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Celebrating 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario (#220)

The last post set the table for this post.   In the last post I discussed how curious I find that Francophone Ontario gets so little attention compared to Acadia:  “Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention”.

In this post, I’ll bring to your attention one of the most significant events in Ontario’s history:  This year’s celebrations 400 years of Ontarois (Franco-Ontarian) history.

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(The official logo of the 400th anniversary celebrations)

Following Étienne Brulé’s Ontario expeditions in 1610, Samuel de Champlain founded what is now Ontario in 1615, where he took took up residence at his newly-founded settlement 90 minutes North of Toronto (in what is now Penetanguishene-Midland in Cottage Country).

400 years later, Ontarois (Franco-Ontarians) now constitute North America’s largest Francophone population outside Québec, with more than 610,000 people.   In addition, almost 1,500,000 people in Ontario are able to speak French (self-identified as being able to hold a conversation in French, Stats-Can 2011).

According to Statistics Canada, Ontarois numbers are on the increase… with the number of people who speak French at home in Ontario having increased by 9.5% between 2006-2011, to 595,000 people.  This is the largest growth rate of any Francophone population in Canada, be it in Western Canada, Acadia or Québec.

In celebration of 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario, a consortium of government and non-governmental organizations have launched “Ontario 400”Ontario 400 is charged with helping to organize and highlight a whole host of year-long celebrations all over Ontario.   The largest celebrations will be during the summer, but the celebrations are already underway in many parts of Ontario.

The official “Ontario 400” website can be viewed here:

(English):  http://ontario400.ca/en/statistics/

(French):  http://ontario400.ca/

Some interesting highlights & links from the Ontario-400 website:

  • 41.5% % of Ontario’s Francophones live in Eastern Ontario (which includes Ottawa & area),
  • 28.7% live in Central Ontario (which includes Toronto, the Golden Horseshoe & area)
  • 22.5% live in the North-East of Ontario (including Sudbury, North Bay, and the northern highway 11 Francophone regions)
  • 5.9% live in the Southwest (which includes Windsor & area)
  • 1.4% live in the Northwest (which includes Thunder Bay & area)

Have a look through the website… it’s quite interesting.   I’m told that the largest Toronto-Area celebrations will be in Penetanguishene this summer at the original 1615 Samuel de Champlain settlement, which is now Sainte-Marie-aux-Pays-des-Hurons, less than 90 minutes North of Toronto (with people coming from all over Southern Ontario for it).

If you live in or close to Ontario, these celebrations might be a fun way to help you practice your French.

(Pics of Sainte-Marie-aux-Pays-des-Huron North of Toronto)

N.fr2 N.fr3

Happy 400th birthday!!

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SERIES:  FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)

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“Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention (#219)

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Here is a short, but controversial post for you.

There are more than twice the number of Ontarois as there are Acadians (note: Ontarois(e) is the new name which people use more and more to describe Franco-Ontarians).

But strangely enough, outside Ontario, they do not garner nearly the same amount of attention as Acadians.

Yet, Ontarois also

  • have a few distinct accents
  • have a Francophone history just as long as Québec’s and Acadia’s (Samuel de Champlain also founded Ontario, just like Québec.  He lived in Southern Ontario for over one to two years in 1615.  His home was just North of present-day Toronto, in what is now Midland in Cottage Country.  I guess he liked his cottage at the lake too!  Even today, if you drive 90 minutes North of Toronto to the towns of Penetanguishene and Tiny-municipality – where he established the first European settlement in Ontario — you’ll see and hear wall-to-wall French with an Ontarian accent).
  • have many Francophone media super stars (Marie-Mai and Véronique DiCaire among the most recent ones, but there has been a long line of Ontarois celebrities)
  • have given Canada some of its foremost politicians and other personalities (the recent and former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, is Ontarois from Windsor)
  • have a provincial government, hospitals, and grade-school & post-secondary education institutions which operate or serve its population in French
  • live in a province where some areas are over 85% to 90% Francophone (even more Francophone than numerous areas of Québec).
  • have their own extensive media industry
    • Radio-Canada has numerous studios across Ontario,
    • there are more Francophone radio stations in Ontario than anywhere elsewhere outside Québec,
    • there are numerous Francophone newspapers, among which Le Droit is one of the largest daily newpapers in Canada,
    • the Francophone Toronto-based television station TFO is one of (and possibly is) North America’s largest educational TV stations,
    • the national Francophone TV station UNIS is based in Toronto, which broadcasts coast-to-coast-to-coast
  • are growing in overall numbers (with those speaking French at home having grown by 9.5% from 2006 to 2011 according to the 2011 Statistics Canada census, one of Canada’s largest growth-rates of any community!)
  • shares a province with an an Anglophone community, of which large numbers are able to speak both French and English, and thus lends much moral support and understanding for their Francophone communities (I placed the bilingual numbers on the above map).

