Tag Archives: quebec

Habs’ Language Issue Puts a Bad Taste in Fans’ Mouths

By Jason Menard

Randy Cunneyworth may be a great coach one day. If he does become one, it won’t be with the Habs, as the organization seems to have admitted that language is more important than winning. If that remains the case, the league’s most-decorated franchise may have to wait another 20 years before etching its name on the Stanley Cup – and the sullying of la Sainte-Flanelle, a once-proud uniform, will be complete.

Cunneyworth was named the Montreal Canadiens’ head coach following the Dec. 17th firing of Jacques Martin. And ever since that date, the merde has hit the fan. Continue reading

Jack Layton – Right Person, Wrong Party, Perfect Combo

By Jason Menard

When I think about Jack Layton, I believe he was the right person in the wrong party – and I don’t think he’d have had it any other way.

I should clarify. It was the wrong party for us, but absolutely the right party for Jack. And, as a result, his legacy will be with us for years to come – and, hopefully, he’s inspired a new generation of Canadians to take an interest in politics.  Continue reading

What’s in a Nation?

By Jason Menard

While Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff brought this particular Pandora’s Box to the party, it seems that the Bloc Quebecois is ready to pry that sucker open and unleash its contents on the country – for better or for worse.

The Bloc has submitted a motion to the House of Commons, to be debated on Thursday and voted upon early next week that reads: “Que cette Chambre reconnaisse que les Québécoises et les Québécois forment une nation.” Simply put, the debate will be open as to whether the people of Quebec represent a nation.

… And with the children of Canada all tucked snugly in their beds, visions of Meech Lake and Charlottetown will dance through their heads!

But could this work? Could the age-old issue of Quebec separatism really be solved by a House proclamation that Quebec should be recognized as a nation? Will millions of Quebecois suddenly be comforted by being able to say “Canada is my country, but Quebec is my nation”? And if this motion doesn’t pass, does this mean that we’re headed down the path of another linguistic crisis?

Surprisingly, this latest round of the “My Canada includes Quebec” debate has largely slipped by unnoticed by the masses. And this has happened because the debate has been restricted greatly to the confines of the Liberal leadership debate. Ignatieff’s use of vocabulary to solve this challenge has been met with opposition – not with the concept, as such, but rather with the timing and the designation — by his fellow candidates, including noted federalist Stéphane Dion and former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae. However, at last month’s meeting, the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party did, in fact, adopted a resolution to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada and to call for the establishment of a body to determine how to best make this a reality.

The funny thing is that although this is truly a federal issue, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been able to tread lightly around the issue, not even dipping a toe into the water.

Well, it’s everyone in the pool now – and the Bloc have pushed Harper in with both hands. And once again the question is… what is the question? Perhaps we need Dion to draw up another Clarity Act because this idea of recognizing Quebec as a nation, while it does have merit, leaves too many Questions unanswered.

As shown by the lessons learned by Meech Lake, before it fell victim to the public relations nightmare of the use of the Notwithstanding Clause to defend Bill 178, the Canadian public is willing to acknowledge Quebec’s unique status within the country. However, it’s safe to say that special should not mean superior.

So what does the word nation mean in this context? And where do we stop? If Quebecers are a nation, are not the Cree of Quebec also considered a nation? In fact, we already have the First Nations, so where do we stop? Can it not be argued that Acadians are a distinct society within Canada and therefore deserve nation status? What about French-Canadians living outside of Quebec? Do those living in Ontario and Manitoba become part of the nation of Quebec, or are they simply living in exile? Heck, if Quebec becomes a nation, can those living in the Anglo bastion of Westmount not rise up and claim nation status for themselves?

During the last referendum the idea of partitioning came to the fore, the argument being that if Quebec was able to separate from Canada, then segments of Quebec should have the same right to leave Quebec – and any argument from Quebec against that would invalidate the initial separation argument.

