Quebec’s Liberal Opposition showed an unfortunate, though not insignificant humourlessness last week.
Ten days after the provincial election in September, 2012, there appeared in the Montreal tabloid Métro a column by a school-board member called Akos Verboczy with the headline Ils sont fous ces Anglos: “They’re crazy, those Anglos.”
The phrase is an echo of a common phrase in the classic French comic-book series set in ancient Gaul when Julius Caesar had recently conquered all (or almost all) of that country, Astérix le Gaulois, in which the hero often says things like “They’re crazy, those Romans” – or those British, Germans or whoever else. In the column, Mr. Verboczy observes how quickly political conversations with anglophones turn into semi-obsessive rants about separatists, Bill 101, Jacques Parizeau on “money and the ethnic vote....”
Mr. Verboczy – a Hungarian immigrant at the age of 11, who was educated in French, due to Bill 101 – is now a political staffer to Diane de Courcy, the Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities, who is in charge of language policy. Two Liberal shadow cabinet members, Geoffrey Kelley (aboriginal-affairs and anglophone-relations critic) and Filomena Rotiroti (immigration and credential-recognition critic) condemned his “contemptuous comments”; Mr. Kelley demanded his dismissal.
The better response from Quebec’s anglophones – and those from “the rest of Canada” – would have been to say, “Yes, we are a bit obsessed and a bit obsessive. But who made us that way?” And there would be nothing wrong if the anglophones said this with a subtle transition of tone, starting quite calmly, but gradually raising their voices, slowly adding a touch of shrillness, as if tempting or inviting their francophone interlocutors to start their own rant.
Francophone-anglophone relations in Quebec have the peculiarity that the two groups are in a competition for the claim to be the more severely repressed minority – francophone Québécois within Canada, or anglophones within Quebec. The end to this contest is not in sight.