Heck, when Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, recently won the mayoral election, the first words of his live televised victory speech were in French, not English.

There are more Francophones in Ontario than there are Anglophones in Québec (yet people always talk about the Anglophones in Québec, but hardly ever about the Francophones in Ontario).
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Considering all of the above, I remain completely baffled as to why only Québecois and Acadians get the bulk of the attention when people outside these regions or outside Canada think about, talk of, or write about French in Canada or of Francophone Canada.

It looks like a case of the Two Solitudes on many, many different levels (Francophone-to-Francophone, Region-to-Region, Québec-to-Ontario, Country-to-Country, Anglophone-to-Francophone, and on and on).

I have some (rather complex) pet theories why this may be the case, but I’ll leave them for another post (check in a couple of posts from now… I have a stab at jotting my thoughts on the issue in a separate post).

I can give you an excellent example of what I regularly see.  Yesterday a private foreign company published a post on their blog pertaining to French in Canada (I won’t mention who they are, so as not to single them out).  Frankly speaking, from a historic and language-explanation perspective, it was one of the best “short” descriptions I have ever seen (better than any Wikipedia article).  I was more than impressed.  Yet, even though they said French in Canada has many dialects and is found across the country, they mentioned the most important and main French speaking areas in Canada are Québec and Acadia.

There was just one problem with this article (which was supposed to discuss Canadian French), there was zero mention of Ontario — one of the largest components in Canada’s overall French and Francophone realities.

It’s just not the above article either… In fact this happens over and over again all over the board when people write and talk about French in Canada.  I find this chronic omission of anything Ontarois-related to be endemic and representative of many articles, blog posts, and general media coverage.  Even I was guilty of falling into this trap in my younger years.  Ontario is scarcely ever mentioned, whereas Acadia gets the lions share of the attention – either abroad or elsewhere at home.

Although I consider my own personal background more tied to Franco-AlbertanFrancoPrairien and Pan-Franco-Canadian culture than what I consider it tied to Ontarois (or Franco-Ontarien) culture, the longer I live in Ontario, and the longer I see and hear Ontarois in my everyday life, the more perplexed I become by this question.

On top of it all, I happen to live in one of the least Francophone regions of Toronto, yet I hear French in my neighbourhood more often than you’d think.

This lack of awareness of Francophone Ontario’s existence (versus an extravagantly large amount of attention accorded to a much “smaller” Acadia) is a real head-scratcher.  One would think Ontario would find itself on near-equal footing with Acadia, in terms of attention from elsewhere in Canada or abroad (Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying… Acadia is certainly unique in many important ways, and does deserve every bit of attention it gets… But one would also think that Ontarois culture and Francophone Ontario should be right up there too).

Am I missing something here??  It sure makes you think, doesn’t it?  What are your thoughts?

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Related posts:

"Tant à Découvrir":  The Ontario Government's French Licence Plates issued to the public...  Seen on vehicles across Ontario.  If you keep your eyes open for them, you'll spot them around Toronto, the North and the East.

“Tant à Découvrir”: The Ontario Government’s French Licence Plates issued to the public… Seen on vehicles across Ontario. If you keep your eyes open for them, you’ll spot them around Toronto, and the North & East of Ontario.

“Tant à découvrir”… Funny how the logo plays right into this theme.  Ironic isn’t it?

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SERIES:  FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)

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A brief history of France’s former languages, and how they helped to shape our French in Canada (#217)

Not long ago I came across two well-made YouTube videos.  One offers samples of France’s 28 different accents.  The other offers samples of 45 languages which are native to France — from the three major French language groups.

In a nutshell, French(as we know it today) is a relatively young language.  It was based in part on languages / dialects which existed in regions in and around Paris for centuries.  Modern French came about when it took elements from the languages / dialects of the Paris area, as well as a number of other nearby and closely related dialects.  In broad terms, they became mixed together in a big language stew, and voilà! — Modern French was born, primarily in the 1600s & 1700s.   (This is an oversimplified summary of what happened – but that’s basically it in a nutshell).

When I use the word “dialect” or “language”, my choice of words is a question of semantics.  Here I’ll use the word “language” (instead of “dialects”) because speakers of many of the dialects referred to in this post would not have necessarily been able understand one another (which is a characteristic of what constitutes separate languages).

