Quebec City celebrations should mark the birth of a nation

The 400th anniversary show is devoid of history and pride

Québec 2008 - 400e anniversaire de la fondation du Canada?...

The show that kicked off the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City on New Year's Eve was a disappointment. Le Devoir called it a "historical mistake." Le Soleil branded it "improvised." Even Bonhomme Carnaval would have been a critic.
Although the outdoor stage at Place D'Youville was impressive, the choice of songs and performers was outrageously disconnected from the nature of the event. It was closer to the lineup one would expect at a late-night talk show than for a bash intended to mark such a history-filled event.
Most of Quebec's major artists were notoriously absent. So was the rich poetry and music for which Quebec is internationally renowned.

If this is the least bit indicative of what's to come for the year-long celebration, it makes you wonder if anyone at the Société du 400e anniversaire, the committee responsible for it, understands the true meaning of it all.
The celebrations of 2008 are not to mark the founding of a town or a chance to sing cute little songs about the romantic streets of Quebec City.
They are about the founding of the capital of the only francophone state on this continent that also grew into one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Marking this should have required an extended knowledge and respect for this unique history as well as for what this French presence in North America has meant and created.
But during the opening show, even the founder of Quebec City, Samuel de Champlain, was all but ignored.
That's like the United States celebrating the bicentennial of the American Revolution without uttering the name of George Washington.
It shows why there were growing worries that to avoid appearing too "politicized" (read "nationalist") or upset the federal government that put its own mark on the celebrations, this 400th anniversary risks being mostly de-historicized.
Every chance he's had so far, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made sure to refer to the founding of Canada, not of Quebec. He might try to use the anniversary to boost his own visibility here in what could be en election year.
But it boggles the mind that neither the government of Quebec, nor the former mayor of Quebec City, saw fit to make sure that this event is centred on the founding of Quebec. Period.
It's a pretty sorry statement that this anniversary cannot be seen and presented for what it is, for fear of not appearing politically neutral enough, regardless of the governing party's constitutional stance.
It's a pretty safe bet that if Jean-Paul Lallier had been mayor of Quebec City last year, 2008 would have been handled with a stronger sense of responsibility and respect for history. As for the Charest government, it lacked this sense of history to the point of wanting to invite the queen to Quebec - as if Britain had anything to do with the founding of Quebec City.
This confusion about the nature of the 2008 celebrations also explains the odd choice of having a so-called autonomous committee in charge of organization, instead of having the Quebec government work in collaboration with the city, (which should have been ultimately responsible for the celebration of its own founding).
So it's no great surprise that only two days into the new year and after the failure of the opening show, Pierre Boulanger, the controversial CEO of the Société du 400e, has been assigned to "other tasks."
Here's hoping that this is a sign that someone, somewhere has caught on that the 400th anniversary cannot be presented like the New Year's show: devoid of history, taste and pride.
Quebecers are in the mood to celebrate their history. They came out in droves on New Year's Eve. They deserve better than what they saw.

For 2008, they deserve celebrations that take pride in the birth of their nation and invite the rest of the world to enjoy the party with them.
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