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Monday, 17 December 2018

Linguistic Tensions In Canada = Trudeau's Globalist Re-Election

by Rémi Tremblay, Fédération des Québécois de Souche

Justin Trudeau stands to get re-elected if English and French Canadians do no find common populist ground.

In the mid-90s, with the referendum on independence in Quebec, linguistic tensions were at an all time high in Canada. After the defeat of the separatist option, however, there was an attitude of conciliation towards the French province from the Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

In 2006 he recognized Quebec as “a distinct nation,” and with that the linguistic divide and the separatist movement seemed to be fading away. In the last provincial elections, for the first time since the 1970s, the separatist Parti Québécois became politically insignificant, with less than a dozen MMPs. As for its federal counterpart, the Bloc Québécois, it has almost vanished from the political scene, the vote being now divided on a left-right axis, rather than on a separatist-federalist demarcation.

Based on this, any external analyst would probably have concluded that the linguistic tensions were slowly disappearing and that the opposition between Francophones and Anglophones was a thing of the past.

This now appears to be wishful thinking, because, during the last month, linguistic tensions have made an unexpected resurgence. But this time, it does not come from Quebec and its autonomist demands. The tensions between French and English have now flared up in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada.

They were first noticed at the elections of September 24th. The party that won the most seats was the Progressive Conservative Party of Blaine Higgs, who managed to defeat the Liberals by one seat. Unfortunately, neither the Progressive Conservative Party nor the Liberal Party had enough seats to obtain a majority. Two smaller parties had both succeeded in winning three seats, which allowed them to hold the balance of power. The Greens were not a natural ally for the Conservatives, but the People’s Alliance, a splinter group from the Progressive Conservative Party, seemed to be a probable ally.

The only problem: it has an openly English agenda, rejecting bilingualism and concessions towards the French-Speaking Acadian community that represents more than 32% of the province's population.

If the Conservatives had bothered to seek the support of the Acadian community, Higgs could easily have gained power without the votes of the People’s Alliance, but the thing is: Higgs is himself a unilingual Anglophone and his party has only one French speaking MLA, Robert Gauvin, so that would have been difficult. In fact most of the Acadians have been blindly supporting the Liberal Party.

Higgs was duly sworn in as premier on November 9th in a minority administration, deciding to govern without the support of the People’s Alliance while offering reassurances to the Provinces's Acadian voters. But despite this they are now feeling excluded from power, and many have started to advocate for creating a new Acadian Party to defend their rights against the emergence of the People’s Alliance.

If this episode shows that linguistic tensions are far from over, it is nothing compared to the current much worse situation in Ontario. There again, it is the Progressive Conservatives who were elected earlier this fall, and as in New Brunswick, the Party, led by Doug Ford, has only one French MPP. This is because the only other French MPP Amanda Simard resigned from the Party at the end of November to protest against cuts recently announced by Ford, which were perceived as an outright attack on the Province's 400,000-strong French community, established well before the English colonization.

This linguistic crisis in Ontario comes from Ford's abandonment of the French university project, something that the Francophones have long been asking for, as well as the elimination of the French-language services commissioner, who serves as a watchdog to ensure the French have access to services in their own language. The French community, which was living peacefully with the English, felt suddenly attacked by Ford’s cuts.

Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault said last December he wants to temporarily curb immigration, boost the birth rate and encourage shop clerks to say 'bonjour' rather than 'bonjour/hi.' 

Ford could have easily sided with François Legault, the new Quebec premier. They are both considered “populists,” although this label often does not mean much, and both are against mass immigration. They certainly could easily have presented a common front to oppose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policies. Ontario and Quebec, representing more than 50% of the Canadian population, would have been very hard for Trudeau to oppose without major political losses. And with the next federal elections being held in less than a year, Trudeau would have been particularly vulnerable to such a combination.

But then along came the linguistic problem and hope for Trudeau.

The separatist Parti Québécois had never been a staunch ally of French Canadians living outside Quebec because the separatist project meant abandoning the Francophone minorities outside the province. In fact this is why many nationalists like Henri Bourassa and even Lionel Groulx, to a certain extent, opposed outright independence.

But François Legault is not a separatist, and he knows that Quebecers will only accept remaining in the Confederation if their basic rights are protected within the union, which was originally set up in 1867 as a binational pact.

Having been elected by a nationalist electorate composed of Old Stock Quebecers, Legault could not therefore accept befriending someone like Ford who appeared to be openly trampling upon French rights, especially since the Quebec government has been very open to the demands of Anglos in the last few decades in order to dampen its own linguistic tensions.

For example, the English community in Quebec has its own hospitals, its own schools, and even three universities. This is something for which the French minorities in the English-speaking parts of Canada can only dream. In fact, Geoffrey Chambers who represents a network of more than 50 Anglophone groups in Quebec has also denounced Ford’s policies in Ontario. The last thing the Anglophones in Quebec want is for Quebec’s premier to emulate his Ontarian counter-part.

The linguistic divide then disabled any possible coalition between the two most populous provinces of Canada, a coalition that could have forced Trudeau to change his policies in many fields, especially with regard to immigration. And, incidentally, it has also reawakened a certain sense of nationalism in Quebec: an ethnic and linguistic nationalism, rather than the civic provincial nationalism promoted by the Parti Québécois since the 70s.

Ford’s blunder, if we can call it that, will have unexpected consequences, but one person is currently very delighted: Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau’s reelection was something that was until recently virtually impossible. His only chance of being reelected seemed to be to find Aladdin’s lamp and make three wishes. But then in August, Maxime Bernier left Andrew Sheer’s Conservative party to found a populist party with a more radical program, especially when it comes to immigration.

Such a division was welcomed by Trudeau who finally saw a chance of being reelected, as a divided opposition could give him an opportunity to sneak back into office. And then along came the linguistic tensions in New Brunswick, in Ontario, and also, by extension, in Quebec -- three provinces that had turned their backs on the Liberals earlier this year; three provinces where Liberal governments had been soundly defeated and where he had no chance of gathering substantial support. Until now, that is.

Many within the French communities of New Brunswick and Ontario have blindly supported the Liberals, as they have never implemented policies openly hostile to the Francophones. They reacted like a typical minority, supporting the party that, regardless of its actual policies, seemed more open to acquiesce to their demands.

Ford and Higgs had the chance to prove them wrong. In fact, Higgs tried his best despite the growing linguistic divisions in his own Province. For example, at the beginning of December, he appeared with his Francophone colleague Robert Gauvin in an Acadian demonstration against Ford’s linguistic policies.

But Ford has done exactly the opposite. Instead of making French Canadians potential allies against Trudeau, he has alienated them, and we can fear that after this episode they will be very reluctant to support a Tory in the next federal election, whatever he promises, especially since Ford had previously promised them a French university.

The current linguistic tensions not only remind us of the difficulty of managing a country that is not homogeneous, but also remind us that Canadians of European descent should stop fighting each other and instead look at the big picture. Because, clearly, while French and English Canadians are fighting each other, Trudeau has a free pass to continue pushing his globalist agenda and his mass immigration against the people’s will, as currently no political leader is on track to block him.

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