Toula Drimonis: Montreal a culture apart? Duh!

There is nothing new or alarming about the urban versus rural divide, despite Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet’s protestations.

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Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet this week lamented what he finds to be an “unfortunate” new reality. There are now “two Quebecs,” he said in an interview with Canadian Press. A “bilingual, possibly multilingual” Montreal forms one Quebec, and the other Quebec is essentially the rest of the province “that looks at Montreal as if Montreal is becoming a foreign place.”

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While Blanchet’s statement — eerily reminiscent of the narrative of the “Two Americas,” an expression often used south of the border to point to deep political fractures and polarization in the U.S. — is meant to elicit concern, binary-based narratives like these are often overly simplistic.

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First, the urban versus rural divide is nothing new and certainly not unique to Quebec. Cities traditionally tend to be less homogeneous and support more liberal, multicultural perspectives, while rural areas tend to be more conservative and nationalistic. It’s perfectly natural that demographic differences and proximity to immigrant communities is reflected in the way Montreal votes and how we see the world. Diverse, polyglot cities have always felt a little foreign to anyone born and raised in small, far more homogeneous towns where change happens slower.

The obvious and perfectly natural differences between urban and rural communities aren’t necessarily the problem. Politicians who insist on hierarchizing these differences are.

To Blanchet’s way of thinking, it seems, one group (the one living in les regions) is the real and desired Quebec, and the other one … well, not so much.

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The situation is “very serious,” Blanchet continued. “It has to be one culture, one nation, with all its diversity. That’s Quebec.”

Is it?

It’s a reductive statement to make — and a deeply polarizing one at that.

Quebec has never been one monolithic culture, despite some constantly pining for those imaginary “good old days.” Not even when the colony was first founded by the French. Unless, of course, one chooses to ignore the presence of Indigenous communities on these lands. And Quebec’s regions are not nearly the monolith Blanchet claims they are. Otherwise, my Laotian friends who grew up in Shawinigan or my English friend whose family’s presence in Kamouraska goes back 140 years are erased from the Quebec I love.

Besides, Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Sherbrooke, Rouyn-Noranda, Baie-Comeau, Kuujjuaq and New Carlisle are nothing alike and it would be silly to claim that they are just because most people who live there have French as their mother tongue. Montreal, too, contains multitudes in each of its neighbourhoods.

In a similar vein, and apparently much to Blanchet’s surprise, Montreal — like most cosmopolitan port cities and urban centres — was, is and always will be a multilingual and multicultural city brimming with diversity. That doesn’t make Montreal a “foreign place” or less Quebec. It’s simply a different version of Quebec. A version Blanchet appears not to appreciate as much.

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Different doesn’t have to mean divided, unless you make it so.

Blanchet’s lament is ultimately nothing more than disdain for Montreal’s multiculturalism and multilingualism (and I suspect, voting patterns), which are not obstacles we must overcome, but fundamental elements of this city, no matter how French it is.

Quebec and Canada, like all western societies, will continue to rely on immigration to tackle low birthrates and an aging population, not to mention pressing labour shortages. As the demographics change, some will engage in a moral panic that serves no one. Politicians and pundits pointing to Montreal’s demographic plurality and linguistic diversity as problems is dangerous. They are doing a terrible disservice to both the people they accuse of negatively impacting Quebec (essentially allophones, immigrants and English-speakers) and everyone else they’re scaring into believing that demographic changes are tantamount to the demise of the French language and culture.

We need politicians who adapt to societal changes and inevitable global migration and present a collective vision that tackles today’s very real challenges. Not politicians focused on an imaginary world that never even existed.

Toula Drimonis is a Montreal journalist and the author of We, the Others: Allophones, Immigrants, and Belonging in Canada. X @toulastake

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