Friday, October 26, 2007

Citizens and "citizens"

I admit I've always found Quebec and the Quebecois just a bit cooler, bit more 'with it" than the rest of Canada. In Quebec, you can buy beer and wine at the cornerstores. They have the Formula 1 Grand Prix. The people dress quite stylishly; you can always spot the hot, fashion-conscious yet subtle francophone female in a crowd. The social safety net is pretty good - no one else has an affordable daycare system in this country. The landscape on the North Shore is beautiful, the ski hills kick ass, and there are more painters, musicians and other artists per capita in Montreal, Quebec City and elsewhere than there are in anglo Canada. Les Invasions Barbares was the type of profound, funny, moving film that no English Canadian director ever made. And, yes, the French CBC has some pretty innovative programming.

Having heaped praise on the home of the disctinct society clause and big hydro, let me now register my disappointment and, puzzlement, really, at how the 'immigrant' integration issue is being handled, perceived, written about in Quebec. It speaks to a certain malaise across the society, amplified through the political medium.

If a political party in the provincial assembly in Quebec city wants more stringent requirements on how newly arrived people behave within the province, then there should be certain rules of thumb, to assure the requirements don't end up sounding absurd, misplaced or downright bigoted:

1. The language requirement is a red herring. Of course, if anyone wants to work in Quebec and isn't a federal bureaucrat in Place du Portage in Hull, the French language is an automatic requirement. Just like anyone wanting work in Vancouver or Halifax would have to have a sufficient command of English. Ask my parents who, as immigrants into English Canada, spent years learning and perfecting their language was necessary and it wasn't a piece of cake.

2. The cultural sensitivity to all things connected with the langauge and French Canadian culture is certainly a fine, fine point. But there are established channels that help engrain values, teach about history and reinforce a sense of a polity. Schools and universities, for one. The cultural content of French as a second language classes. If, in this day and age, with so many possible channels of communication and so many ways to capture a person's attention, we are told we'd have to resort to a political charter of some sorts...hmmm, I'd say that the schools, media, writers and others are not doing their job.

3. Quebec may be distinct within Canada -I'll be the first person to say it is - but it is still within Canada, a part of the same economy and the same job market. When one immigrates to Quebec, they think of themselves as primarily immigrating to Canada. A person struggling in the francophone environment won't turn into a good, productive worker or a citizen if you whack him with another requirement...they will likely end up moving and throw in their lot with the red-hot Alberta economy or the good ol' TO. Especially if they are engineers, teachers, nurses, construction foremen or equipment operators. That's how French Canada loses people annually to English Canada. Simple as that.

4. Rural and small-town Quebec where much of the conern over 'reasonable accomodation' is coming from is not a very dynamic economic region. Opportunities for newcomers don't exactly abound in Gaspesie, Beauce or Saguenay. These places will never be over-run by hordes of culturally different people with low capacities for assimilating into a francophone existence - to suggest that this might happen is fear-mongering and political manipulation. If I am coming from South America, Lebanon or China, my destination is very likely to be Montreal, not the backwoods....and nothing against the 'backwoods', either. They are nice to go hiking in but most people know where their daily bread comes from.

5. Concern over cultural integration and the concern over people who 'bring their conflicts with them' should be two different issues, handled through different channels. If someone is raising eyebrows with their apparently ultra-conservative Islamic ways or if they are coming from a recent war zone...former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, many African countries, to name examples...there are going to be extra concerns over that person's ability to lead a normal life in Quebec, anywhere in Canada for that matter. But if we are talking 'cultural and linguistic integration', then we ought not drag in other, potentially deeper concerns such as those over people who might be prone to use violence easily or who have trouble with written legal codes.

Remember the highest risk demographics in our society, as far as crime and not getting along with the rest of us? Young aboriginal Canadian men and young men of Jamaican origin in Toronto. Both groups speak English, for one. Both have grown up in this country. Grown up alienated, perhaps...but no one is going to solve that problem by testing these populations against some civic-type scale.

Just my ususal fifty-four cents.


joncormier said...

I'm just amazed that the one place you hear the most complaining about being repressed by Canada is sounding more and more like a bunch of fascists. Yes, actual fascists, not the Godwin's law type of argument.

Only here are people fighting against being too accepting and free. Fucking idiots.

joncormier said...

And by "here" I meant North America, not just Quebec. Just trying to be clear.