I had a curious response to this week’s Quebec election. It went something like this: ambivalence and disinterest before the vote. Dismay and concern afterwards.
“Let them separate,” was my comment to an expatriate Quebecker who I happened to be visiting in Alberta on the eve of the election (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a joke).
My friend was planning an election-night party, complete with black armbands should her collection of expat friends feel the need to go into mourning in response to the election of a separatist government (they did).
My friend is an Anglophone Quebecker who recently relocated to Alberta for work. Born in Quebec, she’s lived through other referendum votes and all the uncertainty separatist governments have delivered to in the past.
Perhaps it was our conversations that shifted my own attitude as the election drew closer. Honestly, in the weeks leading up to the vote, as it became more apparent that Pauline Marois just might claim victory for the Parti Québécois I became more and more disinterested.
In fact, I began to wonder what was happening to my national pride. For I truly do believe in and love Canada as it is, a remarkably diverse nation of 10 provinces and three territories.
I do not want Quebec to leave.
But I wavered on this a week ago.
I half-jokingly attributed my attitude to the fact that I now live in Toronto and have succumbed to its ‘centre-of-the-universe’ mentality. But deep down, I know that’s not true. I like the city a lot, but I still find myself apologizing when people ask me where I’m from.
“I live in Toronto” is my standard answer. “But I’m from the east coast.”
Even so, now that I’m on the other side of the divide that is Quebec, I wondered if my malaise could be attributed to selfishness. I no longer have to worry about living in a part of Canada cut off by an upstart wannabe nation. It’s so much easier just to ignore Quebec now, to look westward rather than to the east.
But most of my friends and some of my family still live in Atlantic Canada, so I’m hardly unconcerned about it’s future. My roots are still there and I’d prefer not to have them truncated by an international border.
It turns out my pre-election boredom with Quebec dissipated on election night. I found myself becoming intensely interested in the outcome of the vote, was dismayed by the results and even concerned for Madame Marois and her fellow separatists when violence interrupted her victory speech.
Regardless of the distain I have for her party and politics, I wish no ill toward her or her associates. I feel sorry that a gunman marred what surely should have been the best day of her life.
Ever since the election, I’ve been devouring news reports, trying to gain some clarity on how this new separatist leader will affect Quebec and the rest of Canada. I doubt it will be for the best.
Perhaps, given the Parti Québécois’ minority status, the whole affair will be short-lived. But I doubt it. The national agenda claimed by the Province of Quebec is not easily silenced.
I am interested, but still weary of Quebec’s quest for nationhood. I don’t want the province to lose its distinctive French culture and language, but I believe there must be another way to preserve it. Crushing the rights of Anglophones and new immigrants to Quebec seems out of touch with the multicultural fabric that makes Canada so rich.
Having lived in the bilingual province of New Brunswick for 20 years, I know that a commitment to dual language and culture is expensive and difficult to nurture. But I believe it’s worth it.
Speaking French does not come naturally to me. I’ve studied it over the years and practiced it with my French-speaking friends. I can get by, but I’m hardly fluent.
Not being able to speak it fluently never cost me a job in New Brunswick, so I can’t speak to that frustration. But I still believe bilingualism is the right course for a province like New Brunswick, which is so much richer because of the contribution of its Acadian people.
I’ve always thought Quebec could learn a thing or two from its little neighbour to the east.
But I doubt it ever will. Quebec, shaped by leaders like Madame Marois, and her PQ predecessors Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, is destined to be inward focused and self-centered.
But those are not the only defining characteristics of Quebec. The Belle Province is rich in culture, land and history. She may be something of a drama queen, but she’s still part of the family.
Post-election, even with a separatist government, I find myself disinclined to wish her away.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. This column is also published in the Moncton Times & Trancript. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon