The prosperous, welltended farms and tree-covered hills of Quebec’s Brome-Missisquoi riding near the province’s border with Vermont, 50 km southeast of Montreal, present a picture of rural peace.
But behind the bucolic facade lies growing political ferment. The region’s English community, which accounts for 30 per cent of the riding’s 32,500 eligible voters, has thrown its electoral weight behind successive generations of Liberal politicians.
But as the Sept. 25 provincial election nears, anger over Premier Robert Bourassa’s controversial language policies has prompted many anglophones to rebel against the Liberals. Their tactic: the nomination of an Independent anglophone candidate,
Heather Keith-Ryan, to represent their concerns in the national assembly. Declared Keith-Ryan, 49, a bilingual real estate agent and former municipal councillor in the town of Knowlton: “We have been betrayed by this government, and people are looking for an alternative.”
The discontent in the Eastern Townships mirrors a serious problem facing Bourassa among English voters across the province. The most frequently voiced complaint: that the premier broke a promise made in the last election campaign in 1985 to allow the use of English on commercial signs. Liberal strategists acknowledged last week that anglophone support for the party has eroded. But,
with the Liberals holding 98 _
seats at dissolution, compared with 19 for the Parti Québécois—one seat is held by an Independent and four are vacant—they insisted that their control of the national assembly is in no danger. For one thing, anglophones number only 775,000 in Quebec’s population of 6.7 million. And if they vote next month, their alternatives to the Liberals are either the separatist Parti Québécois or, in a handful of cases, Indepen-
dent or fringe-party candidates with little prospect of power.
Even in Brome-Missisquoi, the chances of Keith-Ryan’s determined campaign succeeding appear slight by any conventional measure. Her $10,000 budget is far less than the $26,000 that the Liberal incumbent, Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Paradis, has said he plans to spend. In addition, disaffected anglophone Liberals have more than one choice in the riding: the Unity party, a rural version of the fledgling Montreal-based English-rights
_ Equality party, is also running
a candidate, Graham Neil, 49, a local beef farmer who is also associate dean of McGill University’s faculty of education. Keith-Ryan and her supporters have pinned some hopes on a little-known provision of the provincial electoral law that allows Quebecers who have been living outside the 0 province for less than 10
0 years to vote in the election.
1 But expatriate Quebecers § had just 10 days after BOUTES assa called the election on
2 Aug. 9 in which to register for
the privilege by mail, and by week’s end less than 850 had taken advantage of the provision. Still, Keith-Ryan insisted last week that English-speaking voters in her riding are angry enough to give her “a realistic shot” at winning. Said the Independent candidate: “People are calling me all the time offering to work on my campaign.”
Paradis, a 39-year-old lawyer who has held the riding since 1980, was taking no chances. He brought in a high-profile Liberal, Deputy Premier and Environment Minister Lise Bacon, to speak at his Aug. 14 nominating meeting in Cowansville. His organizers also read to the meeting a telegram from Bourassa that stressed Paradis’s importance in the cabinet. “Anglophones have found happy times with the Quebec Liberal party, and they have found less happy times,” Paradis told Maclean’s. “But most of them will see that we still are their best representatives.” Herbert Irwin, 80, who attended Paradis’s nomination, is one anglophone who seemed to agree. Said Irwin: “I wouldn’t say I am satisfied with everything they have done, but the Liberals are the lesser of two evils for English people.”
Ironically, PQ Leader Jacques Parizeau, who is campaigning on an independence platform, has tried to capitalize on the Anglo discontent with the Liberals. Parizeau has constantly challenged Bourassa to a campaign debate before an English-speaking audience. According to Parizeau, anglophones should not be afraid to vote for the PQ in the coming election as a protest against the Liberals, because the party’s platform calls for a series of referendums before Quebec ever declared itself independent. Added the PQ leader: “I want to show how gypped these people have been by the Liberal government.” But Parizeau’s advisers revealed that the real interest in the rebellious anglophone vote is a possibility beyond the PQ’s control: that protest candidates may attract enough votes away from the Liberals in those Quebec ridings where anglophones make up more than 10 per cent of the population to give
the PQ a winning edge.
English television networks in Quebec have offered to broadcast any Bourassa-Parizeau debate, but the premier has not agreed to the PQ leader’s challenge. Instead, Bourassa has been insisting repeatedly that English-speaking Quebecers have been well treated by his party, pointing out that he gave four anglophones important posts in his cabinet. Bourassa does not add that three of them resigned late last year in protest over his government’s Bill 178, the law prohibiting English on outdoor commercial signs in the province. And, as they prepared for the current campaign, the Liberals had difficulties attracting high-profile anglophone candidates in several key ridings. Said Bourassa of his problems in appeasing anglophone voters: “I hope that, with time passing and with a bit less emotion, the English will be more understanding of our position.” But for many in the anglophone community, a 47-day campaign may not be long enough for that to happen.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.