Archive for February 2009
Québec’s TV industry is huge. For a country it’s size, with a potential public of only a a few million viewers, most of whom understand English and are perfectly able to tune in to the American TV networks that make up at least half of the channels of any cable subscription, the vitality of Québec’s TV is simply astonishing.
Québec’s television is also very high quality television with well-written dramas like Les Invincibles, sitcoms like Tout sur moi innovative talk-shows like 3600 Secondes d’Extase. Québec’s TV rarely feels small-time and production values are often world-class. Star Académie, Québec’s weekly reality/talent show, is an extravaganza of massive production numbers featuring American and French guest stars that makes American Idol look like community television. Seriously.
There is only one major problem with Québec’s television. It’s not in colour yet.
This week AngryFrenchGuy talked to Frédérick Isaya, a young community activist and budding actor about this time bomb that is just waiting to blow up in Québec’s face.
Who are you Fred?
I am a community activist on Montreal’s South shore with a 12 to 17 year olds, an actor and the father of two kids. I’ve been a member of Québec’s Union des artistes for three or four years. I’ve been acting since my teens, but never as a full time occupation. It’s something I do, but not something I gave up everything for.
When you look at TV today, the socio-cultural image you see is anachronistic. It is the image of a Québec that is gone. Long gone, I should say. At some point we have to come to terms with that because we are creating many different little parallel societies that don’t include each other. The mass media is the spearhead, of the cornerstone of the collective imaginary. It has to look like us or else we are creating division and people will watch their TV somewhere else and not take part in Québec society. It’s not healthy for anyone.
The consequence of this is that people who don’t live in Montreal have no idea what Montreal looks like. If they only see black people on TV who are up to no good, or Chinese people who are in the Asian mafia, or Arabs preparing a terrorist coup… If that’s the only images they have of cultural communities because they don’t know them in any other way, you can’t unify Québec. We have to change this and change it right now. We can’t wait. The clock is ticking.
Why is it like this?
I really don’t know. I’d rather think it’s a form of indifference or of negligence rather than think it’s deliberate, because if it is deliberate it scares me.
How does it work with casting calls? Can you show up for any role or are you only expected to come if it specifically says: Black guy?
We often face closed-minded people who make pretty restrictive casting calls, but, fortunately, it’s more and more common to see some « all ethnicities welcome » castings. There’s a role for a police officer, a mason or a doctor, and the police officer, the mason and the doctor can be anybody. Every time I see that, I’m reassured. But all to often, right after that I see another breakdown that specifically reads « White man » or « White woman », and when you read the role you just can’t figure out why.
You know, if they’re looking for an actress to play the wife of (union leader Michel) Chartrand during the second world war, I can understand they don’t want a black or a Chinese woman! But when there is no reason… if it’s only because the person in front of you imagined a white woman, I think we are getting awfully close to racism.
What are you going to do about it?
I decided if I didn’t get involved, I was going to be responsible for my own failure. I went to the annual assembly of the UDA (Union des Artistes) and brought up the issue. I think I got things started. A committee was formed to look into all groups excluded from television. You should see things starting to move in 2009. Maybe not on television, just yet, but you will hear about people starting to get involved.
Last year you ran in both the federal and provincial elections as a Bloc québécois and a Parti québécois candidate. Many English-speaking people in Canada still associate sovereigntists with exclusion. What do you have to say about that?
I don’t understand why people associate sovereignty with exclusion. Maybe Parizeau’s message has something to do with it, but it’s been 13 years…
You can’t forget that M. René Lévesque is the instigator of visible immigration in Québec. Before 1976 mass immigration in Québec was essentially an immigration of Caucasian people. M. Lévesque did not hesitate to encourage immigration from French-speaking Africa and Haiti because he felt we needed French-speaking immigrants to solidify the sovereignty project.
There are many people in the Parti québécois think integration is a good thing, but there have not been many concrete acts by the governments of the last 30 years. Including the Parti québécois governments. I would be a hypocrite to say anything else.
Maybe that’s why people associate integration difficulties with the sovereigntists. Even though there have been many federalist governments in the last 30 years, in Québec we are having difficulties with integration of cultural communities, and so, by extension, as a kind of doubtful extrapolation, people associate that with the Parti québécois and the sovereigntist movement. But it’s not about a political party. It’s about everyone.
