June 4, 2008

Tabernak, comment embarrassant

My friend Jay Bullock a.k.a. folkbum just took me to the constitutional woodshed in the course of lamenting the ineligibility of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for the office of the vice presidency, pending the annexation of Vancouver, British Columbia as a U.S. military base, like John McCain's Panamanian birthplace.

For some reason this reminded my of my other friend and facile Francophone — he speaks better French than I do — capper, who kindly sent me a link to some screed by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel "right-wing guy" columnist Patrick McIlheran the other day.

Apparently McIlheran is concerned that a lot of people in Miami speak Spanish. But, not to worry, because:
This is, I reiterate, plainly not the advent of the kind of social fracturing suffered by Canada because of its efforts to accommodate French-speaking Quebec.
It seems every time McIlheran mentions Canada, some manner of utter nonsense ensues. Last time, he was claiming that Canadians have no access to health care without a dedicated family doctor to make referrals. Before that he was expressing surprise at French traffic signs in Ontario, evidently unaware that many communities there are almost entirely French.

(Ask me about the month I spent in Hearst one weekend.)

Speaking as an inhabitant of Canada for nearly 40 years before taking up permanent legal residence in the U.S., I have no idea what McIlheran is talking about by "social fracturing" and "suffering" or, for that matter, "French-speaking Quebec."

Quebec is one of Canada's ten provinces, the (very) rough equivalent of U.S. States. Its own federalist relationship with Ottawa, the seat of Canada's national government, is long and complex.

While it's true that there was some trouble in 1970 when a handful of extreme Québécois radicals kidnapped and strangled a liberal journalist and provincial politician named Pierre Laporte, what McIlheran terms "social fracturing" and "suffering" I recall as healthy debate and democratic initiatives.

Those initiatives included a number of provincial referendums on separating from the federal scheme, one of which came within less than a percentage point of succeeding.

And, certainly, there are the elements of stereotypical Gallic arrogance. For example, Lucien Bouchard, the former chief of the Bloc Québécois who ended up Leader of the Opposition by dint of Canada's multi-party parliamentary system despite only running candidates in Quebec, notoriously refused to move into his official residence.

But with very few exceptions, English Canadians value Quebec's distinctive culture as much as Quebeckers themselves do.* Culture and its preservation in fact is the raison d'être underlying Quebec's separatist sentiments, unlike McIlheran's beloved Albertans, whose ludicrous and abortive attempt at separation was based entirely on greed.

Rather, what annoys many Canadians about the separatist initiatives are some of the proposed mechanics of Quebec sovereignty, which seek to establish complete political autonomy while retaining all the benefits of its association with the rest of Canada.

The attitude of the opponents of Quebec separatism was essentially, "Don't leave, but if you do leave, make a clean break and don't count on any further support from us. À bientôt, mes amis."

Years ago when I was working on a construction project in Iroquois Falls (another predominantly Francophone Ontario community), my old buddy Robert Lapointe and I hooked up with an engineer from Montreal, who was visiting the site to supervise the installation of his company's pulp grinding machinery.

A more virulent and provocative Quebec separatist you could not imagine. Also a very intelligent and articulate one, and he almost had even me convinced to assist in rescinding his citizenship and help boot him out of the country, or at least facilitate his exile to St. Pierre et Miquelon.

But that didn't prevent any of us from enjoying a riotously entertaining and extremely late evening carousing about Timmins,** beginning at the engineer's temporary digs, where he generously treated us to dinner. (How I miss those expense accounts.)

Who knows where in the world Patrick McIlheran gets his weird fantasies of "suffering" and "social fracturing," but I'm here to tell you they certainly don't originate with Canadians.

* Québécois heavy metal we could do without, but at least we all managed the consolation of ridding ourselves of Celine Dion. You're welcome.

** Ms. Chubak Kapel does not say "oot."


Jay Bullock said...

I think it's spelled Quebecwhaz.

capper said...

Francophone?! I am no Francophone! I love the French. I love French bread, French fries, Dijon Mustard, and I even have French ancestors.

Oh...wait...Nevermind, I thought you meant Francophobe. Wait up again. Francophone? Are you calling me a French Horn?

This is the way you treat friends?

And I don't speak it better. I'm just (barely) competent enough to use a French-English dictionary.

Anonymous said...

I am insulted that I had to read this entire post and actually learned something!

Also, I gotta agree with Jay. I usually enjoy cheese with my quebeckers...