For many Quebec anglophones, the idea of an activist group representing their interests fills them with ... well, horror, to be frank.
Who can blame them? More than 25 years of lobbying later, it doesn't seem like a whole lot has been accomplished. The issues that need to be addressed are many of the same ones that Alliance Quebec first took on 26 years ago: protecting access to health care delivered in English, making sure access to English schooling is respected, raising the level of bilingualism among anglophone youth so they need not leave to find good jobs, and so on.
Over the last 30 years or so, anglophones have tried everything, it seems. In the early 1980s Alliance Quebec tried the polite, reasonable approach (and, critics say, also tried infiltrating the Liberal Party).
In the late 1990s, William Johnson adopted a much blunter approach, leading AQ demonstrations against businesses that did not include English on their signs. Outside of Alliance Quebec, others earned the label "angryphone," some of them using foolishly intemperate tactics and vocabulary. Still others, most notably lawyer Brett Tyler, systematically defended anglo rights in the courts, scoring some impressive successes. But ultimately the anglophone future is a social and political question more than a legal one.
Through it all, anglophones' legitimacy as Quebecers has often been under assault or, at best, ignored. A quarter-million anglos, tired of waging existential battles, packed up and left years ago. Others just got on with their daily affairs. Still others decided a steady insistence on their legal, moral, and civil rights was the way to go.
This last approach strikes us as the sensible option. The community will thrive when we all do our part to support our essential services - the health-care system, schools and school boards, social services, libraries, universities.
When universities call for support, for example, we should be giving generously. If access to English-language health-care is on the wane, especially in remote areas - and it is - we have to complain to the government.
Then there's the federal court-challenges program, inexplicably axed by the Conservative government, which was designed to protect official-language minorities' rights.
Minority communities survive when their members will them to survive, when many people have a shared consciousness of being part of a group. The Quebec Community Groups Network (www.qcgn.ca) is growing into just such a role. A network of 29 diverse groups and organizations, it met last weekend to call for anglophones to become more engaged.
We're happy to echo that call - and to acknowledge that the QCGN has been doing a calm and careful job of building the connections anglophones need.
No single voice can speak for all Quebec's anglophones, but different groups with energy and a pragmatic focus on what's important to us will carry us a long way, especially if they communicate and co-operate together. We need groups, plural, to protect and promote our community. There's more than enough work for us all.