SPECIAL REPORT

‘A SENSE OF FOREBODING’

ANGLOPHONES REACH A CROSSROADS

BARRY CAME April 13 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

‘A SENSE OF FOREBODING’

ANGLOPHONES REACH A CROSSROADS

BARRY CAME April 13 1992

‘A SENSE OF FOREBODING’

SPECIAL REPORT

ANGLOPHONES REACH A CROSSROADS

It looms over the corner of Pine and Park avenues in downtown Montreal, a yellowbrick building on the slopes of Mount Royal that is both a monument to a glorious past—and a symbol of an uncertain future. For 61 years, Thomas D’Arcy McGee High School epitomized the vitality of Montreal’s English-speaking community. Many of the voices that once echoed in its corridors belonged to students who have since gone on to distinguished careers. Canada’s auditor general, Denis Desautels, once walked D’Arcy McGee’s hallowed halls, as did Quebec International Affairs Minister John Ciaccia, Hollywood actor Michael Sarrazin and Canadian football legend Terry Evanshen. But when the current school year ends, D’Arcy McGee, the oldest English-language public secondary school in the Montreal Catholic School Commission— and one of the best—will close, yet another tombstone in the recent history of Quebec’s declining anglophone population. “It’s depressing to watch your background disappear,” complains longtime Montreal city councillor Nick Auf der Maur, another D’Arcy McGee alumnus. “But this is just one more symptom of the process that is constantly shrivelling Montreal’s Anglo community.”

Symbols of the anglophone community’s decay are scattered throughout the city. Other schools have been transferred to French school boards or have been closed, the buildings now used for storage. In predominantly Englishspeaking enclaves such as the suburban West Island, For Sale signs dot the lawns of wellmaintained bungalows—evidence of the nervousness gripping anglophones as Quebec braces for the possibility of an October referendum on the province’s future. Since the 1960s—and the terrorist bombs of the FLQan estimated 300,000 more anglophones have left the province than have moved to Quebec. The rate of outward migration peaked with the departure of 131,000 anglophones between ^ 1976 and 1981, the first five years of the Parti | Québécois’s nine years in office. Now, the § province may be poised on the edge of another ^ large exodus—one that could signal the end of | Quebec’s once vibrant anglophone community. 3 Several prominent Quebec politicians, includ“ ing PQ Leader Jacques Parizeau and Bloc Québécois Leader Lucien Bouchard, have tried to allay the anglophone community’s fears. And many francophones say that the concerns of their anglophone colleagues are wildly exaggerated. But, says Robert Keaton, president of

the English-rights lobby group Alliance Quebec: “There is a clear sense of foreboding. You get the feeling that a lot of people are getting ready to leave this time around if the climate does not markedly improve.”

Among some anglophones, the mood is marked by more than just foreboding. Noted one 35-year-old West Island businessman: “I am liquidating my assets and preparing to move. I was bom and bred here. But at a certain point, you get fed up fighting for your rights.” The man declined to reveal his name for fear of undermining client confidence in his business, which caters mostly to anglophones. But others clearly fear that commenting on Quebec’s linguistic divisions will only invite criticism. Declares another anglophone businessman, who adds that he is determined to remain in Quebec: “At least 80 per cent of my clients are French. There is no way I am going to say anything against them or Quebec.” Attack: Those who do speak out often find themselves under attack, as illustrated by the acerbic debate over novelist Mordecai Richler's best-selling Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! But while many English-speaking critics agree that Richler may have overstated his criticism of the policies and attitudes of Quebec’s francophone majority, it is equally clear that the anger and frustration underlying his writing is shared by many of Quebec’s remaining anglophones. According to the 1986 census, the

province is home to some 580,000 people whose mother tongue is English, and another 100,000 who speak English at home, out of a total provincial population of 6.5 million. Says Mia King, 25, a bartender at a downtown Montreal bar: “Anglophones do not see a future here. They do not know where the province is going.”

