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A very interesting French-language experience in Anglophone regions of Canada (#270)

This post is for Anglophone Canadians who are seeking ways to speak more French in Anglophone regions in Canada.

For those of you who are learning French, or who are trying to integrate a bit more of our country’s Francophone culture into your own life, this post might help to offer new avenues to expand your horizons, meet people and improve your French speaking and listening skills.

The French reality of my own background

To give you a bit of context, I’ll tell you a bit about how this fits into my own background.

Owing to decisions my parents took when I was still an infant, I was chosen to be one of the first “guinea-pigs” for the new “early-development immersion programs” in Western Canada.

When I was 3 years old, I was placed in the early pre-school immersion experiment.   Since then, my life has been a fairly even split between French and English:  Friends, school, work, and many other aspects of life.  Because of this, I have always considered myself both Francophone and Anglophone.

During my younger years, school (and school friends/peers) were key to this duality – regardless if I was living in British Columbia or Alberta.

Later in life, my Francophone university, friendships, Francophone communities in which I lived (in Western Canada, Eastern Canada, and also abroad) all played into this duality.  Over the course of years, I held numerous occupations which were sometimes 80% or more in French.

The challenge of living in French in Anglophone-dominant cities across Canada

It can be easier to have French interactions in certain Canadian Anglophone cities versus others.   Some cities have “Francophone districts” – complete with Francophone stores, social activities, universities and services.   Edmonton (Alberta) has a Francophone district, Bonnie Doon.  Winnipeg has St. Boniface.   Moncton’s downtown core is very bilingual (and Dieppe is a French-dominant district).  And of course, Ottawa-Gatineau has numerous French-dominant regions and is quite bilingual in and of itself.

However, most other Anglophone cities across Canada do not have a prima facie Francophone districts or quarters.

I left Canada for a number of years for work.  But when I returned to Canada, I moved to the very Anglophone city of Toronto.  Toronto is the first major Canadian city I have ever lived in with does not have a Francophone quarter, district, or a district with a French-only University.

This has presented me with a new challenge:  How to meet others in French.  This is the first time I have ever had this explicit challenge.

In the year and a half that I have lived in Toronto, I think I have encountered many of the “language challenges” which other people across Anglophone Canada regularly encounter when they seek to incorporate more French into their own lives.

I’ll explain…

Toronto’s Golden Horseshoe

The high-density, urbanized region named the Golden Horseshoe (the region around Toronto) has over 10 million people — which makes is the third largest urban agglomeration north of Mexico (it recently overtook Chicago, and is now third behind New York and Los Angeles).

Golden Horseshoe

According to statistics Canada (2011), this region has over 100,000 Francophones who have French as their first language.   This gives the Golden Horseshoe region the third largest Francophone population outside Québec (behind Acadia, and Ontario as a whole).

Again, according to statistics Canada (2011), there are 541,271 bilingual people who speak both French and English in the Golden Horseshoe.   This makes the region the second largest bilingual region in Canada, outside of Montréal.

However, unlike Montréal (in which most linguistic minorities and bilingual speakers are centred around the downtown core) those who speak French in the Toronto-Hamilton Golden Horseshoe region tend to be evenly spread over a vast urban region which takes over two hours to drive across at full freeway speed (at 120 kms/hour – from Bowmanville in the East to St-Catherines in the South).

This makes it challenging to meet people who also speak French when French speakers are evenly spread over such a large urban region.  Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe do not have a “French District”, per se.   Granted, I hear more French being spoken in downtown Toronto than other regions, but it is not enough to say that the downtown core is “French”.

The real challenge arises when there is no way to know whether or not the person you pass in the street, or the store you pass on the sidewalk speaks French.

Similar situations exist in other English-dominant cities across Canada such as Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Halifax.

A fascinating solution to speaking, living and interacting in French in English-dominant regions of Canada

I found a great “solution” with which to meet others who speak French, and thus evening out one’s social life in Anglophone Canadian cities.   I can tell you that this little trick has surpassed anything I could have expected.  If you live in an Anglophone dominant city in Canada, you too may be very interested in this.

Quite by accident, I came across an online listing of French, Francophone and Francophile “Meet-ups” in the Greater Toronto area.   These “meet-ups” are generally socializing groups – sometimes in cafés, sometimes in bars, and other times in restaurants.  They are basically random social “drop-ins” in which everyone and anyone is welcome.  The common language is French.  It is an opportunity to meet new people from all walks of life, share a beer, share a meal, and make new friends.

