Tuesday, November 29, 2016


For the third part of my inadvertent Propaganda Trilogy... Er... Well, in case you missed it, part one was about how Maclean's Martin Patriquin distorts issues and twists words in order to misinform his readers about Quebec. Part two was on the prezel-like über-twisting of Jean-François Lisée's words by the media as part of their never-ending mission to delegitimize Quebec sovereignists by labeling them as intolerant. And now, in part three, I will look at a bit of propaganda that has been repeated so often that it has practically become dogma. I am referring to the Exodus Myth! This myth has recently been recounted once again in honour the 40th anniversary of the PQ's first election victory:
"The impressive bank towers of the famous Toronto skyline, and the city’s unquestioned standing as the heart of Canada’s financial services industry, owe much to Lévesque and the PQ."
But I think a better telling of this myth can be found in this Globe and Mail article from a few years back:
"After the Second World War, Montreal was undoubtedly the country's premier city. It had the biggest population, the best parties -- Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics -- a lovely historic centre, a vibrant café culture and, most importantly, economic power. With a little effort, it could have buried upstart Toronto. 
Then came Mr. Lévesque's Parti Québécois, with its Draconian language laws and rejection of all things national. The anglo population -- the business class -- took the path of least resistance and fled to Toronto. Large companies, led by Sun Life, followed. Dull, constipated Toronto began to thrive and soon replaced Montreal as Canada's economic and cultural centre, all because of the Montreal diaspora. Toronto should erect a 50-metre statue of Mr. Lévesque in gratitude."
This myth is meant as a cautionary tale. It's the story of a bad little ethnic group that imagined itself to be a nation and thought it could set its own rules, but then all of the money flew away. Poor, stupid little Quebec! The moral of the story is that it's best to keep your head down, go with the flow, and submit to the dominant ideology.

A few facts

It is, of course, a fact that Toronto overtook Montreal as an economic center during the 20th century, but to make the PQ or Quebec nationalism the scapegoat of this economic shift is extremely dishonest.

The first signs of this shift began decades before the PQ came into existence. The Toronto Stock Exchange surpassed Montreal's Stock Exchange in trading volume in the 1930s, and it is a position Toronto never relinquished. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s Toronto outgrew Montreal by quite a bit. If you're only looking at the cities themselves then, yes, it looks as though Toronto finally overtook Montreal in the late 1970s, but as an economic unit, Toronto had really been larger than Montreal for many years. This is because Toronto forms the center of a collection of satellite cities and towns, in addition to its suburbs, which is called a "conurbation." Toronto’s conurbation, which curves around the western end of Lake Ontario, has been nicknamed the Golden Horseshoe.

Montreal’s economic growth, on the other hand, was not enough to create a conurbation. It was contained withing the city and its suburbs. That is why it is deceptive to compare population sizes of the two cities and jump to the conclusion that not until the 1970s had they become more or less equal in economic terms. Toronto supplanted Montreal as Canada’s chief economic center considerably before that, probably before 1960. Again, all of this occurred before Mr. Lévesque's Parti Québécois and its "Draconian language laws."

Why did this shift occur? There are many reasons but put simply, Montreal was the gateway to the inner continent and so it became Canada’s economic center. With the development of the inner continent on both sides of the border, the economic center of gravity moved west and Toronto benefited from this. The development of infrastructure like canals, railways and of course the St. Lawrence Seaway made this shift possible. It should be noted that prior to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, all ocean-going vessels had to stop in Montreal to unload goods which were then shipped to the Great Lakes on smaller vessels or by rail. The Seaway made it possible for ocean-going vessels to simply bypass Montreal.

We can also point to other culprits like the Auto Pact which helped the automotive industry supplant the pulp and paper industry as the number one industry in Canada. Most of the jobs that resulted from this pact were created in southern Ontario. And so people flocked to the Golden Horseshoe with an estimated 1,000 a month arriving between 1956 to 1961. Between 1965 and 1971, the Toronto Metropolitan Area alone gained 185,530 Canadian migrants. These people came from all over Canada including Quebec.

It is true that there was a spike in out-migration from Quebec following the election of the PQ in 1976, and many of the people leaving were undoubtedly anglophones heading for Toronto, but demographically they were just a drop in the bucket. Their exodus was definitely not responsible for an economic shift that had been going on for decades, nor can we say that Quebec nationalism was the cause of this shift.

The truth is actually the other way around. It was the economic shift from Montreal to Toronto that made a francophone renaissance in Montreal possible and this lead to a new Québécois nationalism. Had Montreal remained the economic center of Canada, all of the people who flocked to Toronto would have come to Montreal instead making Quebec's metropolis an English city and Quebec culture would have remained a museum piece frozen in time as Jane Jacobs described in her wonderful book The Question of Separatism.

Fraser's creative interpretations

Like all good myths, the details often change in its retelling but the moral of the story is generally the same. 

