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The following is a commentary I wrote, in conjunction with consultations and discussions with Andrew Griffith of the widely read blog Multicultural Meanderings.
It is a blog worth following (it’s very unique and insightful).
It has been a week since the Federal election (although it feels like more). Stephen Harper is Prime Minster for a few more days.
It is not unreasonable to ask what has changed, in particular in Québec. Although Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau will not assume office until November 4th, the answer is that actually quite a lot has changed.
In fact, everything.
This week we are seeing the convergence of two very important events in Canadian history. Their importance is not to be underestimated. How these two events are being viewed in Québec constitutes an earthquake of change.
First, the obvious event which everyone is talking about in Québec is how a Liberal government, headed by a new leader who appears to embrace a new spirit of openness (relative to the outgoing Prime Minister), embodies a focal point for cohesiveness in both a pan-Canadian and Québec societal sense, rather than regional or partisan divisiveness.
Second, and perhaps more profound, is that this week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum for Québec independence. Yet, the manner in which this week is already unfolding, being talked about, and “felt” with the backdrop of a newly elected Trudeau-led government is something I would not have fathomed only a year ago.
Political commentators in Canada’s English media often report on events in Québec from the perspective of being “outside the fish-bowl looking in”. Sure, they can tell you which direction the fish are swimming, as well as the colour of the fish and the pebbles.
However, how the water tastes, the suitability of its temperature, and how the fish feel about each other (and how they feel about those peering in at them from outside the bowl) can only be told from the perspective of the fish themselves.
I’m going to take a crack at describing the tone in Québec from the perspective of the fish (ignoring the colours of the pebbles and the likes).
Let’s back up to a year ago.
Trudeau had already been head of the Liberal party for more than a year. Not only was his party in third place in terms of physical seat counts, but in the minds of Québécois, he might have well been in fifth place. The Liberals were stagnant from a legacy going back to the 1990s, years of leadership gaffes, and a lack of innovative policy.
For the longest time, Trudeau was not making decisions which demarcated himself as a credible replacement to Stephen Harper, and was viewed in Québec as the greater of the two evils.
A large part of the reason was that in the minds of Québécois, he was viewed as “the son of…”. To many Francophones in Québec, Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) is still viewed as the man who forced a constitution down the throats of Québec rather than finding common ground which could have seen Québec otherwise sign it. To this day, the constitution is regarded by Québec’s baby-boomer generation as being an illegitimate document, and by some as a reason to withdraw from Canada.
This all played against Trudeau (Jr.) for the longest time in Québec. He was viewed as leader who was set to go nowhere (another in a long line of Liberal Martins, Dions and Ignatiefs).
Let’s move forward by a few months to the winter of 2015 and what happened on the provincial political scene.
Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) was campaigning hard for the leadership of the Parti Québécois (PQ). With Harper at the helm of Canada, those in the sovereigntist camp saw PKP as the man to take on the Federal government and achieve sovereignty. He was a successful billionaire, he was business-friendy (able to connect with a new demographic) and he was viewed a potential “saviour” (to quote an often-used word in sovereignist circles last winter). The optimism towards PKP from both soft and hard sovereigntists alike had not been seen since the days of Lucien Bouchard.
Add to this mix that PKP’s wife, Julie Snyder, is Québec’s #2 pop-culture superstar, only eclipsed by Céline Dion. Thus, the PKP/Snyder power-couple was viewed as a potentially unstoppable force to woo the masses and lead Québec to sovereignty.
But starting last April, PKP proved to be awkward in his speeches. His stances on critically important issues were incoherent. For example, one day he would say the Bloc Québecois was utterly useless in Ottawa, and the next day he would say it was as important as oxygen is to life. He would attack immigrants as being detrimental to the sovereignty movement on one day, and then the next day he would say that he loves them and that they’re family.
It was clear that PKP was testing the waters in every direction to see what issues might find traction with the public rather than speak from consensus-reached convictions. It showed a side of him the public did not like. In the end he began to develop an aura of “playing” the public. It diminished his credibly, and prevented support from ever coalescing on a massive scale (he ended up winning the PQ leadership with only 58% of the membership vote, and he and his party have only ever hovered in the 32%-35% percentile range of public approval since his accession as party leader).
In addition, Julie Snyder’s injection of “showmanship” into sovereignist politics (using her TV programs to drum up nationalism, and even going so far as to give autographs in exchange for PQ membership cards at the subway entrances) has been viewed with more and more cynicism on the part of the public. The Julie card appears to have backfired, and her Princess Diana styled wedding in August seemed to be the straw that broke the back of a camel named “credibility”.
