A Letter to the Majority

An appeal to the soul of Quebec

Dear francophones,

I am penning this letter to you with the vain hope that I can reach you with my pleas.

As we all know, another critical election battle is on the horizon — one in which, more than ever, Quebec’s future will be decided. Not necessarily a battle over its economic roadmap or even its place within Canada. Rather, this is a battle over Quebec’s soul. It is a crossroads in our history whereupon we must determine the degree of our commitment to a free and open society. But my intention is not to bring up the particulars of the various debates raging across our province, Bill 60 chief among them. No, this is a plea for your posterity and mine — let me explain. You see, I am considering taking my family out of Quebec for good.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that last statement just elicited a huge “so what?” from a big chunk of you. Another Anglo leaving Quebec? Big deal. If you happen to lean towards Quebec sovereignty, you might well be crafting a reply at this very moment with offers to help me pack. After all, some 200,000 of us have already hit the road. What’s one more?

I’m going to assume that most of you aren’t naïve enough to believe that the Parti Quebecois and its dedicated base of support has any other agenda aside from Quebec achieving sovereignty. It is, in fact, their sole raison d’être and underlines nearly everything they do. Language, culture, identity, good governance and prosperity are either sideshows or distractions from the ultimate prize. And make no mistake, the realization was made long ago that sovereignty cannot come to be under the current demographic reality — some of us just have to go if a referendum is ever to be won. Anyway, I have been cautioned (read: lectured) by many wise friends that should I ever decide to leave Quebec, it would be tantamount to surrender. In essence, “they” will have won — that somehow this is a game to be won or lost. Once upon a time, I might have cared — but do you know what I care about now? The well-being of my family. Period. End of story. And so we come to the crux of my petition to you — it will matter if I go… and not just to me but to you as well.

Before any of you accuse me of delusions of grandeur, take my meaning as such: If I take my family and move to say, Ontario, it will represent but one example of a larger, more worrying trend. In other words, I am not arrogantly suggesting that I will be some sort of trailblazer — if I’m going, it means that many, many like me have already committed to leaving as well. It is this possibility that should seriously disquiet you, the francophone majority, because it will bring disaster.

Allow me to put my potential departure into some context. I am Quebecois. I was born here. My wife was born here. My children were born here. Three of our four parents were born here (one from Ottawa, so close enough). My family has been here since the 1800s — my wife’s family since the 1700s. So, please don’t assume that there is anything less Quebecois about us than you. As a fourth generation Quebecois, my understanding of the Quebec experience is beyond impunity. I eat bagels and lox… but am equally likely to slather it with creton. In “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”, I identified more with Patrick Huard than I did with Colm Feore. I’ve been to every corner of this province from Matane to Forestville, from la Beauce to Megantic, from Jonquiere to Val D’or. I’ve dined on the shores of the Saguenay and Lac Temiscouata. My accent and vernacular in both English and French is undeniably local, so much so that I am subjected to ridicule in equal measure from New York to Paris. I am, in my own way, pure laine.

So, why even consider leaving if my roots are so deep and identity so profound? I could quote many reasons but simply put, as the father of two boys, I’m looking ahead to their future happiness and prosperity — two things that may be increasingly difficult for them to secure in Quebec. I should also state an important fact — if I do leave, I will almost certainly never come back here to live. Once I am established in say, Toronto and the initial aches and pains of displacement subside, just knowing that I am no longer victim of the social dysfunction that is Quebec will be cathartic. Simply put, once you lose me, you’ve lost me.

While the intent of this appeal is to highlight what you stand to lose if I leave, I think it fair and wise to begin with what I and my family stand to lose… and it is not an insignificant loss. I think most would agree that family comes before anything. To wit, the largest impediment to us leaving and the primary reason we have stayed so long is our extended families, many of whom would almost certainly not leave Quebec with us. Setting aside the obvious and immediate emotional separation that they would feel, of bigger concern is the long term effect of being deprived of a readily available large family environment — that which study after study confirms is critical to a child’s healthy upbringing. So much weighs on this one factor that it alone might have convinced us not to consider leaving. However, when the full weight of the alternative is considered, the scale clearly begins to tip. I cannot discount the value of family one iota — but the entirety of my children’s future and happiness must trump this one concern.

Incidentally, family is only the first and biggest reason not to go — but it is by no means the only thing I stand to lose. Since the others are more quantitative, I thought it best to list them in brief but in no particular order:

  1. The bagels everywhere else just suck. They really do.
  2. I love my house, my neighbours and my neighbourhood. More importantly, my house is affordable.
  3. The Quebecois are cool. Montrealers are awesome. Ontarians? Polite… but admittedly a little less cool.
  4. Daycare is good and it’s cheap. So is electricity, fine dining and car insurance.
  5. Our mayor is more likely to surreptitiously scarf a doughnut than suck on a crack pipe.
  6. Montreal’s aura has a gritty, ancestral squalor to it that is the primary source of its charm. Nowhere outside of New York City has anything comparable to it.
  7. Most of my friends are here… for now.
  8. My wife and I have great jobs and excellent working conditions.
  9. I am generally happy.
  10. I am indigenous. Quebec is my home. The only one I have ever known and loved. I’ve spent good portions of my life defending or promoting it to outsiders.