A few months ago a right-wing propaganda mill, the Fraser Institute, produced a study about the inter-provincial migration patterns of Canadians. For some reason, they decided to make it all about Quebec. Their conclusions, which were uncritically repeated in the media, is that Quebec has lost 600,000 people to other provinces since 1971. In the study itself, the authors don't give a clear explanation as to why people seem to be fleeing but they suggest that something is very wrong with Quebec because as the Fraser Institute explains, "The movement of people from one place to another, migration, can be a powerful indicator of a jurisdiction’s success or failure" In fact, the subtitle of their so-called study is "QUEBECKERS VOTE WITH THEIR FEET."

The problem comes when you actually read their shoddy report because it says the following:
"Quebec experienced the lowest level of total out-migration of any of the provinces over the period from 1971/72 to 2014/15. In 2014/15, Quebec experienced out-migration of 3.9 people per 1,000 population while Ontario experienced out-migration of 5.1 people per 1,000 population. The remaining eight provinces recorded out-migration per 1,000 population of between 9.2 (British Columbia) and 23.5 people (Prince Edward Island)."
"Put simply, Quebec had the most stable domestic population in terms of out-migration among the provinces over the period from 1971/72 to 2014/15."

So there you have it, fewer people have left Quebec than any other province. Is that a sign of our success? Aren't Quebecers voting with their feet by staying? The problem is that "Quebec also recorded the lowest level of in-migration of any province between 1971/72 and 2014/15" and so their is a deficit (with the other provinces). Overall, Quebec's population is growing, of course. 

The population of Quebec was 6,027,765 in 1971 and is 8,294,656 today. On the other hand, the population of Newfoundland went from 522,100 in 1971 to 514,536 in 2011. And it is predicted that province’s population will fall to 482,000 by 2035. In fact, the population of Newfoundland is expected to shrink more over the next two decades than in any other part of Canada. So why didn't the Fraser Institute decide to focus this study on Newfoundland? I get the feeling the authors were intent on making a point specifically about Quebec regardless of anything else.

In interviews with the media, the authors gave what they believe are the reasons for Quebec's inter-provincial migration deficit and it basically boils down to high taxes, an anti-business environment, and a relatively closed society. The most obvious reason, language, was barely mentioned. But the fact is, 42% of Quebecers are bilingual whereas the same is true for only 9% of Canadians from outside of Quebec. So moving to Quebec and living and working in a French-speaking environment is simply not feasible for the vast majority of them, hence, they don't move here. Case closed! Who knows, perhaps the constant anti-Quebec propaganda in the Canadian media is also a factor. 

The Fraser Institute obviously started out with their own right-wing, Quebec bashing conclusions and then tried to make the data fit, but it doesn't really. They must have felt confident that no one in the Canadian media would challenge them on their bullshit... and they were right! These right-wing ideologues loath Quebec's more interventionist model and so they've basically recycled the old Exodus Myth in order to attack it. The moral of the story is essentially the same: a bad little ethnic group thought it could set its own rules with disastrous consequences. It's best to keep your head down, go with the flow, and submit to the dominant ideology.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A more inclusive Bill 101

Recently, there was an opinion piece in the Gazette by Deepak Awasti and Murray Levine which called for a "more inclusive" Bill 101. It's hard to believe that it took two people to write this gibberish but nonetheless the article does contain some of the fallacies that are routinely repeated by the opponents of the Charter of the French language, so it is worth addressing. 

An anglophone minority?

The authors attempt to frame this issue in the context of an oppressive francophone "majority" and a beleaguered anglophone "minority." Quebec, however, does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a part of the world where English is the dominant, majority language and speakers of this language enjoy all of the benefits of this majority status even when they are a numerical minority, like in Quebec. This fact cannot be simply ignored. It's a rather important detail. Anglophones are a minority in Quebec like white people are a minority in Detroit. It's not really something that marginalizes them in any way.

In fact, when a group of anglophones went before the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in the 1980s claiming that they were victims of violations of article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee observed that "provisions of article 27 refers to minorities in States", which English-speaking people in Canada are not. It stated that the "authors therefore have no claim under article 27 of the Covenant."

But even if we consider Anglo-Quebecers as a real minority, they have an enviable situation compared to other minorities. Quebec anglophones have their own publicly funded schools system, which they control. This includes three English-only universities that get almost a third of all government financing for higher education. There are roughly 15 hospitals in Quebec where you are guaranteed service in English. Most government services are available in English on demand. All laws passed in Quebec are written in French and English. You have the right to use English in the National Assembly. In fact, anglophones in Quebec have the right to demand that all of their court proceedings be in English. Therefore a judge in Quebec must be able to render verdicts and pass sentence in English. 

We just need to compare to see the stark differences. In the Greater Sudbury region of Ontario where francophones make up 28% of the population there is only one partially bilingual hospital where, in the words of Denis Constantineau, director of the Sudbury Community Health Center, you can be admitted to the hospital in French, but you will likely die in English because the more you progress in the system, fewer French services are offered.

A study conducted by the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada concluded that: "…access to health care services in French for Franco-Ontarians is severely lacking in hospital services, community health centers, medical clinics, and home care: these four sectors cover most health care services available in Ontario. Hospital emergency services are often the key entry point to the health care system, yet three quarters of Franco-Ontarians are denied such access in their language. 74% of Franco-Ontarians said they have either no access at all or rarely access to hospital services in French. In fact, only 12% claimed that they could access hospital services in French at all times."