This past summer, the PKP/Snyder duo flopped faster than an ice-cream cone melts in the August sun. In Québec, you often hear the phrase “There was no PKP effect” (let alone any political honeymoon) when political commentators talk of the new PKP era of sovereigntist politics. The provincial Liberal government in Québec City has managed to remain at the top of the polls (although their overall polling numbers are not sky-high either).
Fast forward to the present and back to federal politics.
Three weeks before the Federal election the Trudeau Liberals attracted the public’s attention in both Québec and English Canada.
The Liberals developed a wide-range of policy proposals, and famously broke the mould needing to avoid deficits. They were able to position themselves as the ‘change’ option. This shift saw their “no-harm, broad-range middle-ground” brand positioned to the left of the Conservatives.
The NDP — hemmed in by fears they would constitute being irresponsible spenders — adhered to deficit-avoiding orthodoxy (in itself less distinct from the Conservatives). Given the NDP orthodoxy on avoiding deficits allowed the Liberals to carve a platform niche.
In Québec, a lack of enthusiasm for the PQ translated into a lack of enthusiasm for the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc was already dealing with a troubled recent past. It was not viewed as being organized (several months ago it voted in a highly unpopular leader, Mario Beaulieu, who was to be booted out a short while later and succeeded by a recycled Gilles Duceppe).
The Bloc was simply not viewed as a viable contender (the PQ and the Bloc were both riding on the same sinking ship – leaving the public to ask “Why bother?”). On election night, the Bloc had the lowest percent of the popular vote in the history of any sovereignist party in Québec (and only gained new seats through a division of the popular vote, which saw the majority of the popular vote in those same ridings go to the Liberals and NDP – and not to the Bloc).
Yes, the Conservatives played up the Niqab issue in Québec, and kept it front-and-centre. In past elections, the Conservatives’ success hinged on being able to play to their base. They believed the PQ’s 2013/2014 hijab/secular debate in Québec ignited the same base they were looking for. Many of the niqab announcements were made in Quebec..
Even if the public shared the view that the niqab should not be worn during citizenship ceremonies or in the public civil service, Québec’s and Canada’s public showed that they have a greater distaste for “wedge politics”.
Ultimately, the public proved they would rather vote against wedge politics than for policies invoked by such politics. In nutshell, the Conservatives overplayed their card. The tipping point perhaps came with the ‘snitch-line’ announcement (a new government hotline to denounce barbaric cultural practices) by Ministers Leitch and Alexander.
Combined with a lack of enthusiasm for Harper-style politics in many other areas of governance, it is noteworthy that the Conservative gains in Québec were with moderate Clark/Mulroney PC-styled MP’s, and not Harper-style MP’s (the Conservatives increased their seat count to 12 from 5 in Québec, however their share of the popular vote in Quebec only increased to 16.7 compared to 16.5 percent in the previous election).
The Bloc and the Conservatives both played politics on the “extreme ends” of the political spectrum. It left a bad taste in the mouths of both English and French Canada.
On the other end of the political spectrum was the NDP. Traditionally another “extreme end” party, Mulcair tried to moderate the NDP’s tone, pulling it towards the centre on many issues.
However, the feeling in Québec (and seemingly elsewhere in Canada) was that Muclair was trying to bring the party towards the centre on one hand, yet trying not to alienate his own far-left base on the other. It left room for vast amounts of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the electorate. Not wanting to risk another bout of “extreme end politics”, the public quickly jumped off the NDP ship.
The niqab issue also played a role. Mulcair’s defence of the niqab was framed in legal terms in the context of the Charter and Constitution, a sore point with many in Quebec. In contrast, while having the same substantive position, Trudeau spoke in terms of values, a softer way of making the same point.
Who did this leave as the first choice for Québec and English Canada? The Trudeau Liberals.
Talk radio and TV interview programs tend to reflect a wide spectrum of the public’s thoughts towards issues of the day. What I find fascinating in all of this is that during the past week, Québec’s talk radio (even those commentators and radio hosts who have been cozy with the Conservatives / NDP / Bloc, or vehement anti-Liberals in the past) all seem optimistic — or at the minimum, comfortable — about Trudeau’s victory.
You get the sense that many are even relieved that there is finally middle ground which is finding broad-range consensus. It is a new middle-ground which has the allures of being acceptable to both the left and right elements in Québec’s society, in addition to Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC.