How good of an “in” are these meet-ups?

I was completely caught off guard when I came across these meet-ups.  I was even more caught off guard when I saw them with my own eyes.

There are so many “meet-ups”; one every two to three days in Toronto alone.   They are spread throughout the whole Greater Toronto Area (GTA).   Three of the meet-ups regularly take place within a 10 minute drive of where I live, and one within a 10 minute walk.   There are so many in fact, that it would be rare that anyone in the GTA would be far from at least one of them.

In total, there are

  • 37 separate French meet-up groups across the GTA with approximately 8700 membres registered online.
  • Organizers tell me they estimate that the real number of “attendees” (those who come to the meet-ups, but who have not registered online to receive emails) is three times this amount, or 30,000 attendees.
These are large numbers!

(You can count for yourself in the “members” listings online — I’ll give you the link a bit further down)

Out of curiosity, over a month ago I attended one meetup in Markham (in the Northeast of the Golden Horseshoe).   It was held at a restaurant.  Some people ordered food.  Others ordered drinks.   There were 15 other people.   Perhaps half were originally from Québec, but who have lived in Toronto for more than 10 to 20 years.  The other half were a mix (Franco-Ontarians, Acadians, and Anglophones who speak French).    I have since kept in contact with a couple of people from that meet-up.

A week later I attended another meet-up in a restaurant in North York (physically located in the middle of the Greater Toronto Area).   Almost 40 people attended.   This one was more than a pleasant surprise.   Over half of the attendees were French-English bilingual first-generation immigrants… mostly Chinese, Indian, some East-Europeans, and some Iranians.   These are not Francophone countries – but yet these people were fully embracing Canada’s bilingual nature.   It was great!  The other attendees were a mix of bilingual Anglophones, Francophones from elsewhere in Canada, and from other Francophone countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Mauritius, and Africa).

In the subsequent two weeks, I attended two additional events downtown, one in a pub, the other in the bar of a well-known hotel.   One event had around 90 people (mostly Francophones from Ontario, Québec and other Francophone countries – as well as a good number of fully bilingual Anglophones and first-generation immigrants).   Another event had over 170 people – with much of the same mix as the last event.

Last week, I attended a meet-up brunch in a restaurant, and met more people.  We were a good mix: Franco-Ontarians, Anglophones, Francophones from Québec, from France, and first-generation immigrants.


Not sure why I’m sticking out my tongue… but whatever.  Bad angle + lots of tongue = bad pic 😉
IMG_8988 IMG_8994

And the results?

One word:  unbelievable (I’m still shaking my head in semi-disbelief).

I only set out to perhaps meet a couple of people with whom to have a beer with from time to time (I value a bit of a French/English balance in my life).   I exchanged phone numbers and emails with just a few people.

But since having attended only a few of these meet-ups in the last five weeks, I have received,

  • 4 emails from individuals I met, inviting me to go for drinks after work or on the weekend (a couple of which I have taken up on their offer),
  • At least a dozen phone calls and SMS from other individuals inviting me for drinks, to dinner at restaurants, or to a dinner in their home with their families,
  • An invitation for brunch with another family and their friends (which I attended last weekend),
  • An invitation from three people to go camping in a couple of weeks,
  • An invitation to go kayaking with a couple of other people who have kayaks (like me),
  • A tentative offer from someone as a potential travel buddy to check out Gaspésie and Acadia this summer.

5 weeks, four meet-ups, and… well… holy crap!!

If you wish to find meet-ups in your own neighbourhood
The website where I found these meet-ups is http://www.meetup.com/fr/.

When you open the site,

  1. type “FRENCH” on the left side,
  2. choose a 100km radius
  3. enter your city


It will give you a list of many different French meet-up groups.


I checked other French meet-ups in a few other Anglophone cities across Canada which also do not have French districts.  Here is some of what I found:

  • Victoria, British Columbia: One large meet-up group, 402 members
  • Vancouver, British Columbia: 13 meet-up groups, 6278 members
  • Calgary, Alberta: 2 large meet-up groups, 1378 members.
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia: 1 large meet-up group, 593 members.