Or as we recently saw in the Caron case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Alberta had no constitutional obligation to translate its laws into French. So Quebec anglophones have rights that francophones in most of English Canada do not have.

And setting aside the issue of rights, there is the omnipresence of American and Canadian media (magazines, newspapers, music, TV shows, computer software and video games) which means that the English language occupies a prominent place in Quebec regardless of anything else. Two of the twelve daily newspapers in Quebec are published in English. 19% of magazines and other periodicals published in Quebec are in English. There are 15 English radio stations in Quebec (vs. 11 in 1970). And 35% of all movies shown in theaters in Quebec are in English. All of this leads to English having a greater power of attraction over French even in Quebec.

No real linguistic minority has a situation anywhere near as good as this. Anglophones in North America, whether they are in Quebec or not, are simply not a minority. They are part of the overwhelming majority. The real minority in this story are the North American francophones. Trying to remove this fact from the context is dishonest.

The sign law

Quebec's sign law seem to produce most of the hysteria from Quebec's anglophone community. It is their most tangible evidence for oppression. I admit that the original version of this law (the French only version) was controversial even though I don't think it violated freedom of expression which is meant to protect the pluralism of political, ideological and artistic expression and is only remotely related to commercial signs. And even with that version of the law, anglophones in Quebec continued to do business in English. The sign law did not prevent anglophone merchants from advertising in English on radio and television and in newspapers, neighborhood publications, etc. It only affected commercial signs. But why regulate the language of commercial signs?

I often compare Quebec's sign law to regulations which aim to preserve a city's unique architectural heritage. Many cities around the world have regulations regarding new construction to ensure that these buildings are architecturally and contextually compatible with the existing streetscape. The reason for this is that some cities have a very unique architectural style and the people who live in these cities wish to preserve it. If they allow people to build whatever they want, over time, that unique style could vanish. 

Quebec is the only French-speaking society in North America. A majority of Quebecers want to preserve this unique trait and feel that people who do business here should contribute to this uniqueness instead of contributing to the dominant current of cultural homogenization. And so, we have regulations to ensure that the “visage linguistique” in Quebec remains predominately French. 

When the Supreme Court ruled against the "French only rule" of Bill 101's sign law (Ford v. Quebec), it still conceded that the purpose of the legislation —to assure the quality and influence of the French language in Quebec— was a valid one. English had become so commonplace in the “visage linguistique” of the province that it “strongly suggested to young and ambitious francophones that the language of success was almost exclusively English. It confirmed to anglophones that there was no great need to learn French. And it suggested to immigrants that the prudent course lay in joining the anglophone community.” Given this threat to the French language, the court decided that although an outright ban was unreasonable, it would not be unreasonable to require “the predominant display of the French language, even its marked predominance.” So the sign law as it exists now is based on the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. 

The idea behind Bill 101

There is no denying that Quebec is unique in that it is the only majority francophone state in North America. It is the only society on this continent where you can do pretty much whatever you want to do in life and succeed at the highest levels in French. But the existence of this francophone society in Anglo North America is precarious given the overwhelming dominance of English. Therefore, certain protectionist measures are justified. The Supreme Court of Canada could see the legitimacy of this and most reasonable people can see it too, but there are some who simply refuse to see it.

In their article Awasti and Levine claim that wanting to make French the common language of all Quebecers is excluding people. I really don't see how. Having French as the common langue in Quebec does not mean that it is the only language spoken here just as English is not the only language spoken in Toronto, but it is the common language. People don't get upset if they have to speak English to get some kind of service in Toronto, it's just normal.

Bill 101 aims to create that kind of normalcy for French in Quebec. But some people feel that it is their God-given right as Canadians to never have to speak anything other than English from sea to shining sea. Of course, francophones can never hope to expect such a thing with French, but who cares about that. Anglophones obviously have some greater value which means that they should never be expected to speak the language of "the other."

Are the authors of this article really motivated by a desire for equality and inclusiveness or could something else be motivating them? Well, as it happens, one of the co-authors (Murray Levine) has visited my Facebook page on a number of occasions, and he made the following comment during a discussion on the possible partitioning of an independent Quebec:

"With 70% against separation and the low birth rate of the Quebecois the point is moot. There is not going to be separation and there will likely be no partition. We are stuck with the pouriture of Amerique de nord until Montcalm rises from the dead and defeats Wolfe!"
Murray Levine, Why Quebec needs independence page, April 4th, 2013

Yes, that's right Murray seems to think that an entire people are nothing but rot ("pouriture" [sic] is French for "rot"). Maybe this explains why he is so vehemently opposed to the idea of French as the common language in Quebec. Maybe it's not really about a desires for a more "inclusive" Quebec after all. Maybe his opposition to Bill 101 actually comes from a much darker place. Whatever the case may be, I don't think we need any lessons on inclusiveness from Murray Levine.