I waited a couple of days to see what the reactions to the first French-language debate would be (all-around).
The reactions were just as they would be for any debate (be it English or French): “This person scored a couple points, that person could have done better”… “We never saw this other person in quite the same light”… “The moderator could have asked this question or dealt with this different” … …
Nothing Earth-shattering in Québec, just as there was nothing Earth shattering in the English-language debates in Anglophone Canada.
But what I did not foresee were the reactions of
- negative misunderstandings coming from English Canada regarding the context of questions in the debate, and
- highly mediatized negative reactions to the debate questions on the part of Francophones in other provinces.
The debate was broadcast live, with simultaneous English translations across Canada on CBC News Network, CBC Radio, as well as online platforms. It was also broadcast to Francophones across Canada in French on Rad-Can’s main network, RDI, and the radio.
Negative misunderstandings coming from English Canada regarding the context of questions in the debate:
If someone had asked me before the debate what I would have foreseen as any possible Anglophone backlash to the debate, I would have guessed it would have related to potential inflammatory or controversial remarks by the Bloc Québécois leader.
But to my great surprise, unlike past debates, this was not the case.
Anglophones across social media, and even some mainstream media, took offense that questions were posed, in a national federal debate, regarding the issue of wearing the Niqab during citizenship ceremonies.
Many people could not understand
- why the issue was brought up, believing it wasted valuable debate time on an issue which nobody cares about (and which many in English Canada have not even heard about), and
- how it was a relevant topic to debate in the context of an election.
Here are some examples of the backlash to which I am referring (from Reddit alone, not to mention other social media platforms):
How is the Niqab an issue? It’s one f****g person at an oath ceremony. The issue went to the Supreme Court and got settled. What’s left to argue over? Our feelings?!?
I was extremely disappointed and frustrated that the moderators chose to bring this topic up at all.
But then the same backlash hit mainstream media as well (less a few F-bombs)…
On the CBC at issue panel, Andrew Coyne of the National Post could not hold back his anger that this was a topic in a French language debate. I cannot recall the last time I have ever seen him become so emotionally upset (angry) on any edition of the At-issue panel.
This resulted in Chantal Hébert emotionally lashing back at him (again, a rarety during an At-issue debate), thus putting him in his place.
You can view the fiery exchange here. It starts at 5:39 in the video: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-at-issue-panel-globe-economic-debate-1.3243048
The problem is that those complaining this issue has made its way into the French-language debate obviously have no idea about anything of relevance of this topic in Québec… a topic which has been hotly debated for the past four years (with people on one side trying vehemently to make this a larger issue, and people on another side trying to put the issue to rest).
I can understand a certain ignorance from English Canada’s social media. I would expect there would be people who are not “in the know” on this topic.
But Andrew Coyne?
If he is so ignorant regarding the importance of what has been one of the most front-and-centre issues in French Canada’s media for the last half decade, then in my eyes, it will take years for his opinions to regain any credibility with me when they touch on “national issues” which supposedly transcend linguistic lines.
Before this hot exchange on the At-issue panel, I had absolutely no idea that Coyne’s views were so squarely locked in such an out-of-touch bubble-world.
Talk about a walking incarnation of the Two Solitudes in the flesh.
The issue is that for the past four years this has been a very public debate in Québec which has transcended provincial and federal politics. Divisive provincial politics, a history of trying to balance reasonable accommodations in the context of interculturalism / multiculturalism, along with decades of Québec’s own unique cultural “soul searching” has kept this very topic front and centre.
The topic has become a metaphorical flag, waved much more by nationalist politics in Québec than by federal politics outside Québec. But Canada’s Federal politicians have been dragged into the debate in Québec, and to no small extent
Even more telling, the federal Conservatives have thrust themselves into this already very public debate in Québec; very openly and vocally siding with sovereignist political parties (the PQ and BQ) in order to score political points and to woo Québec’s voters.
So yes… it was brought up in the debate, and it was the Conservatives who have kept the issue alive-and-well in Québec’s federal political scene for the last few years.
If people are going to bitch out the fact that this was brought up in the debate, then bitch out Stephen Harper. Do not bitch out the debate.
There y’are Andrew Coyne… write about that. And to quote Chantal… “5 minutes in two hours!”
I’ll buy an edition of the National Post on Monday to read the article – looking forward to it.
On September 30th, Andrew Coyne of the National post published a well-balanced article, with good reflection, describing his view on the Niqab issue and why it should not have become the issue it has become in the federal election.
In his article, he did call out the Federal Conservatives for keeping this issue alive at a federal-political level in Québec, and that he felt the Conservatives keeping it alive did nothing more than pander to a certain public in Québec who would be persuaded to believe their lives are materially affected by it.
It is a good article, and it allayed my concerns with his earlier appearance on the At-issue panel. I would encourage you to read it. It’s good article which I agree with.
Highly mediatized negative reactions to the debate on the part of Francophones in other provinces:
Canada has numerous Francophone political associations which represent (or purport to represent) Francophones outside Québec at a national and provincial level. I once wrote a post on the topic: Official Francophone representation outside Québec
It is not new for Francophone associatiations (and Francophones outside of Québec in general) to consider themselves “slighted” by Québec’s Montréal-centric media (you have seen me write on this topic numerous times).
Thus I was not surprised to see a backlash from Francophones in other provinces crying fowl that questions important to them were not brought up in the French language debate.
But where I was surprised was the ampleur and equivocal loudness of the complaints this time around. The complaints were so unanimous, so loud, and so damning, that the complaints became headline news in-and-of-themselves in Québec!
This is something completely new. I have never seen this before.
I believe this new phenomena is occurring because of the instant-nature of social media, the ability the internet affords for people to speak with one voice, and the ability the internet affords common people to “go straight to the top” with their complaints.
People have been saying for years that the internet is changing everything in democracy and our political process, and this is one case in point (people can now “digitally rebel” on political matters such as the Federal debates if they feel they are not representative).
More importantly, this has sent the concept of Francophone-to-Francophone Two Solitudes (which exists between those in Québec and those outside Québec) straight into the headlines, and straight into the senior management offices of Radio-Canada.
Here are two French-language headline articles on the topic in Québec:
(Francophones outside Québec felt excluded): http://ici.radio-canada.ca/sujet/elections-canada-2015/2015/09/25/001-debat-chefs-francophones-exclus-reactions.shtml
(Radio-Canada defends itself for having ignored Francophones outside Québec): http://ici.radio-canada.ca/sujet/elections-canada-2015/2015/09/25/013-debat-chefs-francais-radio-canada-se-defend-avoir-ignore-francophones-hors-quebec.shtml
The fact that Radio-Canada felt it was backed into a corner while surrounded by a mob holding torches and pitchforks says something.
Again, this is new.
Michel Cormier (Rad-Can’s head of news services, who himself is Acadian from New Brunswick) actually felt he had to make a live, on–air appearance on RDI to try to deflect the blame.
Instead of trying to desperately defend Rad-Can, I personally would have rather seen him take the “moral high ground” and say that Radio-Canada could have done a better job. But hey, the fact that Rad-Can finally felt threatened to this extent says something.
As the internet continues to become a powerful tool for change and a voice for the disenfranchised, I wonder what else might come down the road.
I also wonder what changes we may see in the second French-language debate (hosted by TVA).
I’m sure TVA will not want to be subjected to the same criticisms as Radio-Canada (after all, the two networks seem to have a hate-on for each other… but that’s a whole other blog topic – one which I’ll leave for another day).
The second debate is on October 2nd. Stay tuned.