A new music video made by young Quebec anglophones has a catchy tune and an upbeat message about their future in the province – and, surprisingly, it also has funding from the Parti Québécois government.
Jean-François Lisée, Quebec’s minister responsible for the province’s English-speaking community, on Thursday announced a $20,000 government grant to promote a bilingual video about building anglophone-francophone relations – part of Mr. Lisée’s unlikely courtship of wary Quebec anglophones.
Mr. Lisée faces a challenge making overwhelmingly federalist anglophones sing the same tune as his sovereigntist government. Still, the former journalist has made repeated overtures since the PQ was elected last fall, and he stayed on his bridge-building message at Thursday’s announcement.
“Stop doubting. Stop asking permission to be Quebeckers,” he said in English. “You are Quebeckers. Get over it – and tell others to get over it.”
In the evening, Mr. Lisée was heading to Westmount, the well-to-do, traditional anglophone bastion and the PQ’s heart of darkness, to address the town’s municipal association.
“We want to give the signal [to anglophones]: You’re here to stay, we want you to be here to stay, let’s work on everything,” Mr. Lisée said at the offices of the Quebec Community Groups Network, the anglophone federation behind the production. The video of the hip-hop song by Montreal musician David Hodges features young people playing soccer in a sun-dappled park and other scenes. The government funds will help show it around the province.
Mr. Lisée’s overtures aside, it’s unlikely anglophones will join in a singing of Kumbaya with the PQ any time soon. The PQ has tabled beefed-up language legislation that would allow the government to revoke the bilingual status that lets municipalities offer more services in English.
On Thursday, the Montreal Gazette reported that the government met with a high-profile francophone language hawk before announcing plans to transfer a Montreal hospital from its bilingual orbit into the French health network.
Westmount Mayor Peter Trent said in an interview that Mr. Lisée has made genuine efforts to reach out to the anglophone community – the two met privately after the PQ’s election. Mr. Trent served Mr. Lisée English muffins.
“I find it fascinating that he’s trying to blow the anglophone’s horn,” Mr. Trent said.
But the PQ government’s threat to unilaterally revoke a municipality’s bilingual status if the percentage of anglophones falls below a certain threshold worries towns like his own, where mother-tongue anglophones make up about 60 per cent of residents, a percentage that has been in decline.
“You can’t build a community with that threat hanging over your head,” he said. “I don’t think any charm offensive on the part of the PQ will catch many new anglophones in its net.”
Mr. Trent speculated that Mr. Lisée was working on anglophone relations in part to burnish the PQ’s image internationally. “It means the PQ doesn’t look as closed-minded as it used to.”
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, director-general of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said Mr. Lisée has become a “visible political ally” to the English community.
“There has been a demonstrable effort to reach out and listen,” she said. “Fundamentally, he aspires to have a sovereign Quebec. We don’t agree. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together.”
Mr. Lisée denied his government is sending mixed signals to anglophones by financing a cheery song about harmony while passing unpopular language laws.
“There are going to be points on which we’re going to have debates, we’re going to have misconceptions,” he said. He added that anglophones could expect more announcements.
“Stay tuned,” he added. “This is for today, but we’re doing other things.”