Prior to the birth of Modern French (in the 1600s & 1700s), all the languages which existed in the Northern half of France were descended from a “super-group” of languages called the Languages of Oïl (les langues d’oïl).  These 20+ languages existed for roughly 1,500 years, well into the 1700s — at which point modern French began to supersede and replace them.

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Even though the Languages of Oïl were related, if you were to travel across Northern France in the year 600, 1000, 1500 or even 1700, you would have possibly traveled through 20 different language zones.  Likely you would not have been able to understand the locals as you crossed from one language zone to another (at that time in history, French was not the common every-day language of France).   However, when French began to supersede these other languages, French spread beyond Paris to the outlying regions, and the government began to forcefully suppress (basically wipe-out through forced assimilation) all the regional languages.

A very similar phenomenon existed in the Southern half of France.  Whereas the related languages of the North fell under the umbrella of the Languages of Oïl, in Southern France, there was a different group of many related languages called the Occitan Languages.

A region of Eastern France also had a separate grouping of languages called the Franco-Provençal (or Arpitan) Languages. 

Unlike the Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages did not contribute as much to the formation of Modern French (if you listen to recordings of the Occitan & Franco-Provincial languages, they sound very different from French – with sounds and pronunciations much closer to Italian, Latin, Catalan and Spanish — whereas the Oïl Languages have sounds and pronunciations much more related to Modern French).

Also, just like the other Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages were forcefully repressed by the government, starting in the 1700s, and replaced by Modern French.

Although all these languages of France were wiped out over the course of 300+ years, the inhabitants of each language region retained many different accents which can be associated with the original languages.  Thus, as you travel throughout France today, you will hear many different French accents, sometimes very different from one another.

What I find extremely interesting is that there are still some individuals in France who still speak the former regional languages.  Depending on the language, their numbers can be quite small.  Native speakers are often senior citizens, and some languages may have almost no speakers left (with the only remnants existing only in old audio recordings made 40 to 90 years ago).

How this fits into Canada’s style of French:

In the 1600s and 1700s, the original settlers to Ontario and Québec brought with them the languages of the Paris region (at least how it was spoken in Paris at that time – which is different from how it is spoken in Paris today).  The Parisian language was the main language spoken in New France (the French colonies of North America), but there were significant numbers of other Languages from France such as Norman, Saintogeais, and Gallo.  Settlers also came from other areas in the Northwest and North-central parts of France.   Paris’ language became the standard norm in Québec and Ontario in the 1600s and 1700s, but it carried heavy language influences from other regions of Northwestern and North-central France as people mixed and added their own linguistic nuances to the overall pot.  It was this mixing of Northern France medieval languages which gives us our way of speaking French in Canada today.

Consequently, there are two major forms of French in Canada today (each with many varieties of accents and colloquialisms).

  1. One grouping covers Québec, Ontario, the Prairie Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and British Columbia.  This is also the dominant style in the media (owing to the fact that Montréal is the epicentre of Canada’s Francophone media).  It is based on a much broader mix of old languages and accents which came from France.
  2. Conversely, in Canada’s Easternmost provinces we find Acadia (the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador).  The original French settlers to Acadia in 1605 (and those who continued to come up until the 1700s) came from narrower, more localized regions of France.  In France, they came from regions a bit further South than the settlers who went to Québec and Ontario.  But the Acadian settlers were still from the Northern Half of France and the still spoke languages of Oïl.   Because the settlers spoke different Oïl languages than those who went to Québec and Ontario, Acadia ended up speaking a different style of French — a unique style which is still spoken as the main type of French in our Atlantic provinces today (called Acadian French).

The YouTube recordings:

Someone went to a good deal of work in creating the following YouTube videos, and making them publicly available for our viewing and listening.  They found and put together a collage of sound recordings of 28 accents throughout France, and 45 of the languages of France.

  • France’s 28 accents from all regions of France: 

In this first video, see if you can hear aspects of accents in Northern and Northeast France which share some traits with Canadian French accents.   There are some shared traits – and it is quite intriguing to listen to.

Pay particular attention to the Charentes (Saintonge)”, “Nord-Picardie (Thiérache)”, “Orléanais (Blésois)”, andPoitou (Deux-Sèvres)”, accents.   Sound familiar???  —  I especially find the Charentes (Saintonge) accent to be quite interesting – but all of them are very interesting (I’m thinking out loud here… When I listen to the above accents, I certainly can hear accents which share definite traits with those of Québec’s North-Coast,  Gaspésie, Northern Ontario and older Canadian Prairie-French accents).  Now mix all the above accents together (plus a few more), and guess what overall accent you’re likely to begin to get!  (Wink, wink!!).  And that, my friends, is precisely what happened 300 – 400 years ago here in Canada.

