I’m back from an absence of more than a week and a half which took me to various regions of the continent – from Texas all the way to Saskatchewan, and again to various regions of Ontario.
It gave me a bit of time to re-charge and spend some quality time, not only with work associates (who have become friends over the years), but also with family.
When I was down in the States， I had some very interesting conversations with work associates about day-to-day life. There was always that human connection you find when talking to anyone from anywhere, but it was only when I made it to Saskatchewan that I had the immediate feeling of being back “home”.
Because of family, I usually make it back to Saskatchewan once (sometimes two or three times) a year. It’s an amazing place. For those who live beside the ocean, they say the never-ending horizon and the sky which is larger than the earth gives you a feeling of complete freedom. The vast landscapes of the Saskatchewan prairies tend to give me the same feeling of freedom – especially after now having lived in our larger cities for such a long time.
I love getting away into the more untouched prairie back country, far from anyone, and just listen to the silence. From higher vantage points you can often see as far as 40 kms away. Camping on the open prairies (even just one night) is unlike anything you would experience in the forests. It’s one of the country’s best kept secrets. Walking into a café in one of the villages dotted across the flatlands is like taking a step back in time. Even if you do not know the people you bump into, you are guaranteed to be welcomed with a huge smile.
During this trip to Saskatchewan I saw a good number of people I have not seen for years. But it felt like I had just seen them yesterday. They were living, experiencing, debating, pondering, and preoccupied by were exactly the same issues we find anywhere in the country. What struck me was that many of the topics we discussed in Saskatchewan were topics I had just discussed several weeks earlier with people I know in Québec City and Gatineau. The difference was that some those who I talked to in Québec felt their situations, systems, and how they were navigating the world was unique to them and to Québec alone.
Yet, in reality, the way we relate to our peers, our local compatriots and to our world tends to largely be the same; coast-to-coast.
The more I travel across Canada (which I have been fortunate to have regularly travelled for much of my life), the more I realize that our lifestyles and mentalities across the country continue to converge, not diverge.
It is unfortunate that a language barrier, geography, and especially “regional conditioning” (stemming from the media, ill-informed teachers at school, and especially hearsay) leads many in Québec to believe our differences are larger than our similarities. Such views prevent many people from seeing the regional convergences which continue across the country. Of course, it is a two-way street – found on the Anglophone side of the linguistic line as well as the Francophone side. However, because Anglophones tend to travel across Canada more often than Francophones in Québec, I find that the incomplete picture stemming from regional conditioning is more accentuated in Québec than elsewhere in the country.
It’s the little things I am talking about, but which together give a larger picture of our common societal values. Building on past posts in this series, here are some additional examples.
When I was in Saskatchewan, staying on the farm which has been in our family for 6 generations, I learned that most farms in Saskatchewan are now hooked up to a running water supply and have been taken off wells. Saskatchewan is a huge land-mass… as large as Texas, and as widely populated (Unlike other areas of Canada, Saskatchwan’s population does not tend to hug its Southern border, and is more evenly spread out across the province). Yet few (if any) landmasses, anywhere else in the world, have such spread out rural farmland all hooked up to running water – even in the most remote regions. Such an accomplishment was due to a cooperative-like movement; a financial partnership between government and farmers. An enormous network of 3” PVC pipes have been laid alongside rural country roads, parallel to Saskatchewan’s electrical grid (with 1-1/2” pipes branching off into most farm houses). This is but one indicator of the cooperative and collective mind-set in our agricultural and rural mindsets across Canada — values which are also deeply held in Québec’s rural regions.
I learned that in Alberta, most rural homes are now hooked up to the natural gas grid. When I was younger and growing up in Alberta, many farm homes still had “pigs” hooked up to their homes. A “pig” is a term for what looks like massively oversized propane tanks. They would heat a farmhouse and provide cooking fuel for an entire season. Over the last couple of decades these gas tanks have been phased out in Alberta to be replaced by a rural network of underground natural gas pipelines under the dirt roads. Much like the water-hookup program in Saskatchewan, the rural natural gas hookup program in Alberta was a province wide cooperative and collective initiative between farmers and government.
