HELLO, I MUST BE GOING.
This title to a Phil Collins album aptly sums up how I feel about my home province of Québec. I’m constantly saying ‘hello’, in the sense that every new day is a new beginning, in the hopes that my life will move forward in a direction which I feel will bring me fulfillment, but, increasingly, I keep sensing that ‘I must be going’.
I’m an unhappy camper in the Distinct Society, the wannabe Secular Republic of Québec, where locals are still divided over language, culture, ethnicity, religion, and how all of this fits into the currents of history, as well as the present and future.
I spoke with a good friend of mine from Ontario, who’s currently living here in Québec city on a work assignment. He spoke to me about an acquaintance of his who came to him in a very distraught state, saying that he, as a native-born French-Canadian who is currently learning English and practicing it on a regular basis, is presently being threatened by his separatist, unilingual parents, that if he continues to pursue his path towards full fluency in English, that they will totally disown him forever and he will no longer have a family!
I couldn’t believe my ears! Or could I? I’ve come to expect such forms of ethno-linguistic intolerance and bigotry on both sides of the interprovincial boundary now since childhood, that nothing surprises me anymore.
Language and culture are to Canada what race and colour are to the USA. I just can’t seem to escape the debate. Wherever I turn, it keeps rearing its ugly head. I feel so ghettoized within my English-speaking enclave here in Québec city. I promised myself that I’d never let myself be cornered into that box again.
But my affinities with the greater French-speaking population have increasingly become coloured by my increasing insistence on the practice of my Roman Catholic faith, which fewer and fewer French-Canadians will even openly admit to believe in, much less to willingly and overtly advocate for publically for fear of public brow-beating and possible negative sanctions from the secular majority.
Mixed into this is the traditional bugaboo of separatism. I not only have begun to filter and sort my quantity and quality of relationships with the French-speaking majority on the basis of religious affiliation, but also based on political affinities.
There was a time when having separatist friends or acquaintances didn’t bother me all that much. I saw it more as a quaint and folksy character flaw on their part which was not of much consequence. But in the wake of the near-death experience of the October 1995 vote on secession here in Québec, I saw just how badly-organized were the forces in favour of a united Canada, and how important it had been to have had a strong, intellectually-legitimate spokesperson for Canada, such as Pierre Trudeau had been in the 1980 vote of the same nature.
Jean Chrétien just didn’t have the charisma, nor the intellectual power or legitimacy, much less the political stamp of approval from any element within the French-speaking nationalist elites of Québec, to be able to be a convincing spokesperson for Canada and Québec’s place within it. That’s the main reason why we came so close to losing.
After that, I realized that I really couldn’t afford to permit myself to, in all conscience, create bonds of friendship, much less love, with any avowed separatist, whose avowed goal in life was to create their own country by ways of destroying mine, of which theirs has always been an important constituent part.
I then realized, through the years after having returned to Québec city in 2001 that I was unconsciously NOT seeking out the permanent friendships of native French-speakers, especially those who were mostly unilingual French only. I realized just how much my status as a bilingual, bicultural person was important to me, and how those who speak only English or French, for the most part, with few exceptions, didn’t appeal to me.
I especially began to avoid individuals who I figured out quickly were hostile to the English language, to Canada, the USA, Britain, to English-speaking people and English-language culture. I was quick to be able to sniff out the Anglophobes on the one hand and the Francophobes on the other and felt quite limited in my ability to be able to associate freely with the types of people I felt comfortable with.
The number of fish in the pool just seemed to be too few for me to make my way in any significant fashion, and as my transplanted friend from Ontario observed about life in Québec city, he felt that there were ‘too many big fish in a relatively small pond’. This meant that there were a disproportionate number of big shots and higher-echelon types at the top end of the hierarchy in comparison to the total number of people in town.
Which I’d have to say seems to be the case. You have a Director, or Deputy Minister, or Assistant Deputy Minister, or Vice-President or Assistant Manager of just about everything around here, but often nobody to answer your call when you call anywhere. Nobody has a secretary anymore, and everybody’s always in endless meetings now brainstorming to figure out how to be more productive that there’s nobody left to answer the customer anymore. Just an impression.
There are lots of armies of managers, assistant managers, consultants, strategists, communications specialists churning out reams of data and spinning it with endless pie charts, bar graphs, but little will to actually spend money on foot soldiers in the front-line sectors of the labour force to actually execute all of the grandiose plans that the hoodoo-voodoo people have dreamed up.
I guess it’s the same all over, just that here; the issue is overlaid with the additional issue of language, culture, ethnicity, nationalism, and religion. I’m sure Ontario has its share of issues, but they’re not the same as here. I feel I’m stuck in a holding pattern again and being held hostage again by it all. I have two brothers in the GTA/Niagara area and if I moved closer to them, perhaps I’ll be able to get closer to a viable solution. I’m sure there will be a period of mourning involved if and when I decide to leave, but I’m sure it will be a suitably bittersweet moment as there have been many already in my life.
I’m sure living in southern Ontario has much greater opportunities for me employment-wise, as well as socially. I’m definitely tired of having to use my wealth of knowledge to be paid so little as a tour guide and to have so few opportunities to earn a decent living writing in English.
In any case, one door closes in the sense that I was turned down at the Seminary here in Quebec city to be a Permanent Deacon, but by the same token, another door opens up to a new life in Toronto to study at the MA level. A Phil Collins Album might be an odd inspiration for a piece about one’s life journey, but I feel that this is where I’m at right now.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings. God Bless.