  • France’s 45 languages:

As a speaker of Canadian French, what I find fascinating about the video below is that I (quite surprisingly) find some of the languages relatively easy to understand.   Three of the languages which stick out as relatively easy to understand are PercheronMainiot, and Poitevin (despite that I had never heard them prior to listening to this video).  Even though I can understand them, I am not sure that people in other regions in France would understand them quite as easily.   This is because they seem to share many more traits with our colloquial French in Canada than with standard International French (or even colloquial European French).

Something I find quite shocking (but equally fascinating) is that I can hear vocabulary and expressions in these languages which we regularly say in Canadian French but which are not said in France French and have died out in France.   The following are some prime examples of words / phrases I heard in the languages I pointed out.  They are things we say everyday in Canadian French (many many times every day).  I, like most people in Canada, took it for granted that these were uniquely Canadian words — but apparently they’re not, and we now know their true source! (from some of the old Languages of Oïl).

  • où-ce que t’as..?” or où ce qu’y est…?”
    • instead of “où est-ce que tu as…?” or “où est-ce qu’il est… ?”,
    • which means “Where did you…?” or “Where is…?” in Canada
  • à c’t’heure
    • instead of “maintenant”
    • which means “right now” in Canada,
  • fait-qu’là
    • instead of “alors”
    • which means “so in Canada,
  • M’a faire, aller, etc….”
    • instead of Je vais faire, aller… etc.”
    • which means I’m going to do, go… etc.” in Canada,
  • ben’qu-là
    • instead of “bon!”
    • which means “well…”, or “so then” in Canada, etc.

And then there were the accents and tones… such as the old French Montréal-Windsor-St.Louis corridor aveolar “Rs”, and Acadian vowel flattenings.

Truly fascinating stuff — like a 400 year old time-machine, but with a mirror with our face in it!

I suppose it indicates that the degrees of separation from the original French dialects which came to Canada in the 1600’s & 1700’s, and the style of colloquial French we speak today across Canada and Québec may not have diverged as much as one would think.

Other languages which I surprisingly do not have major difficulties understanding are aspects of Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais (which appears to share many traits in common with Acadian French in Canada), and Gallo.  

It was actually quite eerie listening to these languages for the first time.  There was an instant sense of “familiarity” with them, despite having never heard them before.

Go figure!  😉

Where all this fits on a language tree:

As with any language, I suppose you could say any given language has “sibling” languages and “cousin” languages.

A cousin language would be when one older language gives rise to a few parallel new languages.   In a broad sense, Latin gave birth to many different language groupings.  Some examples would be the Italo-Dalmatian grouping (which includes Corsican, Italian, Sicilian, etc), the Eastern Grouping (which includes Romanian, Aromanian, etc.), the Langue d’Oïl grouping (which includes French, Norman, Walloon, etc.).

In general, these “groupings” could be said to be positioned like “cousins” with respect to one another on a family tree.   In language terms, sometimes you can understand your cousins, but sometimes you cannot.   Some of French’s cousins would include Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I can understand (especially read) a good deal of these three language cousins.  Conversely, English’s closest cousin is the language of West Frisian which is spoken in the Northern Netherlands.   English speakers cannot understand or read West Frisian (or any other cousin of English) owing to too much separation in terms of time and geography.   So it’s hit and miss when it comes to understanding cousin languages.

Then there are the sibling languages.  Each of the “cousin groupings” gives birth to a number of other languages (“sibling” languages) through closely related circumstances of geography and history.   In the Oïl Language grouping, we find the languages in the above video (for example, Percheron, MainiotPoitevin, Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais and Gallo).  As a Canadian French speaker, the above-mentioned sibling languages are not difficult for me to understand, despite that I had never heard them before (whereas other “sibling” languages in the Oïl Language grouping are difficult for me to understand).   Conversely, English has two sibling languages… one has gone extinct (Yola), and the other is Scots.  Sometimes Scots can be a bit difficult to understand if you are not used to hearing it (see the video below), but if you were to read it aloud, chances are you would understand 80% of it if your native language is English.

Click below to open the language tree to see where French and English sit with respect to their language “cousins” and “siblings”.    The languages discussed above are in “Blue” on the tree.