The newly elected Conservatives MP’s in Québec and elsewhere in Canada appear to be more moderate than Conservatives of the past. The NDP members who won their seats are more centrist than those who were voted out. All of this is resonating in Québec.
Many sovereignists for the first time are not sad to see the end of the BQ (that’s new). Yet this week in sovereignist camps, there has been quite a bit of talk about how they can learn from the federal Conservatives’ mistakes (as well as the mistakes of the Marois era).
There is now talk that the PQ may want to consider abandoning nationalist identity policies, and embrace all-inclusive (ie: a “multicultural’ish” but labelled as interculturalism, of course) style of sovereigntist policies in order to try to woo the youth and the electorate in the 2018 provincial election. The PQ may be looking for ways to capitalize the public’s sentiment enough is enough with divisive politics based on ethno-religious grounds (ie: the niqab and state secularism).
In this same vein, the BQ looks as if it may be trying to quickly create their own “Trudeau” by having 24 year-old (and defeated BQ candidate) Catherine Fournier slipped into presidency of the BQ. Fournier has been front-and-centre in Québec’s talk-show and panel circuit for about 6 months now.
She has taken many by surprise with her maturity and insight, and people are saying she’s a real change from the old guard. I don’t have any idea if she would be able to woo the youth to the sovereignist cause. However, she’s getting noticed, and she may be just the type to introduce a style of “multicultural’ish” sovereignty.
Yet, if open-style politics led to Trudeau’s election win, he may have already taken the sail out of the sovereigntist movement’s countermeasures (it is difficult for an opposition party to re-invent itself on a new platform when their number one challenger already owns that platform).
The question will be if he can avoid a Federal-Provincial clash of ideologies and values with Québec leading up to the 2018 provincial election (Harper managed to take the wind out of the sails of Québec’s sovereignist politics by staying out of matters of provincial jurisdiction and keeping a tight rein on what issues his MP’s were allowed to comment on… It remains to be seen how Trudeau will manage to juggle similar issues).
For the first time after a federal election, people on the street and in the media in Québec are no longer referring to the Canadian West as the “Conservative base” or the “Conservative West”. Yes, the majority of the Prairie ridings have gone Conservative, yet Québec’s political commentators are emphasizing the fact that that a large chunk of the Prairie’s Conservative ridings only saw Conservatives elected through vote splitting, with the majority of the popular vote in many ridings going to the Liberals/NDP – especially in cities which make up the bulk of the Prairie’s population and decision-making base: Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
That’s a big change in the conversation in Québec, and an even larger change in how Québec views the rest of Canada.
To see almost no federalism-bashing or Canada-bashing in Québec following a very long and hotly (even venomously) contested election — even from those in the sovereignist camp who traditionally love to Canada bash — is quite a game-changer.
To think that we’re seeing this change in tone during the week of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum makes it even more significant.
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).
This posts continues where the last one left of. I’m the previous posts, I spoke at length about the failure of the Estates General, and the beginning of the political fallout which could possibly have been avoided had the Estates General not been sabotaged in the name of politcal agendas.
The fallout has since affected our collective psyche, and our political expectations and preconceptions. In other words, it has affected our societal conditioning. But that conditioning too may vary depending on our vantage point.
For the rest of this post to make sense, the previous posts might be worth a read. I say this because I am presenting events from the point of view of how Canada’s Francophones outside Québec tend to often view Canada’s recent history. It is a version which is not taught in Québec, and which Anglophones rarely learn about. It places extra weight on the failure of the the “Estates-General of French Canada” (Les États généraux du Canada français” as being one of the root causes for other constitutional events snowballing over the past 40 years. It’s a very poignant and powerful version of our recent history, and thus I believe it is beneficial to also view things from this vantage point.
The “Second Night of Long Knives” and the fall-out from it:
Québec voted “no” in the 1980 referendum. Soon after, Trudeau sought to repatriate the constitution and to enshrine language rights within the constitution. It was Trudeau’s attempt (after prior attempts, including the 1971 Victoria Charter) to bring about further changes in the wake of (1) the failed Estates-General, (2) of the 1970s nationalist movement in Québec, and (3) the failed 1980 referendum.
Trudeau was faced with an arduous task involving a good deal of sour politics and going back-and-forth between the various premiers and the courts.
