Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay bets re-election on Race Card

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Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay believes the next municipal election will be won or lost in the city’s diverse cultural communities.  Hoping to secure that vote, members of his Union Montréal Party have launched a pre-emptive strike against possible challenger Louise Harel.

Louise Harel is a former Parti Québécois Minister of Cultural Communities, Immigration and Municipal Affairs who has steadily been moving closer to City Hall’s fledgling opposition party, Vision Montréal.  She is scheduled to speak at a Vision Montréal convention next week.

Last week a coalition of cultural community leaders closely associated to mayor Tremblay’s Union Montréal party accused Madame Harel of making racist remarks and encouraging xenophobia.

One week before the eruption the controversy, incumbent mayor Gérald Tremblay had identified the cultural communities’ vote as the key to his reelection.

On the 25th of February, the mayor’s party, Union Montreal, held a cocktail party for leaders of the said cultural communities at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Montreal.  In the accompanying press release Mayor Tremblay is quoted as saying: « Union Montréal embodies what the New Montreal is: a mosaic of peace, that unites people of diverse talent, origins, aspirations and dreams. »

« It is clear that Montreal’s cultural communities want more and more to get involved at the level of municipal politics, and our party Union Montréal understood that need. »

On the 10th of March controversy erupted over a comment made by Louise Harel in an interview on cable news channel RDI.  Speaking about the possibility of reducing the number of Montreal boroughs, Madame Harel said: “If we go from 19 to 10 boroughs, but these boroughs remain quasi-municipalities as they are now, we will end up in the worst of situations because we’ll have cities … an Italian city, a Haitian city, an anglophone city, an Arab city – Ville St. Laurent, a Jewish city, etc.  We will no longer have this sense of one big city with boroughs that speaks with one voice.”

The Montreal Gazette printed a series of editorials and articles in which leaders of different cultural community groups spoke out against Madame Harel’s characterization of some Montreal boroughs as «Arab cit[ies] » and « Haitian Cit[ies] ».

Robert Libman, he former mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, leader of the Equality Party and member of mayor Tremblay’s executive committee said Harel was “sowing the seeds of xenophobia by pointing to identifiable communities.”  And that “It’s as if she sees bogeymen in everything that is not white and francophone.”

The Montreal Gazette published four articles on the issue.  None included Madame Harel’s response to the accusations, taken here from free daily Metro: “This debate only serves to distract attention from the real debate, which is about whether we still have a great city in Montreal.  We have to reclaim this idea that we are all Montrealers and not only citizens of boroughs that have become quasi-municipalities.”

More than half of the people quoted in the Montreal Gazette article are current or former members of Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montreal party: Marcel Trembay is a member of the city’s executive committee and the brother of Mayor Tremblay.  Alan DeSousa is also a member of the executive comitee and mayor of the Ville-Saint-Laurent borough.  Keder Hyppolite is a member of Union Montréal, as was Robert Libman. (A former member of Gérald Tremblay’s executive committee, Libman resigned from the party after his municipality, Côte-St-Luc, demergered from Montreal. )

On march 15th, a press conference was held by a dozen cultural community leaders to condemn Madame Harel’s comments.  Speaking on behalf of the leaders was Marvin Rotrand, another member of Mayor Tremblay’s Union Montreal party and deputy leader of union Montreal at City Hall.

When contacted by the AngryFrenchInvestigativeJournalismUnit, community leaders quoted in the Montreal Gazette story all maintained that they found the quote offensive but that they did not believe Louise Harel is racist or was expressing a racist sentiment.  In fact, they had only praise for Madame Harel’s record when it came to relations with minorities or immigrants.

« It was a mistake », said Tony Sciascia, president of the Québec section of the Congress of Italian Canadians. « I know Mrs Harel quite well, I think it was more of a lapsus rather than using those terms.»

Mr. Sciascia, who was the organiser of the March 15th press conference and demonstration against Madame Harel’s statement, denied his involvement in this controversy is politically motivated.  « I’m not interested in politics my friend. »

Hear more of what Tony Sciascia’s had to say:

Kéder Hippolyte of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin and himself a member of Union Montréal did not participate in the March 15th demonstration.  «I’m not going going to take part in that demonstration.  This is political demonstration. »

Mr. Hippolyte says he was surprised by Madame Harel’s comment and wishes she would clarify her thoughts.  «She is one of the persons who always talks on behalf of immigrants, she was a former Minister of immigration, she created structures to help immigrants integrate society, and now she is telling me she is afraid of an Haitian city, an Italian city…  it is up to her to explain. »

Hear more of Kéder Hippolyte’s thoughts:

« I reacted to the journalist’s question who said it might be possible that there would be Haitian cities, Italian cities and Arab cities in Montreal. That’s not what we aspire to in Montreal », said Ninette Piou, also of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin.

Madame Ninette Piou objects to a quote she never heard:

Madame Piou said she still had not read or heard for herself the controversial quote by Madame Harel and was unsure of what was actually said. « Knowing madame Harel, because I had not heard the declaration, I was surprised she would say such a thing.  If she said it I am offended. »

Written by angryfrenchguy

March 17, 2009 at 6:47 pm

123 Responses

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  1. An interesting excercise one might want to try is to google, in both english and french “Louise Harel racism(e)” and “Jason Kenney racism(e)”.

    A quick glance shows that (especially when you remove hits) the greatest number of relevant returns appears to be for an english Jason Kenney search, followed by english Louise Harel, then french Louise Harel, followed by french Jason Kenney which doesn’t appear to return any critiques of the man, again after only a quick glance.


    March 31, 2009 at 7:43 pm

  2. Good point,

    This Kenney law is similar to Bill 195 and 196 by the PQ two years ago. The difference is that Bill 195 and 196 are considered racist and other nasty words by English Canada and francophone federalists. However, they generally agree with Kenney`s law.