That’s almost 10,000 registered members in just these four cities alone — more than enough of an opportunity to meet others who speak French, and improve your language skills. (If the groups have more than 3 times the amount of unregistered members, like in Toronto, the numbers could very well be over 30,000 in these four cities as well).

And the last word?

It boggles my mind that a chunk of people in the sovereignist camp continue to say that French is dead outside of Québec.

On the contrary… I think with the advent of the internet and all the connections which can be forged, the net has basically become a “virtual French city”.  Things are taking off like we have never ever seen in the history of the country.  These sorts of opportunities to meet people, socialize and live in French have never been as easy to find as they are now.

I would even dare to say that this new meet-up movement is more effective and more efficient than traditional French communities were.   I say this in the sense that all of these people are out to meet others in a safe, public group environment – in cafés, restaurants and bars.   At least you can target your efforts for immediate results.

Combined with the massive French Immersion movement  (a good number of fully bilingual Anglophones I met at the meet-ups were products of the Immersion program), and what seemingly appears to be a good deal of interest on the part of first-generation immigrants towards Canada’s French fact… I would say things are looking pretty good as to the overall direction of things, and the interest in Canada’s French fact.  Wouldn’t you?

Anyway… I’ve been invited out for supper tonight with a small group of people I met at one of the meet-ups.   So I have to run!


Addendum:  2015-07-13

I went to the Mississauga Meet-up out of curiosity the other evening, and I found it to be one of the more interesting (and most “mixed”) groups.   Although it only had about 30 – 40 attendees, people were from everywhere in Canada (des Franco-Manitobains, une personne d’Abitibi, Franco-Ontariens, Acadiens, de gens de Québec et de Montréal, un Franco-colombien, une Fransaskoise, des Francophones d’origine de Toronto, Anglophones who are very fluent in French, Anglophones who want to improve their French, business people, government workers, white collar, blue collar, a good mix of women and men… a very nice and diverse mix – all with beer, wine, jokes, interesting conversations and a lot of laughs!!).

The irony…

It has been a few weeks since I started to go to the meet-ups… and ironically, I now am thinking I have to make an effort to make “Anglophone” friends to do things in English.  Considering all the people I have met through the meet-ups, and the social activities which have stemmed from it (camping, movies, boating, fishing, restaurants, day-trips & travelling – all in French, etc), it seems like my social life in and around Toronto is now more in French than English.

Perhaps I should look for English meet-up groups now to re-balance!  Hahaha!!!


Montessori has also gone French (#214)

Today is the International day of the Francophonie.  This short post plays into that spirit.

I’ve seen these signs the last few days around Toronto.  I didn‘t realize Montessori schools also offered French immersion in English Canada.   Quite interesting.

I suppose it also plays into the theme of other posts I did on the immersion programs, and English Canada’s trend towards greater bilingualism (related posts below).



An embarrassing example of the “Two Solitudes” (#197)

Yesterday I wrote this post in a different format.  But after sleeping on it for a few hours, I realized the way I originally wrote it was not fair to Toronto, or its people as a whole.  The comments the post received were in agreement with what I initially wrote, but that doesn’t mean that how I wrote it was the right.   If anything, the way I initially wrote the post shows how emotional an issue this subject can be (if I became emotional about it sitting here in Toronto, that can give you an idea of how it might be going over with many people in Québec).

I’m backtracking and I’m re-writing a good chunk of the post.  Here is the re-written format…


This post is going touch upon a sensitive subject which occurs often enough… so I’m going to raise the issue again.  It’s something more people should be aware of (especially in media circles).

Yesterday were the Canadian Screen Awards organized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.  (Website: http://www.academy.ca/About-the-Academy).

In a nutshell, these awards could be considered the Canadian equivalent of the U.S.A.’s Oscars.

It’s a huge event.  It is wider in scope than the Oscars/Academy awards because it grants awards to both Canada’s movie and television industries in one fell swoop.   It is not a Francophone award ceremony, nor is it an Anglophone award ceremony.   The Canadian Screen Awards simply awards the best of the best in Canada, regardless of whether or not the recipients are Francophone or Anglophone.

The awards are held here in Toronto every year, and thus they are presented in English, in an English dominant environment (that of Toronto).   They are supposed to be an all-inclusive ceremony.

But what happened yesterday really drives home the notion of the Two Solitudes.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing – and it has garnered a lot of attention today in Québec.