Indo-European Tree - blue - jpg

We already heard samples of some of French’s language siblings.  But as an English speaker, if you’re curious about English’s only remaining sibling, Scots, here are some examples:

This is a sample text of Scots from Wikipedia:  Quebec (Québec in the French leid) is a province o Canadae. It is the mucklest province gaun bi aurie o Canadae. Quebec haes a population o 7,651,531 fowk. The offeecial leid o Quebec is French, an aboot 90% o the indwallers o Quebec speaks it (aside French, baith Inglis an Inuktuit are spoken). The caipital ceety o Quebec is Quebec Ceety (Ville de Québec in French), an the mucklest ceety is Montreal (Montréal). Maist o the fowk in Quebec are French Canadians (or Québecois), but Erse-Quebecers, Scots-Quebecers, Inglis-Quebecers, Italian-Quebecers an Jewish-Quebecers bide there an aw.

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to have a go at translating it.  Let’s see how I do (I’ll put my guesses in parenthesis):  Quebec (Québec in the French language) is a province in Canada.  It is the largest (?) province (something something) of Canada.  Quebec has a population of 7,651,531 people (or folk).  The official language of Quebec is French, and about 90% of the inhabitants (dwellers) of Quebec speak it.  Apart from French, (something) English and Inuktitut are spoken.  The capital city of Quebec is Quebec City – Ville de Québec in French.  And the largest city is Montreal.  Most of the population (folk) in Quebec are French Canadians – or Québécois, but (something) Quebeckers, Scottish-Quebeckers, English-Quebeckers, and Jewish-Quebeckers also live (abide) there (but I assume they’re not saying they live there “in awe”… so I don’t know what the last word is).

How did I do?  It looks like I could understand 90%.   If you want to read the full Wikipedia article, you can find it here;  http://sco.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec

But… Let’s ramp this up a notch, and see how well your listening skills are.  I’ve seen the following video, and although I would likely not have many problems “reading” what is being said – I cannot say the same regarding my listening skills.  I have only ever had minimal exposure to listening to Scots, so believe me when I say that 80% of what is being simply flies over my head.   Have a listen and see how you do (if you are an Anglophone Canadian, I’m sure you will do NO better than me in understanding what is being said):

FURTHER READING

If you want to read more on all these topics, you can check out the following Wikipedia articles:


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OUR 32 ACCENTS (7 POSTS)

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The end of SNL Québec? (#216)

Télé-Québec (Québec’s public television broadcaster, but perhaps only in fourth of fifth place in terms of ratings among non-specialty channels) is currently undergoing a round of budget cuts.

Last September, they launched Saturday Night Live Québec (SNL Québec).  The novice comedians of the new series became instant stars and household names across Québec and Francophone Canada.   They have since forged a high-profile media presence for themselves on talk shows, at comedy festivals, and in television and media in general.  In a nutshell, SNL Québec allowed us to view the making of new TV stars (and boy, have they been high-profile the last few months).

However, the nature of Télé-Québec’s cutbacks have finally hit home, and they had to cancel SNL Québec.   Last night’s airing could very well have been the LAST episode ever made.

For the moment, you can still view prior SNL episodes on Télé-Québec’s website, here:  http://snlquebec.telequebec.tv/emissions

I’ve seen it mentioned in the media a few times that Télé-Québec is trying to sell the program to a different network- but only time will tell if they succeed.

Regardless of whether or not another network buys the show, the following TV stars have been born and are taking new roles across all media platforms:

  • Phil Roy
  • Virginie Fortin
  • Mathieu Quesnel
  • Léane Labrèche-Dor
  • Pier-Luc Funk
  • Katherine Levac 

The show may have come to an abrupt end, but I have a feeling these six individuals will continue to be highly visible for many years to come.

PKP’s major Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Immigration Muck-up (#213)

Yesterday, during the Parti Québécois debates, Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP), the most likely contender to be the next head of the PQ, stated (and I’m quoting as accurately from French as possible, with context being provided in square brackets):

“We will not have [another] 25 years to achieve [Québec independence].  With [Québec’s] demographic [changes], with its immigration [rates], it is a sure thing that we are losing [the support of the equivalent of] one riding every year.   We wish we could better control [this situation], but let us not hold any illusions [about it]”

“Who is in charge of the immigrants who come to settle in Québec?  It is the Federal government.  Of course, there is shared jurisdiction [in immigration between the provincial and federal governments], but [immigrants] still pledge an oath to the Queen [to become citizens, and thus are eligible to vote in any referendum].   Therefore, we don’t have another 25 years ahead of us.  It is now that we must work [on this problem].”

