Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Is Stephen Harper a "racist" for having used the expression "old-stock Canadians"? If he is, then I am.

Let me introduce myself. I am an old-stock Canadian whose ancestor, Mathurin Gagnon, came to Canada in 1640 from a small farming community in the western part of Normandy.

Contrary to the oft-repeated tale that (except for the aboriginals), "we are all immigrants to Canada," Mathurin Gagnon, his wife and those of his siblings who embarked for the long, perilous trip across the ocean, were not immigrants. They were French nationals who had signed a contract with the state authorities to help colonize a territory that then belonged to France.

Story continues below advertisement

Canadians do not all share the same history because ours is an extremely diverse country. There is indeed a group that can be called old-stock Canadians, especially those who came from France in the early 17th century and a much smaller group who came from Great Britain in the wake of the 1759 British Conquest.

I would be happy to have grandparents who hailed from Sicily or Eastern Europe. I would be honoured to be a descendant of those brave immigrants who escaped persecution or extreme poverty to build a new life for themselves. I would actually, if truth be told, be delighted to have an exotic surname rather than the pedestrian Gagnon (the equivalent of Smith in French Canada).

Does being an old-stock Canadian make you a more entitled citizen? Certainly not. Neither does it make you inferior. Does it convey some sort of confrontational concept, like "us versus them"? Absolutely not. It's just a fact, a reality that's part of a family history.

There's never been, in my family, stories or recollections of another kind of life on another continent or memories of an exodus. My forebears never knew another country than Canada. They never had another native language than French. They never cooked meals that were different from their neighbour's. They never had a wide network of cousins in faraway places. As a child, the most "different" persons I had in my family circle were a Scottish aunt and a few Irish cousins.

Coming from an old-stock background (which is the case of 80 per cent of Quebeckers) shapes your personality and influences your views – not always for the best, mind you. Ethnic and cultural homogeneity, as comforting as it is, can be overly conformist and lead to an enclosed life. This is why so many Quebeckers are eager to break with their tight-knit society and make their way throughout the world, as artists or entrepreneurs.

As a political columnist, I've often used the expression "Québécois de souche" while describing Quebec's political demographics. If one wants to be accurate, you can't label the French-speaking majority group that propelled the idea of sovereignty as merely "francophones" since there are other francophones (from Lebanese, Belgian, Morrocan origins and so on), most of whom don't feel concerned with nationalist issues.

My anglophone colleagues found a neat trick: They use the term "Québécois" (which means old-stock Quebeckers). But of course this doesn't work in French.

Story continues below advertisement

Old-stock francophones used to call themselves "French-Canadians" (with a hyphen). This was a sound descriptive, but the sovereigntists, although they lost their political battles, succeeded in changing the semantics. The focus was exclusively on Quebec identity, the word "national" applied to Quebec institutions, and adjectives related to Canada deemed archaic. Rare are those who still talk about "French-Canadians."

It is utterly unfair to accuse Mr. Harper of dark, hidden views because he borrowed an expression that's commonly used in Quebec.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies