Robert Libman: Quebec nationalist orthodoxy needs a reality check

Where is the political leadership willing to stand up to the likes of Yves-François Blanchet and his brand of alarmist rhetoric?

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The leader of the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa, Yves-François Blanchet, went public this week with his feelings of “anxiety” about what he described as a “dramatic situation,” saying Montreal and the rest of Quebec are in the process of “disconnecting from one another.”

Blanchet — who wants Quebec to disconnect from Canada — said Montreal is becoming “a city at best bilingual, possibly multilingual, in an extremely passive manner in which the history, the language, values and the culture of the very generous host society are becoming marginalized.”

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Urban centres all over the world often differ politically and are more culturally diverse than their outlying regions. But in Quebec, of course, language and identity are lightning rods — and the fact that Montreal is not as homogeneous as the regions with old-stock francophones appears to be keeping nationalists like Blanchet up at night.

What’s dangerous about this is the alarmist subtext — an urgency to take major corrective action. So what is Blanchet’s proposed solution? Independence? More coercive laws? What other attempts at social engineering could address this problem?

It’s time for a reality check.

Around 1 million anglophone and allophone human beings exist in the Montreal area (most of whom speak French, by the way). Does Blanchet believe that if Quebec separates, they would all just disappear? Does he think he can prevent American TV, the internet or U.S. companies from exerting their influence here?

Quebec nationalists must wake up to this reality once and for all. But without any political leadership daring to defend this reality, nationalist orthodoxy becomes more encrusted.

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Blanchet’s paycheque indicates we’re still part of a bilingual country, but official bilingualism now seems to mean something in only nine of 10 provinces.

The current federal government and all parties act as if the linguistic minority doesn’t exist in Quebec, despite being almost as numerous as the francophone minorities in all other provinces combined.

This week, at a public event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke for almost an hour with Michel Leblanc, president of the Chambre de commerce du Montreal métropolitain. Not a word in English as they discussed numerous economic challenges facing Quebec and Montreal.

They also discussed Trudeau’s concerns about the potential impact of another Donald Trump presidency, which garnered most of the attention. The previous day, an Angus Reid poll showed two-in-five Canadians feel U.S. politics is becoming more exclusionary, double the number who disagree. Protections on human rights are weakening, according to 65 per cent, and 71 per cent believe the rule of law is not being equally applied in that country.

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Trudeau jumped on that bandwagon, suggesting Trump and his brand of populism are in contrast with his Liberal government’s commitment to moving forward optimistically and defending democratic principles, individual rights and minorities. He suggested Quebec shares those values. 

Trudeau can behave holier-than-thou when it comes to Trump and political values in the U.S., yet he doesn’t dare call out François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec government makes a mockery of the rule of law with its pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause, running roughshod on minority rights and polarizing citizens. Nor would he challenge the Bloc leader’s alarmist subtext of his comments.

Trudeau’s session with the head of the chamber of commerce was painfully sterile, with no questions about Quebec language policies, identity politics or new signage regulations that will cost small businesses. All hamper our economic potential. Leblanc also ignored the issue of the CAQ’s recent attacks on anglo universities, with its ill-conceived tuition scheme, which the chamber initially identified as crippling for Montreal.

Trudeau and others who scoff about politics south of the border are hypocrites if they stay silent when pillars of democracy are crumbling in their own backyard.

Robert Libman is an architect and planning consultant who has served as Equality Party leader and MNA, as mayor of Côte-St-Luc and as a member of the Montreal executive committee. He was a Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election. X @robertlibman

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