Reactions to PKP’s statement have so far boiled down to two camps:

  • One camp believes immigrants are “not” the problem.  Rather this camp believes the issue is with either sovereignist ideology (which is what federalists argue), or the successful communication of this ideology to all sectors of Québec’s society (both federalists and sovereignist can share point of view, as did Alexandre Cloutier, another contender for the leadership of the PQ). What they mean by this is that rather than (a) turning off the immigration tap, or (b) choosing only immigrants who would be demographically “more apt to support sovereignty”, the PQ should instead concentrate more on getting their argument to resonate with all immigrants.  Federalists will argue that in the end, if immigrants will not support their proposal, then the PQ should question the validity of their own proposal rather than the intelligence of immigrants.  To do otherwise creates a “them-and-us” society (A similar analogy would almost be as if the Federal government were to restrict immigration numbers so as to garner enough votes in the off-ball chance they were running on a platform that was about… I don’t know… ceasing subsidization of education [I just chose this completely at random]).  This means Québec has to determine if it wants a globalized, cosmopolitan (ie: all inclusive, multi-ethnic/racial, we’re-all-in-this-together) society, or if we want a “them-and-us” society, with a sovereignty debate axed on ethnic nationalism.  This camp believes that you can’t just turn immigration on and off depending on how you think this segment of the population will vote (otherwise it becomes a question of ethnically rigging our entire system and population — very dangerous!).
  • Another camp believes that immigrants are the roadblock to sovereignty because they are statistically less apt to vote for sovereignty in any referendum. This camp argues that a referendum should be held as quickly as possible to beat a demographic time bomb against sovereignty as Québec continues down the road to becoming more cosmopolitan (some veteran, high-profile sovereignists, such as Denise Bombardier, argue Québec is already past this point and will never achieve sovereignty).  This camp believes part of “beating the demographic time-bomb would involve controlling immigration levels so that, in the eyes of supporters of this camp, no more “damage” could be done.   This argument can be summed up in the following statement: Québec sovereignty should be decided by those of New France origins, and also by those who are allied with citizens of New France origins and culture, and to hell with the rest. (harsh, but that’s kind of where this camp stands).  This argument advocates that, if at all possible, “the rest” should be prevented from coming to Québec, for fear that they may influence any referendum’s outcome.  It also insinuates that those of Non-New France origins would never support sovereignty (yet, interestingly, 20% of visible minorities did support the “yes” side in 1995).  It is interesting to see that there are are people who advocate this view — and based on what was said at a number of pro-Charte des valeurs rallies in 2012, perhaps there are more people who support these views than what one may think (it is a view which very much echoes the 1995 Parizeau statement).

One little factoid I wish to explain, one which is not very well understood in Québec or elsewhere in English Canada:   Under the constitution, Québec and all provinces have sole jurisdiction to decide which immigrants can settle in their respective provinces.  However, Québec is the only province which has opted to exercise this jurisdiction (all other provinces, with the exception of some limited immigration categories, have “voluntarily decided” to let the Federal government handle selecting their immigrants for them).  What this means is that in Québec’s case, Québec has provincial immigration officers, posted abroad in Québec immigration bureaus, who receive applications from foreigners to “immigrate to Québec”.  These provincial immigration officers then decide which immigration applications will be approved (it is not Ottawa who chooses the immigrants to Québec, unless they fall under certain categories of refugees.  However Ottawa conducts the police and health checks on all immigrants before the permanent resident card is granted — but this has nothing to do with choosing the “person” who is about to immigrate).  In this sense, all immigrants in Québec have been chosen by Québec, for Québec (including by the Parti Québécois when they were in power).   That’s why I find PKP’s statement quite curious – (in many, many respects) – as well as misleading, ill-informed, and frankly ignorant.

The intention of this post is not to report the news.   Believe me when I say this story has already become one of the most reported individual stories of 2015 (and it has only been news for 24 hours).   We have not seen this sort of political statement since Parizeau cried foul of the “ethnic vote” on referendum night in 1995.

Nor is the intention of this post to analyze the validity or invalidity of PKP’s statement (the above is more of a backgrounder, than anything else).  Again, reporters, columnists, other bloggers, and political circles are covering this topic like oil takes to the sands in Fort McMurray.

The intention of this post is to question why PKP made such a statement now – at this point of time.   This is a question I have heard absolutely nobody talk about.  I have some initial thoughts, and it’s worth pondering aloud.

