I’m an optimist. I like to think that it’s possible for my home Belle Province to take its rightful in this country, that I also love. But the latest events around the student strike tell me that this might be too much of an idealist approach.
It’s more than a matter of language, of course, but it all begins with it. It begins with Québec’s more socialist leanings compared to the rest of the country. It begins with the fact that we’ve developed a strong local cultural, political and media apparatus that doesn’t really communicate with the rest of the country.
CanCon and strikes
Let me put this in perspective. Yesterday afternoon on CBC Radio, I was listening to the archival show that’s on every
Thursday afternoon. They were discussing CanCon, or the famous Canadian content requirements for Canadian media broadcasters. The instigator of this CRTC bylaw, whose name I can’t recall right now, was arguing that only in Québec did you have local theatre, local television shows and local musicians being played. The rest of Canada presented mostly American content.
There’s always been a sense that Québec is, indeed, different, and that what affects it has no influence on the rest of the country. And that’s why the English Canadian media is not covering (maybe not caring) about the now 11-week long strike against tuition hikes.
In 2004, I was at UQÀM during the 7-week strike against cuts in the loans and bursaries program. Basically, the (same) Charest government wanted to stop giving a certain amount of money in bursaries and turn it into loans instead. Back then, the government backed down and the students got most of their requests.
There are hundreds of thousands of students taking to the streets every week. They are requesting a long promise of the Révolution Tranquille: free post-secondary education. You see, Québec sees education as a social good rather than as a personal investment, as the rest of Canada does.
In any case, this isn’t about why the English media isn’t covering the strike. It’s about how the English media (except for the CBC and local stations) isn’t talking about Québec at all. It’s about how the two cultures are really different, and not really compatible, despite being geographically close and politically joined.
I get it, this is a big country. Most interesting news are either of regional or national importance. What happens in other provinces is often overlooked by the media, especially when it has to do with Québec. However, see what happened with Alberta’s election: it made national news because what happens in Alberta is seen to affect everyone in Canada. Why is this not the case for Québec?
Québec and the rest of Canada live in mutual ignorance. Québec has its own cultural and media infrastructures that makes it more or less independent at this level. I feel extremely disconnected out here, even though I do make an effort to follow on Québec news and issues. But it’s not as easily accessible as simply watching the news or listening to the radio.
Can we talk?
I don’t know if English Canada will ever care about talking with Québec. Maybe this narrow but deep abyss will never be bridged; maybe the language and political barriers will never be broken. I’m no separatist, but sometimes, I get their point. If the rest of Canada doesn’t believe that Québec has anything of value to give them, can you blame them for wanting to try developing on their own? Québec feels like it owes nothing to English Canada, that it doesn’t have any influence on it and thus can live without it. Or, at worst, it believes that Canada has a negative influence.
From the other side of this, would English Canada be willing to sit down and think about what Québec brings to this country? Are there mutually positive contributions that could be discovered or enabled? Is there anything that can be used to bring the two solitudes just a bit closer? Should we introduce, like in Switzerland, mandatory bilingualism for the entire country?
Québecers don’t really like to get out of the province because they don’t think that Anglo-Canadians want to see them or hear from them. They feel irrelevant, especially culturally, when they get out of the province. I’ve felt this way; I still do sometimes. And sometimes I still hope that I will feel like I somehow belong without totally giving up my culture, but it seems increasingly hard, and I’m forgetting more and more every day.
Push and pull
I’m homesick, and I feel like home is calling me. But I don’t think I can ever see Québec the same way again; closed unto itself, with its own cultural, racial and political issues, unwilling (or unable) to participate in the larger life of this country. I wonder how many Québecers who leave eventually come back, unable to stand losing their language and their culture because there is no community to cultivate it here. Beyond the ability to eat poutine and listen to Céline Dion, is there a place for Québecers in Canada?
When we come back home, to our land and our roots, what are we? Traitors, translators or monsters? Are we ever able to take root again?