There is a French expression which stylishly describes parochialism: “l’esprit de clocher” — that confining narrowness of thought and vision which ignores the wide horizons beyond one’s own backyard.
The latest sudden and improvised decision by the Quebec government regarding rest-of-Canada university students exemplifies l’esprit de clocher at its narrowest and pettiest. One cannot escape the feeling that there is meanness and discrimination behind this imposition, proclaimed overnight without consultation and supporting evidence.
Indeed, we are told, by a senior Quebec minister no less, that students from the ROC are a threat to the French language, and that their conversations en anglais pollute the pure Gallic air on our streets. Despite being such a threat, mind you, they can still come and sully our sidewalks provided they are prepared to pay ransom fees.
I wonder how the minister’s graceless and offensive statement will be received by the many thousands of English-speakers who flock to the Grand Prix and to our festivals every summer. Please continue to come, but be sure to keep mum in public s’il vous plait.
Any progressive and far-seeing government values its universities and centres of research as exceptionally precious assets, and pivotal instruments for the dissemination and flourishing of knowledge and culture in all their forms, and the surest catalyst for the prosperity of the community. Our universities are the hallmarks of an advanced and progressive society.
Instead of rejoicing in their presence in our midst, acclaiming their achievements and successes, and viewing with gratitude and support their ability to attract so many thousands of students beyond our borders, our government sees our three English-language universities as a blight on the landscape, to the extent of crippling their financial stability. How small-minded and, yes, silly!
The premier is not known for welcoming opposing views and changing course. However, he should pause and note how sustained and widespread has been the opposition in this case, coming from a wide spectrum of opinion, leadership and public alike, in both the French and English speaking communities.
The premier insists, of course, it is not a decision targeting the English-speaking community, but a measure taken strictly for the protection of French. The protection of French has become the government’s mantra, repeated ad nauseam to justify every regressive and discriminatory decision affecting minority rights.
Cast aside, using the notwithstanding clause, the charters of rights and freedom to shield legislation from the courts — it is, you guessed it, for the protection of French.
Allow entry into premises and seizure of documents and equipment without warrant or court authorization — it is, you guessed it, for the protection of French.
Abolish minority school boards without their consent — it is, you guessed it, for the protection of French.
Cancel overnight an authorized and sorely-needed educational health centre at Dawson College — it is, you guessed it, for the protection of French.
Space restrictions don’t allow me to list other examples of regressive and silly rules and decisions cloaked in the mantle of protection of French.
It struck me that in the promotion of his “Year 1” budget and his quest for a sovereign Quebec, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon gave as examples Norway and the Netherlands, countries I happen to know well.
Both he and Premier François Legault, who see the English language and culture as a threat to the existence and flourishing of French, should, indeed, be inspired by the examples not only of Norway and the Netherlands, but also other countries of comparable size, such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland — all of them fiercely proud of their identity, culture and home languages. In all of them, English is taught and practised as almost a second language and viewed as a positive asset.
These countries have learned that opening your mind to other cultures and languages broadens your horizons and well-being, and that welcoming the perspective of others is the surest path toward a truly open and confident society.
Clifford Lincoln resigned from the Quebec cabinet in 1988 over the use of the notwithstanding clause in Bill 178. He later served as a federal MP. He lives in Baie-D’Urfé.
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