    This is called hypocrisy.


    March 31, 2009 at 10:36 pm

  3. “However, they generally agree with Kenney`s law.”

    Antonio, you do understand that Alberta is not the only province in Canada? Right?

    There’s this absurd argument that goes on between (largely white) federalists and soveriegntists. The gist is this; “You’re racist!”

    You know what? They’re right!

    The goal of having immigrants integrate and learn a language is not racist, but putting the onus of accommodation on the minority probably is (or at the very least it’s stupid). They shouldn’t learn a language or cultural customs for the sake of the majority; they should do it for their own sake. So much talk about immigrants and minorities is built on a “what can they do for us?” paradigm. No one moves to a new country to help you out. If you can’t get help in your own country, that’s why you leave. To be sure, immigrants are a boon to the society they come to, but let’s be real: they don’t owe anyone jackshit (except human smugglers, but society shouldn’t act like a bunch of human smugglers collecting debt in cultural adjustment). Of course in the long run society helps itself by helping newcomers. And vice-versa, I just don’t care about the state as some abstract institution that should be revered or served by its citizens.


    April 1, 2009 at 3:05 am

  4. It depends how you define “onus”, Fon. Most immigrant-welcoming societies have provided very little support (in comparison to Canada since the 1970s) to immigrants arriving on their shores: United States, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, etc. Basically, you were or you are thrown into the water with the advice: “now, swim!”.

    Another observation I would like to make is that if it is borderline racist or at least stupid as you say to put the onus on immigrants, then what is the other side of the coin? For the host society to accommodate? But at what level and how far should it go, beyond, let’s say: “So you’re from another country/culture, but as far as we’re concerned you’re potentially every bit as good as anyone else. Your original culture unquestionably has value, and if you want to try and preserve it here yourself, go for it. Some Canadians may be interested in learning about your culture, some may not. Bottom line: welcome to your new home. We’re happy you’re here and we hope you’ll be happy too”.


    April 1, 2009 at 8:40 am

  5. Il est tres interessant de lire les commentaires des lecteurs suite a l’article du globe. Lorsqu’il est question du Quebec, pour le roc, c’est un modele a proscrire: tribalisme et purification ethnique. Certains sont toujours incapable de comprendre que le Quebec epouse un modele ce nationalisme civique et qu’une recherche de la purete ethnique n’existe pas chez nous, nous sommes tous de sang melange et on en est bien content: notre seule objectif c’est de pouvoir vivre en francais chez nous, comme les canadiens anglais peuvent vivre en anglais chez-eux. Comme disait le sondeur Jean-Marc Leger, sur la base de sa vaste experience: PLUS UN MENSONGE EST REPETE SOUVENT, PLUS IL DEVIENT VRAI. jE N’AI jAMAIS entendu un quebecois federaliste ou independantiste parler de purete ethnique, c’est vraiment de la pure calomnie destinee a cacher le mepris qu’ils ont pour tout ce qui concerne le quebec


    April 2, 2009 at 12:10 am

  6. That’s a good question about the onus. By the way if you study Vargas in Brazil it’s an interesting example of treatment of immigrants. You mention support, but moral support goes a long way toward relieving the isolation experienced by many newcomers. Brazil literally lauds the mythology of the immigrant. The US co-opts it. Quebec sidelines it. Canada condescends to it. The onus question is largely semantic, but it’s symbolism is so deep it literally shapes thought.

    “Welcome home, immigrant. We are so glad to have you here. We’ll give you subsidized housing and 500 free hours of daily language lessons. We will give you a subsidized mortgage and education. We are very interested in hearing about your culture and as you have chosen us we can only assume that you are very excited to hear about ours. We are eager to have you contribute to our society.” I’ll stop there. If I say “brotherhood of man” it’ll start getting a little corny.

    Now consider:
    “Who are you? Oh yeah? Well you’d better do this because this is how things are here. You speak the language or you get out.”

    No one wants to come into a nice house guarded by vampire pitbulls. If the goal is to integrate immigrants IT MUST BE DONE FOR THEIR SAKE. I cannot state this enough. Eg during the B-T commission people kept saying “They must learn French” instead of “We must teach them French”. The end result is the same. Everyone speaks French. The purpose and process are completely different. One is a hostile process whose purpose is to serve non-immigrants who are usually the more privileged party in the paradigm. The other is a welcoming process whose purpose is to meet the needs of immigrants.

    The above example of integration is from a real country by the way. It has its problems, but it integrates immigrants pretty well.


    April 2, 2009 at 12:32 am

  7. Il y a toujours des comentaires stupides et discriminatoires dans le Globe and Mail. Il y a rarement des articles stupides. On peut dire aussi que beaucoup de gens qui y mettent des commentaires sont racistes ou sexistes. Mais mettons les choses au claire. Les lectures Mme et M Tout-le monde ne dirige pas la politique du Canada, du Québec ou de Montréal.

    Pour ce qui est le nationalisme québécois. C’est du nationalisme ethnique. Le fait que vous pouvez dire «nous sommes tous de sang melange» est une bonne indication. Le mélange ne change rien. Les Afrikanners sont un mélange aussi. Mais ils représentent un groupe ethnique distincte. C’est le mot «nous» qui ébranle votre argument.

    Soit vous croyez qu’il n’existe pas des québécois d’une origine ethnique pure (chinoise, arabe, vietnamienne, etc), soit vous parlé seulement de certains québécois. Dans le premier cas, vous avez tout simplement tort. Je vais présumer que vous êtes plus intelligents que ça. Dans le deuxième cas, les certains québécois dont vous parleriez doivent former un groupe distincte pour que vous puissiez utiliser le mot «nous».

