How racist are separatists?

How racist are separatists?

So here’s a famous political anecdote all right-thinking Canadians are expected to commit to memory:

On the evening of October 30, 1995, the day Quebeckers voted by the narrowest of margins to remain a part of Canada, the province’s separatist premier, Jacques Parzieau, took the stage before an audience of dejected supporters. Chin up guys, said Parizeau. We may have lost, but don’t forget the dumb reasons why: “money and the ethnic vote.”

Parizeau was objectively correct. We now know that the “no to separatism” campaign did indeed outspend the “yes” side through dubious means, and “ethnics,” which is to say, recent immigrants without a blood connection to Quebec’s historic French population, were absolutely some of the most critical swing votes in the tight contest.

In practice, however, “money and the ethnic vote” has been endlessly cited in the non-Quebec parts of this country as conclusive evidence that Quebec separatists are, fundamentally, just a big ol’ gang of racists. Of all the anti-separatist propaganda one is subjected to in the so-called “RoC” (Rest of Canada), this may be the one narrative pressed with the most conviction and emphasis.

Quebec is having a provincial election at the moment, and though French voters are simmering in a much-documented state of apathy towards their traditional two-party system, it looks quite possible that the separatists will win. It would mark the return of separatist rule for the first time in nearly a decade, and I’ve noticed that RoC establishment anxiety over this looming fate seems to be quickly manifesting in all the usual ways.

The current head of the secessionist Parti Quebecois, Pauline Marois, has thus far avoided overtly campaigning for immediate separation, instead emphasizing the case for strengthening and protecting Quebec’s French fact from the corruption of outside forces. Within 100 days of taking the premier’s office, she vowed, this province will see legislation forcing all businesses employing between 11 and 50 employees to run an entirely French-speaking workplace, plus French-only colleges  for post-secondary students and increased language monitors for Quebec’s already strict public signage laws.

Radical reforms require a justifying crisis, of course, so Marois has done her best to emphasize the fact that Quebeckers seem to be getting less and less French as the years progress. Thanks to globalization, the province’s residents have never been more actively bombarded by the corrupting forces of Anglo culture, while record levels of immigration have ensured big Quebec cities like Montreal have never possessed a higher percentile of citizens who speak something other than French as their mother tongue.

Ah ha! Knew it, respond the polite guardians of respectable opinion in the Canadian press. Separatist concerns over language are begetting concerns over immigration which are begetting racism! Once again!

“It’s official,” writes Don Macpherson in the Montreal Gazette, “Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois is xenophobic.” Ah, no wonder the PQ’s latest ad didn’t have any non-whites in it, muses National Post editor Jonathan Kay. Time to call out the “odious principles” and “small-minded, xenophobic tendencies,” of politicians like Pauline, agrees his colleague Chris Selley.

Now there are invariably some legit racists within separatist ranks, usually of the ignorant and fearful European style, born from the generational clash of a historically immigrant-weak monoculture being unexpectedly forced to become an immigrant-rich, multicultural one. Quebeckers even have a rather gross term, “pure laine,” to distinguish descendants of 17th century French colonists from the more diverse waves of migrants that followed. When notions like these form an accepted part of your mainstream cultural vocabulary, out-and-out racism isn’t exactly a distant destination.

At the same time, however, I’ve long been convinced that those RoC’ers who oppose Quebec separatism with the most vitrol do so not because they have legitimate fears over the practical consequences of the decision (uncertain at worst, pointlessly minimal at best) but rather because they fear the Canada that survives will have lost some fundamental element of themselves.

In the most cynical sense, this obviously includes those French-Canadian politicians and bureaucrats who currently exercise disproportionate power over a bilingual, bi-cultural federal government that would have little reason to be either without Quebec, but a broader definition could also include all of those ideologues and liberal-nationalists ho enjoy the general leftward push Quebec voters currently exert on confederation.

By loudly denouncing the supposed racism of Quebec separatists, in this case, what is really being opposed is the broader Canadian right to criticize this country’s current immigration trends and their ensuing consequences for language, lest anyone hamper the pursuit of the much-fetishized, liberal idea of diversity for its own sake.

No one can honestly deny, for instance, that language anxieties similar to the ones Mrs. Marois expresses are exceedingly common outside of Quebec; simply swap French for English. We RoC’ers, too, have fears that our cities, schools, and workplaces are getting a bit too crowded with immigrants indifferent to the language of the historic majority, and that current immigration policies place far too low a premium on official-language literacy at the expense of more useless criteria.

It’s almost impossible to express such sentiments in Ontario, B.C., or Alberta without being branded a racist or xenophobe by politicians, educators, and the media, however, and Quebec has only gotten away with its dissidence as long as it has thanks to an ironically overdeveloped elite tolerance for French-Canadian minority rights (plus, of course, complete separatist indifference to what RoC critics think).

Noam Chomsky, a man I am not usually fond of, had a fun theory in one of his books called the “threat of the good example.” The thesis, basically, was that the behaviors of foreigners that represent the greatest threat to elite domestic interests are the ones likely to be presented as the most treasonous — which, in his leftist interpretation of global politics, offers the best explanation for Washington’s historic hostility to socialism.