Special Black History Month edition AngryBoys and Girls. It’s the story of Michel Adrien and Ulrick Chérubin, two buddies from the town of Jacmel in Haiti who both ended up as mayors of Mont-Laurier and Amos, two lumberjack towns of Québec’s North West.
The story of both men starts in the late 60 and early seventies when a whole generation of scholars, professionals and intellectuals was chased out of Papa Doc Duvalier’s Haiti. Quite a few of these men and women came to Québec where they found a surprisingly familiar society that spoke French and shared their catholic faith. Québec was also a society that, unlike Haiti, was now moving on after the long reign of it’s own tyrant, Maurice Duplessis.
Michel Adrien came to Québec in 1969 and took a job teaching high school physics for a year in Mont-Laurier, a small city of some 13 000 souls in the Laurentians. Québec’s Quiet Revolution had lead to massive education reforms and there were many jobs jobs for all those who were willing to do a tour of duty in the woods.
He remembers the Mont-Laurier of the late 60’s as an effervescent regional hub. Black people were rare, but not unheard of as many came to work in the many government agencies in town.
“What was funny was the reaction of parents when we has PTA meetings. The students, for the first few weeks had a natural curiosity that lead them to ask questions, but once they got their answers, I’m the teacher. That’s it. Often they would forget to even mention it to their parents who would freeze when they first saw me. But I’m talking about the first few years, here. Young people have a wonderful ability to adapt.”
Adrien made friends and signed up for a second year. Then a few more. He met a girl. Classic. He founded the city’s astronomy club, the bike club and was eventually elected union representative, first at his school, later at the regional level. “You have to remember the era was one of major union militancy in Québec. That position had some kind of power.”
Michel Adrien’s childhood friend, Ulrick Chérubin, came to Canada a few years later, to a New Brunswick seminary where he studied to become a priest. The seminary closed and he moved to another seminary, in Trois-Rivières. There he met a woman that asked him he had ever thought of being a father instead of a priest. “I told her I had never considered it”, he lied.
After leaving the Church, which was a very fashionable thing to do in those years in Québec, Chérubin recycled his theology credentials into a teaching career. Like his friend, he headed north, to the small city of Amos in Abitibi. Amos is almost exactly the same size as Mont-Laurier and is also dependent on the forestry industry.
Chérubin’s political career started after retirement, following a dream in which his deceased mother reprimanded him for watching to much TV. In 2002 he was elected mayor with an ultra-thin majority of only 50 votes. A year later his childhood friend Adrien was elected mayor of Mont-Laurier.
In 2005 Ulrick Chérubin was re-elected, his time with a record-breaking 84% of the votes.
Québec’s Haitian community is usually associated with the urban neighbourhoods of North East Montreal, but there is actually a surprisingly long history of Haitians not only living , but becoming political leaders in Québec’s and French-Canada’s remote communities.
The first black mayor in Canadian history was Dr. Firmin Monestime, an Haitian who was elected in the little bilingual logging community of Mattawa in Northern Ontario in 1964, only one year after Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. The first black mayor in Québec was René Coicou, another Haitian who in 1973 was elected in Gagnon, an ultra-remote mining town half way between Montréal and Irkutsk that was shut down and evacuated in 1985. Another Haitian political figure is the Parti québécois’ Jean Alfred, the first black member of Québec’s National Assembly, elected in the Outaouais ridding of Papineau in 1976.
Could being one of the few visible minorities in an area where people from a different postal code are foreigners actually be an advantage in the highly public profession of politics?
“I don’t think so”, says the mayor of Amos. After some years, people don’t see my colour. They see Ulrick, a guy who’s active in the community. I forget I’m black.”
“I would say it can be an advantage”, the mayor of Mont-Laurier disagrees. “People go through three phases. First, I’m the Black guy. Then I’m Monsieur Adrien. Then I’m Michel.” That said, Montrealers might find it odd to find a black mayor in Mont-Laurier, but his constituents got over his skin colour a long time ago, he swears. “When I’m in a public forum, talking about Mont-Laurier, no one finds it caricatural or unusual.”
Would Monsieur Adrien or Monsieur Chérubin consider provincial or federal politics? “If I was seven or eight years younger”, muses Chérubin. “I have more affinities with the PQ. What happened to me is that in my riding we have François Gendron [of the Parti Québécois] who’s been there since 1976. So I don’t think I’ll have a shot at that seat as long as he’s there.”
