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Fear and loathing in La Belle Province

Living in fear and under constant threat. Isn’t it fun? They thrive on it in America, depend upon it in North Korea, and manufacture it out of whole cloth in Quebec. We used to have a garment industry here. It employed tens of thousands and nurtured a robust middle class. Now we just weave a paranoia, double the OQLF budget every couple of years, and cannibalize our own industries so a cocooned middle class can shop at the local unilingual Walmart. Welcome to l’abus provinciale.

The PQ, like exhausted dancers at the end of a marathon, are ramping up the music and throwing in their final moves. The latest cha cha cha is Diane de Courcy’s promise to erase any and all sense of bilingualism in the province (read Montreal). This “unacceptable slide” into the mosh pit of mother tongues is driving her bananes.De Courcy allows that individuals may want to speak any language of their choice at home – you know, Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, uh, English – but what they speak in public and in “our institutions” is, to make Pierre Trudeau spin in his grave, very much the business of the state.

The willingness of the PQ to impose its dictates from above – deciding what our shared “values” are, what languages we speak and when, how we interact with each other, and restricting rights based on those values, is nothing less than a kind of proxy Catholicism. (Actually, if anyone’s spinning in their grave it would be Borduas and Riopelle.)

What Quebec has learnt from generations of patriarchal priestliness is the efficacy of a well-defined “social-cohesion” (the term used in Bill 14).

There is no place in the Church of Quebec for the devil (English-speakers), heresy (Muslims, Jews), apostasy (francophones studying at English schools). The new liturgy, la Charte des valeurs québécoises, is going to lay down the law regarding dress code, how, when and where we express our private beliefs, and what constitutes our (narrowly defined) shared values.

And even though the modern priestly caste (civil servants to the rest of us) consists almost entirely of adherents to the flock (rare is the Anglophone, person of colour, immigrant accent behind the counter or at the wheel), no matter. Hérouxville-style – if we ever need to stone a woman, we won’t! – a law protecting this caste will be invoked just in case. Anyways, the clerics of Hérouxville get the last laugh: the whole province is now dancing to the tune of their funky code of conduct.

I was a kid when les quebecois broke out of their Catholic-imposed chains of supplication, jostled with the English-speaking patrons (omitted from this narrative is the messy reality that English Quebec occupied all rungs of the ladder, including the bottom), and set to work fashioning a province in whose mirror they could see themselves – and only themselves. Still, it was an inspiring time no matter what language you spoke.

But Dorothé, this ain’t la revolution tranquille anymore. In fact, I think we’re in Kansas.

All across the southern United States, legislators have proven time and again that they are willing to impose discriminatory legislation in order to “protect” their way of life from threats real and perceived.

It’s a long road from Bill 101 to Bill 14 via the Charter of Values. It makes me wonder about religion in history. At what point does a religious society – even one who pretends it is not - start justifying human sacrifice to appease the gods? Just asking.

First posted in Rover and Rabble, February 2014.

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