    Le nationalisme québécois n’est un nationalisme civique tout simplement parce que la nation n’inclut pas tous ses citoyens. L’ethnie québécois est une ethnie ouverte, mais c’est une ethnie quand même. En général, le nationalisme québécois représente les intérêts exclusifs de ce groupe. Ce n’est pas une mauvaise chose dans une démocratie, parce que cette ethnie est la grande majorité de la population. Le nationalisme québécois n’est pas favorable par exemple à la langue anglaise au Québec. Il n’est pas nécessairement opposé à ça, mais malgré le fait que c’est le plus grand groupe minoritaire (et sans dire c’est la faute de qui), le nationalisme québécois n’a pas encore réussi a regroupé toutes les personnes qui habitent au Québec.

    Si vous voulez que le Québec soit une nation civique pourquoi pas poser la question aux anglophones, aux allophones, aux minorités ethniques: «qu’est-ce que nous [ce groupe majoritaire que vous semblez ignorer] pouvons faire pour vous faire sentir une partie de la nation?»


    April 2, 2009 at 1:02 am

  8. Do you agree with Kenney’s law? Then you might have much in common with the politics of a G&M reporter.

    Or do you think that both it and bill 195 are racist? Then you might think there’s too much racism in both federalist and sovereigntist ranks.


    April 2, 2009 at 1:12 am

  9. A ce compte la ,Fon, aucune nation sur terre ne peux prononcer le mot Nous parce toujours cela excluera quelqu’un autre. Si Sarkozy dis nous les Francais, tout le monde comprends qu’il parle de tous les francais: bien sur il y a des immigrants, mais l’idee de ce nous est de les inclure. Je ne dis pas que les francais y parviennent, c’est un exemple parmi tant d’autres. Si on dit tous les americains, ou la nation americaine, on sait tres bien ce que l’on veut dire. Quand on dit la nation quebecoise ou qu’on prononce le mot nous, ici, ca devient suspect: on doit avoir l’intention d’exclure quelqu’un…On dirait que quand il s’agit du Quebec, les mots ne veulent plus dire la meme chose..


    April 2, 2009 at 1:18 am

  10. Vous avez mal compris. Peu importe vos intentions, vous excluez. Considérez encore une fois la phrase «nous sommes tous de sang melange».

    Si «nous» représente tous les québécois, vous êtes tout simplement ignorant des faits. Ce n’est pas tout les québécois qui sont du sang mélangé. Point.
    Lino Saputo 100% italien
    May Chiu 100% chinois
    Brian Mulroney 100% irlandais
    Si vous me dites «oh je savais pas qu’il y avait des québécois d’origines pures», je suis prêt à croire que vous avez voulu dire tous les québécois en disant »nous». C’est un peu naïf. Mais c’est possible que vous n’avez pas su. Je le doute fortement, mais c’est possible.


    April 2, 2009 at 2:00 am

  11. Peut-on vouloir un nationalisme civique sans avoir a passer des tests de sang pour savoir qui est le plus melange? Donc, tu me dis que je suis , soit naif ou ignorant de penser qu’un tel nationalisme civique puisse exister au Quebec? Ca existe pourtant aux usa bien qu’il y ait des immigrants et autoctones au sang pas trop melange.. Ca se peut qu’il ya ait des races pures au Quebec mais je doute fort que le terme puisse s’appliquer a l’espece humaine. Peut-etre serais-tu plus respectueux en me traitant d’idealiste..


    April 2, 2009 at 2:20 am

  12. Les irlandais ont connu une vague d’immigration italienne il ya quelques siecles et les italiens qui ont immigres chez eux avaient eux-memes ete melanges par des individus issus de peuples melanges et ainsi de suite. Des irlandais melanges par des italiens melanges sont venus au Quebec se melanger a d’autres melanges. A part les nazis et leur eugenistes, qui a deja cru a cette histoire de race pure? Il ne faut pas confondre nationalite et sang..


    April 2, 2009 at 2:52 am

  13. Vous avez écrit:

    «nous sommes tous de sang melange et on en est bien content: notre seule objectif c’est de pouvoir vivre en francais chez nous»

    In American (civic with its flaws and benefits) nationalism the word nous applies to ALL AMERICANS.

    La phrase que vous avez écrite: «nous sommes tous de sang melange et on en est bien content: notre seule objectif c’est de pouvoir vivre en francais chez nous» NE S’APPLIQUE PAS À TOUS LES QUÉBÉCOIS.

    I cannot make it any simpler than this. You seem to ignore the subtext of your own words.

    «Peut-on vouloir un nationalisme civique sans avoir a passer des tests de sang pour savoir qui est le plus melange?» That’s a rhetorical question. Either I don’t know the very obvious answer or you don’t care that I do know the still very obvious answer.

    Donc, tu me dis que je suis , soit naif ou ignorant de penser qu’un tel nationalisme civique puisse exister au Quebec? No. I think you’re naive for believing that there are no Quebecers who would describe themselves as being of pure origins. Actually the point I was making is that you can’t possibly be that naive, but now you seem bent on convincing me otherwise.

    Ca se peut qu’il ya ait des races pures au Quebec mais je doute fort que le terme puisse s’appliquer a l’espece humaine. Peut-etre serais-tu plus respectueux en me traitant d’idealiste.

    Now we’re onto something! Honestly that’s cool.

    Je pense que la plupart des Québécois qui pronent un nationalisme civique sont très idéalistes. Ça pourrait être une belle choses dans certaines façons. Mais je dirais que ce n’est pas réaliste. Malgré la bonne volonté des gens comme René Lévesque ou Gilles Duceppe, il y a un ethnie québécois qui domine le discours sur l’identité national. Ce discours ne tient pas compte de la diversité qui existe au Québec soit linguistique ou ethnique.

