This year during Montreal’s festive and joyous Gay Pride Parade, a moment occurred that crystallized the Quebec elections for me. The contingent from the separatist Parti Quebecois came to a halt in front of us and they immediately began chanting their election slogan: “À nous de choisir! À nous de choisir!” In English, which they of course would never use: “It is up to us to choose!” (The “us” being francophones of the proper pedigree.)
In that instant it became clear to me that they were bullies and bigots and, like all nationalists, as much about exclusion as inclusion.
Of the dozen or so people who stood in our loose group, the majority started cheering, but three of us starting booing and giving the thumbs down. One of our co-spectators tried to swat our hands down while he shouted “Non! Non!”
And therein is revealed the sad and damaged state of Quebec politics. In any European country, if a group from the majority stood up and started chanting “France for the French!” or “England for the English”, the progressive left would immediately denounce them as racist and/or fascist. In Quebec, when a separatist party chants “Quebec for the Quebecois” the progressive left stands up and cheers. If political parties in the United States introduce unilingual anti-Spanish laws and voter literacy tests, the progressive left denounces them. In Quebec, they either justify such moves or remain shamefully silent. The progressive left in Quebec is fatally damaged by a willful blindness, a failure to see that all nationalism is inherently incompatible with progressive ideals of inclusion and equality of access for all.
Another moment that highlighted the pathetic trap progressive politics has fallen into in this province came on Aug 22. As I walked home I kept running into small groups of students and their supporters. There had been a march in favour of lower tuition fees, just as there had been protests of this type on the 22nd of every month since March. I noticed that the vast majority of students wore pins supporting one nationalist-separatist party or the other: Parti Quebecois, Quebec Solidaire, Option Nationale and I found this ironic and depressing.
Here are the students fighting for free, accessible education at the same time as they support parties that all in their own various ways want to limit student access to one of the key tools for success in this globalized economy: English.
In China they start teaching English to every student beginning in grade one. India has English as a secondary official language and is producing literally hundreds of millions of educated, bilingual youth. It is odd to meet a European under the age of 30 who does not have at least some proficiency in English. For better or for worse, English will remain the lingua franca of business, politics, science, academics and diplomacy for at least the next century.
The further cynical twist on all this is that the political elites of Quebec know this full-well and, at the same time as they promise to deny and limit the average Quebecker’s access to English education, they have all sent their children to private schools and/or foreign universities to ensure they have the skills — including English — that they will need to rule over the fiefdom should their separatist dreams ever come true.