Archive for June 2009
I met Jacob the hassidic bus driver in heavily hassidic neighbourhood where the streets are filled with religious bearded men dressed in black, their very bossy-looking wives and about a hundred million kids. This very close to what I imagine my grand-mother’s Montreal must have looked like. She was her mother’s seventeenth child. She pretty much grew up in a convent, only going out one week for Christmas and Easter and two weeks in the summer. They had mass every day and on Sundays she’d put on a clean dress and sit with her mother for a couple of hours on a hard wooden bench in the parlor.
Hassidic kids are golden. Compared to what my grand-parents had they live like California hipsters.
Québec’s hassidic Jews, their fights with their neighbours, their schools and their parking habits, come up in the news in Québec about once or twice a year, which is probably a statistical inevitability considering that Montréal is the home to the world’s third biggest community of ultra-orthodox after New York City and Jerusalem.
Most of the fighting is about small crap: homely lawns and zoning violations. Once in a while, though, and with consitent regularity, Montréal’s hassidics manage put themselves where they least like to be: at the center of storm. Their demand to cover up the windows of the Park Avenue YMCA gym led to the Bouchard-Taylor commission on Reasonable Accomodations and more recent reports that some of them send their children to 100% religious schools just might get the second round started. (Notice how the Canadian English-language media won’t touch that story, hoping it will go away…)
Of course there is nothing the Jews hate more than the publicity. You have to feel sorry for that humble conservative community living a life determined by a millenium old code having to deal with our fast changing times in the midst of highly cafeinated French neighbours who feel the need to turn any novelty into province-wide philosophical debates.
Me and Jacob were driving two busloads of hassidc girls to Mont-Tremblant where they were spending the day. My grand-mother also went to Tremblant when she was young. Back in her day you had to take the train and skiing cost less than a dollar. How much does it cost now?, she asked me once. What is it, like 10 dollars? Try 80$, Grand-Maman.
Jacob likes the French-Canadians, he told me. He probably has to have that conversation whith all gentiles he spends time with. The French might tell you « Maudit Juif » to your face, he explained, but that’s it. The English they’re always giving you a big smile, but then they’ll stab you in the back!
The French they get shortchanged, he went on. I rent buses to do trips to New York all the time. Whenever I can I’ll rent a Québec bus and hire a Québec driver. New York drivers would never work for what we pay Québec drivers.
I suggested that the linguistic situation limited the French-speakers’ mobility. Moving to another province, let alone the US, is emigration, for a Québécois. It means your kids will grow up in a different culture and probably won’t be able to school in their language. The English-speaking workforce has a much bigger territory it can move around in, forcing employers to pay them more if they want to keep them.
Is it worth it? asked Jacob, genuinely puzzled. Why hold on to French, then?
For real, Jacob? He sat there sweating under his black hat, beads of sweat caught in his beard, speaking English with a thick polish accent three generations after his great-grand-father bought his first home on Avenue Hutchison, a greasy lock of hair hair twisted arround his ear for the pleasure of some minor desert deity, and he didn’t get how people could be attached to a language, a heritage, a history?
Jacob lived in Montreal his entire life, surrounded by French-speaking neighbours and his Yiddish-speaking brothers and family. He speaks Yiddish to his kids. But he speaks English to his neighbours, not French.
I know it, he says, but not well. They never thought me well. I think our leaders don’t want us to learn it. If we did we’d start talking to the neighbours more, and going to their houses… And we’d do it! They have so many problems in New York because everyone speaks the same language. Here, language keeps everyone separate and they like that. Rolling his eyes and with a knowing smile he adds, they say they’re goind to start teaching the kids better French, now…
My grand-mother grew up in an ultra-orthodox religious community called Québec. The overthrow of that religious order, many people forget, was what the Quiet Revolution was about. The political stuff, the language debates, all that came after.
Some people object to the hassidics resistance to integration to wider Québec society. That’s quite rich coming from North America’s champions of difference. Christ, for all we know this insitance on their right to live according to their own rules and just do their thing without bothering anybody else is something the Hassidics picked up from the Québécois!
But I wouldn’t want to live my grand-parents life and neither would most other Québécois.
I can only hope Jacob’s children will have a choice.
Those who will not protect their right to choose will commit a crime.
My nightly newscast was positive last night: Québec is unanimously rejoicing at the sale of the Canadiens de Montréal hockey team to the Molson family. Everyone from the Finance Minister to the leader of the sovereingtists Pauline Marois and the required passersby questioned on the street were overjoyed that the hockey team was bought by Québec money and for the, quote, right reasons.
Alright, I’ll take this one if no one else will.
What would be wrong with expressing some regret that the bid by Quebecor’s Pierre-Karl Péladeau and Céline Dion’s manager René Angelil was unsuccesful? Why is it not acceptable to aknowledge that the return of the Canadiens to francophone owners for the first time since Léo Dandurand, Louis Létourneau and Joseph Cattarinich bought the team for 11 500$ would have been an important symbolic moment, the beginning of the end of the economic inferiority of the French-speaking population of Québec?