    I’m not confusing nationality and blood. My point is very much that:
    Lino Saputo would consider himself pure blooded Italian;
    May Chiu would say she’s full-blood Chinese;
    Brian Mulroney is entirely of Irish origin. They are all Quebecers who are “pure blood”. Therefore, you cannot say «la purete ethnique n’existe pas chez nous, nous sommes tous de sang melange et on en est bien content: notre seule objectif c’est de pouvoir vivre en francais chez nous» without excluding these (obviously pureblood) people from your usage of «nous».

    As for your argument that we are all mixed to some extent, well that’s cool my parents were hippies to, but I don’t see anyone singing around the campfire today…. Don’t worry I’m only being jovial. Obviously the idea of absolute purity is laughable, but sociological differences are real and “blood”, “nation”, “gender”, “ethnicity” can all be metaphors for different and very real identities. I’m just saying that even if we recognize that we’re all the mixed, it unfortunately doesn’t solve Belgium’s problems.

    Oh and a side note: il ne faut pas confondre la race et le sang.


    April 2, 2009 at 3:27 am

  14. Oui bon bon, je pense que pour avoir une bonne communication, il faut s’effacer pendant un moment afin d’ aller voir ce que l’autre veut vraiment dire: les concepts servent a etablir une communication: tous les concepts sont imparfaits, tous sont attaquables afin de les remplacer par d’autres etant plus aptes a etablir une bonne communication. Mais si par orgueuil intellectuel on s’attache a des mots afin d’expliquer a l’autre que son concept ne veux pas dire ceci mais cela, il n’y a plus de communication. C’est pourquoi les discussions semantiques ne me concernent pas, dans la mesure ou on comprends ce que je veux dire.Un quebecois est quelqu’un qui vit au Quebec


    April 2, 2009 at 3:48 am

  15. Fon

    since you’ve been commenting on AFG you have brought to this forum a high level of intellectual honesty and a fresh perspective that has kept these sterile debates interesting.

    That’s why I’m truly heartbroken to see you get into intellectual accrobatics to deny the people of Québec the right to say NOUS.

    When Barak Obama says “Yes WE can”, do people take him to court to find out if his WE includes illegal immigrants, the Pennsylvania Duth, New York’s Hassidim, Cajuns, Miami Cubans, Mormons, Alaska’s Inuit, Hawaian Natives, Puerto Ricans, the bayou’s black indians?

    There is a THING called the USA. Some people fly the flag in front of their houses, some people don’t even speak English.

    Same with Québec. To some people Québécois is the central core of their identity. To others it is part of it. Others feel alienated form it.

    Midinightjack’s point is that there is no one defining Québec on ethnic term in the francophone community while the English speakers are obsessed with defining the Québécois that way.

    Why? As a way to justify their refusal to fully participate in the society.

    “La phrase que vous avez écrite: «nous sommes tous de sang melange et on en est bien content: notre seule objectif c’est de pouvoir vivre en francais chez nous» NE S’APPLIQUE PAS À TOUS LES QUÉBÉCOIS.”

    There are plenty of people in Canada (even if you exclude Québec) who would disagree with the statement “We Canadians are a multicultural and bilingual nation”

    Yet no one would EVER take Stephen Harper or Micheal Ignatieff to task for using WE Canadians.

    I agree with you. There are people who are excluded from the Québec identity. However I think YOU are the one who is naive about the identity of those who are doing the excluding…


    April 2, 2009 at 9:36 am

  16. Fon,

    “Do you agree with Kenney’s law? Then you might have much in common with the politics of a G&M reporter.”

    I agree with Kenney’s law which is similar to Bill 195 and 196 in Quebec. I strongly believe that immigrants should accomodate to the host society by learning the language, customs and so on of the host society. This is for reasons of social cohesion and harmony. The immigrants do not necessarily have to give up their own culture in favour of the host culture; they can have both.

    I have been following your recent debate with midnightjack. I agree with you that Quebec nationalism and the Quebec sovereignty movement is largely ethnic, born on the desire to protect the French language and culture of Quebec. However, there are also societal and fiscal arguments and reasons for Quebec nationalism and sovereingty although the ethnic reason is defintely the paramount argument. But the ethnic part of Quebec nationalism is of an INCLUSIVE rather than EXCLUSIVE ethnic nationalism, meaning that it is open to other cultures as long as the French culture dominates. “Ethnic” as a word by itself is not necessarily a bad word. Since most Quebec nationalism and sovereignists also dream of a pluralistic society for Quebec, Quebec nationalism is also civic. Ethnic and civic nationalism are not necessarily exclusive terms.


    April 2, 2009 at 11:50 am

  17. Fon,

    When you said “ne s’applique pas a tous les quebecois . . .” to me, that means that you are, in one way or another, giving your blessing to English speakers to live separate lives from the majority around them and expect to be accomodated linguisticaly when they venture out of the suburbs that they themselves separated from greater francophone montreal in January 2006 (from the mega-city, I read on Wikipedia tht the mayor of Westmount said that the place needs to continue to be recognized as an anglophone institution [!?!?!?]). Some people complain that the Quebecois are not inclusive enough yet it seems to me that the Quebec anglos (and the allos who integrate with them) isolate themselves more and it’s all their own doing.

    To me, it’s like saying, “well, we can’t control everything in Montreal anymore, so let’s at least segregate a community so that what we say goes at least there!” Sometimes anglophone quebecois will defend the rights to other language groups when they are cornered in an arguement and see no way out except to say, “well, what about the italians, autochtones, etc . . .if I am tolerant to you, I need to be tolerant to them, and since that is unrealistic to have institutions tolerant to all languages, I will not tolerate and integrate into French at all. End of story, now stop shoving French down my throat.” This is all due to certain English-speaking or whatever people’s failure to understand that the inclusive identity that Quebec wants to have includes those anglos and allos, but that inclusive identity expresses itself in French. But of course, they will say, “well, if it can’t also be in English, then it’s not equal and not inclusive so fuck you.”

