MONTREAL NOW: The Ballad of the CAQ

Montreal Protests Against Bill 21. Photo Rachel Levine
(with apologies to Dr. Seuss)
The sun did not shine
It was too wet to play
So we sat in the National Assembly that day.
“Who shall we bash?”
Wondered Francois Legault.
“Anglos are old hat,
And Jews are non, non.
But, hein, lots of Muslims
Who have arrived here,
(They must all be terrorists,
We’ll have plenty to fear.)
Let’s go for the women
(They’re always fair game)
They’re brown-skinned with covering—
They look all the same.
Quebecers have spoken:
They are in great pain,
For people who move here
Are no longer “pur laine”.
We’ll uncover their heads,
Make them speak the vernacular,
And to ward off suspicion
We’ll say that we’re secular.
But let’s not stop there,”
The Premier declaimed.
“We’ll sway all Quebecers
Whether healthy or maimed.
Our party’s name
May remind you of poo,
But all we want is
To be Maîtres Chez Nous.”

So disheartening to see racism rear its ugly head in our fair city and province with the debate over Bill 21.  Under the guise of secularism, the CAQ has managed to disguise its fear of immigrants under the cover of promoting supposed secular “values”.  But the sad truth is clearly apparent.  Many Quebecers, and based on recent polls, it seems the majority, fear the incursion of “foreigners” (read Muslims) into the province.  The underlying belief is that these new immigrants will bring values that are counter to those of Quebecers, and that all too soon, they will outnumber the French population.

Montreal Protests Against Bill 21.
Montreal Protests Against Bill 21. Place Emile Gamelin. Photo Rachel Levine

Sharia Law. if you believe the paranoid, is just a decade or two away from becoming the norm.

Unfortunately, Quebec has had a long and dark history of bashing those not pur laine.  I remember when Mordecai Richler wrote his “infamous piece” about Quebec in the New Yorker, he was vilified in the French media and taken to task for daring to assert that we were not nearly as liberal as we claimed to be.

Having lived through at least two (or were there more?) referendums on sovereignty, the first in 1980 and the second in 1995, and having chosen to remain in Quebec, I find that it is depressing that there is this constant undercurrent of unease on the part of the French population toward those who are not “one of them”.  When I went to vote in 1995, I had unpleasant encounters with neighbors who had always been friendly and with whom we had switched back and forth easily between English and French, so much so that I felt like making and wearing a button that said “Votons avec notre tête carrée”, a variation of what has now become the slogan of the QS Party.  I even thought at that time of forming and heading a party called the Bloke Québécois, despite English being my third language and my appearance, mannerism, and culture as being decidedly eastern European.

And who can ever forget Quebec’s then Premier Jacques (Black Jack) Parizeau on that fateful night in 1995 when the decision to separate from Canada was narrowly defeated by 1% point? Parizeau, dressed as always like an English banker (he loved to pepper his comments to the media in English with expressions learned during his studies in London like “By Jove” and “bloody”) came out to speak, totally looped.  It was truly surreal, as he swayed and ranted, blaming “money and the ethnic” vote” on Quebec’s unrealized dream of becoming a nation.  Sad, very sad, but the remnants of this live on, unfortunately, to this day.  He had once again opened the Pandora’s box of “ethnicity,” creating the inevitable suspicions, and now Legault and his gang are doing the very same thing.

I remember shortly before that referendum driving to the east end of Montreal.  At the corner of Notre Dame and Frontenac near the river, there was a poster with a lovely Chinese girl on it next to the PQ party symbol.  A lengthy passage followed that, roughly translated, read: “Eyes that are slanted, but the heart of a Québécoise.”  It was truly shocking to read this and it made me briefly wonder if the Language Police would be given a new mandate, which was to force compulsory EKG-s on all immigrants to see if they really had the “heart of a Québécois” and their phrenologists to measure how square our heads may be.

Driving recently to Ottawa, I noticed a sign on the highway paid for by the Bloc Québécois (you know, those politicians with no official party status in the House of Commons who want Quebec to separate from Canada, yet who are so willing to collect their MP pensions after the fact in Canadian dollars…) that read:

Quebec knows what’s right for Quebec. Thank you.

A clear reference to Bill 21, despite the redundancy.

It will be interesting to see where this debate will lead, whether there will be enough decent Quebecers to shame this government into admitting that racism and prejudice has no place here.

Or will the CAQ appear in the next election with a new slogan, appropriated from the Parti Vert:

“Pour L’Amour D’Un Québec Blanc”?

1 Comment on MONTREAL NOW: The Ballad of the CAQ

  1. Gail Gagnon // April 15, 2019 at 3:56 pm //

    Excellent commentary! I especially liked” Le Bloke Quebecois”

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