The 1970’s were a time of tremendous political and social upheaval in Québec and there were plenty of opportunities for adventurous immigrants like Michel Adrien and Ulrick Chérubin, especially since, at that time, the Haitian community had yet to set deep roots in Montréal, or anywhere else. But times have changed. The forest industry is in crisis. There are few jobs in Amos and Mont-Laurier, today. For immigrants or anybody else.
“We used to have a very cosmopolitan society”, reminisces Michel Adrien. We even had an Afghan in Mont-Laurier. But they’re gone. Of my group that came in 1969, I am one of the few who stayed.” He talks of recent statistics that suggest that Mont-Laurier is one of the Canadian cities of over 10 000 people with the fewest immigrants in Canada. “Certainly the fewest immigrants of any city where the mayor is an immigrant!”
It’s been a pretty good week for Québec’s independence movement. For real.
Whilst in the middle of very busy week in which he managed to insult the Prime Minister of Britain, the government of the Czech republic and bring almost every single French man and woman to he streets, Nicolas Sarkozy took the time to squeeze in a few nasty thoughts about Québec’s sovereignty movement.
He dismissed us, the sovereigntists, with the same disdain he used to reserve for the racaille of Seine-Saint-Denis. The president called sovereingtists, without naming them, ‘sectarian’ and ‘inwrad-looking’. He said he did not understand the « obligation to define one’s identity by fierce opposition to the other. »
The right of the Québécois democratically decide for themselves who should govern their affairs was not his « thing ». The world did not need another division, he reasoned with the sophisticated and subtle thinking that has become his trademark.
I’m loving it. Nicolas Sarkozy was elected with the support of an important part of the Front National vote. He opposed the accession of Turkey to the European Union because “if it was in Europe, we’d know about it”. He doesn’t think French colonialism had any negative effects of Africa and that the continent’s problem is that “it never entered History”. And now he feels strongly about a united Canada.
Wow. I doubt you could get a stronger confirmation that the sovereigntists are the good guys short of getting George W. Bush and Robert Mugabe to hold a joint press conference titled “The Canadian federation. Our model and inspiration.”.
But even better, Sarko’s little diatribe completely drowned out any news of Jean Charest’s trip to Europe, arguably the most successful trip to the old countries by a federalist Prime Minister. Ever.
Predictably, the Canadian media nearly choked with self-righteousness, praising the French president’s ‘fresh’ and ‘forward-looking’ thoughts. We’ll see how fresh they think he is when he tells them it’s time Canada gets rid of that anachronistic little border on the 49th parallel. He might just get a real taste of a country that defines itself by ‘detestation’ and ‘opposition’ to the other…
But the real story here is not that Nicolas Sarkozy does not know anything or that Canadians are completely blind to their own hypocrisy. Everybody knows that.
No, the real story is that Québec’s sovereigntists need to get new friends. Fast.
Ever since Québec emerged from the Great Darkness, the forces of light and good in the province have put all their eggs in France’s basket. As if the only recognition an independent Québec would ever need would be that of France.
There is a reason why Québec looked to France and it is not only because of a shared language. France has consistently been the West’s left wing. Cooler, smarter and not afraid to break rank on NATO, Irak and the Occident’s apparent determination to abolish food.
But France is not only Renaud and IAM. It is also Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Halliday. France too has it’s Stéphane Gendrons, Josée Verners and Denis Coderres. It is as it never occured to any of the Parti québécois’ numerous regulars of the bistros of Boulevard Austerlitz that one day one of them might actually take power.
Someone like Nicolas Sarkozy.
But it was bound to happen. As night begets day and life begets death, a well read and inspiring American president begets a reductive twit at the Élysée.
The real issue is « why haven’t sovereigntists cultivated more friends in other countries? »
Before the Obama administration actually got the briefing on the aliens of Area 51 and the nuclear missile launch codes, all observers knew exactly how many friends Israel had in the White House and how powerful they were. Canadian Conservatives had mules in Washington before they took power in Ottawa. David Frum, a National Post columnist and the son of Barbara Frum, is the Bush speechwriter who coined the inspiring, in a Battlestar Gallactica kind of way, image of the Axis of Evil.
