A PLACE TO STAND?
QUEBEC’S WORRIED MINORITY
Every day, the noise of nationalism grows in the air breathed by five million French-speaking Quebeckers. Every day, one million of their non-French countrymen hear it, and wonder, and worry. Should they quit the province they call home? Can they adapt to the changing times? Maclean's reports their dilemma
FRANK HOWARD (at left) is an AngloQuebecker, a journalist and a bitter man. He has lived close to Quebec City most of his life, and covers the provincial legislature for the Toronto Globe and Mail. He is fully bilingual but, because English is his mother tongue, he no longer feels at home in Quebec. “People keep telling you, if they know you’re English, that what’s going on here is not really your affair ... You get to the point where you don’t want to live here any more.”
PETER MCENTYRE appears to be typecast for the role of the Quebec WASP with his pin-striped tie and his neat grey suit and his job as vice-president of a trust company. He is, in fact, mayor of the City of Westmount, that bastion of WASPishness slung across the slopes of Mount Royal, and, although he has lived all his life surrounded by French Canadians, he speaks only halting French. But McEntyre refuses to conform to the WASP image, with its rejection of everything non-English; he is working hard on his French, he is making sure his children acquire the bilingualism he lacks, and he says, flatly, “It is unwise for a man to think himself educated today with only one language.” ►
Unlike Frank Howard, he does not feel uncomfortable in Quebec: “I was born here, I have lived all my life here, I mean to remain here.”
MARIO BARONE is an Italian Canadian, a successful builder in the Montreal suburb of St. Léonard, and a fervent believer in the virtues of bilingualism. “If a man speaks two languages, you have two men,” says Barone, who, incidentally, speaks Italian, French and English. He finds it difficult to understand the bitter dissension that threatens to sunder his new, rich homeland. “I only want to get along.”
Jo OUELLET is a writer, a businesswoman and the wife of a FrenchCanadian real-estate salesman in Quebec City, where she was brought up. Her mother is Senator Josie Quart, and her first language is English, but
66Every person who calls himself civilized should be able to speak both languages^
her French is flawless and her four boys are called “Frog Blokes” because nobody can figure out which language group they belong to. Mrs. Ouellet has always opposed prejudice, French or English, as a kind of unofficial hobby, and she finds herself busier than ever today. “I know people who have lived here all their lives and are proud because they can’t speak a word of French,” she says. “They make me sick.” At the same time, she rejects the rising racism of the Francophone community, and insists on speaking English in French stores. “I never used to do that,” she explains, “but when bilingual clerks started to pretend they didn’t speak English, I got mad. Now my rule is that if I’m selling something. I’ll speak French, but when I’m buying, let them serve me in my own language.”
JAMES JOHNSON (not his real name) is a chartered accountant in Montreal, where he grew up. Although his wife is a French Canadian, he is rigidly unilingual, and plans to move out of Quebec because “pretty soon everybody, even top management, will have to speak French, and I’m just not interested.” This rejection is not because he can’t speak any French —
after all, he took it in school — but because he won’t. “Some people say, ‘I’ll speak my language and to hell with the others,’ ” he told me. “Well, I fall into that category, and I’ll admit it doesn’t help things in Quebec.”
In their varied attitudes, these five people reflect the major trends among the one million non-French of Quebec, a province where five million French Canadians are becoming increasingly assertive. The five people I have singled out share a common view of what is likely to happen over the next few years, but not a common reaction to the coming changes. They all see that unilingual English Canadians are becoming ever more isolated; they all accept that French will become, increasingly, the language of business as well as social life in the province; they all expect, with varying degrees of uneasiness, a certain amount of discrimination against the AngloQuebecker.
The surprising thing to most nonFrench is that discrimination did not begin earlier. Peter Turcot, chairman of the Montreal Stock Exchange, told me, “We [the English] have had things pretty posh for a long time, but now we’re going to be treated like a minor-
ity, and any minority has to endure a certain amount of discrimination.”
Does the prospect make him nervous?
“The French put up with it for a long time, so I guess it won't kill us.”
Frank Howard has begun to experience discrimination already. He had always planned to educate his three children, as he himself was educated, first in French and then in English. Last fall, his daughter, in grade seven, had reached the stage where he wanted to transfer her to the English school system, but there are no English schools in Beauport, the suburb where he lives, so he applied to have the tax credit covering his daughter transferred to Quebec City, and asked the Beauport Board of Education to provide transportation to an English school there. This is what unilingual English Canadians in the area do, and he expected no difficulty. However, an official of the school board pointed out that his daughter is not unilingual. “She started in French, let her finish in French,” he said. Howard was furious and, although he got around the difficulty by listing the girl at his sister’s Quebec City address and sending her to an English school nearby, he remains furious. He believes the language of a child’s education must be a matter of parental choice, not bureaucratic fiat.
“I deliberately chose to live among French Canadians and not to hive myself away in an English ghetto. As a matter of fact, I don’t much like English Quebeckers, they have always struck me as being totally disconnected with what is happening in this province. But the advantages of being connected are becoming less and less.”
Bilingualism doesn’t help. “People think that if you speak French, everything is all right, but it isn’t so. The more French you know, the more you know what is going on, and the unhappier you become.”
Howard argues that French nationalism is bound to bear increasingly on the English community. “What we’re up against is the old business of the conquered race. French Canadians
66You should be able to live and die here without ever knowing a word of English}}
have never forgotten the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and they want to pay somebody back.” He admits that English Canadians have been shortsighted and overbearing in the past but, “The fact that fair is fair doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Flight has no place in the plans of Peter McEntyre, the brisk and assertive mayor of Westmount. Often during the past weeks, while listening to Anglo-Quebeckers complaining of the impending loss of their rights, I have thought of Peter McEntyre, and Robert Beale, the toughly confident head of the St. Léonard Parents’ Association, and Noel Herron, the cool, quick president of the Provincial Association of Catholic School Principals, and I have found it hard to believe that the Anglo-Quebecker is in much danger. He is so sure of himself, so entrenched, so used to asserting his rights, that he is hard to put down. Jim Noonan, a Quebec City tavern keeper of Irish descent, told
me, “The French would rather love than fight, and we would rather fight than love, and that’s why they’ve had such a hard time getting their own way in their own province.”
What’s more, the Anglophone community of Quebec is linked to the overwhelming English population of North America. “The English have nothing to worry about,” comments Tom Sloan, professor of journalism and communications at Laval University. “Nobody is going to take away our language; there are too many of us. That’s why we should be willing to go 70 percent of the way to meet the French. Our culture is not in danger; theirs is.”
So it is not surprising that men such as McEntyre exude confidence — confidence has been bred into the Quebec English for 200 years. The adjustment of the past decade has been difficult because the English have found it hard to accept the idea that the French could be masters in their own house. For decades, French Canadians were at an economic disadvantage. According to a study prepared for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, French Canadians in 1961 earned an average of $1,000 a year less than English Canadians; French Quebeckers lived on incomes 35 percent below English Quebeckers, and held only a tiny percentage of the jobs of power and
prestige even in the heartland of their province — Montreal. What’s more, the gap had been getting steadily wider since 1931. That inferiority was based on the weakness of the Quebec educational system, a rural outlook and a lack of assertiveness of the Francophone community, but a great many Anglo-Quebeckers apparently thought it stemmed from some inherent disability of the French. The Quiet Revolution, Expo and the expanding power of French Canadians have smashed that smug hypothesis to pieces, and most of the English business community, after a period of surprised sulking, has come to accept the change and even welcome it.
“The French Canadian is a much more dynamic partner now,” says McEntyre. “He plays a much bigger role in business today than he did yesterday, and he will play a much bigger role tomorrow than he does today. But that does not make him a threat to the English; it makes him a partner. The proportion of French Canadians who can do the job better than English Canadians is bound to rise until it comes very close to the population proportion of the two groups.”
Because he feels this way, McEntyre thinks French Canadians who insist that Quebec should become unilingual are making a mistake. “If that happens, the French Canadian will give away his bilingualism . . . He will so arrange things that only the English Canadian will be bilingual at a time when bilingualism is becoming an enormous economic asset.”
McEntyre’s words underline perhaps the most startling change in the Anglophone community over the past few years — the acceptance of bilingualism. When I first began to travel into French Canada regularly, in 1962, English Quebeckers tended to regard bilingualism as, at best, an unnecessary concession to the French and, at worst, a threat to themselves. Enough has happened in the intervening years to make them aware that they are, in fact, a minority in a province that is 80 percent French. I knew the lesson had sunk in when I sat, day after day, through hearings of the Quebec education committee, and heard group after group from the English community argue, in French, for acceptance of the bilingual principle in schools.
As a youth, he attended university in Kingston, Ont., and remembers the relief he used to feel when the train bearing him back to Quebec for holidays got to Cornwall, near the provincial border. “I would hear French spoken all around me, and I knew I was coming home.” Quebec is no longer home; he has asked his newspaper to transfer him out of the province.
