problem before it catches fire.
We owe it to these guys. They left country and family to come here out of many possibilities in a very competitive immigration market because we told them we valued their skills, culture and language.
To increase immigration levels to 50 000 new people a year when 30% of North Africans can’t find work is a curious way of increasing the market value of immigrants who are already here. A cynical person might say it only serves to keep wages down for Québec’s struggling manufacturing sector.
What seem especially treacherous is that it is done at the expense of Francophones who were told that speaking French would be an advantage to them in Québec, and who will slowly realize that it is nothing more than an obstacle to their mobility, further reducing their market value.
Of course the idea is not that immigration is a bad thing and certainly not that we should stop encouraging Francophone immigration. Quite the contrary.
There are jobs out there and an enormous amount of people not being hired for these jobs. Is the problem discrimination? Racism? Education? I don’t know but it seems urgent that we find out.
I only suggest that perhaps the current economic news coming from the US could be the signal that the time might be appropriate to re-examine not only our immigration policy, but the use and value of French in the workplace, and ways to increase it.
We are now recruiting immigrants based on the job market we want, not the one we have. Employers are still demanding that employers speak English. Is it always necessary to do the actual job or is it only because, well, English kind of became the default common language in the office? Is it only because the Toronto office only writes reports in English? Is it only because it makes meetings more efficient?
The right to work in French is only very loosely enforced in Québec and not much thought has been given on how to harmonise that right with the internationalization of the markets. Those are complicated questions indeed in a global economy.
As we figure these things out, perhaps it could be time to ask ourselves how filling Montreal with young overqualified and underemployed poorly mobile young people lured into Québec under false pretences is a desirable move as we head into a recession?
It is with a tearful eye and a trembling hand that I write today after reading Taking a Personal Stand, a piece by J.D. Gravenor about the plight of a poor 12 year old called Audrey-Laurence Farmer.
Poor Audrey-Laurence is a 12 year old student at a school called Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s… or was a student, we should say, because, as we learn in the article, she is being forced by the Québec government to leave her school and her friends.
Audrey-Laurence is not eligible for a Certificate of Eligibility for English Language Education, you see, because her parents have not been educated in English. The loophole that her parents had used to get her into Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s in the first place has been closed by bill 104 and, even though that law is being challenged at the Supreme Court of Canada, little Audrey-Laurence is being forced to leave her friends and classmates and start all over again in a French school.
Cue teary eyed child: “It makes me feel really sad, because I’m losing a really close friend. A lot of people who are really good friends with her are upset and they wish she could stay here, because they’ve been really attached to her.”
Audrey-Laurence Farmer is the perfect poster-child for the campaign waged by parents and Anglo school boards against bill 104: a bright bilingual kid forced to leave her school by mean bureaucrats.
It’s very dramatic indeed. It’s also a total fabrication.
Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s is not your average private school where a couple of thousands of dollars a year buys your kid ivy covered walls and pretty uniforms. Kindergarten at the Westmount school costs 12,810$ a year! Kindergarten! Tuition for grades 1 through 6 costs 14,580$ a year!
From kindergarten through grade six, Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s functions as a non-subsidized school. That means it receives no money from the government. It also means it is not regulated by bill 101 and that it can admit any child they want, even those who are not eligible for English public and subsidized private schools. Children like Audrey-Laurence.
So what happened? After grade 7 Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s becomes a subsidized school. As a subsidized school that receives government funding it can only admit students whose parents have been to English schools or who have themselves been to English schools in Canada. That’s the rule as established by the Charter of the French Language 30 years ago.
Until 2002 the school’s entire structure was built around a loophole used by some parents to get otherwise ineligible kids into subsidized English schools. Parents willing and able to pay the price of a brand new Volkswagen every year to send their children to Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s primary school were essentially buying the right to send their kids to English schools in Québec.
By the end of the sixth grade enough children had received “the majority of their education in English in Canada” and were legally allowed to attend Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s taxpayer-financed high school.
That’s exactly the loophole members of the National Assembly unanimously (yes, even the English-speaking ones!) voted to close with bill 104. Not so much because it was a way for parents to get their kids into English language schools in total violation of the spirit of bill 101, but because the loophole allowed wealthy parents to buy the right to a GOVERNMENT FUNDED English education
If grades 7 to 11 at Miss Edgar and Miss Cramp’s school were not subsidized, Audrey could’ve stayed. Because it is, now after the sixth grade students like Audrey-Laurence who are not eligible for English schools will have to go to French schools…
Or will they? Although most crusty private high schools in Montreal and Westmount operate on the same model of unsubsidized primary school and governement funded high school, there are some unsubsidized English high schools out there. Parents who have paid over $100,000 to send their child at Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s from kindergarten cannot claim that money is the issue here.
Schools like Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s were part of a vast network that provided a way for the wealthy to ignore Québec’s laws and obtain governement funding for high schools filled with privileged children that should not have been eligible for taxpayer financed English education.
The wealthy already have absolute freedom of choice when it comes to the language of education in Québec, as long as they forfeit about $3,500 of governement funding a year. What we are talking about here is extremely expensive schools that that had found a way to ALSO receive government money.
Let’s not forget that no other province in Canada gives as much government money to private schools as Québec. Ontario would not have contributed a dime to Audrey’s private education, in French or English!
If Audrey-Laurence’s parents had sent her to an unsubsidized school, she wouldn’t have to change schools next year. Sadly, her parents tried to have it both ways: an exclusive private education AND government money to pay for it.
They tried to cheat the system and it didn’t work out. So, as any good parents would, they told their daughter the governement is to blame.
Now that’s a lesson Audrey-Laurence will certainly remember.