A singing swan

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - Mike Mcde­vitt

Parti-québe­cois leader Jean-fran­cois Lisée sur­vived the first ma­jor chal­lenge faced by anti PQ leader, this week­end, and emerged from a manda­tory lead­er­ship re­view with a re­sound­ing vote of sup­port from the 1500 or so del­e­gates who gath­ered for the pur­pose at Mon­treal’s Palais des Con­grès.

Lisée gar­nered ap­proval from 92.8 per cent of the ap­prox­i­mately 1400 del­e­gates who par­tic­i­pated in the vote. The re­sults came as a sur­prise to many ob­servers as Lisée was cho­sen as leader fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal hob­by­ist Pier­rekarl Pe­ladeau with only 50.6 per cent of the vote. Given the party’s steadily de­creas­ing sup­port among the pop­u­la­tion, many be­lieved that Lisée’s abil­ity to re­tain his po­si­tion was in jeop­ardy.

The PQ is no­to­ri­ous for stab­bing un­suc­cess­ful lead­ers in the back (or in the front, de­pend­ing) and Lisée, a long-time back­room op­er­a­tor and sovereignty pro­pa­gan­dist has never en­joyed the pop­u­lar sup­port of some for­mer lead­ers and has of­ten been ac­cused of be­ing ‘soft on sovereignty’ for promis­ing not to hold a ref­er­en­dum dur­ing a PQ govern­ment’s first term, In­stead, he has cho­sen to spend a po­ten­tial first tem ‘lay­ing the ground­work’ for a vote in 2022 As many diehard PQ sup­port­ers won’t be around by that time, his po­si­tion raised the ire of some who be­lieve the PQ should adopt a ‘Bat­tle of the Light Brigade’ ap­proach and bet all on an ag­gres­sive sovereignty stance.

The PQ has not en­joyed a po­lit­i­cal resur­gence since its dis­as­trous de­feat in the last Gen­eral Elec­tion, which saw the Party adopt an an­gry, hard-line na­tion­al­ist strat­egy in a desperate at­tempt to trans­late the in­ef­fec­tive mi­nor­ity govern­ment of Pauline Marois. Af­ter that pound­ing, the party jumped on to a global trend and chose bil­lion­aire me­dia mogul Pe­ladeau, who quickly got bored, and re­signed shortly af­ter. Lisée was cho­sen to suc­ceed him af­ter a con­tentious lead­er­ship race, which did noth­ing to unite the tra­di­tion­ally frac­tious party and has since been spend­ing his time try­ing to re­vive the flail­ing party’s sta­tus in the face of an ef­fec­tive chal­lenge from the left by Québec Sol­idaire and from the right by the Coali­tion Avenir Québec’s François Le­gault. With the QS now be­ing co-led by pop­u­lar for­mer stu­dent leader Gabriel Nadeau-dubois, who rose to fame dur­ing the heady days of the “Maple Spring,” it now poses an even greater threat to the PQ as the home of the Que­bec in­de­pen­dence move­ment and rep­re­sents a more pro­gres­sive, mod­ern face to a limp­ing op­tion.

From the right, the CAQ ap­pears to have usurped the party’s more eth­ni­cally in­tol­er­ant po­si­tion by jump­ing, softly, on the grow­ing con­cern over im­mi­gra­tion (le­gal or oth­er­wise) and hun­ker­ing down on the iden­tity pol­i­tics that was once the PQ’S sig­na­ture.

In an at­tempt to counter these ten­den­cies, Lisée has promised tougher bor­der con­trols, over which the govern­ment has, in fact, no author­ity and has sug­gested de­fund­ing English-lan­guage Cégeps who have seen a wave of fran­co­phone stu­dents choos­ing to in­crease their em­ploy­a­bil­ity by learn­ing func­tional English. He since walked back that proposal by sug­gest­ing in­stead in­creased fund­ing for English-lan­guage in­struc­tion in fran­co­phone in­sti­tu­tions.

