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One of the few journalists to have truly bridged Canada’s linguist divide is Chantal Hébert.
Owing to the media platforms in which she currently or has regularly appeared, she is well known to both Anglophones and Francophone.
Although Hébert is known to most Anglophones and Francophones in Canada (if you watch the news, you know her), I am nonetheless writing a post on her for one reason alone: I strongly recommend you follow her in both languages.
After having followed her for many years, one thing I can tell you is that she regularly provides points of views to Francophones of what is happening and being “felt” in various regions and nuances of English Canada (she highlights to Francophones in Québec that English Canada is very diverse, with many regional ways of life and cultures). Likewise, she regularly provides the same sort of insight to Anglophones of what is happening in Québec.
It is fascinating to watch and listen to Hébert in both French and English. Only through following her in both languages do you get a full appreciation of her understanding of national & local issues. It’s quite intriguing, really. We don’t hear other people capture an audience’s attention in quite the same way as Hébert is able to.
Her own background of growing up and living between two provinces (Ontario and Québec) gives her this duality which is so rare in Canada’s journalistic spheres.
- was born in Ottawa (Ontario)
- did her schooling until Junior High in Gatineau (Québec)
- did her Junior & Senior high in Ontario (Toronto)
- did her university (in French) in Toronto, Ontario.
- started as a journalist at the Ottawa Citizen
- was a journalist covering Ontario’s parliament at age 20
- became a journalist for the Toronto Star in Toronto
- became a journalist for various media outlets in Montréal
And the rest is history.
We have either regularly seen or read her in the past, or in the present on
- Radio-Canada (Les Coulisses du pouvoir)
- CBC (The National)
- The Toronto Star
- Le Devoir (past)
- The Ottawa Citizen (past)
- CBC – various platforms
- Radio-Canada – radio & various platforms
With this year being the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Referendum, and with the recent passing of Jacques Parizeau, Chantal Hébert (and Jean Lapierre) interview key players of the referendum. They sought to find out the backroom story of what was really happening before those players passed away.
The book is named“The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was (in French, Confessions post-référendaires: Les acteurs politiques de 1995 et le scénario d’un oui).
It has become a treasure chest of information the country never knew about, or never thought of what could happen (a trajectory which could have been extremely different from anything which could happen in Scotland’s or Barcelona’s case — a factoid PKP / Snyder would be very reluctant to discuss. After all, if Canada were to disintegrate, dislodging its entire economy, infrastructure, cultural foundations, legacy, position in the world, the world’s confidence in Canada, Canada’s confidence in itself, and not to mention every last bolt of the federation — Québec and every part of Canada could be thrown into a developing nation status (the Argentina of the North). There wouldn’t be much left to negotiate with, now would there? (not only for Québec to negotiate with, but for other provinces to negotiate with either).
And once you throw into the equation that there are millions of people within Québec as well as across Canada who have a daily interest (from an emotional point of view) in the well-being of the country, the situation would become even more dire.
I bought the French version of the book days after it came out late last year. Fascinating reading. I’m sure it has made many people think very hard about the consequences of any referendum exercise. We learned there was much more at stake than simply Québec’s future – as the entire country could have disintegrated into various new countries (with certain parts of the country even running the risk of becoming absorbed into a union with the United States). The book squarely placed all the stakes right under our noses — at a height many did may not have believed could have been possible.
I’ll provide you with several pertinent YouTube videos in French and English (with a brief description above each one).
But before I do, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I’m not sure if I should mention this or not, but without going into the details, I’m going to tell you something about the type of journalist Hébert is. I wrote to her a while back about on a certain topic — without any intention of hearing back from her. But within five minutes, she sent a response with a thank-you note. In today’s busy world, one in which journalists are torn in all directions, I think that says a lot about her character and integrity. She genuinely cares about her readers and the welfare of those for whom she writes her stories.
Bravo Chantal! Keep on telling it like it is! 🙂
FRENCH – An excellent interview with Chantal Hébert with “Carte de visite” on Ontario’s French-language public broadcaster TFO. She goes into details of her life, offers her insights, and basically gives a biographical synopsis of herself – from the beginning until now.
(Note: the interviewer, Gisèle Quinville, is one of Ontario’s best known television Francophone television personalities – but she is not very well known in Québec. If you’re wondering, her accent is what I would consider to be Ontario’s “standardised” French accents).
FRENCH – Hébert explaining to Francophones her and Lapierre’s astonishing discoveries when they investigated what was happening behind the scenes during the run-up to the 1995 referendum.
(Note: The program she is appearing on is Tout le monde on parle. This program is Québec’s and Canada’s #1 or #2 rated television program – regularly vying for the top spot with La Voix on TVA. Both programs have often been known to amass view audiences of over 2 million per episode – the largest view audiences in Canada).
ENGLISH – Hébert talking to Paul Wells (of Maclean’s) about their discoveries of the 1995 referendum.
ENGLISH – A magazine report on the CBC’s The National using Hébert’s and Lapierre’s research on the ’95 referendum as the report’s foundation.
