CANADA

Quebec’s quiet welcome

BRUCE WALLACE November 2 1987
CANADA

Quebec’s quiet welcome

BRUCE WALLACE November 2 1987

Quebec’s quiet welcome

With its hectic schedule of state dinners, ceremonial openings and staged walkabouts, Queen Elizabeth II’s three-day visit to Quebec last week had all the normal trappings of a royal tour. Only the heavy police presence indicated the rarity of the occasion. Except for presiding over the openings of Expo 67 and Montreal’s 1976 Olympic Games, the Queen had not toured Quebec since October, 1964. During that visit, a protest rally against the Queen by 1,000 separatists in Quebec City turned into a bloody confrontation with riot police and became a watershed of the independence movement. But last week most Quebecers greeted the Queen’s visit with politeness—and resounding indifference. Said Dale Thomson, a McGill University political science professor: “In 1964 the Queen was a symbol of the English oppressor. Now, to Quebecers, she is just not meaningful at all.”

In fact, the only controversy of the visit came when the Queen praised the Meech Lake constitutional accord, which has yet to be ratified by Parliament and the provincial legislatures. At a banquet on Oct. 22 in the restaurant of the provincial legislature in Quebec City—hosted by Premier Robert Bourassa but boycotted by opposition Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Marc Johnson—the Queen departed from her usual practice of not commenting on current political matters. The accord, she said in remarks deliv-

ered almost entirely in fluent French, shows that “Canada’s political leaders have contributed to achieving harmony through diversity.” The text of her banquet toast was prepared by officials of the Quebec government, which strongly supports the accord.

The Queen arrived in Canada on Oct. 9 to preside over the Commonwealth leaders’ summit meeting in Vancouver. On her next stop, Saskatchewan, where she visited Saskatoon, Regina, Kindersley, Canora and the Doukhobor village of Veregin, she was enthusiastically received by cheering crowds. By contrast, in Quebec, most of the ceremonial functions the Queen and Prince Philip attended were quiet affairs. But in Rivière-du-Loup, 260 km north of Quebec City, many of the 3,500 people broke into a lively chorus of “Gens du Pays.” The song is best known as the unofficial Quebec nationalist anthem, but it is also widely used to express fond welcome toward friends, and it was sung in a friendly spirit.

But for the most part, organizers considered last week’s visit successful by its very uneventfulness. Said Pierre Bourgault, a onetime nationalist leader who organized the 1964 protest: “Our problems are with the English in Quebec who still refuse to speak French, not with the Queen. She simply comes for a short visit, speaks French while she’s here and then goes back to England.”

BRUCE WALLACE in Montreal