The problem with this resolution is that it’s only a word. And the great thing about this resolution is – it’s only a word. You see, words are extremely powerful things. A word can be a source of pride and inspiration for an entire people! Look at the word Quebecois – it alone is a symbol of strength and fidelity for a significant portion of our population. While simply adding an extra meaning to a word that already exists in the Canadian lexicon may not be enough to satisfy the most ardent separatist, its recognition of the distinct society that Quebec is may be enough to bring those fires to a dull ember.

However, if we start bestowing nation status on a number of groups – and it’s hard to create an argument for one group of people without allowing those same rules to applied to another – then the value and power of that word becomes diluted. And, proportionately, the impact of the word is rendered negligible. In the end, recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada is a no-brainer and it should be done. It’s what happens next that matters most. But should this symbolic recognition should open up the topic of constitutional reform – ay, there’s the rub. Those who are so happy to toss the word nation may become strangely reticent when it comes to putting those words to paper and entrenching nationhood rights and protections into the very framework of our country.

In the end, like the song states, they’re only words and words are all I have to steal your heart away. In this case, the right word can also represent our country’s soul.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Hunting for the Elusive Quebec Conservative

By Jason Menard

In la belle province for a vacation, I decided to take the opportunity to go hunting for an almost-extinct breed of political animal, of which I had heard was making a stunning resurgence with this federal election.

Yes, in the best spirit of Marlon Perkins I am in hunt of the Quebec Conservative.

With Bloc fever raging and disenchantment over the sponsorship scandal sending Liberal support plummeting to new depths, the popular idea is that the Conservative party may be the option of choice when it’s time for federalist Quebecers to head to the polls.

Since the rise of the Bloc, Quebec’s federal and provincial political worlds have been polarized into two distinct camps, not separated by parties but rather by ideologies. One’s answer to the question of Quebec’s place in Canada is the deciding factor as to whom you choose to vote. Separatists find a haven with the Bloc and Parti Quebecois parties respectively, while those of a federalist mindset have chosen the Liberal Party exclusively.

While the federal elections are ostensibly a four-party race – the fact of the matter is that there have been only two horses worth putting your money behind. Nervous federalists, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they fall on, have found refuge in the Liberal Party of Canada. Choosing to avoid vote splitting, the Liberals have remained a solid foil to the separatist forces of Quebec, to the point where federalist forces have elected a Liberal provincial party.

Yet with so much displeasure over the ruling Liberal Party, have Quebec Conservatives stepped back from the brink? If they are, they’re doing a good job of hiding. Perhaps they’re preparing for an electoral sneak attack, but in the game of politics visibility is the key.

Traversing the island of Montreal and making forays onto the neighbouring shores, there is a definite trend towards a Blue/Red political mosaic. Unfortunately for Stephen Harper’s troops, that shade of blue belongs to the Bloc. A simple search of signs reveals that Conservative supporters appear to either be continuing to hedge their bets with the Liberals, or remaining in hiding.

Oh sure, there is some Conservative signage here and there – but only on public lands, where everybody’s free to put their placards. Private property, where the signs actually matter and indicate someone’s personal preference, remains remarkably devoid of Tory support.

Of course, some of the difficulty in finding signs of the elusive Conservative may be due to their ability to blend in with the competition. While camouflage may be an acceptable way to survive in the wild, it ’s a questionable tactic when trying to stand out from the crowd. Yet, one would be hard pressed, from a distance, to differentiate between Bloc signage and Conservative signage. And at the speed that Montreal drivers travel, there’s no way to tell which blur belongs to which party. Politics is a game of visibility, and blending in with the opposition may not be the best way to get the name out.

No, it appears the federal race is still being run by two horses — despite the best efforts of the politicos and the pundits alike. In Quebec politics is a serious sport and there’s no time to back a lame horse when there are proven stallions willing to charge to the finish line. And it appears that even if one of those stallions has been rolling around in the mud and still reeks of dirty play, Quebecers feel that it’s better to back the steed that knows how to run instead of the horse that’s still looking for its footing.

So the hunt goes on and I will continue my search. While the Quebec Conservative may actually no longer be on the endangered species list, until they leave the safety of their refuges and spread among the population, they’ll continue to suffer a political fate worse than extinction – they’ll continue to simply be irrelevant.