Now, for comparative reasons, let’s look at some of the key benefits of moving to Toronto — aside from the obvious advantages for my children.

  1. Toronto is nowhere near as bad as people think it is. It is multicultural. It has great food, It has great people, it has great neighbourhoods. Time to lay off the stereotypes.
  2. Opportunity, opportunity. For every good job in Montreal, Toronto has 8 counterpart positions. Way to go PQ for making that a reality.
  3. The tax burden is way less. That’s partly because Ontario isn’t spending money on referenda and identity commissions.
  4. The infrastructure is better, newer and far better maintained at a much lower cost. The Mafia may exist in Toronto but they aren’t running it. (Granted they may be supplying crack to it).
  5. I will never have to worry about what language I or my family are speaking anywhere… ever. I also won’t be told what school to send my boys to or what hospital they can visit for care. I will never encounter language police, language watchdogs, language zealots or language ministers. I can wear a kippah, a turban, a hijab, a clown suit or a freaking toga without fear of reproach or state intervention. We would be equal citizens in the most multicultural city in the world.
  6. We will never feel like a minority or a majority or be made to feel that way. There will be no divide to bridge. Y’know why? People have better things to think about like their family’s prosperity. Not saying there isn’t bigotry or cultural misunderstanding in Toronto — far from it. What I’m saying is that it’s found on the fringe of society there — not in the mainstream.
  7. My sons’ last name will no longer be a hindrance or cause for someone to question their place in society.
  8. It’s usually a couple of degree warmer than here and a few less inches of snow. Every goddamn degree helps.
  9. The city is growing and dynamic. Montreal and Quebec are stagnant and backwards.

Yet after all of that, I still don’t really want to go. I want to stay.

All of this is good and grand but you might still be wondering: “how does this affect me and what the hell do I care if he’s living it up in Toronto?”. Well, here’s how. You need me… and those like me. Since 1960 and the advent of the Quiet Revolution, Quebec has fancied itself as a progressive, globally-aware society that is on the cutting edge of reason and liberalism. Well, allow me to challenge that image just a bit. Yes, Quebec in many ways has been liberally progressive — in terms of equal rights and opportunities for women and the LGBT community, gun control, parental assistance and most recently, the right to die. I do not intend to debate the merits of those achievements. What I will challenge is the “globally-aware” pretention. Quebec is aware of the world insofar as it acknowledges that there exists a world outside of Quebec. However, it has had great difficulty in abandoning its traditional insularity. It is an oft-ridiculed dichotomy — Quebecois don’t want the world to dictate cultural norms or infringe upon their cherished identity yet they care deeply about how they are perceived in the world and take great offence when criticized — especially by other Quebecois airing dirty laundry. Most Quebecois know about the world but don’t understand it. Nor do they accept that the world can ever possibly understand them. After all, our contradictions only make sense to us.

There is a particular fear of the English-speaking world — especially since Quebec knows it must intrinsically interact with it in order to prosper. In spite of everything, English is the global language, particularly of commerce.

And therein lies my primary value to you, the francophone Quebecois. As an Anglophone Quebecois, I am uniquely able to help you bridge that divide and help the world understand you and be open to you. I can also help you reach the world. I am not special. It is happenstance — I am a fluent English-speaker living seamlessly within a French-speaking domain. I am a godsend to you. This is not speculation: In many past functions, both private and professional, I have been called upon to bring two cultures together to a mutually beneficial understanding… and I have been successful through no great skill of my own. If I leave — and most others like me do as well — Quebec risks closing itself into a very dark room of narrow provinciality and self-isolation. This can and will happen. But don’t take my word for it. If you prefer to hear it from someone more credible to the average sovereignist, how about Jean-Francois Lisee, discussing his belief that as many as 300,000 Anglos would leave Quebec in the event of a “yes” vote in a referendum:

There is no doubt this exodus would be all kinds of trouble for Quebec. The Anglophone community contributes to Montreal’s and Quebec’s economic success, to its progress toward a knowledge economy … and powerfully contributes to connecting us with Anglophone America, our main client and partner. The departure of 100,000 or 200,000 of them would stop Montreal’s economic recovery in its tracks and aggravate Quebec’s demographic decline …

Yep. He actually wrote that in his book. Surprised that you don’t hear it oft-quoted as a PQ sound bite? Let’s just say that the disclosure of hard truths is not the typical bailiwick of the professional Quebec nationalist.

The English-speaking world is not a belligerent monolith looking to swallow up the French language and murder it. It is dispassionate — language to most Anglophones is but a means to communicate, nothing more. If lots of people happen to use our language in the world, so be it. But that in and of itself doesn’t sound the death knell for French in North America. If French is imperiled in Quebec, it is self-inflicted through neglect and frankly, no amount of legislation will keep English out forever anyway. Ask yourself how little Armenia manages to preserve its language in the midst of 120 million Russians. Or how does tiny Bhutan maintain nineteen different indigenous tongues while nestled in between 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians. Kind of makes those 350 million English-speakers in North America seem less intimidating, doesn’t it?