In English Canada, the whole debate of reasonable accommodations (mostly orbiting around headscarf & facial-veil issues), and the political capitalization of religious tolerance issues (in light of recent jihadist-related events) has only become acute in the last few weeks (with the introduction of Bill C-51, recent court decisions, questions of extensions of military action in the Middle-East, homegrown terrorism issues, etc.).

Whereas this debate is relatively new news in English Canada, in Québec this debate has already been going on for the better part of three years — starting with the PQ’s initial proposal of the Charter of Values, and subsequent arguments for codifications and limitations of reasonable accommodations (within the framework of a debate surrounding multiculturalism and interculturalism).

This has allowed more than enough time for segments of Québec’s population to become quite galvanized along certain views in this debate – much more galvanized that in English Canada, which is still doing a lot of soul-searching.   In many respects, such soul-searching is already “finished” in Québec, and we see clear lines of public opinion already being drawn in the sand;  “for” and “against” various degrees of accommodation, “for” and “against” measures such as bill C-51, “for” and “against” increased or decreased levels of immigration, etc, etc.

Over the past year, many in our media in Québec have been stating that PKP’s manner of frank speech and political naïveté are a mix which makes him prone to severe verbal gaffs.  More than a handful of veteran reporters have been predicting for months that it would only be a matter of time before PKP says something which would land him in very hot water – to the point that it could jeopardize any public support he has garnered (be it for his run at the PQ leadership, or his status as the leader of the PQ after the leadership race).  Today, the vast majority of the media establishment have been citing yesterday’s statement as one such gaff.

However, I’m not so sure they are right.  PKP is an extremely intelligent individual, surrounded and counseled by skilled, veteran political warriors.  I actually have the funny feeling PKP knew exactly what he was saying when he made the above statements.   I would venture to bet that he was fully aware of the type of public attention such statements would garner.  It could very well have been part of his strategy.

Over the past months, even over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a stark galvanization of Québec’s population around issues of immigration, and how immigration touches upon matters involving integration and accommodation.   In part, this galvanization has garnered unprecedented, historic support for “post-Alliance party” Conservatives in Québec — to the extent that they are for the first time leading in some polls of some regions in Québec, such as in Québec City.

The PQ has had a very difficult time attracting support over the past three years.  I have a hunch that PKP saw how the Conservatives were able to capitalize on immigration & integration issues (as well as related security issues) to gain support in Québec – and I’m almost lead to believe that PKP is trying his hand at the same antics.

If this truly is part of his strategy, of course it is not without risk to PKP (and I’m sure he would be aware of that).  Having one’s remarks labelled in the same breath as those of Parizeau’s 1995 remarks comes with the risk of a heavy political price.  But unlike Parizeau’s remarks which we pronounced on a stage at the “end” of a highly emotional political process, PKP’s remarks came during a time when “other coincidental public debate” on related issues could provide him with a wider, more receptive audience towards yesterday’s remarks.  In addition, unlike Parizeau’s remarks which went down in the history books as “closing” remarks at the “end” of the referendum process, PKP’s remarks yesterday are coming at the “beginning” of several political processes which will be debated for quite some time (such as the PQ’s leadership race, the 2015 Federal election, the 2018 provincial election, and a possible future referendum).

For a couple of reasons, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that his remarks are coming at the “beginning” of a whole set of political events (rather than at the end).  In Canadian & Québec politics, the longer the time-frame that issues are debated, and the more certain issues are debated, the more our population has a tendency to become “numb” towards what is being debated.  Parizeau’s remarks did not come at a time when sovereignty was still being debated (the debate was finished) — and thus the population did not have the opportunity to become “numb” towards them, or to “rally” around them as part of a campaign.   Perhaps PKP is hoping the population, over time, will become “numb” towards the controversial aspects of his words, and that he may eventually succeed in rallying a segment of the population which perhaps would have otherwise lent its support to other parties (or did in fact lend its support to other parties in the last provincial election).

Perhaps PKP is willing to risk a few weeks of “uproar”, believing that criticism of his statements may eventually die down at some point — and in the meantime he may be hoping to pick up some of the same support that the Conservatives have managed to garner.

I’m sure there are people who agree with PKP, but to what extent they may be close to (or far from) a majority (even within the Parti Québécois) is a whole other question.

I suppose only time will tell.


Update 2015-03-20, 18:00pm:  This is quickly becoming a very fluid topic.  As of this evening (26 hours after first making his statements), it is being reported that PKP has apologized.   I’m going to try to catch 24/60 in a few minutes to find out what is happening.