And in the game of federal politics, that’s truly a fate worse than death.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Mystery of the One-Way Highway

By Jason Menard

If the government of Quebec is looking for a way to save a few bucks, perhaps they could scrimp a little on repairs of Highway 20 west of Montreal because it’s a little-known fact that this stretch of highway only goes one way.

Well, to be honest, it’s a little known fact only to Montrealers. To those of us estranged from our beloved city to locales westward, it’s an all-too-real phenomenon.

OK, it can be a little scary crossing those bridges and heading to the mainland. And, sure, the barren expanse around St. Zotique is almost post-nuclear in its Spartaness. But a little perserverence goes a long way. Maybe it’s a fear similar to what seafarers felt in Christopher Columbus’ day, but I can assure you that you won’t fall off the edge of the Earth – well, maybe off the edge culturally, but certainly not literally. In fact, many successful forays have been made into the Heart of Darkness – also known as Ontario – and several Quebecers have lived to tell the tale.

Sure, family members have been forced to visit us because we have that all important magnet creating an irresistible force drawing them to us – grandchildren. However, when it comes to friends and extended family — that’s a different story.

When we make our frequent pilgrimages back to our home town of Montreal, all of our friends come out of the woodwork, welcoming us with open arms, and peppering us with the same question, “When are you coming back?” Yet, despite this outward expression of concern and affection, a return visit to our domain is never forthcoming.

Lest you think that this is an isolated situation and that we’re the proverbial black sheep of the family, let me assure you that this is a phenomenon shared by many of us now residing in the land of the trillium but with fleur-de-lys growing in our hearts. From my parents, to co-workers, to acquaintances with French roots, it’s too much of a coincidence to believe that we’re all social pariahs condemned to banishment from our birthplace. Since examples of this phenomenon are shared across family lines, then there must be a deeper aversion at foot.

Why is there such an apprehension of crossing this particular border? In fact, the Ottawa-Gatineau border is well traveled, with people from both sides making ventures into a different province and returns to their homes without any long-term emotional scarring. Perhaps it’s Montrealers’ fear of the unknown, prompted by the fact that so many of their friends have disappeared down the 401 never to return. Of course, this migration is usually prompted by the threat or existence of a referendum, but that’s another story.

As our license plates state, Ontario is truly yours to discover. There is more to us than the scourge of Toronto – many of us non-Hog-Town residents hate that city as much as you. We are here, immersed in our Anglo enclaves waiting for your arrival. In fact, a trip to visit relatives in Ontario is no more exotic than a visit to certain parts of the West Island, so don’t fear broadening your horizons.

We have many of the same programs, we have many of the same interests, we use the same currency, and hold the same passport. We even all get SRC, so the comforts of home are all around you! Sure, Montreal has more to offer than most other cities on this planet, and travelling to Ontario locales doesn’t have the same cachet as staying in town – but what Montreal doesn’t have at this moment is us, and friendship and family knows no geographic boundaries.

I can assure you that there is no hidden danger that comes when the 20 turns into the 401. We are not forced to return to our Ontario homes because of the fact that our first-born are being held as collateral by some Orwellian government organization designed to tether us to our shallow Ontario bonds when the lure of our deeper Quebec roots come calling. We come and go as we please – and so should you.

As a Quebecer stuck in Ontario, I beseech you to come visit us! We’ve gone to all extents to make your trip as comfortable as possible. In fact, you’ll notice that we’ve taken the steps to make all the highway markers bilingual – well, at least until you pass Cornwall, and then by that time you’ve made too much of an investment of time to turn back.

Come visit us. Regale us with stories from the old country. And don’t be afraid of the unknown because, despite all appearances and experiences to the contrary, the highway does go both ways.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Our Empty Words Are Only Spoken in English

By Jason Menard

For an allegedly bilingual country, we do a horrible job of showing it. And it’s time that we, as a country, literally put our money where our mouths are.

The Canadian government has set the goal of having half of its students graduate bilingual by 2013. It’s a lofty goal, but one that will never happen unless changes are made to the curriculum. French language instruction in this country, from coast to coast, must be mandatory for the duration of our students schooling.

