The Shrubbery
July 1999
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Canadian Content Part XII:
Vive le Quebec Libre!

by John Hansen

July 1st is Canada Day and what better way to celebrate our heritage than to focus this month on our country's long national root canal: Quebec separatism. Oh sure, I could celebrate our country's culture and history but no, as a Canadian, I am by definition a masochist so separation it is then.

The idea of a separate French-speaking country has been around longer than the country itself. Much of North America was in fact French in the early 17th century. Had history been kinder to our Gallic friends, the entire continent would have been a different place. Imagine beret-wearing cowboys in Texas and of course the utter absence of any Lewinsky scandal and you get the picture. But as we know, the English took over in Canada and the 13 Colonies became the U.S. of A. and the French fact in North America would soon become reduced mainly to Quebec with some francophone communities in the rest of country. In America, French has been reduced to Cajuns, the Croissan'wich at Burger King and, of course, Cajuns.

So it's understandable that there would be in Quebec a movement to create a separate country. As a political movement, separatism get started mainly in the 1960's when Rene Levesque led the Parti Quebecois, whose chief goal is to start a separate country by holding a referendum, getting a majority mandate from the people of Quebec and unilaterally declare independance. Twice, once in 1980 and once in 1995, the PQ has put the question to the people and both times the people have said "non." Nevertheless, another referendum will likely be held in 2000.

Rene It was Rene's passionate defense of separatism that helped the movement get its groove. Originally a hybrid of 60's idealism and democratic principles, the PQ have been in power in Quebec for most of the past 25 years. Today, however, the party's left wing has been eroded and the PQ has become just another political party concerned with staying in power.

It was in 1967 when French president Charles deGaulle came to Montreal to give a boost to the cause. During a speech to thousands of cheering Quebeckers, the man who so gallantly surrendered to the Germans proclaimed "Vivre le Quebec Libre!" ("Long Live Free Quebec") which sent the message that France was on their side. Quebec nationalists have often seeked out acceptance from other countries, especially America whom they see as a similar people who threw off the yoke of English oppression centuries before. This is a bit of a mistake as American and French culture are completely opposite. French celebrates high culture: art, philosophy, poetry, dance. America celebrates low culture: Jazz, Andy Warhol, Roller Jam. Which isn't to say neither forms exist in the other country but if France equals Proust then America equals Seinfeld and never the twain shall meet.

So as most of my country celebrates the day of its birth with Gordon Lightfoot records and barbeques, there will always be a minority out there who feel a little less Canadian than the rest of us. Like our shitty winters, it's inevitable. This of course is fine as in Canada, one can never feel too good about oneself.

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