FRENCH – An appearance on Tout le monde en parle. In the video, we see how Hébert shocked voters in Qubéec (mostly on the left of the political spectrum) by drawing fascinating parallels between Pauline Marois and Stephen Harper.
This interview made waves in Québec. Armed with Hébert’s sober insight into politics, and considering the size of the audience, I believe (based on knowing just how big of waves this interview did make in Québec) that this may have been a contributing moment in the last Québec electoral campaign which perhaps contributed to the defeat of the last PQ government.
ENGLISH – An academic view of Hébert’s history with the spotlight on her own education and her accomplishments
ENGLISH – A parody of Hébert on This Hour has 22 Minutes (Parodies which English Canada are quite used to seeing).
FOR COMPARISON SAKE (ENGLISH) — Here’s the real deal…
ENGLISH – Another parody which has gone down as a bit of a classic.
Let’s kick off the second half of the list of the 20 most trusted people in Québec.
# 10 Philippe Couillard –
The last post contained the first appearance of a politician in the list. The second highest ranked politician on the list enters this list – and it is none other than Québec’s own sitting Premier, Philippe Couillard (Liberal), who takes the #10 spot.
I’m not going to go into all of his biographical information. Rather, I’ll try to sum up why I believe he is the highest ranked “provincial” politician in this list.
Couillard been Québec’s Premier for just a little over one year (having taken the premiership in April 2014). In politics, one year can be a lifetime. Yet Couillard still maintains the top spot as the most trusted provincial politician in Québec. Poll after poll of the last few months also indicate he is the most “popular” politician of the most “popular” party (the provincial Liberals).
It is a honeymoon which has not yet quite faded (but which is being met with some challenges).
Why is this? I have my own pet theories, and I can share some of them with you.
- Couillard is viewed as someone who is trying to get the average Québécois out of a financial squeeze. Québec is one of the highest taxed, most indebted, and most bureaucratic jurisdictions in North America. Despite generous social programs which provide a well-supported “lift” for certain sectors of society (particularly families), the middle-class has been financially squeezed. It is a financial pressure which average people could feel.
With a rapidly aging population, low birth rates and low levels of immigration (when compared to a few other provinces), a growing debt, and low rates of new business growth/investment, people could see that the squeeze would get even worse.
Apart from a growing debt, just prior to Couillard taking the reins of power, there was talk in the wind of a debt rating downgrade which would have increased the costs of servicing the debt. The result would have meant that the average person would have been squeezed even further.
A brain surgeon by training, Philippe Couillard took a surgical view to remedying the problem. He sought to make cuts and some structural changes to the government, civil service and bureaucracy to balance the budget. Many critics have called the measures of austerity. Yet, I’m not sure his measures met the popular definition of austerity. Rather, I think in most people’s minds, his measures were viewed as “short-term-pain for long-term-gain”. They were budget cuts (with accompany restructurings to be able to achieve the cuts); but just enough to get rid of the deficit and to be able to post modest surpluses.
To put it into perpective: On the budget control scale, you have
- splurging on one end,
- budget cuts / balancing / restructuring in the middle, and
- austerity’s slash-and-burn / government dismantlement on the other end).
In Greece and Cyprus, we saw austerity. In Italy, we saw “near austerity”, in Alberta in 1993 we saw “near austerity” (with a 22% decrease in the size of government following the Klein cuts). What we have seen in Québec over the past year has been nothing close to the “popular” definition of austerity (I think less than a 5% reduction in government expenditures if I am not wrong, but accompanied with an actual growth in government size by about 1 or 2%).
I think that ordinary people recognize this does not constitute the “popular” definition of “austerity”.
I also think they recognized that the “rebalancing” measures Couillard has taken are likely to bear fruit in some form or another (it only took him one year to balance the budget – another clear sign that it was not structural, year-after-year long-term austerity).
I believe this is one of the reasons why people trust Couillard.
2. I believe there is one other big reason why people trust him.
Yes, Couillard is a politician. Let there be no doubt about it. He strategizes and plays the game like all politicians. But he does not seem to get caught up in trying to force trending-ideologies down people’s throats, or social-engineering in order to gain power.
After everything people in Québec went through with the student strikes of 2012 (and the short-lived student “fart” of 2015), after the social divisiveness people felt from the PQ’s proposed Charte des Valeurs, and after what people perceive as an “tired” ideological battle involving the sovereignty movement, I think people have been “ok” with Couillard’s refusal to engage in such politics (people might not be overjoyed with Couillard, but he’s acceptable in people’s minds).
This does not mean that everyone agrees with Couillard’s style of politics or decisions, but it does mean that there is a large enough portion of the population who would prefer Couillard’s style over others. Enough at least that Couillard is considered Québec’s most trusted provincial politician.
#11 Chantal Hébert –
This is one of the people who I would personally have placed in the top three. But the #11 spot is not so bad either.
Regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone, if you watch the news anywhere in Canada in either language, you already know Chantal Hébert. Thus, there is not much of an explanation needed on my part. She is likely high up there in the trust level of most people across Canada (and not just in Québec).
But I will offer you some fillers.
She is one of Canada’s best known political commentators. She is a regular on the CBC, as well as both the television and radio divisions of Radio-Canada. Hébert has a column in the Toronto Star, and another in Le Devoir. More recently, she has been a best-selling author. (And then there are those memorable light-hearted parodies of the last couple decades which we’ve all laughed at across Canada).
She is known for her straight talk and unbiased opinions. What I love about her is that she has no qualms about holding back the way she sees things, and will support her views with anecdotal observations and facts.
Here is an example of what I mean:
She will sometimes make an appearance on television programs to give an unbiased opinion. But the audience and host are known to have a bias. In such circumstances, the host will set up a question so that he / she expects the answer to play into their own bias. But yet Hébert will come out with the most unexpected, objective answer – leaving everyone to eat humble pie. You can’t imagine how many times I have laughed out loud at such situations.
Here is a case in point: Last Sunday, Hébert was an invitee on the Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle (TLEMP). This show has the second highest television ratings in all of Québec and Canada (behind TVA’s La Voix). It’s a program which has a reputation for being “biased” towards the left, the Québec nationalist movement, and sovereignist guests (although I have to admit that I have seen quite noticeable effort on the part of the hosts to appear less biased over the past two to three years… credit where credit is due). Regardess, the show attracts a certain studio audience.
On last Sunday’s show, the host’s (anti-Conservative) panel took a shot at Prime Minister Harper for having started the trend in Canadian politics of locking out the media with an information blackout. From the expression on the faces of the audience, you could see that the audience loved such a comment (as did the other panelists).
But then Hébert quickly pointed out that it was actually Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois which started the trend of controlling the media message in Canadian politics, and Harper simply learned from the Bloc Québécois. You should have seen the sour looks on everyone’s faces when they heard the facts which Hébert presented to them. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. She took the wind out of everyone’s sails in her usual calm, composed style.
On the same show, but back in 2013, the host and panelists again took shots at the Conservatives for being information control freaks, and for being information manipulators. They took temendous joy in criticizing the Conservatives of twisting facts to portray an inaccurate reality to the electorate (I don’t necessarily disagree with them — but they were having more fun with their Harper-bashing then a kid on Halloween, owing to a tad bit too much of an ultra-nationalist discourse). But what happened next left everyone speechless, before a television audience of 2.3 million people.
Hébert began to cite example after example of the types of tricks certain politicians undertake to control information so as to manipulate public perception and views. She talked about how scientific evidence is suppressed, about how statistics are manipulated, about how messages are distorted and then force fed to the public using government funds. She went on and on, listing this this, that, and all the rest.
As she went down a lists of the sneaky, dirty tactics which she feels Québec is falling victim to, everyone in the room (mostly pro-PQ supporters) were nodding their head in complete agreement. The grins on their faces said it all. They all agreed the tactics Hébert listed were the lowest of the low, and the sneakiest of political moves.
But then Hébert put a name to who she was talked about… and it was not the name anyone expected (they all thought she was talking about Stephen Harper). Hébert said all of these things were exactly what Pauline Marois had been doing as the head of the Parti Québécois.
You should have seen the shock and horror on everyone’s faces when they realized that Hébert was talking about the Parti Québécois and not the Conservatives. To make matters worse for this traumatized group, Hébert supported her arguments with examples and facts! You could see that the pro-Parti Québécois audience and panelists were mortified by the fact that they had all just agreed, inadvertently (and in front of 2.3 million people), that their own party was up to a bunch of dirty tricks.
It was hilarious !!!
And that, my friends, is precisely why people in Québec trust Chantal Hébert. She calls it as she sees it.
Chantal Hébert is only one of two people on this list of 20 who is not from Québec.
Most people in Québéc are not aware that she is not originally Québécoise, but is actually Franco-Ontarian (although she lives in Québec now). She was born in Ontario, was educated in Ontario (at Glendon College in Toronto), started her career in Ontario, and worked for much of her life in Ontario (she used to work as a reporter covering Queens Park in Toronto). This little tid-bit of info is something which usually takes a number of Québécois by surprise when they hear it
Coincidentally, just yesterday, a friend from Laval (Québec) and I were talking about the Alberta election results. We both gave a nod to the fact that Chantal Hébert’s predictions were dead on. My friend said to me “See… there’s one Québécoise who knows lots about Alberta.” I answered “She certainly knows her stuff, but she’s actually from Ontario.” My buddy from Québec was shocked. (I guess he must have thought “I was the only one” from outside Québec… hahaha).
Regardless, people can’t get enough of her – which is why everyone always whats to hear from her. Regardless if she is originally from Québec or not, in most people’s hearts in Québec, she’s part of the family – and they trust her.
In the next post, we’ll look at a very “interesting” investigative reporter, and the host of one of the biggest talk shows in the country (both of these people are tied into others figures already discussed in this list). See you soon!