In 1981, and after much wrangling, most Premiers were still not on board with Trudeau’s version of the repatriated constitution. They formed a blockade against it in an alliance which included René Levesque (the then Parti Québécois Premier of Québec). But on the night of November 4th, 1981, a number of premiers agreed to push through and sign the accord as a majority, while René Levesque was sleeping.
History provides us with different views of what happened. One version says that the Premiers believed their signatures were not final and the constitution would still be open for discussion (that it was a pro forma signature, rather than a prima facie finalized signature). Yet another version of history says that Levesque was under the understanding that all the premiers believed a signature would be final.
I am not in a position to make a judgement – because I, and all the rest of us, will never know what was truly going on in everyone’s head.
But regardless, in the eyes of all the premiers, they believed Canada’s public was tired of constant constitutional and linguistic-cultural stalemates. It had been 14 years following what would have been a watershed moment of progress had the Estates-General succeeded in bringing concrete proposals to the constitutional table with a strong, united Francophone population backing it.
Had the Estates-General succeeded, and considering the population and geographic weight it would have brought to the table (from Francophones from B.C. to Québec to Newfoundland), it could very well have been difficult for Anglophone Canada to refuse constitutional proposals stemming from the Estates-General. What is more, those constitutional proposals would have likely been much wider, more meaningful, and more profound than anything Trudeau was proposing.
Owing to how the Estates-General collapsed, I cannot help but wonder if some of the Premiers who signed the Constitution without Levesque at the table did so with a sentiment of “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”. After all, Québec’s majority delegates at the Estates-General 14 years earlier sabotaged any hope that the Estates General could have led to a constitutional proposition acceptable to all Francophones, and endorsable by all provinces and the Federal government.
Likewise, on November 4, 1981, a majority of Canada’s premiers signed the constitution without René Levesque’s government’s consent. I suppose it could be considered tit-for-tat. But again, we will ever know for sure if that is how the premiers viewed it when deciding if it was ethical or not to sign the constitution without René Levesque.
This is why I call the signing of the constitution the Second Night of the Long Knives (and not the First which I reserve for the 1967 failure of the Estates-General).
Regardless, I firmly believe that two wrongs do not make a right. I am also a strong advocate for the principle of letting bygones be bygones and of having a “reset button” sitting on the desk at all times.
What I find fascinating is that since constitutional repatriation in the early 1980s, the sovereignist movement has touted it as one of the primary reasons for separation from Canada. The logic is that Québec’s government, under Levesque, never agreed to live in a country with Trudeau’s version of the constitution, and thus Québec should opt out of the country.
As an example, Québec’s Option National party leader, Sol Zanetti continuously and trumps this card to the world… you can see one of his English-version “broadcasts to the world” here (I, like many others in Quebec and elsewhere around Canada, just shake my head)…
Oh, I think he forgot to mention that someone in Halifax wore a colour he didn’t like… so there’s yet another reason for sovereignty.
Regardless… he’s simply spewing crap (it’s my blog, so I can say that). His take on things obviously aren’t reflective of reality — and proof is in the polls: The last time I looked I think the Option Nationale had 0.9% or 1.2% of overall popular support… at any rate, something like that. Not enough to warrant me wasting my time to look up the exact number.
And one more thing – especially to everyone in Canada who resides outside of Québec, or is Federalist (regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone): When he’s talking about “they“, “they” and “they”… He is talking about “you“, “you“, and “you” — which also includes “me” too. That just shows you the absurdity of what he is preaching.
Are you or your friends, or peers, or family – or even most of your compatriots around you double-crossing, heartless, will cheat-ya kind of bastards? I’m assuming you’re not. And, you know what? Neither am I.
The Two Solitudes exist… but that does not mean everyone is the Wicked Witch of the East, West, North, South, or whatever other place Sol can dream up. All of our people are actually pretty cool — Francophones and Anglophones alike .
Thus, me thinks that Mr. Zanitti needs to take a chill pill… Especially if he frets over events which might have well happened during the ice age! I’m mean, really? Did he actually invoke a battle in the 1700s with cynicism to mark political points? Seriously? (Oh, big big sigh — Reset button… push the reset button Mr. Zanetti!).
Some additional remarks regarding conditioning and Mr. Zanetti’s video: You can see that Mr. Zanetti’s conditioning, and the historical context upon which that conditioning is based is very different than mine – and perhaps equally as different from yours. His conditioning could stem from as diverse a range of factors as those who he has been surrounded by when growing up, the education he received, how he was taught to interpret history, his travels and where he has lived, and all the emotions which arise from these factors.