But, while English Canadians have been marching briskly toward bilingualism, many French Canadians have been marching just as briskly away. Raymond Lemieux, chief spokesman for le Mouvement pour l’Intégration Scolaire — a movement to promote French unilingualism in the schools — told me, “Bilingualism is merely a
¿¿I know people who have lived here all their lives and are proud because they can’t speak a word of French. They make me sick^5
phase in the transfer from one language to the other, a step on the way to the assimilation of the French.”
Lemieux is bilingual, but his children speak only French; Robert Beale, president of the St. Léonard Parents’ Association, and Lemieux’s bitter political enemy, is bilingual, and so are his children.
The confrontation between Lemieux, the lean and saturnine French Canadian. and Beale, the thickset, boisterous English Canadian, might have been staged by some Hollywood director. The two men live so close to each other in the northeast Montreal suburb of St. Léonard that they could -—but don’t — wave to each other from their front porches; in temperament, style and philosophy, however, they are miles apart. Lemieux is smooth and subtle, while Beale is blunt; Lemieux speaks with barely contained passion and occasional bursts of soaring oratory, while Beale plods from sentence to dogged sentence; Lemieux argues, “You should be able to live and die here without ever knowing a word of English”; Beale argues, “Every person who calls himself civilized should be able to speak both languages.” Both men come from mixed French - Irish backgrounds. Beale’s mother was French Canadian and his father Irish, while Lemieux is the son of an Irish mother and French-Canadian father. Both are new to politics, both are on leave from their regular jobs — Lemieux as an architect, Beale as a process operator in a refinery — and each is upheld by unshakable conviction in his cause.
The battleground for these protagonists is an area dominated by Mario Barone and his kind, for the St. Léonard Affair, which is central to the entire language issue in Quebec, is really a battle over immigrants. The province needs people to develop its mushrooming economy and, since the birthrate is falling, that need must be met by attracting newcomers. But if the immigrants insist, as they have to date, on joining the English community (see page 45), French Canadians may one day be outnumbered in their own province. To meet this threat, they want immigrants to enroll in French schools and become absorbed into the Francophone community.
When the St. Léonard Affair blossomed into national headlines last year, it was not because English schools were being closed — the small segment of Anglo-Saxons in St. Léonard is entitled to bus transportation and school transfers into Montreal — but because the bilingual schools that serve the large Italian population were to be converted, gradually, into unilingual French
ones. Under the prodding of Lemieux’s MIS, the St. Léonard School Board ended bilingual classes in grade one last fall, and will end them in grade two this fall, moving up one grade a year until the entire school system is French. Beale’s association sprang up to defend the right of any parent to choose the language of his child’s education, and organized makeshift classes in the basements of seven neighborhood homes for pupils whose parents withdrew them from the official French system. Today, 205 of these youngsters are attending grade one in English, with some classes in French, but the mother tongue of most is not English, it is Italian.
The argument in St. Léonard has included a march on Ottawa by the English, to plead in vain for federal intervention, and a march on the Quebec legislature by the French, to snowball the parliamentary windows and rail against the proposed adoption of Bill 85. This is a languagerights bill that would promote the absorption of immigrants into the Francophone community and, at the same time, provide statutory guarantees for English schools. Bill 85 was introduced by Premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand, but was shuffled off to the education committee when he became ill. At this writing, it is still being hotly debated.
To understand that situation from the French-Canadian point of view, any English Canadian should transfer it to, say, Toronto. Let us suppose that the Italian community in Toronto wanted its children schooled in the province’s second language, French, with some English classes. Would the board of education proudly take up the challenge, the provincial treasury quickly put up the money (the Quebec government estimates it costs more than $160 million a year to maintain bilingual schools), and the good burghers of Toronto gladly signify approval? Not likely. And English in Toronto is not under threat, while French in Montreal is. This is the crucial consideration that caused a French-Canadian friend of mine to mutter darkly, “Every time I hear an Anglais talk about the language rights of the immigrant, I know that what is coming is another way to screw the French Canadian.”
Perhaps it is fortunate that the St. Léonard Affair will be resolved — if ever it is resolved — in Quebec, where the tradition of equity in language rights is long, and not in Ontario, where sweet reasonableness is a newly minted coin. It would be understandable, if tragic, if French Canada’s latest gain from Ontario turned out to be bigotry.
