Living English: Un peu de respect, SVP

CBC Living English panel, from left: Debra Arbec, Kevin Tierney, Terry Mosher, Jean-François Lisée, Anne-France Goldwater, Tamy Emma Pepin, John Stokes, Mike Finnerty

CBC Living English panel, from left: Debra Arbec, Kevin Tierney, Terry Mosher, Jean-François Lisée, Anne-France Goldwater, Tamy Emma Pepin, John Stokes, Mike Finnerty

It started with a chuckle when Jean-François Lisée raised his hand after moderator Mike Finnerty asked who in the crowd thought the English language needed protection in Quebec. It could have been seen as a good-natured laugh at the idea that a Parti Québécois minister, a member of a cabinet that pushes for stronger language laws, believes the English language needs help.

It got worse about 16 minutes in when blogger Tamy Emma Pepin tried to explain language conflicts in a historical context, saying that while historically francophones have felt oppressed by anglophones who had economic power here, her generation has no recollection of the days before the Quiet Revolution and there’s less resentment on both sides of the language divide. (She didn’t explain it very well, using the word “superior”, but it wasn’t hard to figure out her point.)

The crowd got angry. One person sitting near me actually said out loud that she was lying about history.

As the night went on, the interjections from the crowd got worse, and the entire event even more awkward and infuriating for spectators like me who came to hear a polite discussion.

Jean-François Lisée and Anne-France Goldwater in a tender moment

Jean-François Lisée and Anne-France Goldwater in a tender moment

The event was a panel discussion organized by the CBC, the culmination of its Living English special series on the reality of anglophone life in Quebec. Video of the discussion, which lasted an hour and 44 minutes, is posted here.

The panel included a diverse mix of people with strong opinions about cultural issues. There was Terry Mosher, who as The Gazette’s political cartoonist looks at life here through the eyes of a humorist. There was Tamy Emma Pepin, part of the young bilingual generation. But the star of the evening was definitely Jean-François Lisée, the minister responsible for the Montreal region who was also given the job of relations with the anglophone community.

Asked by moderator Mike Finnerty (at the 38:30 mark) if they approved or disapproved of the Parti Québécois government appointing such a person, many in the crowd refused to answer by a show of hands, yelling that it shouldn’t be necessary.

Throughout the discussion, people all around me were heckling, some mumbling under their breath, some talking to their neighbours without bothering to whisper, others yelling things at the stage.

It’s not that I worried that things would get violent, but I wondered how many in the audience were there to listen to a discussion about English culture in Quebec, and how many were there to yell things at a PQ minister who they’re convinced won’t listen to them anyway.

They probably missed some of the important points being made in the discussion, like when Kevin Tierney said that French-language Quebec TV shows need to show more anglophones, and English-language Canadian TV shows need to show more francophones (Rémy Girard notwithstanding). Or when a commenter said that the St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations at Parc Maisonneuve should stop requiring its artists to sing only in French (and maybe not be run by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and its anti-anglo leader). Or when Terry Mosher pointed out that Quebec hasn’t seen language-based violence much since the October Crisis, and for the most part its language wars are more humorous fodder for political cartoonists and material for animated philosophical discussions than things to be mortally afraid of.

All of that might have been lost in the cries of “liar” from the crowd and the animated theatrics of Anne-France Goldwater and her hyperactive gesturing in a desperate attempt to pander to the crowd.

Mike Finnerty (right) with John Stokes

Mike Finnerty (right) with John Stokes

Thankfully, as I watch the discussion posted online, I see that most of the heckling was filtered out since the hecklers didn’t have microphones. But while I was sitting in the audience I had trouble hearing some of the stuff that was said because of the entirely unproductive stuff being yelled around me.

I felt like I’d wandered into an Equality Party rally.

As it turns out, that was partially true. CBC staff told me afterward that members of a group that calls itself Equality Party 2.0 were there en masse and passing out flyers.

It wasn’t the entire crowd (who paid nothing for their seats) that were rudely heckling the panelists. I can’t tell if it was a majority either. But it was easily dozens of the about 300 people present. During the question period, teacher Jennifer Ryan said she brought her CEGEP class with her and didn’t appreciate the heckling. At the very end, movie producer Kevin Tierney (who started off the discussion by calling Lisée out on comments he’d made) thanked Lisée for showing up and showing more politeness than many  in the audience. That remark drew loud applause.

As Bernard St-Laurent mentions late in the discussion (at the 1h32 mark), the treatment of Lisée was actually an improvement on how PQ politicians have been treated by the anglo community in the past. A previous PQ government probably wouldn’t have sent anyone to a similar event 15 or 20 years ago, and if they did that person would have been booed off the stage.