Here is what happened.

Mommy is one of the most successful Canadian movies of the past 20 years, and one of the most successful movies in Canadian history – full stop.   After winning countless awards abroad over the past 10 months, Mommy finally had the opportunity yesterday to receive Canadian awards on home turf (apart from the Jutras which were held not long ago).   In Québec, over the last several days, there was much excitement, suspense and publicity in the run-up to yesterday’s awards in Toronto.

The movie, Mommy, is the creation of Xavier Dolan.  It is considered a Québec film (abroad it is often held up as a Canadian film), it was created in French, and was released in May, 2014.  Between May and now, Mommy basically won the prize for the “best film in the world” (for lack of a better term) at the Cannes Film Festival (the world’s most prestigious and well-known international film festival).  It also won many of the world’s other most prestigious film awards.

But here’s the crunch:  Yesterday Xavier Dolan and the film’s actors – who have been cheered and treated like super stars around the globe – showed up at the festival in Toronto, and guess what happened:    Unless they were wearing name tags, many people at the event didn’t know who they were, including those who were there to cover the event as media.

Because the event was broadcast live in Québec, the awkward treatment the film’s creator and cast received at the gala did not go over very well with influential individuals in Québec or members of the public.  A good number of people were hurt, angry, disappointed, and left confused.

Just to give you the context of how embarrassing this is, earlier this year, at the Cannes Festival  (attended by all of Hollywood and the who’s who of international film), Dolan and those who worked on Mommy were given an 8-minute standing ovation – yes… applause and cheers for a whole 8 minutes – by the biggest names in world of film.  Even the elite of the American media industry attended, stood and applauded for 8 minutes straight (Oprah, Spielberg, Brad Pitt, you name it, the list goes on).  This sort of accolade has never been given to a Canadian (or almost any other) film.

What happened last night when they won here in Toronto?  Polite, timid (and awkward) applause from the seated audience who generally did not know who they were.

I’m dumbfounded.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

Last fall, I watched Mommy in the theatres here in Toronto, and it was packed (it was playing in regular theatres).  Thus, what happened last night also took me off guard, as much as it did people in Québec.

I don’t want to bash the gala event, and I don’t want to bash Toronto either (after all, I love Toronto, its people, the vibe, its immigrants, immigrant communities and cosmopolitan nature.  I love its freshness).   But I am so embarrassed today by what happened at the awards ceremony.

I’m also quite embarrassed for the guests of the gala, because something like this could have been avoided.  What happened yesterday occurred at one event (it was not a city-wide occurrence – and I’m not sure the expectation should have been that it was a city-wide event).  Therefore, it could have been better contained with preventative management, and a bit of event-specific “education”.

It’s a sort of ignorance that is seen often enough at events like this, or though Toronto’s “national” media when covering matters which cross the linguistic lines   Yes, I see it in Toronto, but I have also seen it elsewhere in the country, AND I see also see it in reverse, in Francophone media, Francophone events and Francophone society.  It’s a two-way street.

However, the burden falls much heavier on Toronto’s media shoulder, more so than any other media in the country – precisely because Toronto’s media is Canada’s national English-language media epicentre. That’s a heavy burden for any city to have to carry.  But because Toronto’s media has this burden, they need to step up to the plate more so than elsewhere.  That does not only pertain to presenters on the screen, but also to local behind-the-screen support staff such as camera operators, researchers, and those who decide what to cover and how to cover it.  These people tend to be important in deciding who and what makes it on the screen, and how those subjects are portrayed to the public (ie: if a camera operator walks by the biggest star of an event because they don’t know who that person is, then that simple action has huge implications, as we saw last night).   It should be recognized that the support and technical staff are more apt to be hired from the general public in Toronto, and may not have had much interaction with Canada’s Francophone culture (or other aspects of Canadian culture outside Toronto).  Therefore there needs to be more education within those circles, or we’ll see more things occur like what happened at the gala awards.

The implications of this type of ignorance can be significant when such ignorance is broadcast into people’s homes, and when common people feel they have been slighted (the awards yesterday in Toronto were being followed live in Québec by a good deal of influential people – and thus the ignorance shown at the gala event spread like wildfire – the point that it made headline news in Québec).

