Here is a more-than-interesting experience I had last night in Dundas Square which demonstrates a couple of things:
(1) the two solitudes which exist between some (but not all) Francophones inside Québec and some Francophones outside Québec, and
(2) the awkwardness which can occur when sovereignists and federalists meet on the field of culture.
I wish the following had not happened, and that everyone could have just behaved without people having to score political points in public like this.
To battle out ideological differences in the written press and on internet is one thing (I do so in my own blog, but people can chose to not read). Yet to do so in a public square and / or concert? For crying out loud. Not cool.
Fortunately, these sorts of “hiccups” occur less and less frequently, so I do believe the situation is much better than it used to be (and indications are that it will continue in that direction).
A snapshot of the de-politicization of young artists in Québec:
If we were to describe Québec’s artists’ “public political” involvement 20 years ago compared to today, the story would be very different.
40, 30 or 20 years ago we would have been able to classify large swaths of Québec’s artists in a category named “the politically involved” — which, by default, would have meant lending their public support towards nationalist and sovereignist movements.
Yet something has happened over the last 20 years. A new generation of “artists”, and a new generation of “fans” has come along (a generation which was not even born at the time of the 1995 referendum, or at the very least, was quite young in 1995). These new generations tend to be “indifferent” towards patriotic politics, or at the very minimum, they are un-engaged towards the subject.
What I am saying is not new news.
Many in the Parti Québécois have been openly complaining about this situation (Jean-François Lisée has been the most vocal, but PKP, Alexandre Cloutier and Bernard Drainville have also said they need to do more to try to capture this new and “lost” generation).
The Federalist parties (provincially and federally) also publicly talk about this phenomenon, usually with the tone that Québec’s youth “are just not interested in sovereignist politics” (without mentioning they’re equally unengaged towards federalist positions).
I think that the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, may have most aptly summed up the reasons “why” youth are detached from “local” nationalist questions. A few days ago at the Premiers’ Counsel of the Federation she stated that she believes the PQ will no longer succeed in its goal for Québec independence because
“Québecers are no different from British Columbians… There is a generation of people who are forward looking global citizens who are interested in creating wealth, building their lives, being able to be a part of the world — not just a part of Quebec or a part of Canada.”
The above statement is also not new. Others have drawn similar parallels (I too have made similar statements elsewhere in this blog). Yet Christy Clark’s wording is perhaps the most “concise” I have seen yet.
In addition to how she views the “average” person, she also added emphasis on the younger generations.
Will this new trend be a lasting trend? I don’t know.
The PQ believes things are going so bad for them that they have nowhere else to go but up; slowly wooing the younger generation simply by way of the vacuum effect (or even more if the PQ makes an extra effort — which they are trying to do).
Yet there are others who say that this is a lasting trend owing to the fact that the world is a different, more global, more connected place compared to 20 years ago. They argue that starting now, future generations will remain in this “detached-from-sovereignty” mindset, regardless if the Federalist side seeks to woo these generations or not (unless some major constitutional crisis or major economic shake-up comes along).
How does this fit in with Louis-Jean Cormier?
Louis-Jean Cormier is a very popular singer in Québec, especially with younger people. Cormier (born in 1980) has become a chart-topping pop-singer (I have written a few posts which provided top chart music listings – and Cormier has appeared in those lists).
Yet, despite the fact that his fan-base is not politically engaged, he is one of the most politically, pro-sovereignty engaged artists of his generation.
With the exception of a very small handful of other young artists, you would be hard-pressed to find other singers in Québec who are his age or younger and who are as politically engaged as Louis-Jean Cormier. He is now a rare-breed, and perhaps part of what will continue to be a dying breed ?? Only time will tell (I don’t know any more than the next person).
This past winter, he became heavily involved in Parti Québécois politics, going so far as to write rallying poetry for them. He publicly supported Alexandre Cloutier for PQ leader, he appeared on the popular television program Tout le monde en parle (in front of a million people), asking the public to take out PQ memberships and to support the cause.
He even described how his first name “Louis” was actually given to him by his parents to signify “OUI” (yes), in support of sovereignty (Louis).
Fast-forward to 8:25 in the video below.
His concert yesterday in Toronto
Louis-Jean Cormier is a very talented singer. He is very popular and very well known in Québec (and most Francophone music enthusiasts elsewhere in Canada also know who he is – particularly younger people). I like his music, even if I do not agree with his politics.
He was invited to Toronto to perform at Franco-Fête.
Here is a Radio-Canada interview with Cormier not long before his concert in Toronto: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7318918##
Considering the degree of his very vocal politics, I was initially a bit surprised he was invited to Franco-Fête. After all, he advocates for the demantalment of Canada – a country which Francophones outside Québec tend to be profoundly attached to and engaged towards.