    Anglophones, at least according to what I read, are still in positions of priviledge in Quebec, so they can get away with such things, they also have the rest of the country to back them up. Can’t wait to see for myself what is true and what isn’t on the streets.

    Thomas Dean Nordlum

    April 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

  18. Well I don’t deny that the people of Quebec have the right to use «nous». Quite to the contrary. Since I do believe there is an ethnicity, what the B-T commission called French-Canadian Quebecers and what in English we call Quebecois as opposed ot Quebecers. It’s an open ethnic group, like say Judaism in that anyone can join and it’s a group formed of other ethnic groups, like say Mexican or Afrikanner. But there definitely is a central ethnic identity in Quebec.

    So, it’s not that saying “we” is bad. It’s just that if I say for example “we Quebecers live in a French speaking society” I could just as easily be talking about my unilingual Chinese landlord as I could about Melissa auf der Maur or Denis Arcand. If I say “we have as our primary goal a desire to live in French”, chances are Melissa auf der Maur (although she speaks decent French) and my landlord are out of the picture. Now I’m either talking about a political sentiment (which may also apply to Acadians, Franco-Ontarians or Wallons) or in the context of Quebec about French-Canadian Quebecers — Québécois.

    To put it another way, my father is African-American. He lived in Africa and at one point, a Tanzanian asked him, “What tribe are you from?”, as tribe was the defining identity group. My dad hesitated then explained that his ancestors were from West Africa, but he did not know which tribe, since they had been brought to the States as slaves and lost touch with their roots. The man replied, “Oh. You are from the African-American tribe. That is one of the biggest tribes of all.”

    So, when Obama says “yes WE can,” he speaks of all Americans.

    When students at Howard University chanted “Yes we did,” they meant black Americans.

    When Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths…” he meant white male Americans.

    The usage of “we” is not problematic at all. Being disingenuous about what that “we” represents is problematic.

    Of course there are always people who feel excluded from an identity, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If one says “we Canadians have a bilingual, multicultural society,” sure, some may feel excluded, but the identification of “we” in this instance is open. Almost any Canadian (ethnic) identity can participate. If one says “we Canadians have the G&M as our national newspaper” then either Quebec has seceded or the “we” actually refers to anglo-Canadians only.

    You stated that there’s an issue with “the identity of those who are doing the excluding.” Again I generally don’t put the onus of inclusion on the minority. I think it’s more contentious with linguistic identity in Quebec, but I have a friend born in Montreal and of Cambodian origin who says “in my country” when referring to Cambodia. He is francophone and he feels comfortable identifying as Canadian on a technical level (it’s not a strong identity) and probably as a Quebecer on a technical level as well, but there is clearly a sense of exclusion that he feels whether from Canadian identity, Quebec identity or both. The Cambodian-Americans I’ve met in Long Beach do not feel the same way vis-à-vis their country of birth.

    I think Quebec’s interculturalism is a flawed means of creating civic nationalism. If you accept the existence of a central Quebec ethnicity (those French-Canadian Quebecers of B-T fame), then the fact (as both midnightjack and I would likely agree) that they themselves are of mixed heritage provides a much more effective example. The creation of that identity from Irish, French and to a certain extent Native and British peoples requires both some acquiescence to dominant cultural elements (language and religion) and some synthesis of cultural elements (eg place names like “Quebec” or Irish music or British beer). It’s a compromise.

    To use the example of France (not enough compromise). Simply calling a black kid French and glossing over racial identity while teaching in schools about the positive influence of French culture in colonial Africa creates a disconnect from French identity. It’s just after the riots of a few years back that France realizes it has not succeeded in creating a civic multiracial nation à la Brazil or US. These countries succeeded not by their inherent superiority but by the overwhelmingly oppressive nature of their former selves necessitating some sort of compromise.


    April 2, 2009 at 12:39 pm

  19. Try Again.

    You fail to convince me there is anything different in the American or Canadian WE and the Québec NOUS.

    Compared to your usually precise and hard hitting arguments, you are all over the place.

    “If one says “we Canadians have a bilingual, multicultural society,” sure, some may feel excluded, but the identification of “we” in this instance is open. Almost any Canadian (ethnic) identity can participate.”

    Wrong. Most English-Canadians are NOT bilingual. Most Canadians do not have multicultural origins individually. Many Canadians don’t feel Canada should be multicultural as a society. Many feel very strongly it shouldn’t be bilingual. Many speak languages that are excluded from the “bilingual” in question. That statement is at LEAST as “exclusive” as “Les Québécois veulent vivre en Français”.

    There is a society in Québec that, contrary to the rest of North America, functions in French, not English. Even those who don’t speak French natively, or as their dominant language, or at all, live in this society that primarily French-speaking. Whether they embrace it of reject it, their identity is created by that fact. THAT is the NOUS.

    “Since I do believe there is an ethnicity, what the B-T commission called French-Canadian Quebecers and what in English we call Quebecois as opposed ot Quebecers.”

    YOU believe there is a Québec ethnicity. “WE IN ENGLISH” call Quebecois as opposed ot Quebecers.

    When I say Québécois and when I say NOUS, I mean anyone who lives in Québec. Period.

    If YOU feel differently, that is YOUR opinion.

    Stop putting words in our mouths.


    April 2, 2009 at 1:07 pm

  20. Tout ceci n’est pas faux. Oui, c’est vrai que le nationalisme québécois est principalement basé sur l’appartenance à un groupe ethnique, mais il est aussi vrai que ce groupe ethnique est ouvert, en ce sens qu’il est possible de le joindre. (Ou en d’autres mots, les Québécois francophones ne sont pas obsédés par la pureté de leur laine, contrairement à ce que d’aucuns prétendent.) Cela dit :

    > le nationalisme québécois n’a pas encore réussi a regroupé toutes
    > les personnes qui habitent au Québec.