Am I the only one to feel the politically correct insistance on describing the Molson brothers as just another from-around-the-corner Québécois family, without any qualification, sounds false? This is not the Johnsons from the Point, we’re talking about. We are talking about one of the great families of the Old Order that made it’s fortune when the French were good enough to fight Britain’s wars but not to sit on Molson’s board.
Now Geoffrey, Justin and Andrew deserve the benefit of the doubt and Montrealers will decide with time if they truly share their culture or not, but to call the Molson family a Québec family like any other is denial.
Of course the integration of the Habs into Quebecor Media would have brought the size, scope and power of what we now simply call «The Empire » to truly frightening proportions. With it’s near monopoly of cable and dominating position of Internet access, the biggest newspaper in the country (that would be Québec), the most watched television network, and a slew of magazines and specialty cable channels, Quebecor already has dominating position in the circulation and distribution of Québec culture.
Add Star Academie, a partnership with Céline Dion and the Canadiens and Quebecor would have an access to Québec minds of Chinese proportions.
But it made a lot of economic sense. Hockey is content. Quebecor is in the business of distributing content. They have the ways and means to make some untolds amount of money with a hockey team. Think of all the revelations on Georges Laraque’s family life and Saku Koivu’s decoration tips you could have read about while waiting in line at the supermarket in one of Quebecor’s 12 000 magazines!
Sure it’s scary, but how is it wrong?
The Molson’s are buying the Canadiens for the right reasons, we are told. How exactly is using a professional sports franchise as entertainment content wrong? What exactly are the Habs if they are not a show, a spectacle, a diversion?
Maybe the problem is that the Péladeau family who have many friends in the Parti québécois, and the Board of Quebecor, chaired by former Conservative PM Brian Mulroney, would not have been as willing to make big trades and fire coaches any time the Liberal Party have some unpleasant news they need to drown…
Oh dear, the children are fighting again.
As the whole World’s now heard, some English-speaking bands were kicked off a St-Jean-Baptist show – a yearly celebration of Québec culture also know as La Fête Nationale – last week before being promply re-booked, following a couple of days of heated radio talk-show action.
Here’s what happened. A couple of guys with a record label and show promoters, quite a few of whom are separatists who let the Parti Québécois host their rallies in their bar on St-Denis Street, decided it would be cool to put up a St.Jean show for those between, say 7 and 49 years old, as opposed to the family show usually held in Parc Maisonneuve.
On the bill, next to the very worthy Malajube and Les Dales Hawerchuck, a couple of lesser know Montreal Anglos called Lake of Stew and Bloodshot Bill.
Apparently, the idea of English-speaking performers at the St.Jean show upset a few board members of the sponsoring neighborhood group and a few people at the Société St-Jean-Baptiste, the show’s main sponsors. The idea being that people performing in English at a show celebrating Québec’s uniquely French culture would out be of place, like Garth Brooks at a Black Pride Rally or Jerry Seinfeld hosting the Latin Grammy Awards.
Not wrong, just irrelevant.
Montréal’s ultra-patriotic English-speaking press, well known for turning any issue, from municipal elections to the colour of margarine into issues of ethnic confrontation, was overjoyed by the (supposed) ban. The familiar series of editorials carrefully balancing seething bitterness with anglocentric self-rigeousness followed with their familiar 3-point structure: 1. Evoque the myth of the perfect society that existed before the separatists got the French-Canadians excited 2. accuse French-speakin nationalists of systematically excluding Anglos (no questions about the Gazette’s support for separate English schools and hospitals, please) and 3. blame the Parti québécois.
“An ancient holiday, once celebrating the summer solstice, then a saint, then all French-Canadians, was converted by the Parti Québécois into a subsidized festival of nationalism. For some, this means no English need apply – though we are allowed to pay taxes to subsidize such events. (We’re almost afraid to ask the people who hold that view : would anglophones performing in French be acceptable ?)”
What the Gazette’s editorials fail to tell you is that the separatist Parti Québécois publicly supported the Anglos right to play. “Maybe their intentions were good, the PQ’s culture critic Pierre Curzi said, “but they need to reconsider this bad decision. I think it’s great that anglophone bands want to take part in the Fete nationale. It shows that our society is open.”
Guy A. Lepage, the openly separatist host of the “big” St-Jean show, also publicly spoke out for the Anglo’s right to play. “I’ve always lived in Montréal and I’ve always been a sovereigntist. I’ve seen my city welcome Anglos, Haitians, Chinese, Arabs and Jews. I’ve seen my city transform itself and I love it. I love its multiethnic reality and I believe the only possibility to one day get the nation we deserve is if we make all Quebecers trip out on our opinions.”
Louise Harel, the former PQ minister and separatist running for mayor of Montréal who’s been the victim of a very ethnically divisive and partisan slander campaign by the Montreal Gazette, also said she thought the Anglos should be allowed to play.
By the way, if the Montreal Gazette had ever bothered to cover any St-Jean show in their (very) long existence, they would know that many Anglos who enthusiastically partake in Québec’s French culture, artists like Paul Cargnello and Jim Corcoran, have performed many times at the celebrations.
