Talking to walls

Many english quebeckers say that this language thing is an absurd waste of time.

I guess that you are saying something like : « This language thing hurts Québec’s economy and since we live in Québec, it is our economy too. Montreal could and should be in a better position that it is now. »

And when you are saying this, we hear something like : « Your language is worthed nothing and your society is a failure. »

One would say that we seem not to speak the same language…

A unheard rational argument

And the argument that our  linguistic laws hurt our economy by driving  anglophones and businesses  out of Québec is a rational argument. Yet, francophones do not seem to care. Isn’t it strange? Why is that so?

I see two tentative explanations.

First, we tend to see our history as the history of our people as french quebeckers, more than, let’s say the history of Montreal or of the territory. We see our history like this : we lived in the country, more and more of us moved to cities, we were second class citizens in the then english Montreal ; thanks to the quiet revolution, we got more educated, we improved our situation and we closed the historical gap between english and french. That Montreal of the 50s was economicaly thriving, we don’t really care since french canadians were not economicaly thriving.We see that our situation as a social group has improved over the decades. English Montrealers care a little more about the past economic thrive of Montreal because it was the thrive of their own social group.

Second, we tend not to see the exodus of anglophones as a catastrophy. (Please, take a deep breath and let me explain a little more…) We became the majority on our territory because of a high birth rate and because of the departure of scores of anglophones gone populating the newly developping Ontario (19th century).

The division of the province of Québec in Lower and Upper Canada made us a majority on our territory. For decades, we raised money to buy land from  english quebeckers leaving for Upper Canada (and later to Ontario). Since there was then a will to assimilate us by massive english immigration (a plan that failed, because, among other things, settlers preferred the warmer southern lands, geography again…), we tend to  see the historical english migration to Ontario as a good thing. We reconquered our lands without a single gun shot.

Also, one can see the rest of North America working like a safety valve. If, let’s say, all North America spoke spanish and that  english quebeckers could then not so easily leave Québec to settle eslewhere, one could think that our fights could be a lot meaner.


7 réflexions au sujet de « Talking to walls »

  1. Anonyme

    Why were fracophones not thriving in Quebec in the 1950’s? Why were immigrants to Quebec who could not speak English or French able to persevere and succeed? You need to think fully about this. If francophones were the majority of the population and lived in a democratic province what held them alone back?

    1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

      Thank you for taking time to comment.

      Interesting questions which I have already given some thoughts to. I have no definite answer, but I have some ideas to explore. It will take a little more time to answer. I will shortly (christmas time, a lot to do in the next few days…)

      Do you have any hypothesis yourself about what kept francophones from thriving?

      Michel Patrice

      1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

        I am sorry, I don’t understand what you mean. What is a classic case of « begging the question »? My question about the ROC’s mindset or the story of you asking fellow albertans about their view? And I don’t get the « moral deficiency » part…

        English is an evocative language (as opposed to descriptive french) composed of numerous difficult to translate expressions. So could you elaborate a little on what you mean, I don’t get it…

        1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

          I just realized that this comment was not in « Montréal and Toronto, additionnal notes » but it « Talking to a wall ». It now makes a little more sense. Only a little… :)

        2. Yannick

          I was replying to the other guy, that should put it in context.

          Often, people ask the question « why did francophones not do as well as anglophones? » The question is asked rethorically, and the implied (or provided, in some cases) answer is « because they are lazy/arrogant/entitled/have a poor work ethic/etc ».

          The corollary is « why are francophones doing better now? » being explained by the ‘unfair’ advantage of the official languages act making billingualism a desireable trait for some federal jobs.

          Essentially, by the way the question is asked the assumption is made that francophones are inferior and they are solely to blame for any past grievances. It’s one of my biggest pet peevees.

  2. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

    To Anonymous22:10,

    If even immigrants succeeded, why did francophone not succeed as much?

    During the twentieth century, francophones moved massively from the country to Montreal (and of course Québec city). In the then english dominated Montreal, they were in more or less the same situation than immigrants, they had to start over in a new environment. They were immigrants too.

    Most immigrants then integrated the english community, and that community then drove the economy. Francophones, unlilke « true » immigrants, resisted assimilating to the english community, they resisted for many reasons : they already had a community here and did not feel the need to join a new one ; they had a strong national identity ; the memory of the conquest, and so on.

    (Authour and political scientist Christian Dufour reports that this same strong national identity kept french canadians in New England from assimilating to the american majority as fast as other immigrants.)

    It can be argued that their stubborned refusal to assimilate played against them and that it was pure useless stubbordness and that it would have been better if they had simply assimilate. Who knows? This is all speculation. But for what ever reason, they did not integrate the english community.

    Controlling the economy gives an edge to one’s community.

    #1 Anglophones controlled access to capital. Access to capital fuels economic development. Banks did not lend much to francophones (Mark Levine, The Reconquest of Montreal) Alphonse Desjardins created the Caisses Populaires Desjardins to overcome this problem.

    #2 Anglophones tended to prefer to hire anglophones. (Mark Levine again) The same thing goes for francos, for irish, for italians, etc. Since anglos had the best positions, their tendency to hire anglos tend to keep anglos in the best positions.

    #3 There is also the « network effect ». Opportunities were talked among anglos, in social clubs, in chamber of commerce, among neihbors and friends. Anglo and franco networks were more or less isolated from one an other. Francos simply heard of opportunities later (if ever…). (Mark Levine again)

    It has been said that francos did not succeed has much because they were less educated and they above all did not attend business schools. It is true that they did not attend business schools. One could think that we are geneticaly ungifted for business, that because of our catholic religion, we have a problem with money and success, and so on.

    I see some other explanations a little less far fetched. Since business was the anglos’s turf, francos, when studying, tend to prefer to become doctors, lawyers, notary, priest, but not business man. So they did not dominate in business, so they did not invest themselves in business, so they did not dominate in business, … You get the picture.

    On a side note, I think that our preference for state intervention has the same roots. We did not control the economy but being the overwelming majority, we controlled politics, so we invested our efforts in politics, so we preferred state intervention to free market forces. (I am simplifying of course, we are not communists and there is a strong element of right wing economic conservatism among quebeckers.)

    People simply tend to invest themselves in fields where they have a edge.

    Interestingly, my somehow rational explanations will be seen as whinings and as blaming everything on the anglos. I am not whining, I don’t live in the resentment of the « maudits anglais ».

    I simply look at my society and at its history and try to understand our present time.

    I have this crazy idea : people and nation are the way they are because of history, geography, geopolitics and so many other factors. I have this crazy idea that we did not succeed less simply because we were inferior. I think that there is a more complex explanation. I also have this crazy idea that anglos are not arrogant bastards. I have this crazy idea that they simply learned the language they parents taught them, that they did not really needed to learn french because their language already gave them access to what ever they needed.

    In this comment, I talk about us succeeding less, but when I look at Québec I see a society that have been conquered, that have lived for centuries surrounded by overwelming millions of english speakers in a now english dominated world, that had to deal with the then world dominating british empire and I see a society that has survived, lived and florished against all odds, that has turned a land of ice and rocks into a confortable world. We are a kind of miracle. I don’t live in resentment and bitterness.

    Michel Patrice

    P.S. It is Christmas time so I will not read comments as often as I usually do.


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