I suppose it not only shows a that a much better effort could have been made on the part of the awards’ organizers to ensure that the event’s audience, staff and media were better informed regarding who was being invited (simple things like “promoting” the contents of the evening’s program and nominees), but it also serves to highlight that segments of society (and hence the media) need to be better informed about culturally significant matters across our French/English linguistic lines.

But every cloud has its silver lining – and here is this story’s silver lining:  Canada’s Anglophone media is very heavily concentrated in Toronto (that’s why we often hear the expression “Toronto-centric media”)   Because there is a very wide range of people working in Toronto’s media industry with very diverse personal backgrounds, it cannot be expected that everyone will be aware of culturally significant matters in Québec, matters across the linguistic divide, or elsewhere in Ontario or Canada (not everyone in Toronto’s media industry speaks French, or went through immersion, or has travelled, or has lived in Canada long enough to understand all of Canada’s cultural nuances – and that’s ok and normal — because people are people).   But this poses an amazing opportunity on a “national” level.  Because Canada’s “national” Anglophone media is so concentrated in one city – Toronto — it should not be very difficult to educate those who work in Canada’s national media – at least much more efficiently and effectively, than say, if our “national” media were spread across several cities (like it is in the US, with NY being one hub, LA another, and Atlanta another with CNN).

Therefore, if by chance, there are people working in the media who are not sensitive to what is going on beyond a 100km radius (even within Ontario), it is a situation which can, in theory, be addressed and corrected.

Here are a few of the dangers if things do not change:  (especially on the media front or regarding highly mediatized events):  Anglophone Canada’s media is watched and criticised in Québec (I would venture to say that Anglophone media is more visible in Québec than what Francophone’s media is outside Québec).  If the sort of ignorance we saw at the awards ceremony is not addressed, and that sort of ignorance is consistently conveyed by Anglophone Canada’s media, then there is a risk that all of Anglophone Canada will be labelled as being just as ignorant — and that’s precisely what happened yesterday evening at the awards ceremony, and it is continuing to play itself out today.  There are political implications to it.  People in the sovereignist camp in Québec has been tossing this one around like a hot-potato all day – they’re really running to town with it — and it is in their interest to see that the issue remains front-and-centre.  These types of things make an emotional impact, and emotions translate into how people vote.  It’s an issue.

This morning, the Radio-Canada (CBC French) headline in Québec was “Xavier Dolan feels the Two Solitudes at the Canadian Screen Awards”.  (The headlines should have been about the awards Mommy won at the gala).

Last night in Montréal, Xavier Dolan was interviewed on television on 24/60 byAnne-Marie Dussealt.   The interview devoted a significant segment to his reaction of what just happened in Toronto.  Dussealt is the Québec equivalent of Larry King (and 24/60 would be the equivalent of Larry King Live).   However, she’s probably a bit more like Piers Morgan because her own social & political views come across much more than what Larry King’s did.

She asked him what it was like to receive an award in Toronto.   Click HERE for the link to Radio-Canada’s article and the interview video on their official website.

Below, at the end of this post, I’m providing you with a translation of Dolan’s response to Dussault’s questions (it begins at 2:40 minutes, and ends at 7:50 minutes).

I have to admit, when Radio-Canada first published the article, they did not post the video, and they only quoted sound-bites.  The initial article was less-than-flattering (it left far too much to innuendo – and it went viral).   Comments flooded in over the course of the day, and now people are talking about this on the streets in Québec.   It’s not good.

Fortunately, Radio-Canada posted the video clip later in the day, and what Dolan actually said was much more nuanced than what the article first lead people to believe.   But unfortunately, damage has been done, and we’re now all painted as being completely ignorant in English Canada, and out of touch with reality or anything in Québec for that matter.

Likewise, I’m not sure that many people in Québec have the nuanced context to be able to distinguish sectors of Toronto’s media industry from the rest of ordinary people in English Canada (Toronto’s media industry is far too often is held up as being “representative” of Canada).

In this case, I truly believe it boils down to a question of Two Solitudes between “Québec & Toronto’s media industry” rather than “Québec and English Canada”.

Big sigh – truly.   Hopefully our mayor (of Toronto), John Tory, will jump in to say that what happened last night is not representative of most people in our city or of our country.   At least I hope he will.


Question — Anne-Marie Dusseault:  What does it represent to you for your film to have had this sort of presence in Toronto?  What does this sort of recognition represent?  The Jutra awards are around the corner, I’m not sure if there is a hierarchy it.  There were the Caesars.  But what does your presence in Toronto represent?  Especially since I would say that it’s in a very particular universe for you.  