Jean-François Lisée speaks with reporters and audience members after the panel

Jean-François Lisée speaks with reporters and audience members after the panel

Jean-François Lisée is a member of the Parti Québécois, and a separatist. He’s not trying to hide that. He believes that Quebec would be better off as an independent country. He’s also a politician, so it should be assumed that what he says is calculated to please the highest number of people. As a member of a large party, his views on every issue also won’t necessarily match those of the government (he’s not the language minister, so his ability to make changes at the Office québécois de la langue française is limited to what he can convince his caucus or language minister Diane de Courcy to do). And, as an expert in the art of communication, he has an advantage in spinning things so they sound better than they are.

But Lisée doesn’t have to do any of this. He doesn’t have to do interviews with English media, he doesn’t have to participate in panel discussions, he doesn’t have to meet with anglophone business leaders or care about English-language cultural institutions or even hold this portfolio at all (he would be busy enough as minister for international relations and minister responsible for Montreal).

I don’t for a second believe that Lisée is an advocate for anglo rights in a PQ government. But he is listening, and he is learning, and I’m willing to take at face value his statements that the anglophone community is part of the future of Quebec, until I hear strong evidence to the contrary. In general, having an ambassador in the government is better than not having one, whether it’s for anglophones, first nations or women.

Lisée said during the discussion that there are those on the extremes of both sides of the language divide who want him to fail. There aren’t too many ministers in the same position in any government, and Lisée deserves credit for volunteering to take on this impossible task and give it his best shot.

He deserves better than the treatment he received on Thursday night. Disagree with him, call him out on his flip-flops or inconsistencies, but let him speak and understand that his opinion is not illegitimate just because he sides with the blue party instead of the red one.

Heckling a panel discussion (hosted by the CBC, for crying out loud) to the point of disruption, kicking a gift horse in the shins and cheering the English victory at the Plains of Abraham (no, seriously, that happened too) sends the message that anglophones in Quebec have no wish to discuss language issues reasonably, and gives the PQ more reason to dismiss the anglophone community entirely.

It wasn’t exactly a point of pride for Quebec anglos. In fact, as they say in French, c’est honteux.

The Living English discussion is posted here, with the live blog below. CBC has also compiled some highlightsThe Gazette’s James Mennie chats with Terry Mosher about his experience on the panel

19 thoughts on “Living English: Un peu de respect, SVP

  1. Lorne

    Of course something like this is not surprising, given the PQ is pushing through legislation that would extend the repressive language legislation that is already in force.

    Reply
    1. Marc

      […]the repressive language legislation that is already in force.

      That statement proves what Steve said here:

      sends the message that anglophones in Quebec have no wish to discuss language issues reasonably

      Reply
      1. mdblog

        Marc, if Ontario passed a law 101 for English in Ontario, you wouldn’t call it oppressive? You don’t think that the Manitoba Schools decision was an oppressive measure? Come on, at least try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, would ya?

        Reply
        1. Marc

          if Ontario passed a law 101 for English in Ontario, you wouldn’t call it oppressive?

          Yes, I would. But that’s a non-issue because such a thing would never happen. No one would stand for it. I don’t think that requiring French on a commercial sign is oppressive. I’m particularly flipping the bird to the few remaining followers of the Speak White lady at Eaton’s – Beryl Wajsman is one of them. He’s a total kook who has flown way off his rocker.

          Reply
          1. mdblog

            Interesting that you should bring up the Speak White Lady, as this is exactly what Francophone language hawks have become.

            Reply
        2. Jean Naimard

          Marc, if Ontario passed a law 101 for English in Ontario, you wouldn’t call it oppressive?

          They did far worse; they outlawed french schools outright in 1912.

          Reply
      2. Kevin

        Except for the fact that following Pastagatae, even pro-sovereignty French media commentators are realizing how repressive the Charter of the French language can be.
        Which is exactly the point. It was expressly designed by Camille Laurin to be repressive, and for parts to be struck down in court, in order to foster support for an independent Quebec. People forget that Rene Levesque fought for the right of people who had gone to English school elsewhere in Canada to still have that right in Quebec — and that there are people, even today, who think nobody should be allowed to go to school in English in Quebec.

        But hey, it’s nice to know that you do not think that being forced to cover the word ‘start’ button on a microwave is repressive.

        Reply
  2. sklar

    I’m having trouble getting any videos to load on the CBC’s website. Do you know if the video is available anywhere else?