King, for one, says that she is “pretty much bilingual.” But, she complains, “I find that when you go to job interviews, people want to know, ‘Are you perfectly bilingual?’ Well, I am not perfectly bilingual. My mother tongue is English. What do you expect?” She added: “A lot of people feel that because they have an English name they will be passed over for a job for someone who had French as a mother tongue—even if they are equally qualified.” Said McGill University chancellor Gretta Chambers: “I think it’s obvious that the English-speaking minority, if it is to remain viable in Quebec, urgently requires recognition of the fact that English society in itself is valuable to Quebec.”

Many leading Quebecers claim that the English-speaking community is overreacting to the current political uncertainty. Bouchard, for one, says that the province’s anglophones have never fully come to terms with their loss of influence after the Quiet Revolution of the

early 1960s. “To me, it is obvious they are well treated and have nothing to complain about,” he said last year. Another outspoken nationalist, Conservative MP Jean-Pierre Blackburn, said that anglophones were crybabies, adding that they should remember that they are the most pampered minority in the world.

Happy: In fact, Bernard Landry, vice-president of the PQ, says that he knows many anglophones who are perfectly happy to remain in the province. “They have chosen to stay,” he says. “Yes, I see the young people leaving Quebec, but I also see them leaving Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. Francophones are less mobile.” At the same time, though, some francophone politicians have acknowledged that the anglophone community has legitimate concerns—and have offered them an olive branch. Montreal Mayor Jean Doré, a former aide to PQ founder René Lévesque, asked Premier Robert Bourassa last month to soften some of the provisions of Bill 178, the provincial law banning English from most commercial signs. Doré added that the migration of young, welleducated anglophones from Quebec represented “an enormous loss of skill,” adding that he hoped to see the anglophone community in his city “blossom.”

But many anglophones are openly distrustful of such exhortations. “I do not think that most

[English-speaking] people really listen to those things,” says Shereen Quraeshi, 29. Quraeshi, who was bom and raised in the West Island’s English-language environment and works for a Montreal marketing research company, adds: “I do not think anyone buys it—especially if Quebec were to become independent.”

Adding to anglophone distrust is the Quebec government’s failure to reach out to the English-speaking community. Bill 178 is still in place—in spite of a growing recognition on the part of prominent francophones, such as Doré, that the law is an embarrassment that has harmed business and tarnished Quebec’s image abroad. “Bill 178 is a millstone around the politicians’ necks and they’d like to get rid of it,” says McGill’s Chambers. “But they don’t want to move on it right now, not least because it amounts to admitting that maybe people like Mordecai Richler have been right all along.” Anglophone Quebecers have also been demanding action on the education front. Chambers, for one, recently served as chairman of a provincial government task force on English education. In February, she submitted a report that documented a dramatic 57-per-cent decline in the province’s English-school enrolment. The report also advanced 29 recommendations, the most controversial involving a partial dismantling of Bill 101. That bill, insti-

tuted by the PQ in 1977, requires all children of immigrants, no matter what their linguistic history, to enter the French-language system. If Chambers’s proposals are implemented, immigrant children with English-speaking backgrounds would be given the freedom to enrol in English schools, allowing the system to partially replenish itself. Says Chambers: “The government can help the English community stay healthy—or it can let it fade away and eventually die.”

Signals from the Quebec government about possible changes to Bill 101 have, so far, not been encouraging for anglophones. Although Bourassa has said that he is considering Chambers’s recommendations, he insists that an early decision is unlikely. Education Minister Michel Pagé initially welcomed the report, but later backtracked by saying that changes, if any, would not be implemented before the 1993-1994 school year. More militant francophone spokesmen remain firmly opposed to any concessions. Jean Dorion, president of the nationalist St. Jean Baptiste Society, flatly declares: “We think it is a good thing that immigrants must now attend French schools.”

