English Montrealers endure a winter of bitter discontent
The New 'Anglo Angst'
English Montrealers endure a winter of bitter discontent
A round the kitchen table in Jeffrey and Lisa Silver’s home in the Montreal suburb of Hampstead, the Great Debate is being played out. The Silvers—both 31, both embarked on successful careers in marketing—are wrestling with the question that preoccupies many Montrealers these days, and virtually obsesses many English-speaking Montrealers: should we stay, or should we go? Jeff Silver is a third-generation Montrealer, and even the spectre of separation cannot break his attachment to the city. “Montreal is a part of me,” he says. “I feel at ease here.” Lisa, however, is American by birth and for her, the choice is clear: “There’s zero growth here. The writing’s on the wall.” They have given themselves until July, when the lease on their rented house expires, to decide whether to make their future in Quebec or move to Florida, where her family lives. “We truly are,” says Jeff, “at a crossroads.”
For English Quebecers, this is the winter of their discontent From Pontiac County in the far southwest corner of the province, to the farms of the Eastern Townships, anxious federalists are in the grip of what has become known as “Anglo angst.” In Montreal, where after a quarter century of language wars and sovereignty scares the Englishspeaking community still numbers 520,000, the talk is of selling out, moving on—or, more ominously, of digging in and fighting for a secure place in Canada. The partition movement, dedicated to the proposition that the best way to prevent the breakup of Canada is to threaten to split up Quebec, is spreading like a prairie fire at the grassroots while leaders of the English establishment look on with nervous disapproval. Even French-speaking commentators, accustomed to reporting on their anglophone fellow citizens with the lofty detachment of foreign correspondents discovering a new land, are anxiously asking a new version of an old question: what do the Anglos want?
The short answer, English Montrealers with widely differing politi-
cal perspectives agree, is simple: they want the threat of separation so dramatically underlined by last October’s narrow federalist victory to be lifted. And since the government of Premier Lucien Bouchard remains committed to continuing its push for sovereignty, there seems little obvious room for comfort, or compromise. The last time Quebec’s anglophones endured a comparable shock, following the election of the first Parti Québécois government in 1976, community leaders rallied to carve out a new role in what had become a dramatically new province. The message was clear: adapt or leave. Some 200,000 did leave—mostly in the 10 years following 1976. The rest largely made their peace with Quebec; they may have griped and grumbled, but they learned French and, for the most part, accepted their position as a minority in a determinedly francophone province. Outside Quebec, many anglophones surprised even themselves by jumping to the defence of the province’s right to safeguard its cultural distinctiveness.
This time, though, possible compromises are not so clear. “Those of us who stayed felt we could work something out—and we did,” says Michael Goldbloom, the 43-year-old publisher of the Montreal Gazette and one of the new leaders who came out of the anglophone community after 1976. “The difference now is that there isn’t a feeling that it can be worked out. There’s a sense of anger: many people feel they made compromises and sacrifices and thought Quebec society could work for them. And the feeling now is that all that risks coming to naught.”
Goldbloom speaks calmly and thoughtfully in a boardroom looking north across the city towards Mount Royal and its legendary cross. But the insistent new voices of Anglo Montreal these days are anything but calm. On a recent Friday night, 1,400 people jammed a hall in a downtown hotel to cheer on an idea that has vaulted from fringe to front line in a matter of weeks: partition. Overwhelmingly Englishspeaking, they proudly wore yellow-and-white buttons declaring themselves “ethnic/ethnique”—a jab at former premier Jacques Parizeau’s sour referendum-night remark that his Yes forces had lost only because of “money and the ethnic vote.” And they leapt to their feet to hail such new heroes as William Johnson, a pro-partition Gazette columnist who has been greeted as something of a martyr to their cause since his newspaper said it intends to eliminate his fulltime position (he received a financial settlement and will continue to write a weekly column). “A Canadian I was born, and a Canadian I will die,” Johnson declared, laying down the partitionist line that any bid to make Quebec independent will lead to dismembering the province. “Quebec cannot destroy Canada without destroying itself.” The partitionists include people like Mark Kotier, a 52-year-old printer from suburban St-Laurent who had never been involved in politics until the day after the referendum vote. “I’m an Anglo and an ethnic and I have some money, so I took Parizeau’s remarks as a per-
sonal insult,” he says.
Kotier now heads a pro-partition group called the Committee for a New Quebec in Canada, which claims 4,000 members (20 per cent of them Frenchspeaking) and is one of several organizations that advocate carving a new province out of the mainly federalist parts of west Quebec, Montreal and the Eastern Townships if Bouchard wins a Yes vote in a future referendum.
Before Oct. 30, he says, he was considering moving to Lancaster, Ont., just across the Ontario border. “I won’t move now, just out of spite,” he says. “Every anglophone should stay in Quebec and be counted.”
That is the voice of the new “angryphones,” as one anglophone leader sardonically labels them. Other English Montrealers—as well as many federalist francophones—are more frustrated and fearful than angry. Barbara Wainrib, a psychologist based in Westmount, found her patients suffering symptoms typical of victims of post-traumatic stress disorder in the weeks following the referendum. They included sleep disturbances, anger, irritability and a loss of a feeling of security in the world. “One of the things about trauma is that it shatters the way we expect the world to be—and that’s what happened here,” she says.
