Ageneration ago, Hélène Jutras would almost certainly have been a passionately committed Quebec national-
ist—and most likely an active separatist. At 19, she is at an age when political ideas can be most alluring, and risking all for a dream seems romantic rather than dangerous. So it is a sign of how much has changed among Quebec’s young people that Jutras has become one of the severest and most controversial critics of the sovereignty movement, a voice for what has become known as “post-nationalist” thinking. In a slim new book entitled Le Québec Me Tue
(Quebec is killing me), the intense law student takes deadly aim at the older generation of indépendantistes, and says that she feels suffocated in a “provincial ghetto whose walls are as high as human stupidity.”
Much of Jutras’s book is a wide-ranging critique of Quebec’s shortcomings—in particular its education system—which could be made by any intelligent teenager. But what turned her into an instant media celebrity in the province was the intense reaction that came when she first published her ideas last September in two articles in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. Jutras wrote off the entire sovereignty debate as a sterile discussion that is stultifying Quebecers, and announced that she intends eventually to leave the province to find intellectual freedom and wider opportunities. That produced a torrent of criticism—and more letters to Le Devoir than anything since the language debates of the 1980s. Two sovereigntist columnists,
Daniel Latouche and Pierre Bourgault, blasted Jutras for her negative attitude. She was labelled everything from a spoiled brat to a traitor to Quebec.
In fact, she comes from a village of 500 people called St-Edouard-de-Maskinongé,
near Trois-Rivières in the Quebec heartland, and was raised in modest fashion by her mother in the Montreal suburb of St-Laurent. She studies law at McGill University, largely because she believes that Quebec’s French-language education system is inferior. She insists that she is not a spokeswoman for her generation, yet her ideas reflect those of many young French-speaking Quebecers who feel left out
of the interminable debate over independence that has consumed the province all their lives. Jutras points out that she was only four years old during Quebec’s last referendum on sovereignty in 1980, and that the same older generation of political leaders, intellectuals and journalists has been hashing over the same issues since before she can remember. “Nothing seems to have changed in 15 years,” she said in an interview. “It just keeps on turning over and over.”
And that, says Jutras, explains in part why the Parti Québécois govemment’s campaign to arouse emotions in favor of independence is proving so difficult. “The debate on independence,” she writes, “may have come from the people—but today it belongs only to a certain
elite.” Worse, she argues, sovereignty has become for many Quebecers a magic key that will solve all their problems—and thus an excuse for not tackling social issues now. “I don’t think changing the name from a province to a country will solve anything important, like improving our rotten education system,” she says.
Nonetheless, Jutras, like most young francophones, intends to vote Yes to sovereignty if Premier Jacques Parizeau goes ahead with his referendum this year. Her logic, however, has little to do with traditional nationalist reasoning. Quebecers should become independent, she says, just to end the constitutional debate and go on to more important things. “We are like a teenager who refuses to leave home, who stays with her parents and complains all the time,” she says. “At a certain point, we have to move out, get our own apartment and take responsibility for our own lives. It’s the only way Quebecers can stop acting like perpetual adolescents.” So far, at least, that is advice that Quebecers seem reluctant to accept.
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