    Reply
  3. Peter McGill

    I found the whole series very interesting. Kudos to CBC for doing this series and holding this event. I can certainly understand the resentment of the anglos, as the policy of the Parti Quebecois is, at its core, purely revenge against english and anglos and would we all please move to Toronto or Alberta please (oops that’s a bad translation, I meant to say “or else”).

    Yes, Jean-François Lisée is slick and everything and speaks really nice english, but he’s just as evil as Ezra Levant (They would make such a nice couple). Minister Diane de Courcy is a disgrace. Most of the members of the Estonian government can speak english (Estonia!) but the fact that a minister of the quebec government who was head of a montreal school board can’t speak english is a total disgrace and unacceptable in 21st century north america. I am pretty sure politicians in latin-america don’t consider it a point of pride that they can’t speak the foreign language of english despite a pretty long record of america totally (and actually, unllike the anti-english creation myth of the parti quebecois’s version of history) screwing them over.

    The best part of the series was the map they made showing where the english live throughout Quebec. I am sure parti quebecois strategists are studying it closely to determine how to get these statistical outliers to leave the province asap. I’d like to see a version of this map comparing today to 1972 before the mass anglo exodus because of the PQs apartheid policies of their cultural genocide strategy to eliminate any and all traces of english from the quebec population and history.

    Reply
  4. Captain Obvious

    With the exception of Mosher (and possibly Arbec), this panel could have been billed as the Festival of Wholly Unpleasant People.

    Reply
  5. lilyfromlaval

    Don’t you think we ALWAYS hear what politicians think? Was this meeting about HIS views or We The Peoples??? He has the stage more often than we ever do so if the crowd got rowdy, perhaps because…once again we were told shut up, be quiet and listen to what He has to say. You cant expect people to not “hackle” when they don’t believe in what you are saying. It is NOT their point of view… point fenal! How many people had the chance to voice themselves that night? You put it as a “disruption” and “It wasn’t exactly a point of pride for Quebec anglos.” PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE CALLED THIS MEETING “MR. Lisée’s side why we are assimilating the French. or Good Anglo and Bad Anglo. Your article is sad and I will not shut up no more!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      He has the stage more often than we ever do so if the crowd got rowdy, perhaps because…once again we were told shut up, be quiet and listen to what He has to say.

      I’m not sure what “we” means here. Anglophones? Lisée was the only person on the stage who was in favour of increased protection of the French language, and even in his case his view isn’t extreme. The group Impératif français just awarded him a lemon prize because they feel he isn’t strong enough on language issues.

      Reply
      1. mdblog

        Who is Imperatif Francais anyways? Having an official sounding name doesn’t give someone credence in my eyes. Maybe yours, Fagstein, but not mine.

        If I started a group called the Language Imperative and gave JF Lisee a Jack-Ass Award for being too hard on minorities, would you quote it in your arguments/comments? Of course not. Then why do it with Imperatif Francais?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Having an official sounding name doesn’t give someone credence in my eyes.

          It’s a group, and has about the same officialness as the crowd at the CBC event (in other words, none). My point is that there are people far more radical on language issues than Lisée, enough that even they don’t like him very much.

          Reply
  6. William

    Squeaky wheel gets the grease…they showed up…ergo, there ya go.

    We Anglo have lost, it’s over. The community is getting smaller and not even a Federal Party dare make a peep about the situation here.

    Reply
    1. Marc

      and not even a Federal Party dare make a peep about the situation here

      They can’t. They know what’s good for them and meddling in the language situation will put the country’s togetherness at risk. Quebec is part of Canada and Bill 101 is largely to thank.

      Reply
  7. greysky

    Judging by the comments on this stoey goes to prove how Steven is dead on about anglos refusal to have a sensible dialogue with people like Lisee. Anglos are so good about bitching and moaning about how oppressed they are. Maybe they should go to Ottawa and try to get served in French for a day, see how fast they come back to mtl. Sometimes it’s nice to try to see how other minorities live for a change.

    Reply
    1. Marc

      Anglos are so good about bitching and moaning about how oppressed they are

      Help! Help! I’m being repressed! Close enough.

      go to Ottawa and try to get served in French for a day

      Yeah, good luck with that. And I have tried several times. Generally you get a blank stare in return as the clerk/server tries to remember their grade 7 French class.

      Reply
      1. greysky

        As as Anglo, i prefer Montreal’s french only signage and being able to being served in English than Ottawa’s superficial phony billingualism and not being served in french(at many public places)

        Reply

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