As Great Leaps Forward go, Laurin’s ranks between stumble and pratfall

Mordecai Richler July 10 1978

As Great Leaps Forward go, Laurin’s ranks between stumble and pratfall

Mordecai Richler July 10 1978

As Great Leaps Forward go, Laurin’s ranks between stumble and pratfall

Mordecai Richler

Some years back, if a usually reliable source is to be credited, God, a reputedly jealous type, enjoined Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, as a proof of his love, but at the last moment provided a ram for a burnt offering in the boy’s place. More recently, René Lévesque directed Camille Laurin to retire into his think tank and bring forth a cultural manifesto that many feared would put paid to Englishspeaking Quebeckers, but relented at the last moment, sending his servant back to revise again and again, and was finally satisfied with two volumes of undreamed-of flatulence, namely A Cultural Development Policy for Quebec. As a consequence, it seems unlikely that Laurin’s seed will £i$i multiply as the stars of heaven, gjij but he has now been established, beyond doubt, as Can;$i| ada’s leading doctor of bro$Lr ww.-, mides and banalities. Given the competition in Ottawa and :^Sí?:::::Sx elsewhere, this remains a considerable accomplishment.

All politicians are suspect.

But a 56-year-old politician, formerly a psychiatrist, who is sufficiently vain to dye his hair black, is necessarily more suspect than most. Camille Laurin,

Quebec’s minister of retribution and cultural development, seemed, on the mean-minded evidence of Bill 101, a somewhat sinister presence. Relax.

This time out he has revealed his true nature and threatens to send Montreal, home of thejii^^^j^ Neo-Quebecker, sinking with boredom into the St. Lawrence.

A note inserted into the English version of A Cultural Development Policy for Quebec points out to readers that “the translation has been done with great care.” If that’s the case, then the clichés that everywhere abound are refreshingly bilingual.

Imagine: M. Laurin, and the brightest and best he could gather in conclave, pondered and debated for months before they came up with some of the following pensées—

( 1) “... both sex and age are the result of natural laws. We do not choose our sex, we do not choose to grow old ...”

(2) .. women are people ...”

(3) “(In Quebec) as elsewhere, children make great demands on adult energies.”

(4) “Adolescents make up a large pro-

portion of our population.”

All these intellectual fireworks in Volume 1, which we are told on the very first page of Volume 2, were “brief yet thoughtprovoking.” Digging into the heftier Volume 2, I hoped I would now get into the real stuff: those original, even radical, ideas which will set out once and for all why Quebec is so different from the rest of us and must separate or culturally perish.

After Marx’s pronouncements following Freud’s illuminations, it came like a

bombshell on page 325. “Books,” the report ventures, “have been one of the most important vehicles of culture for centuries, and will continue to play this role for some time.”

This is not to say the report isn’t alarmingly priggish here, contentious there, and gratuitously insulting to the culture of the rest of Canada elsewhere.

The priggishness emerges in M. Laurin’s Jr. Red Cross Hygiene version of the New Québécois Man. The report notes that Quebeckers tend to be overweight, easily qualify as Canada’s champion smokers, and drink more than they used to. Furthermore, its perspicacious authors believe that “alcohol becomes all too often a prop,

a stimulant or an escape.” Therefore, they dare to dream of a new Québécois generation of nonsmokers, eschewing patates frites and saying no to another shot of Canadian Club, should it still be available in Quebec. Smokers will be induced to cut down (or smuggle from depraved Ontario) through a large increase in tobacco tax.

Contentiousness is limited to several allusions to “the State of Quebec,” when in fact it is still a province. My province, come Laurin or high water, but a province all the same.

The report is gratuitously insuiting in its reference to the rest Canada as an entity “which sometimes claims to be a ‘nation.’ ” Furthermore, this

Quebec “restrictions that become shackles when it attempts to develop its own values and cultural endeavors.” Which is t0 say, not every separatist theatre group, writer, painter or composer is currently on a Canad a Council grant or fettered to Radio-Canada or the National Film Board. The report also makes note elsewhere of the socalled culture of the rest of Canada, which is to dismiss arbitrarily a good many talented \ artists, among them Bobby Orr. On the other hand, indigenous fwork is fulsomely praised as “an outpouring of works of art (that) is proof of the fertility of Quebec’s genius.” The truth is no work of genius has so far emerged from either English or French Canada, but there has been in both an increasSSiviSSií ing number of talented works in which we can all take honest pride.

It is, I think, not too much to expect that a report on culture would be informed by wit, a certain grace, written in language that was at least literate. Alas, this report is composed in an idiom that has the resonance of stamped tin throughout its many pages. Though it is rich in references to Quebec’s undeniably romantic, sometimes even tragic, past, it nowhere evokes the true spirit of French Canada—a culture I, for one, continue to celebrate. What we have here is a display of bureaucratic weeds.

Take heart. M. Laurin is no longer to be feared. In the Quebec I cherish a solemn fool and his constituency are soon parted.