In the Canadian case, it’s clear that separatists are modelling a terrible “good example” of their own in regards to an immigration/integration debate that RoC elites have long convinced themselves should absolutely not occur in a civilized society. As a result, even though real-world Quebec separatism is an ever-more implausible and nonthreatening scenario, and the Parti Quebecois an increasingly harmless party of long-term provincial government, separatists still remain the very worst Canadians of all.


  1. Dan

    In the middle frame, clockwise from top left, I see negative caricatures of an Arab, African, Jew, Persian (?), another African, and a Chinese person.

    Though Ms. Marois eyes are pretty slanted in that frame as well. Has she been properly vetted?

  2. Kento

    The one on the top-right is clearly Peter MacKay on a state visit to Afghanistan.

  3. @Kisai

    Do you remember the last time around in 1995… seems we're overdue for this nonsense again (see also 1980.) If QC leaves, you'll see moves to separate the west of Canada from central Canada as well, likewise the Natives will want to separate too. It's a can of worms that needs to stay closed. If Quebec French has to go extinct sooner or later, let it.

    Can you imagine Quebec's language laws being applied to Arizona, "Speaking anything but English results in fines/jailtime." Nothing says unwelcome to immigrants like it being illegal to communicate.

  4. Jake_Ackers

    Considering the laws in Mexico and some of these other Latin American countries I wouldn't be surprised Quebec (also Latin) do that.

  5. Cutewood

    and that's racism for you folks!

  6. Jake_Ackers

    Well Quebec has done it. JJ made another comic about some airline getting sued because the flight attendant offered Sprite in English instead of French.

  7. John

    Air Canada (specifically) is legally required to offer bilingual services on destination cities with a 5% French population, or something to that effect. The person in question accumulated something like 6 different trips in which no such service was offered, tried to complain to Air Canada for two years before he finally took them to court.

    It wasn't about the sprite. That's just what journalists pick up on to make the story more controversial and rank up ratings.

    The law was very clear and Air Canada was fined in order to entice them to apply the law. You'd think in a country that's a quarter francophone, that one wouldn't need to sue an Air Liner to get some friggin service, but our language has never been considered of any importance by ROC anglophones except for the elites that JJ laments.

  8. John

    There are no fines or jailtimes for communicating in anything other than French. There is simply an imperative to offer French services, have French predominant on adverstisements, and workers have the right to work in French in businesses larger than 50 employees.

    There are fines for names of businesses that are not in French if they are not international brands or made-up words, however.

    All in all they are pretty draconian laws but one is not jailed for speaking English. The laws used to be worse, but they have been eased after being challenged by the supreme court.

  9. Jake_Ackers

    Quebec is just a bunch of Europeans in North America. Europe is the ones who say France are for Franks, or Sweden are for Swedish or w/e else nonsense. So Quebec are for French-Canadians. I've been trying to find the numbers but I wonder if Canada gets an anti-Quebec secessionist PM (ie: if Harper stopped pandering to Quebec) would he win enough swing seats in the rest of Canada to still stay in power?

    The Cons have what 5 MPs in Quebec? Why not risk it and go all anti-secessionist and pro-patriotism on Quebec's behind. I seriously think the Cons would pick up more than enough seats elsewhere. Just the money saved might be worth it.

  10. Dante

    I just love how French-Canadians are a bunch of Europeans in North-America… As if RoC aren't… Forget your history a little? Just an all too easy generalization. Pffft, yeah europeans are racist, that's why they speak on average 2 to 3 languages. And they do it well. All bigots. Not like here, huh? Puh-leeze.

  11. Tweeg

    Why did you draw Pauline Marois as the windmill guy from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in drag.?
    (Also the mask salesmen from Majora's Mask) javascript:%20postComment(0);

  12. JonasB

    I think that disliking immigrants/foreigners/people of non-French background having such an influence over the separatism vote is reasonable. By saying that the 'ethnic vote' swung the issue is an attempt to point out that most of those of French-Canadian descent (i.e: the people the separatism movement is largely composed of and basically revolves around by its nature) support the movement. The separatist movement by its nature caters to those of strong French-Canadian background and is more or less centred around French-Canadian cultural and political concerns. This is racist in the sense that it doesn't concern itself with other ethnic groups, but that's sort of like criticising the Holocaust Museum for not including the persecution of Irish Catholics. It's just not part of their primary objective.

  13. Zulu

    Quebec sounds like Catalonia on steroids.

  14. Rasden

    So they don't want their unique culture wiped out by people who hate them . What a surprise . You are the racist importing them to stomp out native culture

  15. @tominkorea

    What's the significance of Marois wearing a red patch with a safety pin?

  16. Peable

  17. Lex514

    The red square is the symbol of the student movement against the proposed tuition fee increase that Jean Charest government had to put in place, Pauline marois marched in the streets with the students promising to abolish the hike so the radical student groups supoorted her ithe election….but turns out after cancelling the tuition increase she couldn't balance her budget so she went ahead with the increase anyways.

  18. spaaaaaaaaaaaan

    I really do think there are some pretty clearly xenophobic elements in the PQ that aren't simply regarding the language though. You look at the PQ's proposed laws regarding headscarves and such and it's clear it's more than about language.