I am not in any way diminishing the validy of Mr. Zanetti’s emotions. Everyone has reasons why they harbour their emotions. But emotions often take the “objectivity” out of a situation.
This video is a prime example of how conditioning can prompt one to take action. But as you have also seen from the last few posts, there is more than one way to look at an issue (these issues) and how to resolve these issues.
Therefore conditioning can become quite dangerous when it blinds people from existing alternatives and closes ones views to other possibilities, realities, and other people’s experiences.
In a sense, Mr. Zanetti’s video it reminds me of two friends, one Anglophone, one Francophone, who are each living in minority environments. I used their cases as examples in post #277 as examples of negative conditioning. In each of their cases, they believed they were being mistreated by the other linguistic group – and thus it tainted their view of other people in those linguistic groups… Whereas in reality I could see that only a few unfortunate, isolated incidents tainted their views of the remaining 98% of all the other good which was going on around them. Negative conditioning led them to look for the bad along linguistic lines, rather than the good.
Despite Canada having been chugging along and slowing but surely finding its way to improve socio-linguistic inequalities, I find it very interesting how nobody in the sovereignist movement wishes to talk about Québec’s delegates roles in the First Night of the Long Knives in 1969, and how that quite possibly snow-balled into the Second Night of the Long Knives, and events throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
The subject is not even taught in Québec school curriculums, and barely touched upon at university – at least not from this angle (rather, it is taught as a matter of triumph and not betrayal… but triumph over who and what? Other Francophones and Francophiles elsewhere in Canada, like myself? Strange – truly, very strange).
I truly don’t talk about these subjects very much with people know. But I can tell you that the few times I have talked about the Estates General, and how it’s needless collapse affected all events which came afterwards (considering an alternative future could have otherwise played itself out), it has left more than a few of my friends in Québec in a bit of a state of surprise. It sometimes gets an “OMG” moment of realization, but most of the time just surprised silence (especially when I ask the above questions of those who I know who are soft-sovereignists).
As you can see, this is why I strongly advocate for a “reset” on all of these issues. When everyone chills, people see that the matters at hand are (1) not insurmountable, and (2) are not so bad (actually, I think they’re pretty good).
The Mulroney intiatives, the 1995 referendum, and the period to the present
By way of the Charlottetown and Meech Lake Accords, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sought to seek agreement for a re-written version of the constitution acceptable to all the provinces and the people of Canada. He could not reach agreement, neither by way of provincial quorum nor by a referendum on the matter.
The failure of Mulroney’s efforts brought Canada to the brink of self-destruction (we have since learned that Saskatchewan’s Premier’s office and core cabinet members were even presented with the idea of joining the United States if Québec were to leave following the 1995 referendum… which perhaps would have had a spin-off effect with new countries created across the continent from the ashes of what once would have been Canada. With such a large land mass as Canada with so many different regions, it truly was uncharted territory). The failure of Meech and Charlottetown caused support for sovereignty to skyrocket. The 1995 referendum results were 50.58% no and 49.42% yes.
Since the second referendum of 1995 (largely brought about by Mulroney’s failed attempt to seek consensus on a constitutional modification), support for sovereignty has declined. Since 1995, it has rarely left the 33-39% range (give or take a couple of percent).
But those in the sovereignist movement took away three major lessons:
- Provoking a constitutional crisis can cause pro-sovereignty sentiments to spike,
- People are fearful of their economic future and are reluctant to risk that future, and
- Immigrant sentiments are key to any referendum outcomes.
- we have seen the Parti Québécois (PQ) try to poke at things here and there to provoke a constitutional crisis (without success… precisely because successive Federal governments have not been willing to poke back after the lessons learned in the early 1990s),
- we have seen the PQ try to persuade Québec’s population that a sovereign Québec would be economically more viable as an independent state (hence why the billionaire businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau was chosen as the PQ’s latest leader), and
- we have seen the PQ try funny things on the immigration and integration front (hence why we see schizophrenic and finicky actions such as trying to woo immigrants, spend money on immigrants, blame immigrants, and fence-in immigrant issues with mechanisms such as the Charte des valeurs).
Despite all these efforts on the part of the PQ (and the Bloc Québécois, Québec Solidaire and Option Québec), support for sovereignty has rarely left the 32% to 39% spectrum. There are many factors why this may be the case. Yes, economic stability for an aging population may be a reason. Youth who view politics in a more global rather than local sense may be another.
But I also tend to think that another factor is that people have become desensitized to the emotional impact of events of the 1970s, 80, and 90s. In addition, overall good governance of Canada (relatively speaking when viewed in a global or Western context) as well as massive social changes in Canada since 1995 (not related to Constitutional affairs, but rather to individual sentiments) have played just as much, if not more of a role in a decrease of support for sovereignty.
This is not to say that support for sovereignty in Québec may not once again find its foothold. I am watching with great interest what will come of the latest chapter involving the PQ’s new leader, Pierre Karl Péladeau. Is he the ideology’s new magic ticket? Or will he turn out to be the one carrying the shovel which will bury the issue even deeper into the ground? (perhaps once and for all).
But back to the national front …
When all is said and done, the last 20 years have proven that we do not need constant constitutional amendments as a prerequisite for constant societal evolution in Canada. That’s not to say the matter will be closed indefinitely. It’s just to say that so far the past 25 years have demonstrsted that reopening the constitution is not of prime importance for the country to continue to evolve in the right direction.
When interpreting the constitution, the courts have shown that they are apt to interpret it in new, modern, and dynamic ways… turning a static document into a living one. And for the most part, our societal evolution since 1995 (both for Francophone and Anglophone societies) have moved along in the same direction; not in opposite directions. They are becoming more and more similar as time moves forward.
In a twist of irony, despite there having been no constitutional amendments since its repatriation, Francophone and Anglophone societies in Canada have become more and more similar in the past 20 years than during any other time in our shared history. (That may ultimately be the real killer of the sovereignty movement).
I’m of the belief that this has diminished the risks of a constitutional crisis. That is not to say that some day there may not be another one. But if the Federal government keeps its nose clean, and if the PQ’s attempts to provoke a constitution crisis can be tactfully brushed off, then things should go well and society should continue to positively evolve (socially, culturally, and socio-linguistically).
That does not mean that Anglophone Canada should cease being proactive. On the contrary, evidence to date shows that many aspects of Anglophone society continue to be proactive (the subject of numerous past posts). But people on both sides of the linguistic divide need to remain empathetic to each other, and share in each other’s culture to enrich our overall Canadian experience and nationhood. After all, we continue to evolve as a country.
It is this type of societal conditioning for which I advocate.
I am not a fan of the type of conditioning from certain aspects of Québec’s ultra-nationalist factions. There are segments of Québec’s the political, media, and education world which continue to erect walls between Québec and the rest of Canada. This in turn prevents cross-linguistic empathy and learning. But these segments are becoming more isolated with time.
Likewise, I am not a fan of the conditioning from certain aspects of Anglophone Canada which are ignorant to many issues pertaining to Francophone Canada, not only in Québec, but also coast to coast. We often see such ignorance on issues in certain aspects of Anglophone Canada’s own political class, media and education systems. Again, I believe that these segments too will become more isolated with time.
That, in a nutshell, sums up Canada’s recent history with respect to the Two Solitudes. And it lays the foundation for aspects of Canada’s modern socio-linguistic conditioning with respect to why the Two Solitudes have been maintained during the past 45 years (at least from my point of view).
The next post will put into context the last few posts, and open the way for us to look at little things which reinfoce conditioning of the Two Solitudes; on a more localized, daily basis.
It makes for an interesting discussion. See you soon!
SERIES: HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)
- Conditioning: A contributing factor in the notion of the Two Solitudes – Introduction (#275) Part 1 of 13
- Conditioning: And its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276) Part 2 of 13
- Conditioning: The importance of gestures (#277) Part 3 of 13
- Conditioning: In the context of Canada’s “modern” history (#278) Part 4 of 13
- Conditioning: The goal of the “Estates General of French Canada” (#279) Part 5 of 13
- Conditioning: Modern Canada’s “First” Night of the Long Knives – a trigger for the all the rest (#280) Part 6 of 13
- Conditioning: What happened after the Estates General? (#281) Part 7 of 13
- Conditioning: From the 1980 referendum until present (#282) Part 8 of 13
- Conditioning: Wrapping up history and moving into the “now” (#283) Part 9 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post A (#284) Part 10 of 13
- Conditioning: A few words regarding the death of Jacques Parizeau (#285) Part 11 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post B (#284) Part 12 of 13
- Conditioning: Daily examples of “an Incomplete Picture” – post C – Closing post (#287) Part 13 of 13