Wainrib received 300 responses to a survey she circulated about
people’s feelings after the referendum vote, and found that many were profoundly affected by the outcome. One English-speaking woman said she was making plans to leave the province within two years. “My family has been here for 200 years,” the woman wrote. I “If they separate and the § economy suffers, we will be S blamed. If they can’t separate, % we will still be blamed. Our § whole future seems to be in I someone else’s hands.” A u francophone who works in a bank and saw many people transferring money out of Quebec in the days before the referendum wrote to Wainrib: “I thought I was going crazy. It was unbearable and I was drawn to tears many times. My whole world was falling apart and I can’t do anything about it.” As for the partition movement, says Wainrib, it can be explained at least in part as a means for anxious anglophones to feel they are taking control again. “It’s a way for them to re-empower themselves,” she says. “It gave people a sense that there’s something they can do. And it let them get out of their sense of isolation and work with people who feel the same way they do.”
Some English-speaking Montrealers, of course, do not share those feelings at all. The community has never been monolithic, and it includes many who are determined to stay no matter what. Two groups of anglophones—one including the philosopher Charles Taylor and the novelist Neil Bissoondath—published statements disavowing any attempt to split up Quebec and lamenting “the current obsession with doomsday scenarios.” Others warn that an incessant drumbeat of scare talk may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more English Montrealers hear that their neighbors are about to leave, the more they may be inclined to follow suit. Peter Scowen is the 36-yearold editor of Mirror, an urban weekly that along with its French-language competitor Voir has become a voice for younger Montrealers who do not fit easily into the traditional solitudes. Westmount born and bred, the son of a prominent former Quebec liberal cabinet minister, Scowen insists that he and his thoroughly bilingual friends cannot relate to talk of partition. “I’m a totally anglophone Westmount guy, and if anyone should feel that way, it’s me,” he says. “Our natural allies are moderate francophones, but at the time when it’s most critical to reach out to them, all anglophones can talk about is partition!”
The official voice of Westmount is surprisingly similar. Peter Trent is the 50-year-old mayor of the city on the southern slopes of Mount Royal that has long been the traditional home, and symbol, of the Anglo establishment. Inside his stately grey-stone city hall, dignified portraits of past mayors with such names as Rutherford, Merrill and McCallum serve as reminders of the past. The city is still 80-per-cent English-speaking, but it is no longer the WASP bastion that it was as recently as the 1960s. Jewish Montrealers and so-called allophones (those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English) have taken the place of the old Anglo-Saxon population as it moves out. Trent himself is married to a francophone and is quick to distance himself from the partitionists. “A lot of Anglos are extremely hurt,” he reflects. “They thought they had a fairly progressive attitude towards the francophone majority and thought they had a secure place here. The referen| dum called all that into question. Who are we? Where are s we going? Is there any place for us here?” Still, he says, ÏE English Montrealers should reassure francophones that I they are committed to the city instead of threatening to 5 leave—or tear Quebec apart. “We need to say, ‘I like
Quebec, and if push comes to shove I will stay here.’ ”
That kind of talk, Trent acknowledges, is too conciliatory for some of his constituents “who say it’s time to draw a line in the sand.” Many of them, along with many other anglophones, are once again talking about leaving. A new crop of A vendre signs has sprung up in Anglo neighborhoods—and many houses without signs are up for grabs as well. “It’s all for sale—want a house cheap?” jokes Barbara Wainrib. Despite the talk, the post-1976 exodus may well not be repeated. Many people cannot sell houses and businesses, and jobs elsewhere are scarcer than they were 20 years ago. Toronto, battered by two recessions and embroiled in its own round of government layoffs and corporate cutbacks, no longer seems so alluring.
Many people are investing money outside Quebec, even if they have no definite plans to move. And the talk now is that the rest of Canada will also be hard hit if Quebec secedes, so younger people with more options tend to look more towards the United States.
That is true for Jeff and lisa Silver as they weigh their future. They attended a recent meeting sponsored by a branch of the Canadian Jewish Congress attended by Serge Ménard, the Quebec minister responsible for reviving Montreal. Ménard tried to reassure young English-speaking Quebecers that they should stay put—part of a new effort by Bouchard and his government to reach out to anglophones in a way that Parizeau never did. But the minister’s message fell flat, especially when he made a clumsy comparison between English Quebecers and white South Africans (for which he later apologized). “It was just the typical gobbledegook, pushing the sovereignty cause,” Jeff Silver lamented later. “I don’t think it’s ever going to resolve itself. It’s like, enough already.”
The Silvers married a year ago and want to have a child, but say they don’t want to go ahead until they know where they will be living. “My clock is ticking,” says Lisa. “But our lives are on hold.” For her, the answer is clear: move to Boca Raton, Fla., where her mother lives and the economy is booming. Jeff, meanwhile, feels the pull of family and friends in Montreal: his parents and two brothers live in the city, and the family gathers each week for the traditional Jewish Friday night dinner. “I feel like I’m being pulled from both sides,” he says. “There have been many sleepless nights, because once we go, we’re not coming back.” With four months left before they will decide, they are worrying and pondering—much like tens of thousands of others. □
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