Rejoice, anglos living in Quebec in 2016. Quebec’s foremost pollster, Jean-Marc Léger, has just exonerated us collectively from the guilt carried by our ancestors who were held responsible for most ills afflicting French Canadians.
Léger, son of former journalist and Parti Québécois minister Marcel Léger, founded a polling firm with his father in 1986 and, ever since, has been sounding the hearts and minds of the Québécois. No one else has comparably sophisticated knowledge of his compatriots. Moreover, his firm, Léger Recherche – Stratégie – Conseil, has extended its activities internationally. He was also president from 2012 to last June of the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research, and can judge Quebecers in comparison with peoples elsewhere.
So I read with delight his diagnosis of Quebecers laid out in his book, published last month, titled in French Le Code Québec and, in English, Cracking the Quebec Code: The 7 Keys to Understanding Quebecers. After reading it cover to cover, I interviewed Léger.
Before going on, let me give you some background. When I was a student at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in the 1940s, we all had to memorize the pages from the 1912 novel Maria Chapdelaine, in which “the voice of the land of Quebec” speaks. Here is one passage: “All around us foreigners have come whom we please to call the barbarians. They have taken almost all power, they have acquired almost all the money. But, in the land of Quebec, nothing must change.”
That phrasing was then evoked obsessively in the novel Menaud, Maître-draveur, by Félix-Antoine Savard, published in 1937 and immediately acclaimed as the most significant novel ever written by a French Canadian. It was at the top of our list of required reading.
Menaud, a logger, is hired by “the foreigners,” and is driven insane when they acquire logging rights in the mountain where he lives. “The sites of his mountain, deep and holy like the very sanctuary of the country, would be desecrated!” Menaud swears to drive out the intruders, but his madness paralyzes him. He keeps shouting: “The foreigners have come! The foreigners have come!”
Les Anglais were those foreigners, of course. But all that has now changed, as Léger reveals in his book. In our interview, he spoke about how the PQ has lost its previous driving forces, particularly among the generation of Québécois born between 1982 and 2000.
“The PQ was built on three pillars. The first pillar was the French language, the protection of the French language. But for the younger generation of today, the French language is protected, and it’s not a major problem. Yes, we still have some concerns about the French language, but it’s not a major problem.”
One down, two to go.
“The second pillar was the quest for control of the Quebec state. My father, and all his generation, wanted to make sure that Quebec was managed by the francophones, that we should have the control of a state and that the state should favour the evolution of Quebec. Today, the francophones do control the state and that is no longer at stake. Besides, nowadays we want the state to intervene less and less. So the second pillar for the independence movement, the drive to have a powerful state, is no longer a major force.”
“The third pillar — the most important — was the hatred for the Anglais. The Anglais, they were the bad people of the 1970s. Today, it’s totally the opposite. For the younger generation, les autres, les Anglais, are now their friends. They meet together, they have respect for each other, they share good times together. That hatred for les Anglais no longer exists.”
And Léger concludes. “So there you have it, the three pillars for the sovereignist movement in the 1970s no longer exist today. And that is the reason why the movement is finding it difficult to recover a sense of direction, even though it remains relatively strong at 35 to 40 per cent support.”
Farewell, Maria Chapdelaine. Sleep at last in peace, Menaud the Master Logger.
William Johnson, a former Gazette columnist, lives in Gatineau.