Indifference, desire for independence: Canada Day in Quebec has challenges

Canada Day 2007

Dene Moore - MONTREAL (CP) - Asked if he has any plans for Canada Day, Oussama Aitelhaj asks "When is Canada Day?"
That just about sums up the standing Canada's national celebration has in Quebec, where many people want to leave Canada and many others don't seem to care.
"I'll stay home," says Aitelhaj, a Canadian citizen, when asked what he'll do to mark July 1 this year. "I don't have to work. I don't have to go to school."
That's celebration enough, he jokes.
Christiane Joanette is what could pass for an ardent federalist in Quebec. She knows when Canada Day is and she usually goes to the park with her family to take in the local celebrations.
This year?
"I'm moving," she says.
Most leases in Quebec expire at the end of June and anyone who wants to relocate spends the holiday packing or unpacking.
While Quebecers love getting a second three-day weekend in a row, the celebrations are always far more muted than for the June 24 Fete nationale holiday and the province never becomes a sea of red on July 1.
And even the fact this is the 140th anniversary of Confederation won't change that.
"I don't mind the holiday, that's good," says Francoise David, whose fledgling Quebec solidaire party espouses separation from Canada.
"But I don't participate in any celebration because, for me, it has no meaning."
For many Quebecers, it's just a day off, she says.
"There are certainly people for whom it's an important holiday but I have the impression that for most people, even for people who aren't sovereigntists, that they don't celebrate the day in any particular way," says David.
"There's a certain indifference on the part of many Quebecers."
Indifference may be the best case scenario, says Allen Nutik, founder of Affiliation Quebec, a pro-federalist group.
"The anti-Canada feelings in Quebec run so high," Nutik says.
In Quebec City, the annual holiday tradition in recent years has included a small parade and an accompanying protest by hardline sovereigntists.
In Montreal, Nutik says turnout for the downtown parade has diminished each year.
"Some (people) are embarrassed, some are outright intimidated or frightened," he says.
This year, organizers aren't sure they will be able to mount more than a marching band and their own unbridled enthusiasm.
Nutik says the federal Heritage Department hasn't come up with one red cent for the parade in Montreal.
But a spokesman for the department says $40,000 has been set aside for the downtown parade. The department says celebrations at the Old Port in Montreal are the centrepiece of federally funded Canada Day events in the city.
But Claude Leclerc, organizer of the parade for many years, says the funding is a pittance. The Fete nationale parade held the weekend before costs $675,000.
In the heyday of the notorious federal sponsorship program, Canada Day in Quebec was flush with cash; apparently not as much cash as was paid out, but flush all the same.
Nutik blames sponsorship shame for the poor showing the past few years.
He says federalist parties in Ottawa have abandoned the anglophone minority in Quebec in order to woo the so-called "soft" nationalist vote they need to win seats in the province.
He says there's pressure to abandon the downtown parade altogether.
"It's as if the federal government is trying to sabotage it," Nutik says. "And it is shameful."
There aren't that many activities listed in the province on the federally sponsored website for Canada Day in Quebec.
There are events planned in the Old Port of Montreal, a young staffer at the local tourism office assures a visitor. She just doesn't have any information about them.
Jean-Francois Lisee, an author and political pundit at the Universite de Montreal, says celebrating Canada has never been de rigueur in Lower Canada - not 140 years ago and not today.
"When Quebec joined the federation in 1867, there were no celebrations," says Lisee.
He says it's only since the rise of the sovereigntist movement that the federal government has promoted July 1 in Quebec - with very limited success.
"You have a holiday, it's nice outside," Lisee says. "I'm sure that this being the 140th anniversary will not make much of a difference for Quebecers."
Tania Kottoyanni, co-president of the Conseil de la souverainete, says most Quebecers don't even know it's the 140th anniversary of Confederation.
"People here know a lot more about their national celebration than this one," she says, referring to the Fete nationale.
But Nutik and a handful of his Canada-loving friends are determined.
There will be a parade, he says, even if it's just a single marching band and some proud anglophones holding up traffic. He urged all federalists in Quebec to come out and fill the ranks.
"If you think that Canada deserves to be a country and you are Canadian in Quebec, come to this parade. Your country depends on it."

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