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Les propos reproduits ici n’engagent que l’auteur. La FPJQ ne cautionne ni ne condamne ce qui est écrit dans ces textes d’opinion.

What’s so funny about two solitudes?

Par Brendan Kelly
 

There are so many things not to like about 2020 but I don’t want to focus on the obvious downers here.

Rather I’d prefer we mull over something I find particularly depressing about the past months that has nothing to do with either the pandemic or American politics. That would be the fact that if you live ici in Quebec, you can’t fire up your Twitter machine without being reminded that relations between anglos and francos are more strained now than at any other time I’d argue since the 1995 referendum.

Let’s put this all in context. It’s not the kind of tension we lived through in the ‘70s when it wasn’t uncommon to get into heated arguments and even physical altercations just ‘cause we were on opposite sides of the linguistic divide. That crap is ancient history and good riddance to it.

As I’ve preached so often in both the anglo and franco media, the two communities have grown much closer in the decades since the first election of the Parti Québecois in 1976. Those anglos most vehemently opposed to francophone nationalism left in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and those of us who’ve stayed have made our peace with Bill 101. We might not love it but we can live with it.

Until this year, politicians would try to stir the language wars and most of us, English or French, would shrug and move on, mumbling “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.” In the past 30 years, more and more anglophones send their kids to French or French-immersion schools, there are more and more anglo/franco couples and it really seemed like the old days of trading insults was very much a thing of the past.

But I sense a new bitterness on both sides of the fence. I wish I could just write it off as yet another example of the nihilism of Twitter but it’s bigger than ugly social-media hating.

Partly it’s thanks to a provincial government that’s all about dividing and conquering and stirring up the ol’ us-vs-them pot. But the media has its role to play here too, starting with a certain Montreal tabloid that loves splashing its front page with horror stories of how somehow the English community is secretly planning to turn back the clock and transform Montreal back to the jolly good old days when the blokes ran the show.

But maybe the biggest reason for the gap widening between the two communities is the debate about diversity. This actually pre-dates the discussion this year prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests. First came the various blackface controversies, then the SLAV debacle in the summer of 2018, and ever since there’s been a disturbing discourse in way too many mainstream media outlets suggesting that the fight for more representation is yet another nefarious anglo plot to snuff out francophone culture.

That’s absurd. Worse, it’s tremendously contemptuous, both of anglophones and of minority communities. At the same time, the anglo media, mostly outside Quebec I’d suggest, uses this debate about diversity in Quebec to once again wag its finger at francophone Quebec and make the equally absurd case that Quebec is more intolerant and racist than the rest of Canada.

That’s not true. There’s racism and intolerance in Quebec just like there is everywhere else in Canada. Another part of the problem here is the media in the ROC spends much too much time and space covering only bad-news stories out of our province and almost never focuses on the up side of life ici. Here’s a radical thought for journalists in Toronto – how about a piece on our incredibly exciting cultural universe?

To quote a great poet – that would be Nick Lowe! – What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding? Instead of bitterness, how about a little kindess? I know, I know, stories about people getting along is super boring and doesn’t get you nearly enough clicks.

But most of us here do get along. Still you wouldn’t know it from what the media pundits and politicians are saying.

Let’s end on a positive note. Here’s a quote from another noble poet, Joe Strummer this time. “I support the new wave and I hope no one escapes.” There is indeed a new generation of anglos, francos and plenty speaking other languages who are not hung up on the old divides so beloved by our politicians and columnists.

They are the children of Bill 101. They’re the product of a school system where finally all of the cultural communities are in the same franco classrooms and they don’t see enemies but rather potential friends.

They understand that our world has to be more diverse and that you can work toward that goal AND support the French language. This is a generation that scares the old guard which is maybe just maybe why that old guard is so desperately trying to build walls to separate us.

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