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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Quebec - Rock The Vote...s'il vous-plait

April 3, 2014

I want to tell you about a memory from high school that I have which is linked to today's diary entry. In fact, it's probably one of the better memories I have of eleventh grade, which out of my entire school career was easily my worst year ever.

If memory serves me - and it usually does - we're going back approximately sixteen years to May 1998 for this one.  The only reasons I remember the exact month was because my nephew had just been born, and I bought him a little stuffed turtle doll.  I honestly don't even know if he still has it, to be honest with you, just setting up the date.  And, I also remember the date because my birthday is in May, and I had just turned 17 days earlier.

Anyway, on with the story.

As part of the curriculum for my eleventh grade French class, we were all allowed to participate in a field trip which meant that we spent the whole day in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  And, I will say that there were some highs and some lows when it came to visiting Montreal.

The highs included touring the area known as old Montreal, with all of the intricate churches (including the one where Celine Dion ended up getting married to her husband all those years ago), the fancy looking storefronts...and the biker couple on the bench who were essentially making out with each other right in front of our bus.

(Like I said, it's the most random moments you seem to hold onto the most.)

And there were some lows as well.  It rained off and on all that day, so there were times in which we had to hide out inside of a French cafe until the cloudburst passed over.  My group and I were also handed a little scavenger hunt sheet that we had to fill out while we toured old Montreal, and we not only got lost in the streets of old Montreal, but we got so off course that we held up our bus ride home for an hour or so while the rest of our class were looking for us. 

Needless to say, it wasn't a very fun bus ride back home.  What the hell, though.  We had fun!  And, in addition to the turtle doll that I brought home for my nephew, I bought a wood puzzle for my niece, and a whole bunch of pencils from a gift shop in old Montreal, as well as some dill pickle flavoured popcorn from a Kernels kiosk at a Montreal based shopping mall.

(This was before Kernels started selling the flavouring salt in containers in the microwave popcorn section of the grocery store.)

But while I did have fun in Montreal that day, there was one thing that was a little bit disconcerting that day that I want to touch upon...because it's kind of related to the main point that I want to touch upon in this blog.

As many of you know, this blog is written in English.  And, this makes sense.  I grew up in an English speaking province in Canada.  Although Canada is a bilingual nation (our official languages are English and French), most people in my town speak English.  Of course, I do know enough French to get by if ever I was stranded on the streets of Montreal, Quebec City, Rimouski, Trois-Rivieres, Chicoutimi, Hull, and any other community in "la belle provence".  At the very least, I could fake my way through without much difficulty.

But the one thing I noticed in the gift shop that I bought my family presents from was that whenever the shopkeeper heard me speak English, they initially ignored me.  But the minute I switched over to French, then and only then were they helpful.  Of course, at the time, I didn't really think much of it.  I kind of figured that because we were in Montreal on a French class field trip, it would be a perfect opportunity to practice my French skills.  And, once we left old Montreal to go to the more modern part, people spoke English to us perfectly fine and without any hassle.

But that was back in 1998.  Flash forward to the year 2014, and things have gotten much worse.

I mean, you hear some of the horror stories coming out of Quebec compared to what it is like in the rest of the country.  I mean, you have English speaking patients getting verbally abused by French speaking staff because they can't speak French.  You have people actually getting refused service at different stores in Quebec because they don't speak French.  And, you even have Quebec's "language police" sending letters to businesses because their English signs are too large, or because their Facebook page for their businesses are not written in French.

Heck, I can list off a few examples of customers who I have had from Quebec who have copped major attitude with me because my level of conversational French was not up to their standards! 

Now, granted, I will state that I know some people from Quebec who do NOT feel the same way.  Many of the people who I am friends with on Quebec want us to all get on the same page and accept each other regardless of who we are and what language we speak.  And to those Quebecers, I salute you!

But with all this talk about Quebec wanting to establish themselves as its own independent nation with their own independent thoughts, and where French and French only is the only language that they will even consider, well, it makes me feel really bad for my Anglophone friends who likely face a lot of scrutiny and unfair abuse because of it.

It certainly doesn't help matters much that the current Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, has made a lot of interesting comments about Quebec as if it were its own independent nation instead of being a part of Canada.  I still remember the tongue-lashing (and rightfully so) that she received when she thanked only the French-speaking players of Canada's gold medal winning performance in the men's hockey final at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  I mean, to leave out a good fraction of the athletes on a team to single out a select few when the whole team worked together to win that medal?  Pathetic.

And, I mean, this is not the first time in Canadian history that Quebec has had thoughts of separating from Canada.  There were two referendums in which the residents of Quebec voted on whether they wanted to stick with Canada, or separate from the country.  One referendum was held in 1980, the other in 1995.  Both times, the majority voted "NO" on separation.

And, recent polls seem to indicate that most of the Quebecois populace still have no desire to separate from Canada.  But you'd never know that based on some of the stuff that is going on in the province right now.

The way I see it, the Parti-Quebecois seems hell bent on creating their own country with their own government and their own rules - yet still allegedly planning on using Canadian currency.  Not quite sure how that will work out, but whatever.  Other political parties in Quebec seem to oppose that idea, saying that Quebec should remain a part of Canada.

On April 7, a major election is set to take place in Quebec, where people can choose their fate, so to speak.  And, while I am only living in Ontario and have absolutely no say in how Quebec votes, I do have a message for the Quebec voters out there.

Get out to the polls and make your voice heard.  Whether you side with the Parti-Quebecois, the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, or even the Green Party, get out to the polls and make your voice heard!

Now, you might wonder...why would I care?  Because I believe that we all have the power to make change happen.  And, for whatever reason, I believe that this election will ultimately decide what happens to Canada in the next few years.  I've visited Quebec lots of times, and it is a beautiful province.  I'd hate to see it leave Canada.  Unfortunately, it's out of my hands and not my call.  It's up to the people of Quebec now.  Here's hoping that the voters there can make the decision that is best for them, and also be able to live with the consequences and/or changes that will come.  

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