In all honesty, I was not all that keen on attending his concert. I suspected that it would be filled with nationalist speeches, remarks on giving “us” (outside Québec) lessons on how we should think and act, and I wasn’t sure that the crowd would be very big, nor was I sure if they would be enthusiastic (after all, who wants to attend a concert when the crowd is not enthusiastic?).
Regardless, all said and done, just before the end of the day I decided that if the organizers of Franco-Fête could take the moral high road and place themselves above petty politics by inviting Louis-Jean Cormier in the name of culture and music, AND if Cormier could do the same by accepting an invitation to come to Toronto, then I too should do the same and attend his concert.
If anything, I thought that perhaps a strong and enthusiastic “Québec friendly” crowd may actually send a message to Louis-Jean Cormier that Canada is actually a pretty cool country which holds a special place in its heart for Canada’s and Québec’s Francophone culture and music.
I showed up 20 minutes before the concert, and just as I predicted, hardly anyone was there. The other Franco-Fête concerts I attended were packed with waiting crowds long in advance. I thought to myself that perhaps Cormier’s performance wouldn’t fly owing to his political affirmations.
But a few minutes before the concert, people began to arrive. This crowd was much younger than previous Franco-Fête concerts I attended (mostly an under 30 crowd). The crowd did not become as big as the other Franco-Fête concerts, it was not as enthusiastic, but Dundas Square (Canada’s equivalent of Times Square) was full of fans by the time the concert started (Dundas Square is not very small, so that says something).
Error 1: When Cormier was introduced, Franco-Fête’s M.C. not once, but twice introduced him as one of “Canada’s” great singers (or something of the like). Yes, fine – technically correct — but I think it may have rubbed Cormier and his political complex the wrong way (setting the tone for what you’re about to read).
If it had been any other singer, that would have been fine to say. But Cormier this past spring was “PQ Darling #1”. Would you also introduce Mario Beaulieu one of the countries “greatest Canadians” if he were in Toronto (his head would explode).
Granted — we’re all proud of our country despite any issues it may sometimes have. And granted, if I thought he would be receptive to being called one of “Canada’s” greatest singers, then by all means, do so.
But this is Louis-Jean Cormier. For crying out loud, don’t rub the “great Canadian” title in his face seconds before you give him a microphone on a stage in front of a crowd he doesn’t necessarily understand or identify with.
Did you seriously think he would take the title of “greatest Canadian” sitting down?
Because of Cormier’s advocacy, the Franco-Fête should have known such an introduction could have wound him up and ready to fire back – especially in what he may perceive as the Anglo-heartland epicentre of Toronto.
And fire back he did with a couple of shots of his own.
The M.C. should have just kept the peace and should have simply introduced him as “a” great singer who they were happy to have travel from Québec for our entertainment. If they had done that, then Cormier perhaps may have not felt provoked (regardless if no harm or ill-will were intended).
Error 2: As I predicted, Cormier spared no time in quickly uttering several “nationalist” words to the crowd with a theme of what could be interpreted by some as preaching morals to Francophones outside of Québec (For cripes sake! sigh).
He said something to the effect he was going to sing a song about taking political action, and that perhaps it would inspire Francophones in the crowd and outside Québec to rise up and not put up with their situation (am paraphrasing, but it could be interpreted by some as such).
IF this was his intention (and again, it’s open to interpretation), it could be considered condescending and ignorant — as if Francophones outside Québec are “colonized” victims or something.
They’re as engaged as the rest of the lot in the country: citizens who care about their country and who are working hand-in-hand with their Anglophone compatriots to make it a better place in a better world.
I mean, seriously – who does he think he is and what does he expect people to do? Take pitch-forks and chase everyone we live with, grow up with, and care about down the street if they’re Anglophone?
Such an approach is a sure-fire way to get people’s backs up.
I believe he must have also been completely oblivious to the fact that around 1/3 of the crowd seemed to be composed of Anglophones who are standing side-by-side with their Francophone compatriots and embracing Canada’s Francophone fact – a trend I have noticed from one Franco-Fête concert to another. Franco-Fête is not the Fête nationale au parc Maisonneuve. Francophones and Anglophones in Canada’s other provinces are proud to mix and share in each other’s cultures… Just as there are many in Québec who are also doing so. His shots were a direct insult to that fan base who came out to see him.
Cormier also said he was happy to be in Toronto and performing a concert in “Canada” — with extra intonation when he said “Canada” (inferring he is not in Canada when he performs in Québec). Again, an insult to the many Québécois in the crowd who have transplanted themselves to Toronto, or others like myself whose lives have much to do with Québec (and for whom Canada would not be the same without).
Error 3: Of course, the next song was one which contained a line which could be interpreted as a veiled reference to the nasty Anglophones who oppress French, and that you have to fight until you are free (sigh x 10).
A number of us in the crowd couldn’t help but exchange looks, sigh, shake our heads, and shrug our shoulders. These are Francophones I am talking about.
As far as the Anglophones in the crowd, they simply stayed stone-faced when he sang it – I mean seriously, I wonder what they were thinking. After all, Anglophones are NOT the devil in disguise, and the proof is that a large part of the audience was Anglophone — who expressively came to watch Cormier perform (It was completely uncalled for to sing insults to them).
Error 4: One older guy in the crowd with a very noticeable Montréal East-End French accent (perhaps in his late 50’s) standing not far from me pulled out a large enough Québec flag and started to shout pro-sovereignty affirmations in response to the song (I have to ask myself why a guy like that would even be in Toronto if such a place is enough of hell-on-earth that he needs borders to feel secure, but whatever – free country).
Error 5: A couple of younger people with Ontario French accents and another with a Montréal French accent (all in their late 20s or 30s) standing beside the yelling guy with the flag “took him to task” and quickly put him in his place (I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that means).
That put a bit of a damper on part of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the concert (and it also demonstrates the generational difference involved in these issues).
There are a couple of lessons in all of this unnecessary madness:
If you are famous, especially within cultural circles, and you have already made a name for yourself owing to highly controversial or divisive political actions, you can consider yourself to be forever walking on eggshells in the eyes of one segment of the population or another (regardless of your political stripes).
Thus, people will have pre-conceived notions that you could be entering the stage with an ulterior-motive, and everyone around you will be looking for the slightest message from you (regardless of how subtle it may be).
Thus you can chose to do one of two things:
- You can either continue to send messages, regardless how strong or weak they are, or
- You can be on your best behaviour, a pleasure for everyone, and you can make an effort to keep things on an even keel by not rocking the boat. This means remaining politically neutral and choosing your words wisely.
It’s not for me to decide which one of the two choices a person elects to pursue. But if you do chose the first option, be prepared for a backlash in one form or another (and live with the consequences when they occur – because there more than likely will be a backlash).
If you provoke someone (ie: you label someone something you know they will react to — such as calling Louis-Jean Cormier one of the greatest “Canadians” out there), then yeah, you’re going to get a reaction.
Even if the intentions were innocent and pure, still, what was the M.C. thinking ??
Had it been Arianne Moffatt, Kevin Parent, Lisa Leblanc, Marc Duprès or Garou or dozens and dozens or other singers, I am more than sure they would have been flattered (even Robert Charlebois would likely be flattered considering he views the nationalist questions from a distance now).
But Louis-Jean Cormier? C’mon! He just finished being one of the biggest and most public cheerleaders for the PQ leadership race and recruitment campaigns.
Who is Louis-Jean Cormier’s fan-base?
I asked a Francophone group of younger people beside me if they also understood what was happening (they were perhaps in their early 20s). I was simply curious to know if they were aware of Cormier’s political activism (I wasn’t telling them anything… I simply asked a couple of questions to see if people in their age bracket were aware or following these issues).
They told me they did not know anything about Cormier’s politics. I asked why they attended the concert. They said that Cormier’s music is top of the charts, and they really like his music (the same reasons why I also attended).
That probably sums up his fan base. It is generally non-political, despite Cormier’s own political affirmations.
But more importantly, it likely sums up young people’s sentiments across the country; they are more interested in their daily activities, relations, global connectiveness, and the welfare of those around them than they are with nationalist politics.
And the concert itself?
Cormier ceased the political rhetoric for the rest of the concert and simply concentrated on his performance. He thanked the crowd and Toronto numerous times for attending.
He seemed to loosen up and have more fun with the crowd as the night went on, and the crowd loosened up too.
All-in-all, with the exception of the one “hiccup” I mentioned above, the rest of the concert was non-political and the crowd eventually got into it. (These sorts of “hiccups” are fewer and fewer as the years go on, even in Québec. It is a very noticeable change).
The concert may not have started on the best note, but it ended well. I think we all had a relatively good time.
Here is a video of various clips I made.
If you fast-forward to the end of the video I made below, the lack of enthusiasm on my face after attending this concert is quite evident when you contrast it to the videos I made for the previous two concerts (especially with the last one in which I was super excited to meet Lisa Leblanc!)
Nonetheless, I was happy to have gone, and Louis-Jean Cormier is an extraordinarily talented singer. I’m grateful he made the gesture to come to Toronto and play to his fans here. Sometimes gestures count more than anything.
And one last note:
When I got home, a friend gave me a call and asked how the concert was.
I told him that it went well and Cormier’s performance was very enjoyable. I also mentioned the little political hiccup which occurred. My buddy’s reaction: “Câlique! Y en a encore de ces vieilles chicanes? Pas croyable!” (For crying out loud, these old muck-ups are still happening? Unbelievable!). My buddy is from Québec, he doesn’t speak much English, and he also was turned off by what happened.
When he said that, my response was “Ouais, ça reflète mes sentiments, moi aussi” (My sentiments, exactly).