While the language debate drags on, the English school system slowly atrophies. The impending closure of D’Arcy McGee High School is a case in point. Although it has facilities for 1,200 students, the school this year has an enrolment of just 265. More than 80 per cent of those students are descendants of Portuguese and Italian immigrants, permitted to attend English classes only because their parents or older siblings received an English-language education in Canada. New immigrants cannot send their children to D’Arcy McGee because of Bill 101. And the school is not an isolated case. Six other high schools in Montreal’s English Catholic school system have closed over the past 10 years for the same reason—a situation that is paralleled in the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. Twenty years ago, that school board had three high schools in the neighboring anglophone enclaves of NotreDame-de-Grâce and Montreal West. By the end of this year, all will have closed.

But while many anglophones say that changes to current legislation would help their community, they add that they are facing other hurdles. For one thing, they claim, it will be hard to dispel what they say is an underlying mood of intolerance among many francophones—even if Quebecers vote to remain in Confederation in a future referendum. “I asked someone for directions in Lachine,” recalls bartender King. “It just never occurred to me to say it in French. The person yelled at me, ‘Maudite Anglaise [Damned English]!’ I do not like that attitude. I am not proud of Quebec.”

Many Quebec anglophones tell similar stories. And for them, the experience of the past two decades has been profoundly un-

Born and raised in Montreal, Petcher, 27, expects to graduate in the spring from

McGill University with a degree in civil and common law. She has accepted a job offer from a large Toronto law firm and she plans to move there on May 4, leaving behind her parents and two sisters.

“Day to day, there is no animosity between the French and English in Quebec—it is a civilized province, after all. But I feel like an expatriate. It’s funny, because politically I am sympathetic to the francophones.

For centuries, they lived in an English environment, and it is hard not to be able to live in your own language. But it is precisely because of that that I am leaving.

I think I might feel more at home in Toronto. I

worked there last summer and I liked the fací that wherever I went, people understood me. I felt I could be myself more. I certainly could not do the kind of work in French that I am asked to do in Toronto, even though I am on th brink of being bilingual You need that extra edge, and if you aren’t 100 per cent effective in the language, you ar screwed. Most of my friends are moving to Toronto, too. It is a joklt; among us now. We all say, ‘Where are you going to be articling?’ and then we say, ‘See you on the 401.’ My parents will probably stay in Quebec—their lives are here now. But I think that if they had lived somewhere else, they would have been happier.”

Born in India, Mehkeri, 58, moved to Canada in 1961 and has lived in Aylmer, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River near the national capital, since 1971. In 1988, he started a consulting business in Aylmer. But in June he began a new venture, an environmental testing laboratory, in nearby Nepean, Ont. He and his wife, Charlotte, 45, have two children, Daniel, 14, and Leila, 10. They plan to move to Ottawa as soon as they sell their house.

■ “We moved here because it was a small town with a mixed English and French population, and the people were very nice. I thought, ‘In Quebec, my children can grow up and learn both languages.’ This was the

philosophy we had. But as an English-speaker,

I find that I’m discriminated against. I went to the Quebec government for help with my business, but the people there gave me a hard time. They gave me all kinds of application forms in French—but they would not provide me with English transla-

tions. The gentleman at the government office said to me, ‘If you want to do business here, you’d better be fluent.’ That put me off completely. I have tried to learn French, but it’s a long process. The atmosphere here is degenerating. I feel much more comfortable doing business in Ontario.”

settling. At the time of Confederation, anglophones represented almost a quarter of the province's population. Anglophones also made up more than 50 per cent of the population of Montreal, a city that until 1914 had a firm tradition of alternating Englishand Frenchspeaking mayors. And although they were always a minority in Quebec, anglophones until the 1950s and into the 1960s wielded effective control over the province’s economy—to the lasting resentment of francophones.

In fact, many anglophones say that they understand the historical anger among some francophone Quebecers. Richler, for one, acknowledges in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! that in the 1950s francophone Quebecers “felt them-

selves to be second-class citizens at home,” adding that “certainly there is something in that, something that led to Quebec’s so-called Quiet Revolution and its rallying cry of ‘Maîtres chez nous [Masters in our own house].’ ” But he goes on to write that “the era in question skidded to an abrupt end 30 years ago,” and that “francophones are still doggedly fighting against injustices that no longer exist.” Other anglophone Quebecers echo that view. Noted King: “My friends and I do not want to oppress the francophone culture and people. Montreal is such a great city because of the French culture.