Forget the fact that a significant number of students in Canada drop French as soon as its no longer compulsory – the quality of French that’s being taught is deplorable. Not to condemn our hard-working teachers, but they’re just not equipped to handle the demands that teaching a second language requires.

Simply put, our French teachers can’t speak French.

Oh sure, they have the rudimentary knowledge and they’ve got the basic accreditation required to do a passable job. But they don’t have the skill or expertise to help our children succeed. A building is only as strong as its foundation, and the quality and level of French that’s being taught in the elementary school system is deplorable.

My wife, whose first language is French, and I (functionally bilingual) have had the displeasure of reviewing our bilingual son’s French homework since he switched to English school. We could accept the rudimentary level being taught, as one would assume that everyone’s starting from zero. What we couldn’t accept were the mistakes: glaring errors, wrong words being used, incorrect grammar, and poor agreements. And then we wonder why our kids can’t speak French. There’s a problem when, in the past, our son’s French teacher has refused to speak to my wife and I in that language.

And it gets no better. Coming out of high school, our students may think they can speak French. But when they come face to face with an actual francophone, they’re unable to carry on a conversation. Having come through the Ontario high school system and taking two French OACs, I know first-hand that the majority of my fellow students were capable of conjugating a verb – but putting it into practice in anything more than a basic conversation was beyond their scope and capabilities.

Compounding the problem is that there’s really no perceived need for Anglophone students to take French if they’re not living in Quebec. I’d hazard a guess that, other than the remote getting stuck on the French CBC channel, their exposure to the language of Molière is fairly limited. As such, there’s no impetus for our students to take the learning of a second language seriously.

Unfortunately, all this does is further fracture our country. Many English speakers can’t understand the frustration that Quebecers feel when travelling outside of la belle province. They don’t understand the anger, resentment, and feeling of a lack of respect that comes from living in a country that, on one hand, professes to be bilingual, while on the other hand doesn’t practice what it preaches.

Now living in Ontario, I find it embarrassing that when my Francophone in-laws come to visit, they’re unable to find anyone to converse in their own language. They are forced to converse in English, whereas my experience has been that the opposite is rarely true. That’s Ontario! A neighbouring province to Quebec! Is there any wonder why some Quebecers don’t feel Canadian when their own country makes little to no effort – and places no premium – on being able to communicate with a significant segment of our society.

Due to the fact that they’re living in a region surrounded by over 300 million English speakers, most Quebecers will have a rudimentary understanding of English, and – unless you’re extremely rude – will make an effort to find common grounds for communications. Yet we treat French as an afterthought in the rest of our country.

The more rampant xenophobes will cling to the argument that we don’t make the same accommodations for other ethnicities, but that misses the point that this country was founded and flourished as a bilingual nation – an amalgamation of English and French to create a new Canada. Just as my expectation for living in Japan would be that I would be required to learn Japanese, so too is there an expectation that immigrants to this country be able to converse in English or French. But woe be to the person who chooses French thinking that knowledge of that language will open any doors outside of Quebec.

If we’re truly committed to being a bilingual country – and the reasons and benefits are numerous, while the counter-arguments are non-existent – then we need to invest in our future. French must be mandatory until high school graduation. And the quality must improve. We must either hire native speakers, or require more than a couple of courses for French instruction certification.

Otherwise, we’re just paying lip service to the cause of bilingualism — and our empty words are only intelligible in English.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Whither or Wither the CBC? Look to Quebec for Inspiration

By Jason Menard

Black Monday has come and gone. The axe has swung and the jobs of 33 TV and radio public relations employees have been lopped off in its swath. Yet, this is clearly a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because the CBC’s problems run much deeper than ineffective public relations.

The Canadian Broadcasting Commission – its English wing — has been at a crossroads for years, ineffectively balancing the desire to be both an educator and an entertainer. But now it’s long past time to pick a lane and stick to it, because trying to be something to everyone has resulted in the CBC being nothing to most.