Que­bec’s Bill 101 pro­hibits most French Que­be­cers from at­tend­ing English-lan­guage pri­mary and sec­ondary schools un­less they can be ‘grand­fa­thered’ in by ge­netic in­her­i­tance. As a re­sult, in­creas­ing num­bers of grad­u­ates of the French-lan­guage sys­tem are choos­ing to pur­sue their higher ed­u­ca­tion English, thereby in­creas­ing their em­ploy­a­bil­ity on the global mar­ket.

In 1976, when Bill 101 came into ef­fect, the is­sue was to en­sure that French­s­peak­ing Que­be­cers can live and work in their own lan­guage and that im­mi­grants would be ab­sorbed into the fran­co­phone com­mu­nity. That project has been over­whelm­ingly suc­cess­ful, but the times have changed: Young Que­be­cers now as­sume they can be­come plant fore­men with­out hav­ing to master English, but the last 40 years have seen the desire be­come not only em­ploy­able in Ri­mouski, but also in Toronto, Cal­gary, New York, Los An­ge­les, Hong Kong, and Sin­ga­pore where a com­mand of English is es­sen­tial. As Cégep presents the only op­por­tu­nity avail­able to most young Que­be­cers to learn English, they have in ef­fect be­come English-im­mer­sion in­sti­tu­tions with an aca­demic com­po­nent.

The desire to limit English-lan­guage col­lege ad­mis­si­bil­ity in Que­bec is a long­stand­ing one for the PQ, not only be­cause it en­cour­ages the use of French, but also be­cause any such lim­i­ta­tion would be of con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit to one of the party’s ma­jor sources of sup­port – Que­bec teach­ers; unions, who would stand to ben­e­fit, as ev­ery 30 new stu­dents rep­re­sents an ad­di­tional teach­ing po­si­tion for fran­co­phone teach­ers. Oc­ca­sion­ally, fi­nan­cial self-in­ter­est and moral in­dig­na­tion go hand in hand.

For­tu­nately, for English col­leges and fran­co­phone stu­dents, this short-sighted am­bi­tion has faced over­whelm­ing op­po­si­tion not from the English schools them­selves (don’t make waves) but from fran­co­phone stu­dents and par­ents, who are un­will­ing to sac­ri­fice their fu­tures or that of their chil­dren for an out-dated and counter-pro­duc­tive ap­proach.

Al­though the party can now pre­pare for the gen­eral elec­tion of 2018 with a united front, the con­flicts be­tween vi­sions for the party per­sist and are likely to for some time to come. The PQ has al­ways been a rather quar­rel­some coali­tion of forces with markedly dif­fer­ent agen­das. It has rarely been able to com­bine these in­ter­ests into a co­he­sive pack­age and ap­pears to have run out of new and orig­i­nal pro­pos­als ca­pa­ble of at­tract­ing new ad­her­ents to a rapidly shrink­ing base. In­stead, the party ap­pears to be poised to fade out slowly and painfully along with its ag­ing baby-boomer base.

None of this is to say that the sovereignty move­ment is dead – al­though it has looked bet­ter – but it in­di­cates the dif­fi­culty the party has had in main­tain­ing its rel­e­vance as we ap­proach the third decade of the 21st Cen­tury, but in the ab­sence of some press­ing is­sue, or ac­tion on the part of the hated fed­eral govern­ment, it is dif­fi­cult to see how an ag­ing gang of pseudo-in­tel­lec­tu­als with baby-boomer con­de­scen­sion will be able to at­tract a large num­ber of a more out­ward-look­ing, cos­mopoli­tan mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion which con­fronts the English­language on a daily ba­sis through dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and no longer sees the French-fact in Que­bec con­stantly un­der threat. English is not seen as the en­emy, but the fu­ture, and Canada is no longer the coun­try where fran­co­phones can’t as­pire to greater abd bet­ter things. We’ve come a long way, baby, why not catch up?

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