Answer — Dolan:  It’s a universe which is quite specific.  It’s one of English Canadian stardom.  Thus it has more to do with stars from English Canadian television.   I would venture to say that it’s owing more to this than the Gala groups together for both television and movies.

It’s rather strange because we arrived there on the red carpet.  And we were standing there on the red carpet.  And you know, despite all the euphoria going on around us – after all it was a ceremony like any other and we were happy that our work was noticed, appreciated by peers, highlighted… even if we didn’t win and were just nominated, regardless if it’s here, in France, or elsewhere… the effect is the same – we are always honoured that our work is recognized.

But in Toronto, we arrived on the red carpet, and without our name tags, the cards which actually had our names and who we were… the photographers were completely… you know…

Dusseault:  …lost !

Dolan:  … completely lost.  They had absolutely no idea who we were – which, without being pretentious, is rather peculiar.  You know, if you think about it, the film garnered a fair amount of good international success.  And… you know, one would like to think that Mommy is considered part of the…  … I consider that Mommy is part of Canadian films, as much as it Québécois.  In that sense, it represented Québec and Canada in all those foreign festivals, ceremonies, gala award events where it was nominated – that sort of thing.

But it’s still rather particular that we were presenting it in a universe where all the stars of English Canadian television …

Dusseault:  … don’t know who you are.  You’re a complete unknown to them.

Dolan:  It’s to say that the industry… those in the artistic community who sawMommy, they came up to us and they were proud of Mommy.   But apart from that, we could see we were in a world surrounded by a very specific English Canadian journalistic and photography corps which is… well, it’s now a cliché to say it, but it’s still an expression which aptly describes the situation – theTWO SOLITUDES.

I find it rather baffling and curious.  If you think about it, it’s really quite strange, because the gala started with a sort of “ode” to Canadian cinematography, in all its splendour and richness.  But we felt the estrangement… well, no, not estrangement, but rather… hmmm… perhaps “ignorance” towards Québec cinema in the overall picture of things.

Question — Dusseault:  I was kind of wondering this.  Right up to the last minute, we were not sure if you were going to be in Toronto, if you had the time to get there.   Did this make you ask yourself “What am I even doing here? What’s the point of being here?”… Right?

Answer — Dolan:  No, I didn’t ask myself “What am I doing here?” becauseMommy was a film financed by Telefilm Canada.  Factually speaking, let’s be honest;  it’s a film which was made in Canada and it’s a Canadian film.  Let’s not deviate from that, regardless of people’s political allegiances.  It was made within a certain artistic context – political also.   And I’m happy that theCanadian Industry Awards have recognized our work.  After all, it’s our peers who vote for who wins.   So in that sense, I don’t ask myself what’s the point of being there.  I’m happy we were there.   I’m of course happy that Anne was there, and that all the actors were there.

But the atmosphere, all-in-all, reveals… I have to say, a gulf between the two cultures, which would otherwise stand to gain if they were to learn from each other.

You know, I read the newspapers this morning.  English Canadian journalists, who were covering the ceremonies, made the point of saying that each year it is the same thing for them – that there will always be “one” Québécois film, without ever knowing what it will be, which will always triumph above the rest.  Then it will simply sweep all the prizes, and it will always irritate them.   But they still acknowledge it, and they write it.

So in that sense, the whole thing is just so interesting to watch itself play out, and to see the journalists talk about this.

Dusseault:  It is rather interesting to watch itself play out.  Yesterday I was following it on Twitter, and then I’d switch back-and-forth to CBC, and the awards were always making way for “English Canadian Television”.

Dolan:  In that sense, I’m not going to criticize them, because I understand their logic.  I get the impression that if they group together movies and television, it’s because in English Canada, what English Canadians know better than anything else in their own world are the stars of their television – those on CBC, CTV, on their national TV shows.   In a sense, it’s by formatting it this way that the gala event would make English Canadians want to tune in to it.   If they were to only celebrate English Canadian cinema (versus television), I’m not sure the gala event would attract many viewers.   Movies and television were separated in the past, and from what I understand, it didn’t work very well in that format.

