Ventriloquists have nothing on the Coalition Avenir Québec. François Legault’s party can talk out of both sides of its mouth at the same time, and in two different languages.
In Legault’s opening remarks at his news conference at the adjournment of the National Assembly last week, he made a point of saying a few words in English.
Mind you, Legault’s invitation to anglophones to “work all together” with his party rang hollow. The CAQ leader had already assured nationalists that in the campaign for the Oct. 1 election, he won’t make any commitments to anglos in particular.
And he had reason to hope that the anglos he has been half-heartedly courting weren’t familiar with one prominent CAQ supporter.
In French Quebec, 78-year-old Gilles Proulx is well-known from his lengthy career in media as a virulently xenophobic, old-line nationalist whipping up resentment in his French-speaking audience against minorities.
As a talk-radio host during the 78-day Oka standoff in 1990, he relentlessly exploited white frustration at a Mohawk blockade of the major Mercier Bridge route between the South Shore of the St. Lawrence and the island of Montreal.
That frustration resulted in a white mob stoning a convoy of Mohawk old people, women and children being evacuated from the besieged Kahnawake reserve. Proulx denied “encouraging or approving” their acts.
His career in television ended in 2005 after he called a 14-year-old sexual-assault victim “a little slut.” But he continues to spew bile in a weekly column in Quebec’s most popular daily, Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Le Journal de Montréal.
Four years ago, a Quebec Jewish organization complained after Proulx, in a radio interview, blamed Jews’ “economic control” for “provoking” hatred of them.
A long-time Parti Québécois supporter — he ran unsuccessfully for that party in 1973 — Proulx turned away from the PQ two years ago, partly because he said it had gone soft on identity.
He came out for the CAQ, writing in Le Journal that he hoped Legault’s party would unite nationalists against a Liberal party dependent upon “the monolithic vote of the anglophones and the immigrants.”
Far from being embarrassed by Proulx’s embrace, Legault and his party have welcomed it — but only in French.
A month before Legault invited anglos in English to “free yourself” from the Liberals, he posed with Proulx and thanked him on Twitter for attending the announcement of the CAQ candidacy of Proulx’s niece in a riding outside Montreal.
Proulx didn’t just show up for his niece. He’s a regular guest speaker at CAQ events.
If the tone of his Le Journal columns is any indication, his CAQ talks wouldn’t exactly be friendly toward the anglos Legault has been flattering with his attention.
In one recent column, Proulx warned Legault that he was wasting his time with his appeals in English to “a population that votes ‘Liberal’ as certainly as Pavlov’s dog salivates when it hears the bell.”
In another, Proulx said “le West Island” — Québécois politico-media code for the English-speaking community — is populated by “ces rednecks Canadian” who haven’t changed since the 1970s.
But the CAQ is careful to keep Proulx out of sight and earshot of anglos.
Its star speaker stays away from the provincial party meetings covered by the anglo media. Instead, Proulx’s recent presentations on nationalism have been limited to a B-circuit of CAQ associations in French-speaking ridings at a safe distance from Montreal.
And while his lectures used to be promoted on the French-language main part of the party’s website, they weren’t mentioned in the English section.
In recent months, the constantly smiling Legault has taken to quoting Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”
In fact, the CAQ has been doing both, with Legault delivering an inclusive message to anglos in their language, and its touting of Proulx’s support sending quite a different one to nationalists in theirs. And they’ve got away with it.
At least until now.
Have a good summer.