In Québec, the rural agriculture movements also has deep collective and cooperative mindsets. The UPA (Union des producteurs agricoles) is a good example. Yet, when I was speaking with someone from a farm in the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu region of Québec a few months ago, he thought such a mindset was unique only to Québec, and that the rest of rural Canada had more of a laissez-faire, or even an Americanized mentality towards rural issues. His own Québec nationalism was deeply rooted in what he viewed as being stark differences between rural Québec’s view of their world, and how the rest of rural Canada viewed the world. We chatted for a while, and he was more than surprised (to say the least) that many of rural Québec’s preoccupations and approaches were the same as those in other rural regions of Canada.
This is yet one more example of what I meant by “incomplete conditioning” when I spoke of it in earlier posts. His own geographic isolation, the fact that he did not travel, the fact that he did not know people elsewhere in English Canada, and the fact that all his information about the rest of Canada came from a very Montréal-centric media falsely led him to believe his rural experiences were unique and different from his compatriots elsewhere in Canada.
I will not beat about the bush on this issue. Much of this stems from a very Montréal-centric (Francophone) media. Unless it involves sensational and negative news, it’s a media source which rarely reports on the day-to-day realities in English Canada. And even if it were to report on day-to-day realities, knowing thelimited exposure which many reporters have to the rest of Canada, I am not sure they could adequately do so (and this is notwithstanding those who are ultr-nationalist reporters who would not “want” to report on the rest of Canada). In various posts in this blog, I have given a number of concrete examples – and have even gone so far as to call specific reporters to task.
There certainly are several “pet-topics” which Montréal’s media loves to discuss over and over. One of those issues pertains to the environment. This is a very important subject. But Montréal-centric media often approaches it from the point of view that Québec is the only place in the universe which is preoccupied by the environment. And when there is a comparison to be made, the comparison is limited to comparing Québec’s provincial and Ottawa’s federal environmental records. However, this is like comparing a bucket of paint to a bucket or rocks – there simply is no comparison. Environmental issues are largely provincial jurisdiction. The Québec’s environmental experiences and those of other provinces are very similar and approached in much the same way. New Brunswick has taken a firm stance against fracking like Québec, other provinces are approaching pipeline issues just as cautiously as Québec, Ontario is part of the same GHG carbon market as Québec, BC’s & Manitoba’s Hydro programs greatly reflect those of Québec, Alberta’s wind energy programs are very similar to Québec’s, and the list goes on and on.
Yet large segments of Montréal’s Francophone media insists on only talking about what Ottawa and the Federal government does. I find many aspects of Montréal’s media has no qualms in finding fault with Canada when Ottawa makes the slightest decision which certain media personalities may not agree with. But these same personalities will completely omit to mention the thousands of other environmental initiatives taking place in other provinces — all of which go hand-in-hand which what Québec’s own population believes in.
I believe one of the reasons for this is that numerous aspects of Montréal’s media has concentrated ultra-nationalist (or very ill-informed or uninterested) commentators and columnists in television, the radio and print. It takes much of the objectiveness out of Québec’s Montréal-based media, and leads to incomplete pictures of the Canadian reality. I have written numerous previous posts on such topics.
Government secularism is another example in which Québec’s Montréal-centric media (and ill-informed teachers who have never travelled outside of Québec) tend to preach to the public that Québec is unique. Other provincial governments across Canada are just as secular as Québec’s government. Yet, because certain influential opinion-makers in Montréal’s media believe that the Harper government has certain appointees who harbour religious views, Montréal-based media casts most of Canada in this light (whereas such individuals form only a small minority with relatively little, if any real power).
Family tax credit issues are another issue which is largely bat around in Québec’s Montréal-centric media as being unique to Québec. Provinces all across Canada provide comprehensive tax-credit programs for families. They may be different in style from one province to another, but they exist nonetheless. Yet Montréal-centric media and sovereignist political parties continuously tells their audience that Québec is unique with such programs.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Propagating an incomplete picture (false conditioning) to a mass audience (be it in schools or in the media) is dangerous – and grossly unethical. When people believe something which is not based on a true or incomplete picture, it can lead people to make decisions based on incorrect information.
And then there are the subtle messages. Every day in Montréal’s media, we see overzealous elements sending “soft nationalist messages” to the public, over and over again. Informally, it is known as a flag war (even if it does not involve flags). Certain individuals often find a way, one way or another, to get a political message across. Just the other day I ran across a perfect example. Nissan is currently running an advertising campaign in Québec for it’s Micra model of car. We’re seeing the advertisements on television and in print. Yet someone in charge of advertising (or perhaps with Nissan’s Québec division) opted to place the license plate of an “independent Québec” on the cars. Below is a photo. Such “blue-band” license plates are reserved for independent countries according to an international standard (Europe uses this standard, as do certain Middle-Eastern, Asian and African countries). You’ll note this is not at all a Canadian (or North American) provincial / state license plate
Little by little, over time, such subtle messaging (also a form of conditioning) is bound to have an unconscious effect on society. It’s just sad when it’s done in an unethical and surreptitious manner which leaves little room for open public debate (I can’t help but wonder if Nissan headquarters would approve of such a move if they are were to be made aware that someone is highjacking their advertising campaign to pass political messages and to subconsciously influence the public).
Some last thoughts – on a positive note
Fortunately the internet and a globalized world are helping to tear down these barriers. The “school-of-free-information” is available at the click of a button. I believe this is one of the main reasons why youth in Québec are not biting the bait being thrown to them by the sovereignist movement and other die-hard nationalists.
There still is a lot of work to do. The language barrier is the main obstacle to overcome.
It is sad when French language media airs in-depth documentaries on well-known personalities such as Soeur Angèle, whose community building and charitable efforts are known by all Francophones, yet Anglophones do not know who such as person is.
It is sad when English language media airs indepth documentaries on well-known personalities such as Ian Tyson, featuring his father, his music, and his family’s WWII efforts, yet Francophones have no idea who he is.
We share so much in common on so many levels – to the point that the structure of our lives, mindsets, values and lifestyles make us so that we are very much one people. You just have to view us from abroad or talk to foreigners about us to make such realizations.
Yet language barriers prevent Francophones and Anglophones from sharing in each other’s cultural references. Just as the Rockies or the St-Lawrence belong to everyone in Canada, so too do our cultural references (such as Ian Tyson or Soeur Angèle). Yet the Rockies and the St-Lawrence do not require language for us to realize this. Cultural references do require language competencies.
This is one of the reasons why I am such a strong supporter of our immersion programs and bilingualism. They are tearing down language barriers, one generation at a time.
Conditioning is what we are lead to believe about ourselves and others, and the context of those beliefs. Incorrect or incomplete conditioning is a challenge which is being overcome, but it will still take time. It will continue to happen as more people become aware not only of what barriers need to fall, but also why those barriers need to come down.
I think we’re on the right track. Modern history has shown that Canada’s drive towards bilingualism drive and cross-country exchange of information is as much as grass-roots evolution as it is a governmental evolution.
I remain optimistic and quite excited about what the future holds. All of us are armed with information previous generations did not have.
All of us are part of a society which is much more enlightened that previous generations. It is much more difficult to be “duped” in today’s age.
Despite challenges which are constantly being thrown at our national unity a free-flow of information, it is precisely because today’s generations are more enlightened than past generations that our challenges of incomplete conditioning (an incomplete picture) are being overcome.
SERIES: HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)
- Conditioning: A contributing factor in the notion of the Two Solitudes – Introduction (#275) Part 1 of 13
- Conditioning: And its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276) Part 2 of 13
- Conditioning: The importance of gestures (#277) Part 3 of 13
- Conditioning: In the context of Canada’s “modern” history (#278) Part 4 of 13
- Conditioning: The goal of the “Estates General of French Canada” (#279) Part 5 of 13
- Conditioning: Modern Canada’s “First” Night of the Long Knives – a trigger for the all the rest (#280) Part 6 of 13
- Conditioning: What happened after the Estates General? (#281) Part 7 of 13
- Conditioning: From the 1980 referendum until present (#282) Part 8 of 13
- Conditioning: Wrapping up history and moving into the “now” (#283) Part 9 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post A (#284) Part 10 of 13
- Conditioning: A few words regarding the death of Jacques Parizeau (#285) Part 11 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post B (#284) Part 12 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post C – Closing post (#287) Part 13 of 13