A consensus is emerging among francophones that François Legault’s government’s first 100 days in power have brought calm and political itch relief after four years of “it’s complicated” Liberal rule under Premier Philippe Couillard.
Even the biggest labour union, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), says its relationship with the Coalition Avenir Québec government is better than with the Liberals.
For the first time since the Quiet Revolution, a provincial Liberal government had shown little interest in the classic issues of Quebec nationalism. Jean Lesage was a strong nationalist (“Canada is my country and Quebec is my home”), Robert Bourassa almost took Quebec out of Confederation after the Meech Lake fiasco and Jean Charest never turned his back on Quebec’s specificity, unlike Philippe Couillard, who seemed not to care.
And yet in 2011, in preparation for the general election the following year, the Liberal Party asked its militants “which aspects of the Quebec-Canada relationship should be modified to ensure success and coherence for Quebec strategies” while stating “Quebec is free to pursue its destiny.”
One cannot downplay Couillard de l’Espinay’s unpopularity with francophones, which killed his chances of re-election, although his Quebec roots go back to the first days of the colony. Philippe Couillard’s ancestor, Guillaume Couillard, came to Canada in 1613 and was the first colonist from France to be ennobled by Louis XIV, the Sun King of Versailles. He received the hereditary title of Sieur de l’Espinay, a name Philippe Couillard has been known to use from time to time.
Couillard also holds dual French citizenship through his mother.
Quebecers did not “get” him. Maybe he was too much of an aristocrat for egalitarian Quebec. Maybe it was Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a surgeon in the 1990s, or Arthur Porter, with whom he launched an international medical consultancy. Maybe he was too smart: He entered medical school at age 16 and came out a doctor at 22. Many Québécois hate it when someone’s head sticks out, to the extent of turning their back on the poor soul who’s unfortunate to be fortunate.
Couillard took a lot of flak because he refused to play the nationalist game. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper always gave the French version of his speeches first, followed by the English version, anywhere in the world, “because it is Canada’s founding language,” he told La Presse.
In 2014, Couillard was blasted by the francophone media for giving a speech in English at the Arctic Circle conference in Iceland.
Francophones were angered by Couillard’s apparent willingness to go along with accusations of systemic racism in Quebec, as well as his support for Bill 59 creating an anti-hate speech police, as Don Macpherson pointed out at the time. It failed.
The Liberals achieved great things, especially in the area of public finances, but they stayed in power for too long. The appeal of fresh new faces in government was too strong to resist, especially since Legault made clear he was determined to ban the wearing of religious signs by government workers in a position of authority — a move supported by 60 per cent of Quebecers, according to surveys.
If Ottawa stands in the way, expect some constitutional brasse-camarade.
The good people at l’Office de la langue française weren’t very busy during the Couillard years, while francophones and francophiles Said they noticed an increase in illegal signage in Montreal.
Legault said he would not modify Bill 101 but would apply it in full. Which brings us to the Lachute hospital signage problem. Everyone knew the institution, not classified as bilingual, was in contravention of the law and yet did nothing.
There are lots of laws I don’t like, but being a law-and-order person, I accept that laws are made to be applied. Or changed. Not ignored.
Why can’t it be that easy for everyone?