The last time there was anyone with any pull whatsoever in the White House who had ever heard about Québec was when Pierre Salinger served as press secretary for JFK. Other than that their might be a cab driver in Baltimore who has a cousin in Beloeil. That’s about it.
And while were at it, why don’t we have any of our men and women working the pubs of London? There once was a time when Québec’s representatives regularly looked to London as a fair arbiter in their conflicts with English-speaking neighbours and on more than one occasion the cooler heads in London did not hesitate to put the proto-Rhodesians of Upper Canada and Montreal back in their place.
Sovereigntists could send Pauline Marois to hang out with the Queen. I’m sure they would get along splendidly as they both have a taste for expansive rural estates and an entourage keen on palace intrigue and making inappropriate comments. A few shots of sherry and firm commitment to keep her on as Reine du Québec after independence and there is no doubt Betty would get on board.
First of all, she would have no choice but to publicly support her own subjects’ declaration of independence. Second, no Englishman or woman, no matter how blue the blood, who would ever miss an opportunity to stick it to the French!
Take that Sarko!
“I just love Montreal”, I overheard a lady tell her friend in Avenue Video in Montréal. “I’d live here if I spoke French.”
“I don’t speak French”, scoffed a passerby. “Don’t worry about that.”
English is getting stronger in Montreal. I’m not the one saying it. The Montreal Gazette is saying it. There’s just no way around the numbers. Québec’s English-speaking population rose by 5.5% between 2001 and 2006 according to StatsCan.
How did this happen?
“The easy answer to the question of why young anglos aren’t leaving Quebec like they did a generation ago”, writes David Johnston, “is that they speak better French, and aren’t being chased away by political uncertainty.”
You will all remember that the “political uncertainty” started in the 1950’s and 1960’s when francophones started asking why they were paid less than any other nationality in Québec, why no francophones held any management position in Canada’s banking and finance industry and why they were forbidden to use their language to speak to each on the shop floor.
English-Canada’s business elite responded by moving the country’s entire financial sector and 800 000 jobs from Montreal to Ontario where discrimination against French-speakers was allowed.
But a more important reason, according to the Montreal edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, is that it’s getting easier and easier for English-speakers to live and work in Montreal because there has been a “cultural shift” that has made English “acceptable” in the workplace.
“By the 1990s”, continues our man, “speaking English had become more acceptable in Quebec as firms came to see the need to improve the capacity of their workforces to operate in English. This created new opportunities for anglophones.”
As if English had ever disappeared from the Québec workplace! As if the French-speaking majority of Québec that had been forced to work in English for 250 years suddenly found itself unable to communicate with the outside world in the international language of business after bill 101 gave them the right to work in French!
The failure of Bill 101
When I was a truck driver satellites communications between French-speaking drivers and French-speaking dispatchers had to be in English so the English-speaking security team in Toronto could understand what was going on.
In 2005 the Metro chain of grocery stores bought A&P Canada and Christian Haub, the CEO and chairman of the board of A&P got a seat on the Québec company’s board. Thirteen Francophones and one Anglo. Guess what language the board meeting are in now?
Yep. Even when the French businessmen win, they lose.
That’s the way the modern workplace functions. It is entirely structured around the needs of the less qualified people. French-speakers in Québec, and all non-English speaking people around the world, are required to acquire additional language skills so that unilingual Anglos won’t have to.
Québec briefly tried to change that with the Charter of the French language, but the truth is that the rules that were supposed to protect the right of Québec workers to work in their language are broken. They don’t work anymore.
They were designed for businesses that could be contained in a building, to make sure that the 15th floor would communicate in French with the 6th and 2nd floor, all the way down to the shop floor.
But businesses don’t work like that anymore. Management is in Toronto, accounting’s in Alberta and IT is in Bangalore. Toronto’s and New York’s business culture is once again being imposed on the workers of Québec, and the entire world, actually.
Québec’s workforce has always been the most multilingual in Canada, and probably one of the most linguistically versatile in the World. Québec’s business culture did not change, it’s the world’s business structure that changed.
And once again, after only a brief interruption, unilingual Anglos can come back to work in Montreal.
And just in time, as the stellar generation of brilliant financial minds that left Montreal a generation ago have now managed to completely scrap Ontario’s economy and is now ready to come back home.