    C’est vrai. Mais malgré cela, il y a un grand nombre d’anglophones québécois, et de membres d’ethnies minoritaires, qui font partie de la nation québécoise. Ce n’est tout simplement pas la totalité d’entre eux. Pourquoi? Je crois que la raison est que, qu’on le veuille ou non, la nation québécoise est en grande partie définie en opposition à la nation canadienne. Je n’utilise pas le terme “opposition” dans un sens péjoratif ici : c’est tout simplement que la nation québécoise est définie à partir de ce que la nation canadienne n’est pas (ou est perçue ne pas être), de la même façon que la nation canadienne est définie en opposition à la nation américaine (et à la nation québécoise, jusqu’à un certain point).

    Donc, qu’est-ce que ça implique pour un anglophone de se joindre à la nation québécoise? Sans dire que ça implique de laisser derrière son appartenance à la nation canadienne — il est après tout possible de sentir qu’on appartient à la fois à la nation québécoise et canadienne — ça implique à tout le moins d’adopter comme siennes les balises culturelles québécoises. Et plusieurs d’entre elles sont en opposition avec les balises culturelles canadiennes, dont les Canadiens sont souvent très fiers. Ce n’est pas évident à faire; ça nécessite certainement de commencer à se voir comme une minorité, pour commencer, ce qui ne dérange pas certains anglophones, mais en rend d’autres furieux.

    Honnêtement, je ne sais pas si je le ferais si j’étais dans cette situation. Je me souviens que quelqu’un sur ce blogue m’avait dit, parlant des Canadiens français, que “there is no shame in a strong minority position” (je paraphrase). Mais pourquoi est-ce que je me verrais comme un membre d’une minorité au Canada, et surtout au Québec? Les francophones sont une des deux nations fondatrices de ce pays. En tant que nationaliste québécois, aujourd’hui je suis quand même prêt à les reconnaître comme une minorité à l’extérieur du Québec et à accepter ce statut quand je suis à l’extérieur du Québec. Mais certainement pas à l’intérieur du Québec. Donc je sais ce que c’est le sentiment de savoir qu’on fait partie d’un groupe majoritaire, mais de se faire dire qu’il faut accepter le statut de minorité.

    Surtout, Fon, que vous avez dit vous même (parlant des immigrants, mais je crois qu’on peut inclure les minorités non immigrantes là-dedans aussi) que “Canada condescends to it”. C’est effectivement le sentiment que je reçois du mythe multiculturel canadien : les Canadiens adorent la diversité culturelle du pays et la grande variété d’ethnies qu’on y trouve, mais c’est une adoration un peu paternaliste. La principale valeur que les cultures ethniques ont au Canada n’est pas ce qu’elles y apportent aujourd’hui, mais leur folklore. Et en tant que Québécois d’origine canadienne-française, mais qui crois que la chose la plus surprenante dans l’histoire du Québec, c’est comment nous sommes parvenus à devenir une nation moderne et progressiste — oui, nous avons des problèmes, mais qui n’en a pas, réellement? — malgré le fait qu’encore au milieu du 20e siècle, une grande partie d’entre nous étaient encore des canadiens-français traditionnels. Alors le rôle de Canadien français en est un que je refuse dans le Canada moderne. Je ne veux pas me réduire à ça. Et ça semble être là un sentiment récurrent dans le Québec moderne : autant les Québécois francophones semblent apprécier les contes et légendes et la musique de type traditionnel, paradoxalement, leur plus grande fierté est la façon dont ils se sont sortis de cette époque, et une de leurs plus grandes peurs est que la religion retrouve un jour au Québec la place qu’elle avait autrefois.

    Tout ça pour dire qu’à mon avis, la raison pour laquelle plusieurs anglophones ne se sentent pas partie de la nation québécoise est qu’ils ne sont pas prêts à accepter une nation dans laquelle ils seraient minoritaires. Ils croient que ce sont les francophones qui devraient être la minorité (bien traitée, évidemment).


    April 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  21. > They shouldn’t learn a language or cultural customs for the sake of
    > the majority; they should do it for their own sake. So much talk about
    > immigrants and minorities is built on a “what can they do for us?”
    > paradigm. No one moves to a new country to help you out. If you can’t
    > get help in your own country, that’s why you leave.

    I’m not sure. Remember that immigration is not a right, it’s a privilege we give people. I think it’s fair to expect it to come with conditions. I know that’s not what you’re trying to say, but the way you’re putting it, it seems like you think immigrants to Quebec shouldn’t be expected to learn French; instead we should thank God if they have enough respect for the presence of francophones here to learn the language.

    Personally, if I ever immigrate to another country, you bet I’m going to learn the language(s) they use. I think it’s the least I can do. They give me the right to come to their country, I’m not going to expect them to use a language that’s not their own when I speak with them. At least not as a permanent measure.

    I think you’ve also said you want to stop saying “immigrants should learn French” and instead say “we should help immigrants learn French”. I have no problem with this. It means exactly the same thing, except that the first one may sound a little less welcoming.


    April 2, 2009 at 2:12 pm

  22. I will try again:

    “We [as group] X have a … society” does not define a the nature of the individual members of the society. It defines the society itself, regardless of whether group X is Humans, Canadian, Quebecer, Québécois, American, Martian, Imaginary etc. Whatever adjectives apply to the society do not necessarily apply thus apply to the individuals in it. Most bilingual countries are filled with unilingual people. Most multicultural societies are filled with people who associate themselves with only one culture.

