Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Can't see the Forest for the Trees
I've just about given up on watching the local news due to the sheer insanity that has been going on since last winter.
An under-dressed homeless man was told by a police officer to calm down or be tied to a post for an hour in the frigid weather. The ongoing commission on industrial corruption has uncovered ties between union leaders and influential politicians. A woman suffering from chest pains was kicked out of a hospital for not being able to speak French. This is the reality of living in Quebec, despite people saying that these were "isolated incidents".
The area was founded by French settlers in 1608 and called New France, but it was conquered by the British in 1759 and renamed Lower Canada. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French people residing in Canada were allowed to retain their religion and language, and could travel anywhere in safety. On paper, it seemed like a good deal. However it precipitated a long-standing resentment of the English which resonates to this day.
In the 1960s, fired up by a controversial speech by visiting French president Charles de Gaulle: "Vivre le Québec libre!" (Long live a free Quebec) a group dedicated to Quebec nationalism resorted to violence in order to get their point across. Their actions were roundly condemned but the events set the stage for civil and political upheaval which resulted in a party coming into power whose main focus was to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada. There followed relentless campaigning, two provincial referenda (that failed), numerous attempts by Ottawa to resolve the situation via special legislation (that failed), and increasing tension between the French and English speaking people in the province.
For a while we seemed to be at a crossroads as a people. There are laws in place here that limit the signage and expression of any language other than French. The previous ruling political party had tabled a bill to amend those laws to, among other things, prohibit members of the civil service from displaying or wearing religious symbols in an attempt to enforce a secular society. (Fortunately it was struck down after the change in government this past spring.)
All this had done was create more resentment and even racism toward groups who are not white, French, and Christian. And it's also an emotional smokescreen to distract people from what is really wrong in our province: political and industrial corruption, crumbling infrastructure, business closings, job losses, and an ever-growing number of people who are leaving because of social instability and the highest provincial taxes in all of Canada.
Unlike many of my peers, I have chosen to stay here this long because I love the city. My daughter has the right to get an education in both languages, which will certainly increase her prospects later on. But the "separation" storm is forever brewing on the horizon, a fact that will certainly have long-reaching effects on me, my family, and all of the people living here.