Blue Notes

Protecting the collectivity since 1977

A few months ago, last summer, I shook hands with Gilles Duceppe. He is a gentleman, after all. He must have known who I was because he led with: “We have to do something or we will disappear.”

I knew to what he was referring: Quebec’s language laws. So I said: “Gilles, you’re speaking English, how come I can still see you?”

That was before the September election run on a campaign of identity politics.

Now the Quebec language police are threatening stores like Walmart and Best Buy with fines if they do not explain their businesses in French on their outdoor signs. As if unilingual Quebecers are so insulated that they do not know what to expect when they walk into a Walmart? The L’Office wants something like: “Le Magasin Walmart”.

Just imagine if an Ontario government agency made Ikea put up a sign outside all their branches that said: “Ikea the furniture store” because their name is not English. They would be laughed out of existence. But this is Quebec. And the Office of the French Tongue has to find something to do in order to justify their multimillion-dollar budget.

And this is how we make the New York Times.

Fear drives this whole issue. And politicians and bureaucrats in Quebec have become experts in manipulating the anxieties of the Quebec “nation.” We live in a province that thrives on anglo-phobia. We anglos expect it. Every new initiative of state-sponsored discrimination is greeted with a sigh. We put on a brave face. We try to see the positive side. At least our kids are bilingual, we say.

I don’t believe it is the Quebecois themselves who are intolerant. But they have a long history of being treated like children by their priest class. Being treated like they are too stupid to make their own decisions. And although the church has receded in its influence now the government has enthusiastically picked up the slack.

Only by opening up to the world will this spell ever be broken. I realize that this is a daunting prospect. But I think they could survive.

After all, I could still see Gilles.



  1. I just got back from Alberta, where the french language was restricted to a maximum of 1 hour instruction per day for more than half the last century. Nova Scotia banned french in 1763, that was to remind the acadians that they were not running the place anymore. New Brunswick banned french in 1891 ,. Ontario in 1912 or so, Manitoba in 1887.

    The British imposed bilingualism on Quebec as early as 1791.

    Glad to be back in Quebec, enjoying the french language, thats what we come here for.

    Today the bill 101 serves to remind people that Quebec is our home and you are invited,

  2. Personally I refuse to speak French because I am often judged more for speaking bad French than I am for speaking in English. Until Quebec adopts a more laissez-faire language policy I will continue to refuse speaking in French.

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