    “We are all X and we are happy: our sole objective is to do Y” Does define the individuals. The statement is not about the place but about the people.

    Each «nous» or “we” is different. This word is attacked a lot in Quebec and I realize that many of those attacks are unfounded. I’m not attacking the word and my point is founded. Sometimes we (humans) say we to mean nationality, ethnicity, family, the self plus two friends. Whatever.

    I’m simply stating that:
    1: midnightjack’s usage of “we” by the nature of his phrase references people in the group rather than the group itself.
    2: Civic nationalism is an unrealized project in Quebec. If people want it, cool. They should reach out, both minorities and members of the majority (whether you define that ethnically or by some technical demographic definition).


    April 2, 2009 at 2:53 pm

  23. Oh wo betide he who misposts.

    My point above (and I really hope I’m being clear) about Americans was exactly that; “we” can be a more specific or general “we” depending on the context.

    When you say Québécois and you mean all Quebecers, that’s cool. I really do believe in a Quebec culture and identity, I reserve the term for this group. When I say “we in English” obviously I’m identifying as English speaking. That’s not inclusive, but it’s ok; it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to specify something unique to the group ie a definition that anglos use. It’s often said that there are no true synonyms… so similar qords exist because of subtle differences in meaning. Thus the two words “Quebecer” and “Québécois” are both used in English to denote slightly different things.

    I believe that we (as all Quebecers) live in a French-speaking society. That’s to me seems a fact. I’m sure you see it the same way. I also believe that we (as all Canadians) live in a (administratively) bilingual society. I believe that we (as Montrealers) live in a (de facto) bilingual city. I believe that we (as North Americans) live in the fourth most populated continent in the world. I believe that we (as Jews) might not be eating bread for seven days starting next week.

    “We” changes depending on its context. midnightjack obviously wrote his post in haste and meant “we” in a certain context.

    There is nothing wrong with that. It’s ok. It’s not bad to use “we” in different contexts.

    This argument is just as hard hitting and precise as the others. (Ok, you can’t see the expression on my face; I’m saying that tongue-in-cheek.) Maybe I’m not being clear, but then fuck it. If I type anymore I’ll get carpel tunnel syndrome. I still respect your views and enjoy your blog.


    April 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

  24. Very interesting discussion. Although I can see Fon’s points, I must also agree that the Québécois “nous” is no different from the “we” in the ROC or the U.S. This is not to be condescending to Fon, but I too once saw the Quebec “nous” as being exclusive, then I started looking at it from a different perspective. This was quite the challenge to me as I was born, raised and educated in the ROC, where the dominant view is that the Quebec “nous” is the exact opposite of the Canadian “we”: the first was ethnocentric, closed-minded, skittish and irascible, whereas the other was generous, wordly, accommodating, open-minded, etc. Looking at it with an open mind, I eventually realized that they were essentially the same, the only main differences being the colour of the flag and the stage of evolution where they were at. Although jokes with racial overtones today are as unacceptable in the Quebec media as they are elsewhere in North America, I am not too old to remember them being much more present in the 1980s for example. What many people seem to forget is that they were also present in the English Canadian media when I was growing up there in the 60s and 70s, which isn’t that long ago either.

    So perhaps the reasons Fon sees the “nous/we” as different in Quebec is probably because of the fact that it is just at a different stage of evolution compared to elsewhere in North America. Since there are regional variations across the continent, one might say that Quebec is today very close to having caught up on this front, though perhaps not quite. And of course, just because it still has a little catching up to do, doesn’t mean it will look back when it does catch up.

    Quebec could conceivably become *more* tolerant than the ROC in the not-so-distant future. Then what would its detractors do for fun?

    Things change. Nothing is cast in stone. In the last half of the 19th century France was one of the most tolerant and welcoming places in the world for immigrants. Certainly, much more so that English or French-speaking Canada were at the time, huddled under their respective anglo and franco identities that were highly suspicious of one another and of anyone else. This period of massive immigration to France is part of the reason why ethnologists today estimate that France is the country with the greatest variety of surnames in the world (yes, more than the Great American Melting Pot), and why francophone Canadians who go to France are often amazed to find themselves sitting with a dozen people in a café in Nantes or Avignon and the person from across the Atlantic is often the only one in the bunch with a French-sounding surname like Leblanc or Dupont, whereas the Frenchmen are all called Lipschitz, Quéffelec, Roumanoff, Perez, Schmitt, De Koninck, Reyes, Guelfucci, Katz, etc.

    But things don’t always change for the better. No one would say that France today is more welcoming than Canada, and my neighbourhood and workplace are now enriched by numerous people from member countries of La Francophonie whose first immigration foray outside their countries was in France, but who quickly soured on it and opted for Canada (which for them means Quebec), which they have found to be much, much more welcoming (their words not mine).


    April 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  25. “2: Civic nationalism is an unrealized project in Quebec.”

    You’re right that it’s still a work in progress. But judging it based on societies like the ROC and the U.S. or even Brazil that are at different evolutionary stages is not really fair. Add to that the fact that the fact that none of these societies have a “rival integration model” present on their home turf (the anglo North American model which is present in Quebec, in case someone didn’t get that), then what Quebec has achieved in integrating newcomers into its francophone majority in the past 20 years or so is quite remarkable.

    There are many other places in the world that have a single societal, cultural, linguistic and institutional model to integrate to, and that haven’t done nearly as well as Quebec, which really does have two strong models competing for “new recruits” on the streets of its main city where 80% of immigrants settle.

    That the integration of immigrants into (francophone) Quebec society can today be spoken of by certain learned people in the same breath as the Great American Melting Pot or the (English-Canadian) multicultural mosaic is a tremendous achievement.

    This is one of the main reasons I moved to Quebec: to be able to observe this fascinating and improbable socio-cultural laboratory from a front-row seat.


