CANADA

Outrage in the West

An angry reaction to Bourassa’s decision

JOHN HOWSE January 2 1989
CANADA

Outrage in the West

An angry reaction to Bourassa’s decision

JOHN HOWSE January 2 1989

Outrage in the West

CANADA

An angry reaction to Bourassa’s decision

In Western Canada, the reaction was swift and often visceral. Indeed, in the wake of Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa's decision to override the federal and Quebec charters of rights by banning the use of English on outdoor store signs, many westerners expressed anger—and dismay. Some francophones said that they feared a possible backlash outside Quebec. Other westerners said that the Quebec premier’s decision undermined years of work toward a bilingual Canada—and warned of an impending drift back toward hostility between French and English. Said Calgary design consultant Harold Finkleman: “It is the final slap in the face for EnglishCanadians who tried to support bilingualism.” Still, some Canadians in the West—where anti-Quebec sentiment is never far from the surface—urged caution. “Bourassa is in a bad spot,” said Bert Brown, national chairman of the 8,000-member Triple-E Senate Reform Committee, which is campaigning for a stronger western voice in national affairs through an elected Senate. He added: “I just hope enough westerners can see the problem he faces. Fortunately the hotheads are a minority.”

But on radio shows and in newspaper editorials, heightened invective greeted the Quebec premier’s action. The Vancouver Sun, calling the decision “a bitter blow to national unity,” declared, ‘Mr. Bourassa has told members of the province’s large anglophone minority to stick their language where the sun don’t shine.” And the Calgary Herald said, “Bourassa was cowed by one minority—francophone fanatics—into trampling on the rights of another minority, anglophone Quebecers.” French-speaking westerners, meanwhile, said that the highly emotional reaction had left them feeling vulnerable. Said Vincent Pigeon, director of British Columbia’s Chambre de commerce franco-colombienne, the province’s francophone Chamber of Commerce: “We fear that Victoria will adopt the attitude of ‘Quebec is not doing anything for the English, why should we bother with the French here?’ Others, though, noted that in recent years there have been signs of growing openness toward the minority-language issue in the West. With Bourassa’s decision to override the charter, the question was how much of that goodwill would survive the latest storm.

JOHN HOWSE in Calgary with HAL QUINN in Vancouver

JOHN HOWSE

HAL QUINN