The Duo “Coderre – Lebeaume” (#175)

A new travelling road-show has taken to the stage over the past couple of months, and the fans are loving it.  However, they have not yet hired a band or back-up singers.

During the winter, we have been witness to the rise of a different type of media sensation in Québec, quite different from anything we’ve seen in Québec or Canada – at least during my time.   The mayors of two major cities, Montréal and Québec City have entered into what can only be described as a political marriage (for lack of a better term) – and they’ve taken it on the road.  But what is more significant, this hand-in-hand “best friend” relationship has turned them into celebrities of a completely different type; almost with rock-star status.

Denis Coderre (Montréal’s mayor) and Régis Lebeaume are together so often in the news, at events, and as a part of each other’s city’s respective initiatives that I’m left wondering if they’re spending more time travelling between each other’s cities than they are in their own cities (Québec City and Montréal are a three hour drive apart, after all).

We have three levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal), but in Québec, this duo has seemingly forged a relationship which appears to be operating as a fourth level or province unto itself (take your pick), that of the “Montréal-Québec City” government (singular).   The two mayors are speaking as one voice, even on issues that don’t concern each other’s cities, to maximize attention to issues and to get what they want from the federal and the provincial governments.   As a duo, they have become a sort of “Captain Municipality”, standing up for issues important to smaller communities which do not necessarily have the populations behind them to bring their issues to the forefront.

It’s almost as if Coderre and Lebaume are now operating as their own city council, giving each other the nod before either embarks on any individual project, and this new approach to municipal politics is making waves.  The public cannot get enough of it and both Coderre and Lebeaume have been appearing on television and radio talk shows together, non-stop, for weeks on end.

Any time politicians gang up together to get what they want from another level of government, you would expect there to be verbal clashes and fighting.   But what I find fascinating is that they’re not confrontational towards either the Federal government (Ottawa) nor towards the provincial government (Québec), and the higher level of governments are not being confrontational towards this duo neither.  Instead, all levels are meeting together, almost as chummy friends, to talk about issues.  What’s more, they’re all meeting as if they were “equal-level” partners – and we’re not hearing many of the condescending tones towards the city level which we often hear from the provincial governments (or federal government).

There are probably a few reasons why this Coderre-Lebeaume approach has not degenerated into conflict.

  • One is that the mayors bring “population numbers” with them to the tables. It is in the interest of higher level governments to meet on friendly ground with the mayors (it would be political suicide, especially in a federal election year, to peeve off such large base populations).
  • The second reason likely stems from both Coderre’s and Lebeaume’s personal backgrounds. Coderre is a career politician (30+ years in the Federal government), and Lebeaume was a successful businessman.  Both have the experience and knowledge to know that things do not change overnight.  In this sense, they are patient and seemingly quite understanding of financial constraints and political nuances when talking to their provincial and federal counterparts.  They’re making demands, but they’re also giving higher levels of government a lot of slack in light of current economics.  Likewise, their federal and provincial counterparts are affording this mayoral duo due respect and consideration in return (these “new” dynamics are truly fascinating to watch – and not just from my point of view, but from that of Québec at large – the media coverage of it speaks for itself).
  • Another reason likely has something to do with this duo’s personalities. I get the impression both mayors want to approach matters with a win-win approach (regardless if you agree or not with their stances on issues).  Both are very personable people, with populist personalities, and they are very media savvy.  They love to laugh and make jokes on camera, and common people can’t get enough of them.
  • Perhaps the feature of this duo which the public finds the most attractive is that they seem to be above petty ideological politics – something which the public in Québec is not used to seeing in many other politicians. In the case of the Coderre-Lebeaume couple, it’s almost a case of “opposites attract”.  Denis Coderre is very federalist (as I stated above, he was a federal Liberal MP and minister in Ottawa for decades, fighting hard for Canada, including during the 1995 referendum).   Régis Lebeaume has traditionally supported sovereignty.  But in their roles as mayors, they’ve been able to do something very few other politicians in Québec have ever been able to do… they put these ideological differences behind them, rolling up their sleeves, calling others players to the tables, working with them, and addressing matters head-on.
  • Montréal went through a rough patch of mayoral scandals and controversies the past few years (a water-metre scandal, one mayor resigned because of corruption in city bureaucracy, and another mayor was arrested for corruption).  Québec City’s population was also polarized by a prior divisive mayor.   The rise of Denis Coderre and Régis Lebeaume came as a breath of fresh air to many – even for those who may not agree with their policies.

