It’s not the first time Henry Aubin, The Gazette’s political columnist, has complained about the lack of leadership in the anglophone community. It made me feel uneasy five years ago, when he brought it up with me in a casual conversation. And it still does today.
I don’t mind admitting that when you ask me who my leaders are, I immediately come up with names like the veteran West Islander Clifford Lincoln and, increasingly, Liberal MNA Geoffrey Kelley. I don’t mind leaders like that. I think they could generally express my point of view on public policy.
So what exactly is Aubin looking or hoping for?
“Alex Paterson, Victor and Michael Goldbloom, Eric Maldoff, Gretta Chambers, Joan Fraser, Peter Blaikie and, to cite a couple of less mainstream figures, Robert Libman and William Johnson,” Aubin writes. All public figures who were active in the post-1976 period of dislocation when the English-speaking community was absorbing the shock of living in post-Bill 101 modern Quebec.
I frequently felt uneasy when they were referred to as my spokespersons.
In fact, those turbulent days when emotions ran deep and scarred the cultural landscape haven’t completely vanished.
In a local Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue online chat group, Sophie Mailhot recently wrote a comment deploring the political and linguistic squabbling on the website. After the election of the minority PQ government, the tone of some of the comments was creating an aggressive and angry confrontation between neighbours.
And she’s right because when you’re looking for a five-point advantage, you let political discourse slide into the politics of survival, and the PQ inevitably delivers the xenophobic battle cry and candidates start talking about the survival of French on the island of Montreal.
And if we did have anglophone leaders who were invited to meet Pauline Marois, what would they talk about?
The Quebec electorate, in its wisdom, gave her a glorious moment in the sun but with a close political escort. It was like watching Lucien Bouchard on election night realizing that not even he could push his popularity up to that magic 50 per cent mark.
With the PQ you always run into that chasm between visions of Quebec, inside and outside Canada. And people stick to the nationalist faith the way their ancestors stuck to the Catholic Church until, like François Legault, they go apostate and leave it. The PQ would like us to live in a unilingual Quebec like France. There are some people who think we’re almost there.
But we’re not. Thousands of young adult francophones opt to go to English CEGEP to do a sort of adult immersion in North America’s main language. They have a bilingual vision of Quebec. In the 37 years I worked at John Abbott College, the mix of students changed dramatically. The leadership changed as the college grew from 1,000 students in 1971 to 6,500 in 2012.
So now Marois would like to seal that gateway to bilingualism. A new PQ CEGEP policy would protect francophones from the dangers of English. It would keep them captive inside the PQ bubble.
And if Marois could persuade a political majority in Quebec City to exclude young adult francophones from John Abbott, what would she do with the 2,500 suddenly non-eligible students? Where would she house them? There’s no room at CEGEP Gérald Godin.
She’d probably have to negotiate with the director-general of John Abbott, a modern leader, who is a francophone woman with an Irish name. Maybe Marois could rent the space from John Abbott and share the campus with its brilliant new science building.
I don’t think Marois’ plans for English CEGEPs should keep anyone awake at nights.
Bill Tierney if the former mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue firstname.lastname@example.org