'Immigrants get the impression they are coming to the bilingual state of Canada, whereas Quebec is French, not bilingual’


First of all, congratulations. You are now one of the only women leaders of a provincial party in Canada. Yes. Thank you.

And congratulations for getting elected the head of the Parti Québécois on the third try. In English, we have an expression: third time’s a charm.

A: [Laughs] Yes! The third one worked.

Q: Why did you decide to come into politics last year, after retiring?

A: Because Quebec is my life’s cause. I’ve been a member of the party for over 30 years, and I’ve always believed that one day Quebec will be sovereign, and if I can help the cause, I would offer my services.

Q: You have united the activists within the Parti Québécois, something even René Lévesque wasn’t able to do. How did you do it?

A: I did it by having faith in people, and being very clear in my intentions. When I decided to come back, I did it on the condition that I was able to put the discussion of referendums to the side.

Q: Yes, you recently struck down the obligation of holding a referendum within the first term of a PQ government. Even Stéphane Dion is happy with you, and Canadians everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief.

A: I understand, but at the same time we have to be clear. We might well have a referendum some day. I’m keeping the door open. What I took away was having a referendum quickly. It’s still possible that we might have

one within the first term if we come to the conclusion that the population is ready to be asked the question again. But for now we will talk about the plan for a country, rather than the way of getting there.

Q: But by putting an end to the obligation, you’ve effectively said that promising to hold a referendum has made the Parti Québécois unelectable. Why do you think Quebecers are so allergic to the concept of a referendum?

A: Because each time it makes life hard. It forces people to reflect on what they are, and what they want to be. And there are always people who are scared. Coming back to the debate isn’t interesting to these people, they are scared in a way.

Q: Is it necessarily fear that makes them vote against sovereignty, would you say?

A: It’s fear, and it’s the friction it creates among people and even in families. Some are for, some are against. It’s not easy to live through. It’s normal that this happens, because it’s a major decision, and we can’t make it without a discussion beforehand.

Q: Yes. You’ve said that you want to hold a Quebec-wide debate on sovereignty. It seems to me, though, that we’ve been having this debate for 30 years.

A: It’s been longer than that.

Q: So we’ve already had that debate, and it seems we’re going in circles.

A: Actually, we’re not. In the 1995 referendum, there were a few thousand votes separating the yes and no votes, and I remain convinced that the money spent illegally

on the huge “love-in” in Montreal had an impact. If that hadn’t happened, we might have won. In Quebec, there is a society of people who speak French, who have a culture and a history that differentiates us from the rest of the world, and we are justified in pursuing our own country, and because there is resistance or people who don’t believe in it doesn’t mean that the project isn’t valid. We have to start the discussion and the debate once again.

Q: Tell me about your plan for a Quebec citizenship.

A: What the citizenship entails is that, like any country in the world, we define what citizenship is. Here, it is equality between men and women, secularism within government institutions, the predominance of French and the ability to speak French. They are the same conditions that apply to Canada, except that instead of having to understand one of the two languages you have to know French. People would have to pass an exam. Those who don’t have Quebec citizenship wouldn’t lose their rights, except this: those who do not speak French cannot run as a candidate in any election within Quebec.

Q: Would people have to renounce their Canadian citizenship?

A: No. There are a lot of countries in the world that allow dual citizenship.

Q: During the last few weeks you’ve suggested that young Quebecers should be bilingual by the time they finish high school. You

were roundly criticized by several members of your own party.

A: I believe that our children should know at least two languages, even three. Obviously, because we are in North America and we live in an English environment, knowing the language is a benefit. At the same time, there is a difference between someone who knows two languages and a bilingual state. Quebec is not a bilingual state. It is French, where there is an English minority whose rights are respected. But it is important to be able to live in Quebec solely in French.

Q: How’s your English these days?

A: It’s going better. People have made fun of me because of it, and I make mistakes, but it’s not so bad.

Q: Some of the more fervent sovereignists say that bilingualism is the first step toward assimilation.

A: In a way, sovereignty would allow us to reinforce the French fact of Quebec, and would send a message to those who come here that we are not a bilingual state. Immigrants get the impression that they are coming to the bilingual country of Canada, whereas Quebec is French. Being our own country would remove the risk of becoming a bilingual country.

Q: You’ve spoken a fair bit about how French is in decline in Montreal. But according to recent statistics, the use of French at work has actually gone up in the last five years. It’s not a decline of French, but a decline of native francophones. Where’s the problem?

A: There remains among immigrants a tendency to drift toward the English language. The problem we see is that, even though there are more and more immigrants who speak French, the usage of French has only gone up by a tiny bit. We see that in certain areas and in certain businesses in Montreal, there is a tendency to speak English first. That is a slippery slope towards bilingualism, and in our national identity law we propose enforcing the French language charter on smalland medium-sized businesses, which isn’t the case right now.

Q: What were your impressions of the recent hearings on reaso?iable accommodations here in Quebec?

A: What I found difficult and a little sad was the exaggerated, somewhat extreme comments made by certain individuals. But there were some very important and productive discussions that went on, which I think will help us live better together. The mandate was to find ways to better integrate new arrivals to Quebec, and I hope the commission report gives us guidelines to do so.

Q: I thought it showed how profoundly divided we are, as though we as Quebecers don’t know what to do. Do you see that division?

AI think the commission provoked that in a way, and I don’t think people are nearly that divided in dayto-day life. Still, I think it’s very important immigrants know about the society where they live. The problem we have now is that people immigrate to Canada, not to Quebec. Quebec citizenship would put an end to that ambiguity: the state is secular, and it is French. When we become a country it will be easy to affirm this.

Q: But Quebec already controls much of its own immigration policy. Would sovereignty really bring a change in the mentality of new arrivals?

A: Yes. It will send an unambiguous message to them.

Q: The PQ has a habit of stabbing its leaders in the back. You could argue that every leader save for Jacques Parizeau was forced out by his own supporters. How are you going to avoid this?

A: The PQ is a party of ideas and there is a lot of debate, and that’s fine. It’s a coalition where there are more people on the left, but also in the middle and on the right. It’s difficult at times, but it makes the party that much more interesting. Being criticized by people within my party is part of the job, and I knew this before getting here. I’m used to it.

1 We may have a referendum. But for now we’ll talk about a plan for a country, not how to get there’

Q: How did your family react when you came back?

A: I’ve consulted my family for all the big decisions of my life. My husband and my kids all told me that if I didn’t come back I might regret it. My husband finds it difficult some days, because he gets attacked personally and people tell lies about him in the newspapers. But we put this to the side—that’s part of political life.

Q: We are in the midst of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. Shoidd the Queen have been invited to participate in the celebration?

A: No. We are celebrating the birth of a French state in North America.

Q: But it’s also the foundation of Canada, don’t forget.

A: Yes, but it’s also the celebration of the francophone capital of Quebec, and in this sense I think it would have been a provocation for her to be here.

Q: So Stephen Harper made a good move by not inviting her, then.

A: [Laughs.] Yes he did. M