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but maybe it’s time for the CBC to stop presenting Canadian shows simply because they’re Canadian, and let the strong survive. OK, here we go: Canadian Content regulations are bad. They need to be stopped, and the CBC needs to be at the vanguard of this change.

Whew, that feels better. And I don’t feel less patriotic at all. The fact of the matter is that CanCon regulations encourage mediocrity. Why aspire to create a better show, or why try to make something entertaining when you’ll get your exposure and funding as long as you can show you’re from the Great White North?

The CBC and the CRTC’s CanCon regulations are intended to improve and support our Canadian artistic community. What they end up doing is providing it a crutch upon which to lean and, as such, so why would one learn how to walk on their own when there’s no need? Well, that’s if the CBC would actually show a Canadian drama.

Dr. WhoCoronation Street? What, did we get recolonized? Is it part of the Commonwealth agreement that we have to show British shows each and every evening? Then, in Prime Time, we’re inundated with mini-series, movies, and the odd Canadian drama. What? Have we given up the fight already? Is the competition from the American networks, CTV, and Global so stiff that they give up already?

If that’s the case, why even keep up the pretense of being a viable commercial entity and simply go the route of PBS? And is there anything wrong with that? PBS has a dedicated, passionate viewership that actually invests itself into the station. If the CBC has given up the fight against its commercial brethren, would this not be a better alternative for our Public Broadcaster? Not everyone has to play on the same field. Let CTV and Global continue to brand themselves as nothing more than American extensions into the Great White North (even the most noted CanCon, the wildly – an inexplicably – popular Canadian Idol, is just a cheap knock-off of the American, and British, phenomenon) and the CBC can merrily go on its way and explore the best and brightest of Canadiana, without the pressures or expectations brought about by those middling ratings and advertising requirements.

In fact, we’re already there to a large extent. Some people wear the CBC like a badge of honour. They intersperse their conversations with references to the witticisms uttered on Radio One, or they giddily recount a skit presented on the Mercer Report – usually to an audience of blank stares. Maybe those CBC viewers can commiserate with their US counterparts who regale their colleagues with the latest discovery outlined on Nova to a less-than-enthusiastic response. It has become a niche broadcaster trying to appeal to a mass market.

But, better yet, why doesn’t CBC English try to compete against the commercial big boys? The CBC can turn its attention east and look to its French language sister station, Radio-Canada, for inspiration. They’ve actually developed buzz-worthy shows including: La Fureur, a karaoke-style competition that features noted Quebecois artists; Toute le Monde en Parle, an entertaining talk show that Ralph Benmergui and Alan Thicke could only dream of hosting; and Virginie, a soap opera that ISN’T imported from England!!!

The key thing that SRC has been able to do is encourage the development of a French-Canadian star system. Sure, at times it seems that every film, every TV show, and every radio drive-time show is filled with the same people, but these people are supported by the community. Their images are plastered all over the province’s entertainment magazines, and their shows and films are wildly successful.

And SRC doesn’t need no stinkin’ CRTC regulations. Even if the CanCon restrictions were lifted, that doesn’t mean that the airwaves would be flooded with imports from France. Quebec-produced shows would continue to survive and flourish because the viewers enjoy not only the stars involved in the show, but the quality and excitement of the shows.

It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow, because SRC – and its sister news station RDI – also produce a tonne of exciting, dynamic, and informative news and magazine-style programs that appeal to an intellectually stimulated demographic. They truly do offer something for everyone and they’re not afraid to push the edges of the envelope. Whereas, the CBC seems to want to do anything it can to avoid offending the ex-pats or the conservative (small c, please) taxpayer.

The CBC needs to be effectively edgy, and by that I mean it needs to create shows and personalities that appeal to the targeted demographic. There are few things worse than seeing an advertisement aimed at today’s youth that just butchers the rap genre, simply because some stuffed suit decided that he or she could “get down with the kids,” and provide them with something “from the street.” Maybe if the street we’re talking about is Sussex Drive, but not when you’re trying to appeal to today’s media-savvy generation.

Commercial success for the CBC can be done – all they need to do is brush up on their French and tune in. Of course, even if they did make these changes for the better, who would be left to promote it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved