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Tales from an English Québécois

Dan LeRoy | Fulcrum Contributor

Illustration by Mathias MacPhee

When a Canadian  says “I am a Quebecer,” we usually assume that person is francophone. But often, this is wrong. As Canada’s only officially bilingual university, the U of O is perhaps one of the most linguistically diverse universities in the nation. As a fourth-year student, I know many students from linguistic-minority communities of almost every province: Franco-Albertans, Franco-Manitobans, Acadians from all three Maritime provinces, and Franco-Ontarians. But one linguistic community always seems to be forgotten: the Anglo-Québécois community.

According to the 2006 census, there are approximately 575,560 native English speakers in Quebec. In contrast, Ontario was reported to have 418,815 native French speakers out of a population almost two times larger than Quebec’s. Our numbers leave us as not only an important voting block, but a community that is essential to the fabric of Quebec culture.

On Sept. 4, Quebecers headed to the polls. French, English, Aboriginal, and every other background—we all had the opportunity to change the political course our province was on. However, the voice of non-francophone Quebecers—particularly Anglo-Quebecers—is often a whisper. In Quebec’s last provincial election, the regions with the highest concentration of anglophones had the lowest voter turnout. In the Westmount–Saint-Louis riding, an overwhelmingly anglophone area, voter turnout in 2008 was a measly 36 per cent.

It is no secret that we English Quebecers feel a certain disconnect with our own province. This disconnect explains why we turn the television off when Jean Charest or Pauline Marois come on and why we choose any activity over heading to a ballot box.

The feeling of political “appartenance” that glues together the francophones of our province dismisses the reality of English Quebecers. In arguably every election since the Quiet Revolution, provincial politicians have won electoral votes from the majority of the francophone community by creating a culture that is increasingly hostile to English Quebecers—with policies like obligatory French signage, mandatory French education for all non-francophone students, language of work, the list goes on. When both major parties implement policies that further limit your already-limited access to services and diminish your right to self-expression in your maternal language, it becomes a matter of which party will screw you over less. Suddenly, the allure of the voting booth vanishes.

But, on Sept. 4, a third party entered the mix of provincial politics in Quebec, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). For the first time since the Equality Party, this party offered a viable, non-sovereignty-seeking alternative to the Liberals. For many English Quebecers, including myself, the relief of finally having an alternative to the apathetic Liberals was enough to secure my vote.

With these elections seeing voter turnout massively up in anglophone-concentrated ridings, and the almost impregnable Montreal Liberal vote down to a CAQ increase, it would seem that English Quebecers may finally have found a sense of that “appartenance.”