¿¿If a man speaks two languages, you have two men55
That French Canada has its share of bigots and extremists is undeniable, but their rejection by the great mass of the population has been, so far at least, complete and unmistakable. When a bomb went off in the Montreal Stock Exchange in February, injuring 27 people, the action was condemned by Quebec nationalist groups, including the separatist Parti Québécois, which denounced the perpetrators as potential murderers and “blind grave-diggers.”
Claude - Armand Sheppard, the Montreal civil-rights lawyer who acts for the St. Léonard Parents’ Association, says: “The cultural genocide
of the English does not become just because the French feel threatened.” Sheppard will not accept second-
class language rights for immigrants.
He argues that the solution for French Canada is not to lock immigrants out of the English community, but to work at attracting them into the French. “For years Quebeckers have turned their backs on immigrants, haven’t even provided them with decent schools, and we wonder why they turn to the English.”
Mario Barone illustrates the process Sheppard describes. When he came to Canada in 1951, he thought he was coming to an English country, because, to an Italian, Canada is merely a part of North America, and no Canadian Immigration officer ever bothered to tell him that Montreal is a French city in a French province. When he got a construction job, he found that many of his co-workers spoke French, which he had learned in school, but he did not feel welcome among them, and began to slip more and more into English. It is, after all, the language of the business community, and he wanted to go into business; it is, after all, the language of most of the continent, and he wanted to be mobile. Barone began a building business with his brother, prospered and moved to St. Léonard to help transform that area from a sleepy French village of 4,893 in 1961 to a city of 35,000 — 40 percent of them Italian — today. He became a power in the community, a member of the city council, and made many French friends, but he resented the attempts of the militant MIS to coerce his children into the French system.
Perhaps there is a certain amount of jealousy involved. Barone told me proudly that New Canadians pay more than 70 percent of the property taxes in St. Léonard, although they represent less than half the population, but all that means to a French Canadian is that he has been displaced in his own community by a group allied to the English. Certainly the French of St. Léonard react to their Italian neighbors in some peculiar ways. While I was there, a co-operative taxi company was going through an upheaval because the Italian drivers found that whenever they addressed the bilingual cab-dispatcher in English, he cut them off in midsentence. The Italians are planning to pull out and set up their own taxi company, taking a good share of the business with them.
Petty vindictiveness will only drive immigrant groups into the English community and reinforce racial divisions already too rigidly drawn; perhaps what is needed in St. Léonard is the impartial scorn of a Jo Ouellet. What I like about Mrs. Ouellet, besides her charm and sense, is the sym-
•*lf Quebec turns to French unilingualism, the French Canadian will give away his bilingualism. Only the English Canadian will be bilingual at a time when bilingualism is becoming an enormous economic assets
holism of her mixed marriage, with its reminder that French and English Canadians have been getting along, despite occasional outbursts of temper, for some time now without either side having to give up its culture, quirks or dignity. She is fiercely proud of the French-ness of her province and anxious, as any thoughtful Quebecker must be, lest the French culture disappear through abuse or neglect or the sheer overwhelming force of English numbers. At the same time, she does not feel that her love for French Canada requires her to disavow her English background or her mother tongue. “We have the best of both language worlds,” she says. “I can’t see how we would possibly gain by abandoning either.”
Yet abandonment is the solution for many Quebeckers of both French and English background. Lemieux is willing to abandon the principle of language equity and to write off all French Canadians outside his own province to preserve an enclave of culture there. He is not a separatist, but he told me that, if the price for French unilingualism is separation, he is willing to pay that price. On the English side, James Johnson is willing to abandon the entire province because it is becoming too French. “I pay my taxes and I think I’m entitled to get everything in English.” He can see the day coming, soon, when he won’t get everything in English, so he wants to move to Ontario where “the opportunities are greater for someone like me.”
It is hard to see how abandonment on either side promises a solution for Quebec or Canada. Perhaps there is no solution; perhaps life would be simpler if every Anglo - Quebecker said to hell with it and walked across the border. But I think not. I think — and it is a vague impression, absorbed through the pores—that prospects are brighter today than they have been for years, because the non-French of Quebec have begun to grasp some essentials: that French must become the working language of the province, or it may disappear, that immigrants must be encouraged to join the Francophone community, but not be dragooned into it, that preservation of the French culture all across Canada is not merely the business of the French Canadian, it concerns all of us. The Anglo-Quebeckers who share these views are far more numerous than the bitter or stubborn ones who want to get out, and their numbers are growing. What remains is for French Canadians to recognize the new attitude, to accept it, and to work it into the baffling experiment that is Canada. □