    April 2, 2009 at 3:34 pm

  26. What I’m saying is that “we” is mutable whether Quebecer, Québécois, Canadian or whatever. Sometimes it refers to a larger or smaller group. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’m not saying that «nous» always has a narrow connotation. And there’s nothing wrong nous referring to an ethic group. If I say “we” when referring to blacks. Sure it’s a generalization (and those can be debated on their factual merits), but it’s not necessarily “ethnocentric, closed-minded, skittish or irascible”. And if I use an inclusive “we” that includes implies a wider-net, I might still be a racist dick.

    But midnightjack’s “we” was either factually inaccurate or more narrow than the “tous” that he used and implied.

    If some guy says “We love hot girls Quebec”. He’s probably not speaking of all Quebecers. The delineation should be obvious to anyone who’s not a straight male. He means “we” straight guys. A gay woman agree with him, but she’s still not part of his group. I agree with midnightjack’s sentiment about living in French here, but his wording is problematic.

    Perhaps the confusion was from the fact that I used «vous» I meant it to be polite to midnightjack, but I addressed him and him only. I do not mean all Quebecers or all usages of “we” are objectionable. midnightjack is just one person, not 7.5 million people and I was addressing his post and certainly never and in no way «vous» as in all you Quebecers. We all fall into the identity-trap from time to time and if I use a group «vous/you” I usually mean you white people. And you white people are crazy. Just to let you know.

    Part of the reason I alluded to earlier for Brazil and the United States having certain advantages with civic nationalism is there’s a very real recognition of racism in the United States (even if there’s not nearly enough action). Brazil takes a very positive view of disparate immigrant cultures as long as they conforms to its national mythology — and if they don’t … well civic nationalism can be brutal too.

    France is interesting because it’s ability to fuse different origins into a singular identity worked quite well in the post-Dreyfuss period. When France got an influx of nonwhite immigrants, however, this became a problem.

    My fingers hurt.


    April 2, 2009 at 4:17 pm

  27. My problem with the so-called ethnic NOUS is that I don’t know what it refers to. At all.

    I am Québécois because:

    1. I live in a geographical place called Québec.

    2. I live in a political place called Québec which is part of a political place called Canada.

    I am a French-speaker because I make sounds with my mouth to communicate with people in a pattern called French.

    None of this has anything to do with ethnicity.

    The reduction of the Québécois to an ethnicity does not make sense because what I share in common with most Québécois rarely goes beyond that. We live in a geographical and political place where French sounds are more useful for communication than others.

    I embrace that. I think it’s fucking cool. I want to protect that and I think an independent country would be a good way of doing that. But I’m not any more Québécois than someone who thinks its retarded.

    My buddy Vince (the Bell Center Guy) was DJing a t Jeux du Québec party in Blainville the other night. 150 kids from somewhere where there is no metro were line dancing to Mr. Vain. We didn’t see it coming. The song came on and the dance floor went from chaos to a perfectly choreographed performance.

    This is the most exotic thing I’ve seen this year. They were almost all “de souche kids” and they all knew early 90’s dance tunes meant line dance. The two black guys and the Asian dude (yes we counted) from that “region” knew it.

    Me and Vince, de souche as we were, had no idea what was going on. This was all completely foreign to us. There is no line dancing in Montreal.

    My point is that I might be a native French-speaking guy from Québec that is often ALL I have in common with other Québécois “de souche”. It is NOT necessarilly central to my identity. In many respects, I might have more in common with urban jewish kids from New York than a white French-Catholic Franco from Sept-Îles.

    Blacks, Jews, Anglos, Raelians, Sikhs, Muslims, and Asians don’t like being lumped together and reduced to a caricature. Well guess what. Neither do I. Neither do WE. Neither do NOUS.


    April 2, 2009 at 5:56 pm

  28. Wow!!!…

    Quel débat fascinant!… bravo et félicitations à AFG d’avoir réussi à rassembler une si belle brochette d’interlocuteurs en français et en anglais.

    Pure Laine

    April 2, 2009 at 9:19 pm

  29. That’s cool. I don’t see it an instrument of stereotype eg “these people are like this, those people are like that.” I just honestly thought there was an ethnic group. Just like African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Germans might be said to form an ethnic group.

    Natch in today’s world what is an “ethnic culture” is kind of folkloric nostalgia when kids in Japan dance hip hop better than Americans and Americans see more Butoh shows than Japanese.

    I myself am Quebecer because:

    1. I live in a geographical place called Quebec.

    2. I live in a political place called Quebec which is part of a political place called Canada.

    What I share in common with most Quebecers rarely goes beyond ethnic similarities either. We live in a geographical and political place where French sounds are more useful for communication than others. I, too, embrace that. I also think it’s fucking cool. I want to protect that, but I don’t think an independent country would be a good way of doing that.

    But I am in no way lumping groups into caricatures. I know you didn’t accuse me of that, but it’s really important to me that I state that because I (as I’m sure many people) have been put into that lump and I fucking hate it.

    AFG, do you have an answer for the question: “What’s your ethnicity?” I do, but you made me realize some people might not — or might have a nonstandard response.


    April 2, 2009 at 10:17 pm

  30. I definitely hear you there. Black nationalism in 1970s USA was ethnic and school lunches (for kids of all races) wouldn’t exist without it. It’s neither good nor bad. I actually think ethnic pride is cool, but I’m wary of nationalism (civic, ethnic or otherwise).

    As for Kenney’s law, I’ve stated this so many times. Immigrants must be integrated, but it just doesn’t fucking work when it’s done with a stick. Carrots only. So, instead of saying “they must do this”, non immigrants should say “we are failing them. We must do that.”


    April 2, 2009 at 10:22 pm

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