We were always a little wary of Guy Bertrand's opinions even when he was temporarily a federalist. Now his latest outburst, against Saku Koivu and all of Montreal, places him firmly on the outer fringe of the identity debate that is buffeting Quebec.
Appearing before the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation, the flamboyant lawyer got one thing right when he waved off the "threat" posed to Quebec by "veils, kirpans and the Jewish hats."
But he also claimed that when Canadiens' star Koivu fails to speak French in public, he somehow violates "the right of Quebecers to be served in French."
Then Bertrand went on to warn that language, not religion or culture, poses the real danger to Quebec identity. "Our survival is threatened by Montreal," he said.
There is, of course, a fair chance that if we just wait a while, Bertrand will become just as resolute a supporter of full bilingualism. This is, after all, a man who would make a weather vane dizzy. There is certainly no shame in changing opinions about a political issue: When your understanding improves, your opinion must follow, or you become intellectually dishonest. It's no coincidence quite a lot of prominent onetime sovereignists have abandoned that faith. And it's interesting that there have been few converts moving in the other direction in recent years.
But Bertrand has taken that road both ways, always with maximum publicity, in a fashion that suggests a fundamental lack of seriousness. He's certainly entitled to do that, just as the rest of us are entitled to not take him seriously.
What we do take seriously is the cheap effort to divide Quebecers. The Koivu case is, indeed, an irritant for some people, and it's hard to understand why the Canadiens don't show a little more public-relations sophistication.
Some local sports fans remember Gary Carter of the Expos, whose French vocabulary began and ended with "bonjour" and "merci" but who parlayed that, some politeness about the French fact, and a big smile into enormous popularity. But if Bertrand, or Pauline Marois, seriously proposes to start imposing French tests on Les Glorieux, it could be a long time until the next Stanley Cup around here.
As for the bigger issue, we can understand some francophones may feel Montreal is too English; this is hardly new and can be discussed calmly by people of good will who can gather and examine evidence. We believe that that evidence will reveal little cause for francophone alarm.
But nonsense like "our survival is threatened by Montreal" does nobody any good. Bertand's "nous" evidently excludes hockey players who can't speak French, and the whole metropolis. The smaller your "nous" the louder you shout, it seems.