The instinct for Quebec to retreat away from perceived domination will cloud it from a better understanding of the truth: that English, while undeniably the emerging global language, is not the enemy. It is your friend. It will help you prosper and expand and abandon fear. It will give your children opportunity and allow your lives to be enriched through them. We Anglos? We can help with this… if you’d just let us. Once we leave, who will be left to demand equality and freedom of education? Do you not understand that we are the LAST bastions of resistance against state-imposed restrictions on access to English education? This is not for our own benefit — we are ALLOWED to send our children to English school. No, our protest was for your benefit. Oh, and make no mistake, once we’ve packed up and moved, the point will be moot because few to no English schools will remain in Quebec anyway.

We can also help protect the French language in Quebec — something that we cherish and champion as much as you — because it’s what makes us unique. We are your ambassadors to the rest of the world, introducing the richness of Quebecois art, music, and literature and advocating its survival. Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of rights, who will you benchmark francophone rights in the rest of Canada against? Who will ensure that Canadians continue to appreciate and respect the status of French in North America? Even if you achieve independence from Canada, (without us, because we’ll be a goner) all you will have accomplished is to gain a bit more short term cultural security at the expense of prosperity, freedom and contentment. Ideological states that are founded on the basis of xenophobic identity politics and nationalistic aspiration can NEVER be bastions of true liberty and free expression — the two concepts are fully at odds with each other.

I know, I know… you’re still afraid of the big, bad English bogeyman coming in the dark of night to assimilate you. Let me reassure you. Americans, in their arrogant splendour, scarcely know you exist. And English Canada? They just want to get on with their lives. They aren’t the least bit interested in cultural conquest — they are barely even aware of their own cultural identity. However, what they don’t understand is a) what makes Quebec unique and b) the root of Quebec’s insecurity — that’s where we Anglos come in again.

Whether the Quebec border remains a provincial boundary or becomes an international one, there will always be trade — both commercial and cultural. If Quebec ever wants to see that trade flourish, there needs to be mutual respect and understanding. We “get” Canada and we “get” Quebec. Use us. Keep us. Make us want to stay. You can’t just cut us loose like a needless appendage — we are integral to Quebec society and thus represent a potential gap that would be impossible to backfill. We are doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants. We work in restaurants, bars and boutiques; work as landscapers, salespeople and handymen; there’s even a handful of us who snuck into jobs in the public service. Most importantly, we can speak French and can move lithely within the various corridors of Quebec society. How do we do this? Well, quite naturally… because we’re Quebecois, like you.

If we leave, who in the hell is going to replace us? I wouldn’t count on immigration as a panacea — they’re likely none too thrilled nowadays about the prospect of living under the anvil of institutional discrimination, courtesy of Bills 14 and 60 (not to mention 22, 101 and 178). Quebec, with its aging population and declining birth and immigration rates can ill afford to lose any people, let alone fully assimilated ones. Let’s face it — without us, Quebec is like a table with only three legs. Similarly, without Quebec, something in me would always be missing… however, forgive me for being glib but, I’d survive just fine.

So what am I asking of you? Why this (extremely) long letter? There are a few things. Let me begin with an appeal to reason. First, you need to acknowledge that the battle of the Plains of Abraham is over. It ended 253 years ago and long gone is anyone who had a stake in its outcome. There are many less-than-genuine individuals who occupy the halls of power in Quebec and they profit greatly from making you believe that the battle still rages. If it does, then it is a battle with only one side still fighting and no good can come from that. So, put the old battles where they belong — in the history books. Then embrace your Quebecois brethren — Anglophones, allophones, francophones alike — as equals and let them know that this is their home as much as it is yours.

Second, you must decide what is more important to you — the fears of the past and the intolerance that it breeds or the hope of the future and the rewards of inclusiveness. You cannot have both at the same time. If you choose fear and embrace the xenophobes in a desperate effort to preserve a static and archaic image of the Quebec ideal, you guarantee disappointment for yourself. The proverbial wall erected by repressive law will only serve to stem progress and openness for so long until the mortar between its fragile bricks begins to crack and heave — eventually giving way to reason and enlightenment. So why delay the inevitable relief and prosperity you’ll experience in joining the global village? Start now. The alternative is a descent into social decay and economic squalor — reminiscent of la Grande Noirceur that Quebecers worked so hard to lift after the death of Duplessis. So, if repeating the mistakes of the past is not your thing, when the time comes to vote in the next election, tell us non-francophones that you want us to stay by NOT voting for the party of intolerance and division. Make no mistake — I am not endorsing any other party or platform or cause. If you’d rather spoil your ballot than vote PLQ, QS or CAQ or anyone else, fine by me — that is a valid political statement. But I need to hear this proverbial plea from you loud and clear… ASK me to stay. If you do, I promise I will. I mean, where else would I rather be?