A 50-year-old high-school teacher who plans to take early retirement in June, Walter McGee is a descendant of Irish immigrants who settled in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in the early 1800s. His 47-year-old wife, Irene—unlike her husband, she is bilingual— comes from a family of Irish and French Quebecers. In June, the couple plan to move from ValJoli, a township near Sherbrooke, with their son, Kevin, 18, and daughters Kelly, 15, and Kimberly, 11, to Picton, Ont., a small town on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, where they recently purchased a bungalow and 55 acres of land. McGee says the decision to leave Quebec was a diïïicult one.

■“I had planned to stay here after retiring and take care of my plants and apple trees. But we finally decided to leave because of the politics here in Quebec. I have no interest whatsoever in staying in a province where individual rights take second place to the rights of the majority. It aggravates

me that I cannot even see an English sign. There comes a point when, for the survival of your own culture, you have to go. I am going to miss all my friends—both English and French— around this area, but I am not going to miss the political atmosphere in Quebec at all.”

But we would like to keep some rights. People say Montreal is a little bit of Europe. Well, a little bit of Europe has a little bit of English.” Meanwhile, the drain continues, especially among the anglophone community’s youth. Last summer, the anglophone-rights lobby group Alliance Quebec surveyed 1,000 Quebecers at the province’s three English-language universities and five junior colleges. It found that 35 per cent of those polled planned to leave the province after graduation. And 70 per cent said that they would leave if Quebec became independent. “Young people are questioning whether Quebec society is truly committed to sustaining them here,” says Donald Wells, a senior vice-president at the Royal

Bank of Canada and chairman of an Alliance Quebec task force on the young anglophone exodus. “Many believe certain jobs won’t be open to them because, regardless of their language skills, their first language and their name are not French.”

Statistics from Quebec’s public service seem to bolster such a pessimistic view. As of March 31 last year, the entire 60,000-member provincial civil service included a mere 376 anglophones. Of the City of Montreal’s 14,000 employees, virtually all are francophones. And none of the 140 senior positions at city hall is

held by an anglophone. For its part, the Quebec government has announced a program to ensure that the provincial civil service reflects the province’s population—with anglophones holding about 10 per cent of the jobs. But no target dates have yet been announced.

Job prospects are not much better in the private sector, although that has as much to do with the current bleak economic climate as it does with any discrimination—real or perceived—on the part of Quebec’s francophone majority. And the bleak outlook is prompting some anglophones to question whether their declining numbers can sustain a community. Says Montrealer Donald Johnston, president of the Liberal Party of Canada: “The question is, has the anglophone community bottomed?”

While demographers debate that question, many Quebec anglophones acknowledge that their community has reached a crucial turning point. “I think the next couple of years are going to be very important, maybe even a watershed, for Quebec’s anglophones,” says Robert Libman, leader of the anglophone-rights Equality party. “If the constitutional process leads to Quebec separation, we will witness another mass exodus. If we somehow get past the constitutional hurdle, Anglos are going to be looking at how the government handles the Chambers report and Bill 178. If both of those issues are pushed aside, that will most likely persuade most anglophones that there is no real future for them in this province.” Some have already arrived at that conclusion. Reports abound about anglophone Quebecers’ “getting liquid”—selling assets such as real estate and converting the proceeds into cash or some other easily transportable form. Others are waiting—and coming to terms with the emotionally wrenching decision that may await them. Says Quraeshi: “I have been told, ‘You stay and hold the fort regardless of how bad it gets.’ But I ask, ‘Are you going to be one person left, with a big fence around you, holding a torch and knowing nobody?’ ” For his part, the Liberals’ Johnston says that leaving “would be very, very difficult for me. Emotionally, I am a Quebecer. This is my home.” But a home must be hospitable—and for many Quebec anglophones, that is clearly no longer the case.

BARRY CAME

NANCY WOOD