    "Want to be a teacher and wear a yarmulke? Woah woah! You're awful and we just want to make sure you feel inferior to the rest of the population! Either get out of our province or quit your job! We'll drive talented people out of our province for the sake of conformity!"

    Hilariously, such stupid laws will just drive the smart and talented (and therefore more mobile) immigrants to other provinces, and leave them with the undereducated ones.

  19. Jake_Ackers

    Very true. But this is very typical of these socialist countries. Socialism works more so (when it does) in countries like Norway and Sweden which are homogeneous. Try telling a bunch of Catholics in Ireland to use universal healthcare to pay for abortion. So the majority of the population has to be in agreement with most of their values. That's what Quebec is trying to do, make Quebec for French Canadians like Norway is for Norwegians and Poland for the Polish, Ireland for the Irish and so on. Problem is it stagnates your economy if you are not open to immigration.

  20. Roland

    Generally throughout history when a country splits in two both of the resulting countries are worse off for it. This is why I don't support things like Quebec, Tibet, or Palestinian separatism and would prefer for efforts to be made to address the concerns of of separatists which is really about fears of cultural assimilation/destruction.

  21. Jake_Ackers

    Tell that to Africa (most recently Sudan and South Sudan). Countries should split for social reasons but then engage in free trade agreements like West Africa has done.

  22. Etc.

    Well, perhaps the two smaller states aren't as well off as the one larger state would be, but if this union is more one of those potential countries exploiting the other's resources and killing/oppressing their folks, as has been unfortunately uncommon in many multiethnic/religious countries, is it really better?

    Granted, Quebec has it a whole lot better than, say, the potential inhabitants of an independent Kurdistan have been treated, but thumbing down a nation when they want to be a country because the country they're hoping to split off from would be stronger without the split sounds… dodgy. I mean, sure, Sudan was probably stronger with South Sudan, but that probably wasn't something that sounded too comforting to the folks in South Sudan who were being actually enslaved by their northern 'brothers' or killed off in droves by government supported militias. "I know it's bad and all, but hey! The folks making your lives miserable or ending them are at least getting richer out of it than they'd be without you, right?"

  23. William

    I don't think Palestine can really get much worse off than they are now. Generally, I think that for two regions to function successfully in a country together their visions for what kind of country they want (level of taxation/social services, role of religion/military in the state) have to be more or less compatible. I think that Québec can build the kind of place the seperatists say they want (socially democratic, protections to make sure the French speaking population isn't marginalized) within Canada's federalist system; Palestine not so much.

  24. Guest

    Did I hear correctly that PQ also wants to ban religious symbols from the workplace?
    That sure sounds like a racist dog whistle if I've ever heard one.

  25. Lex514

    Yes and it's already in place. No religious symbols in public offices as well as public workers cannot display religious symbols through their attire I.e cross on the necklace

  26. PTBO

    “We RoC’ers, too, have fears that our cities, schools, and workplaces are getting a bit too crowded with immigrants indifferent to the language of the historic majority, and that current immigration policies place far too low a premium on official-language literacy at the expense of more useless criteria.”

    Yawn, Quebec has control over their own immigration as do other provinces (Manitoba comes to mind). Immigrants often speak French (to international standards not to ghetto Quebec slang standards) but find they have to learn English in order to do anything in Montreal- fair enough- but its a bilinugual city having been painfully converted from its English public face during the Quiet Revolution.

    In ROC, most immigrants speak English- the ones that dont are generally elderly co-dependents. Canada’s immigration policies has changed- 100 yrs ago we were letting more immigrants in REAL numbers then today with a far larger population. Back then pretty much any Irishman, German, Ukranian, Italian or Finn could make it into Canada if they had the boat fare and not know a word of English. Hell the government made deal with the Mennonites and the Douhoukbors that they wouldn’t have to learn Engliah and that they could live a communal seperate existence from the rest of the country- times of changed but there are still whiners out there.

    I’m way more concerned about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (Conservatives love this shit) then legal immigration. The TFW is designed to repress wages of Canadians. Potential wage repression in general is the most important issue regarding immigration.

  27. Non-French Citizen

    Quebec has been filled with comunities for hundreds of years that were not french… why are their rights to their language not protected! WHY SHOULD THEY CONFORM! They were her just as long if not longer than the French…. Why are these comunities being distroyed, they should have just as much right as the French…
    Open your eyes this is not French against English, It is French bigots against all other languages. They are Terrorist trying to distroy everything that is not french.

    The next step is ethnic purging… I bet if you start tracing the roots of these French separatist you might find that over 70% of them are not pure blood French…

  28. no comment

    Everything you said is false. Clearly everything.

    First, communities exist here since the 70's. Not before. This is documented.

    Secondly, ''you might find that over 70% of them are not pure blood French'' is not true either. You can say that we're inbred or something, since all our gene pool comes from approx. 700-1000 families, but saying that we're 70% not French is just untrue.

    I don't know if you've been here for very long, but you clearly don't really know a lot about us. Maybe you just stay in West-Island too…