This duo’s ratings continue to be sky-high.  Even those who perhaps are not so hot on their individual policies find this duo has a certain star appeal.

If I can draw a parallel, Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, recently won the “world’s best mayor” award.  Upon receiving the award, he was asked if it posed problems that he is a progressive mayor in a conservative city (Nenshi could very easily be a Liberal, and perhaps even NDP whereas his city’s electorate is quite conservative.  Yet Calgary loves him).  Nenshi responded I reject these terms – ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’. I think they are meaningless to the vast majority of people, who just want good government at a decent price.  As the former Governor of Washington and Senator, Dan Evans, wrote in 2002, “There are no Republican schools or Democrat highways, no liberal salmon or conservative parks.” I really believe that this kind of categorization alienates people and keeps them from participating in the political process.” 

In the case of the Coderre-Lebeaume duo, their relationship seems to be based on the same principles.  In their roles as Québec politicians, this duo is a rare breed which seems to have rejected the terms ‘federalist’ and ‘sovereignist’.  Rather, they are taking on the issues, one-by-one, with the attitude that city issues are neither federalist, nor sovereignist, neither Liberal, Conservative, nor Péquiste.  In return, higher governments have repaid them in kind for their “depolitization” of municipal politics (which works well for both the provincial Liberals, and federal Conservatives).  Higher levels of governments have repaid by not “playing politics” with city governments.

One could ask themselves how much of the media hype around this duo is owing to their electric and populist personalities.   It is obvious that they are a good match on that front (these two probably wouldn’t be dancing if their personalities didn’t matcH).  I get the impression the public can’t get enough of this duo owing to the fact that it is simply rare to see politicians working so well together on so many levels, and even more rare to see politicians laughing and joking as a duo as they go about their jobs (hand-in-hand).

Something unexpected just happened in the last couple of days… the Coderre-Lebeaume duo may be opening up their relationship.  When they were in Toronto for the annual Canadian mayor’s conference this last week, Coderre had one-on-one indepth discussions with Toronto’s mayor, John Tory (one of their meetings lasted two hours).  Tory’s personality is not far off from either Coderre’s or Lebeaume’s and Toronto and Montréal pledged they are going to start to work together.  Is the Québec duo positioning itself for a menage-à-trois?.

A few days ago, Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, travelled to Québec City and had meetings with Régis Lebeaume. Perhaps the relationship has the potential to become even kinkier than a ménage-à-trois (politically speaking, of course).  After all, Toronto’s John Tory, and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi also both speak French (and French is the language of love, n’est ce pas?  Oh la la!).  Regardless, this kinkier political twist and turn is just pure speculation on my part (only a political infidelity divorce filing or love child time will tell)… But in the meantime, we’re going to see more and more of this political couple – and it is rapidly changing the face of Québec politics.

Perhaps they’ll soon hire that band I mentioned, along with back-up singers for their travelling road show to go with all the rest 😉 .

Yup, There are those days which sometimes seem like this… (#142)

You ever just have one of those days? …

a.1For starters…b.1

And then there are those Franco-life dilemmas…h.1

But just as you think you’re the only one, you see a glimmer of hope…c.1

But alas, is best to eat away your Franco-sorrows…

And when that doesn’t work, look for the “sunny” side of things…e.1Yeah, things can be rough after all of the above , so I tend to find solace in private “alone” time when driving, and listening to whatever I want…

But all is not lost… And no, you’re not alone…  Are those Francophones walking by??g.1

(Hey, I never claimed to be an artist.   But as for being a realist… ) 🙂

Nah, life ain’t so bad… Some things are worth a laugh!  (And yeah, there is lots of French outside Québec too, so word-to-the-wise… run with it wherever you are in Canada!).

Ouais, je concède c’est un peu poche, mais à 05h00 j’ai la cervelle qui frappe un nœud à matin.  Ça doit être l’effet du soyeu (comme on dit en bon français prairien, ou l’effet du “nombril de la semaine” en bon québécois) … c’est mercredi malgré tout.  Mais c’est pas toute qui est “couenné”… Je vois que ch’quand-même capable de faire sortir du bon prairien de l’écorce à c’t’heure du matin!  Chose certaine, une gorgée de café et ch’erais remis drette-là 😉