In the end the various separatist sponsors of l’Aut’ St-Jean had a conference call and it turns out almost none of their members had any problem with the concept of Anglos at the show. In any case, the separatist promoters of l’Aut’ St-Jean were very clear that either their Anglo friends were going to play, or they were going to cancel the whole thing.
Of course there are some angry ultra-nationalists who were, and are probably still, upset about the shows not being pure reflections of their vision of Québec.
The Gazette gave them a soapbox. The real leaders of Québec’s separatist movement told them to shut up.
And in the end, it’s the separatists that saved the show and stood up for the Anglos.
But don’t expect the Gazette to ever tell you that story.
I believe Québec should be an independent country. I’m convinced. I’ve thought about it long and hard. I’ve discussed it through and through, with both true believers and fierce opponents. I’ve pondered the implications from a bar stool in an NDG tavern, in a yurt near Ulan Baator, and perhaps most significantly, walking down Sniper Alley in Sarajevo. Every time I’ve come to the conclusion that, as long as it is done right, it is the most simple and elegant solution to many political and cultural challenges Québec faces.
Robert Lepage, one of the most famous playwrights and scenographers in the world, was on TV the other day. This is not a nationalist firebrand. He was reminiscing about how he grew up sharing a room in Québec City with his adopted English-speaking brother and how he has nothing but admiration for English-Canada, one of the great small L liberal societies. He then casually mentioned that he was a sovereigntist, notheless. He’s reached the same conclusion I have. I’m on the good side, I thought.
Then Guy A. Lepage, once Québec’s most merciless social critic and a man who is not known to have much patience for fools—although he’s now a much nicer man as host of Tout le Monde en Parle on Radio-Canada—agreed to MC Québec’s Fête Nationale this summer. He is also a sovereigntist. I thought, if he thinks Québec’s independence movement is for real, I’m not being taken for a ride.
Then Pauline Marois, the leader of the Parti québécois, unveiled the grand master plan that will take us from here to there, the roadmap independence and I thought, that’s it. I’m done. I’m moving to Toronto.
What’s wrong with these people, tabarnak? How can they take a project that inspires even our most inspired men and just turn it into 10 kinds of frustration? Why does building a country, a hospital, a goddam highway, have to always become the most complicated and aggravating project in the history of human society?
We’re here! According the the latest PQ internal poll, quoted in le Devoir, 49% of the Québécois, including 56% of those who speak French, are game! Sixty-one percent would settle for some sort of sovereignty-association deal with Canada. Two thirds at least want Québec to have a special status.
Even if those numbers are somewhat more positive than others we’ve seen recently, the trend is solid: even in this period of economic uncertainty, support for independence hovers in the high thirties to high forties.
The Conservative Party of Canada was barely able to keep up the « federalism of openess » charade a year and a half before breaking out into anti-separatist demonstrations and the more familiar calls to pacify the French with some « tough love ».
The new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has already announced that Canada was as good as it was going to get!
The sovereignty movement has it made. There is only a few thousand votes separating them from the country. Canadian federalists have no counter offer, no vision, no dream. Canada in the country of No. The Parti québécois is the Parti of Oui. Yes we can!
Yet, they can’t.
The PQ has all this positive and entrepreneurial energy just sitting on it’s lap, waiting, itching to start building something, anything. What do they do? Do they open up the phones, start compiling projects until there is just so many fucking cool things to do that Québec will just pop out of Canada by itself?
Nope. The PQ wants to talk about shit that don’t work. Their great plan is to ask for federal powers they know they can’t get and threaten their own supporters with multiple referendums on boring ass crap like « single tax returns » just so they can pick a fight with Ottawa because, as Jacques Parizeau candidly admitted on tuesday: « To acheive sovereingty, you need a crisis. »
The PQ is stuck in a procedural dead end, wasting it’s energy on finding a gimmick instead of thinking about the way that country would work and what we could do with it.
That is the reason why the PQ usually trails it’s own raison d’être in the polls. That is also why, according to the poll published in le Devoir, only 34% of the Québécois believe Québec will ever be an independent country. Not because they don’t want one. Because they’ve come to believe the PQ is to proccupied with saving it’s own ass to ever pull it off.
Canadians have always had a hard time telling the difference between a country and professional sports franchise. They love anthems, logos, flags and little patches on their backpacks that neatly tells you which team everybody is playing for. They also, just like sports fans, have no problem whatsoever with the fact that their country shares its branding with a beer company and a major retailer of replacement wipers and cheap camping equipment.
The important thing is that they are recongnized. As long as people stop confusing them with Americans, they’re good.
Micheal Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and one of our time’s great intellectual fashion victims – support for the war in Irak? Support for torture? But everyone was doing it! – apparently believes that the Québec independence movement and the forty or so years of important political upveal that has rocked the province stems from the same petty insecurity.
Speaking about the concrete effects of Québec being recognized as a “nation within a united Canada” by Canada’s House of Commons last year, the would-be Prime Minister candidly admitted that the whole idea, for which he has often claimed credit, was just a whole lotta nothing.