Public condemnation of PKP has been swift, hard, and virulent from the full range of the political spectrum, from friend and foe alike (even from some of his closest allies).   It is rare to see such across-the-board condemnation of a Canadian political figure (at least without them resigning – which he likely will not).    If you wish to read the full-range of condemnations he has attracted, you can view them here in the Radio-Canada article, PKP présente ses excuses. (sorry, no time to translate the article — but “google translate” works great!).

Regardless, I’m not sure what is going to hurt him more; having made the above statements in the first place, or having retracted them and now coming across as completely incoherent and incompetent, especially as the aspiring head of a major political party.

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Update 20:00pm:  Evening news & talk shows, their guests (from all political streams) and the windows they’re giving into the public’s perception is unanimous condemnation of PKP’s statements.  People are still questioning whether his apology is sincere or not, or if it is a mere reflex after he realized it did not have the desired effect (he was sure sticking by his remarks earlier in the day).   But frankly, at this point, I don’t care.   What matters the most is that Québec, as one society, has dropped all political labels to says with one voice that this is not acceptable.  That’s worth more than anything else – and really sums up what we’re all about as a society, in Québec and coast-to-coast across Canada!

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Update 20:30pm:  Oh, and in case anyone is wondering how PKP’s own television network, TVA, covered this story today (considering it was the top news event on every other network, on the radio, and in the newspapers), well, TVA’s main evening newscast in Québec City, the capital city of Québec (Le TVA Nouvelles 18h de Québec) buried it behind 7 other stories in their major evening news broadcast, behind

  1. A funding story about a skating rink in Québec City,
  2. A union dispute at Olymel,
  3. A loud city counsel session in a small city near Québec City,
  4. A court case regarding students who want to attend university when other students are striking,
  5. A story about an ex-juge convicted of murder three years ago and who is now appealing,
  6. A story about Québec City’s airport terminal expansion

And PKP and the PQ want to have us believe there is no conflict of interest between his position as a politician and that of a media mogul.  I just shake my head.   As we say… “mon oeil!”

And on top of it, TVA was the only network which did NOT broadcast video of his apology.  They only broadcast a short, face-paced clip of him saying “It was only my intention to say that we need to act faster than taking 25 years”.   I can tell you one thing, if this is the tone they’re setting for themselves in front of the public, things ain’t gonna go very far for ’em.   Unbelievable… absolutely unreal.

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ADDENDUM 2014-03-15:  Radio-Canada knocks down PKP’s argument (bluntly saying PKP was wrong) that the Federal government is responsible for what PKP perceives to be Québec’s immigration woes (I’m still shaking my head with it buried in my hands after what he said yesterday).

Here’s Radio-Canada’s article:  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/03/19/005-parti-quebecois-pkp-peladeau-immigrants-vote.shtml

It basically says the same thing that I said above with respect to how immigrants are chosen (by Québec, for Québec).   They go a bit further by stating that

  • Ottawa takes Québec’s advice into consideration when deciding immigration numbers
  • Québec looks after integrating and allowing immigrants to learn French
  • That Ottawa gives Québec $320 million annual for the above integration and “Frenchisization” process.

ADDENDUM 2015-05-19

It has been over two months since PKP has made the above statements.   Four days ago he became the head of the PQ.  There has been no more talk of the subject since the statements were made last March.

I’m left wondering:

  1. if this means the PQ believed the initial virulent reaction to the statements were so strong that it remains too dangerous to evoke the immigration card any further?
  2. if this means that the PQ continues to let Québec’s population quietly ponder the who question of immigration? (after all, the seed was planted, but will it sprout into something in favour of PKP’s initial arguments at a later time?).  Like I said earlier, Canada’s and Québec’s population often changes their minds on issues of a social and societal nature if slowly eased into the idea (we’ve seen this many times over the past 50 years… think of how many subjects used to be taboo in the past, but are no longer taboo now).   Far-right wing parties in Europe have played their immigration cards in this way.
  3. if PKP may try to reinvoke this same argument in the run-up to the 2018 election, but in a re-packaged format – perhaps in a different format?   He perhaps may try to invoke an “immigration crisis” on another issue.   Perhaps he will try to make an argument that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs (the Couillard government has been bucking Ottawa’s bid to quell temporary foreign worker numbers).  Perhaps he will try to invoke an argument that massive immigrant investment in the real-estate sector is driving up prices.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…  Regardless, such arguments (even if incorrect) have the potential to diminish public appetite towards immigration.  I would hedge my bets that we’ll see something of the making of this 3rd point in the run-up to the 2018 election.   But as always, who knows.  Only time will tell.