Posts Tagged ‘pauline marois’
Pauline Marois’ leadership of the Parti québécois is a first in more ways than one. She is, of course, the first woman to lead a major political party in Québec. She is also the first PQ leader not to be perfectly comfortable speaking English.
René Lévesque spoke English fluently, having grown up in the English-speaking town of New Carlisle and spending the Second World War in Europe with American troops. Although bilingual, neither Robert Bourassa nor Claude Ryan had his ease and fluency in English.
Jacques Parizeau evidently enjoyed using the British English he picked up at the London School of Economics while Robert Bourassa, a Harvard man himself, spoke his English adequately, without any style or apparent pleasure.
Jean Charest raised the Liberal standard considerably, but Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry were not impressed. (And I’m pretty sure Charest doesn’t speak Spanish or Latin like Landry!)
At the Federal level, with the notable exception of Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, the Liberal leaders speak even worse English than their provincial counterparts. Jean Chrétien carefully cultivated his non-threatening image with a heavily accented pea soup English while Stéphane Dion has the bookish accent of someone who learned the language by reading, not talking. Their Bloc opponent Gilles Duceppe’s English, while it would’ve been considered mediocre in Québec City, was paradoxically more than good enough by the standards set by Québec federal politicians.
Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin spoke easily in French and English, but they were Anglophones.
The current situation, with Pauline Marois speaking considerably less English than the fluent Jean Charest is the exception, not he norm.
Less English schools, more English in School
Pauline Marois is under attack these days for suggesting that the Québec education system should make sure that all children are functionally bilingual when they graduate from high school. She demanded that English be thought from the first grade on, and even that some form of immersion be created, by teaching geography and history in English, for example.
As expected, the cowardly Right of the independence movement opposed violently the plan. More frighteningly, some intellectual elites, such as author and playwright Victor-Lévy Beaulieu used the T word. Treason.
VLB, as he is known, certainly speaks English. He just published a 1000 page essay on James Joyce, one of the most notoriously difficult writers in the English language. Yet, the knowledge of English has never diminished his commitment to independence or his passion for the French language!
The knowledge of English has never had a negative correlation with support for Québec’s independence or support for the protection of French. Support for independence rises in the Francophone community with education level and income, both of which usually suggest some knowledge of English.
Nor does bilingualism diminish a student’s ability to speak and write in their mother tongue. Many studies have demonstrated that the kids who go through the French-immersion program in the rest of Canada score better in ENGLISH than those who go through the regular program!
The modern independence movement was born in Montreal’s bilingual Francophone intellectual community, inspired by hearing Martin Luther King and Gandhi speak about freedom, justice and liberty, in English!
80% to 90% of young people in Scandinavian countries speak English. Yet, they are still Swedes and Finns, still speak Swedish and Finnish and still play hockey not football. If the Québec school system could properly teach English to Québec’s youth, the English language CEGEPs and universities would not look so attractive to young people who want to practice the language.
By suggesting that the knowledge of English is dangerous for the people, that they are not ready or that it could threaten the integration of immigrants, Pauline Marois’ elitist bilingual opponents like Victor Lévy Beaulieu only managed to demonstrate that speaking English won’t make you smarter either.
(Also published in the Montreal Gazette as Pauline Marois and her problem with English)
René Lévesque did not want the political party he founded to be called the Parti Québécois. His choice was the much less emotionally charged and very descriptive Parti Souveraineté-Association and it is apparently very reluctantly that he accepted the choice of the party members. He did not want his party to be the party of a people. He wanted it to be the party of a people’s project.
The essence of this project and what made it a model from Scotland to Catalonia was that you could create a country for a historical and cultural community while protecting a strictly legal atheistic deaf-dumb and blind definition of citizenship.
It seems we have lost this notion of citizenship. Mario Dumont’s action Démocratique du Québec became the official opposition by correctly identifying a real discomfort in the francophone population and positioning himself as the defender of Québec’s “identity” and “values”.
Because of its very narrow victory many forget that the Liberal party narrowly escaped annihilation at the last election. Its francophone supporters were massively jumping over to Mario’s ship. In the end, only the Anglophone minority’s stubborn refusal to participate in democracy and their soviet-style support of the party with the most red on its logo allowed the Liberals to win the most seats in the election with less than 20% of the francophone vote.
After the election Liberal Jean Charest formed a cabinet with only one self-described member of the Anglophone community even though half of the votes that elected him were from the Anglos and other minorities. The Liberals new priority was to shed its image of Parti des Anglais and position themselves as defenders of Québec’s “identity” and “values”.
During the last election campaign, only André Boisclair chose to stand above this very real dividing of votes along ethnic lines. René Lévesque latest successor, Pauline Marois, has decided to turn her back on this principled heritage of her party’s past and decided that the party’s future was to become another party defending Québec’s ‘identity’ and ‘values’.
All three parties are no waiting for the Bouchard-Taylor Commission to tell them exactly what are these values they are defending.
If they had not panicked, the Parti Québécois could have realized that they actually had an ideal position in the current political climate. First of all, they had and irreproachable record when it came to the protection of Québec’s rights.
Second, while the Liberal’s and Mario would have been arguing about who was the “real” spokesperson of the Québécois, the PQ could’ve turned to voters and said: “Listen, we won’t try to tell you who you are or what your values are. We will give you the tools for these values, whatever they may be, need to not only survive, but thrive. We will give you an independent country.”
By removing from her party’s program any obligation to actually do anything about independence, like holding a referendum, Pauline Marois has relieved sovereignists of their “duty” to vote for the PQ. Just like the Liberals could count on the rock solid base of Montreal’s Anglophone community to deliver 15 to 20 ridings even in the worst of times, The PQ had its own hardcore base of indépendantiste who would have supported them through the darkest hour. These voters will now feel free to vote for any party that they feel can best defend Québec’s ‘interests’. And I don’t think many of them feel that is Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois.
In an era of identity politics and cultural polarization, it seems the only thing the Parti Québécois has got going for it is it’s name. René Lévesque would not be proud.