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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 16, 2023

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The government of Quebec will cut funding for out-of-province students to study at English language universities in Quebec. The justification being that these students are a threat to the French language and that they leave after graduation (if you see a contradiction there, you're not alone).

Tuition at McGill (one of the top universities in Canada) will increase from $8,992 to $17,000 a year, making it much harder to compete with the likes of the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. Bishop's University expects to lose a third of its students possibly not to survive.

In Canada, every province subsidizes about half the cost of Canadian students attending its universities, regardless of their province of origin. The result is that, while international students pay full price, Canadians can attend university anywhere in the country and pay similar tuition rates. These subsidies are funded in large part with unconditional Social Transfers, that can be spent on other programs, but they are intended to benefit all Canadians equally. Quebec differs from the other provinces in that it funds about three quarters of the cost for Quebec residents and half for French citizens and Canadians from other provinces.

In my view, this is just the latest in the government's attempt to ethnically cleanse Quebec of anglophones. What is not well understood outside Quebec is that it has long had a large anglophone minority which has been shrinking for almost two hundred years (since the Great Migration from the British Isles). Places like the Ottawa valley and the Eastern Townships were originally settled by anglophones. Quebec City, Montreal (which was a majority English speaking city for a good part of the 19th century), and the Gaspé have long had very large anglophone minorities.

This history is attested to by placenames like Hull, Sherbrooke, Granby, and Drummondville, and by street names like Saint James Street and Dorchester Boulevard (renamed to René-Levesque). The three English language universities are located in these originally English speaking areas: two are in Montreal's traditionally anglophone western downtown and one is in Lennoxville, the last remaining predominantly English speaking community in the Eastern Townships.

At the time of the British conquest, French Canadians were concentrated in a narrow strip along the Saint Lawrence River. Other areas were immediately settled by an influx of immigrants from the US and Great Britain, but would later be swamped by the rapidly expanding French Canadians, who would eventually win enough political power to enforce its culture on the anglophones who didn't leave.

Since the 60s, the government has enforced the use of French and suppressed the use of English in almost all areas of public life, but recently, some misleading statistics have been used to stir up fear among francophones that their language is on the decline. It's been noticed that the number of people who speak French at home has very slightly declined in recent years. This is obviously because of the large number of immigrants who are making up a larger and larger share of the population every year. The number speaking English at home has declined even more. It is therefore absurd to suggest that French is in any meaningful sense on the decline, unless you're suggesting that Quebec is going to become a primarily Arabic speaking province. If you know anything about Quebec, you know what is implied by such claims is that English is displacing French. But the very thing producing this statistic of declining use of French at home is actually making the province more French.

In reality, partly because of a law that prevents immigrant children from attending English public schools, 90% of immigrant children grow up to be francophones, which is a larger share than the native population. Even a majority of anglophone children attend French schools and the vast majority of young anglophone Quebeckers are bilingual.

Quebec also has a large degree of independent control over its immigration, allowing it to prioritize immigration from French speaking countries, particulary France, Africa, and Haiti. The anglophone communities are thus largely prevented from replenishing their naturally declining populations with immigrants.

Earlier, this fear was used to justify limiting the number of places in English speaking CEGEPs (two year colleges that are attended between high school and university) and requiring almost all immigrants to speak French, including students, temporary workers, and those sponsored by family members.

The government is justifying these latest policies by saying they are needed to protect the French language (which is not under threat), while complaining that it costs them money to pay for students who leave after graduation (in large part because of their oppressive language laws). But if they leave, they're not much a threat. Canadian citizens are the only people who are allowed (because of a constitutional right) to put their children in English public schools.

They don't want them to stay. A small but stable anglophone minority is not a threat. These policies seem clearly calculated to slowly strangle the anglophone community until it disappears. The real fear is not that French will disappear, but that Quebec will fail to become purely French.

There was an episode from a few years that I think illustrates well the insanity that has taken over public discourse in Quebec and Ottawa. In 2020, Liberal Member of Parliament Emmanuella Lambropoulos, a trilingual millennial representing the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent, told the official languages commissioner she would need evidence to believe that French was on the 'decline' (with air quotes). This provoked such outrage in Quebec, where she was lambasted for 'disrespecting' French Canadians and asked by other committee members to leave the committee, that she felt the need to offer her 'deepest apologies' and resignation from the committee the next day. You'd have thought she said something racist given the level of indignation expressed, with anglophone politicians falling over themselves trying to distance themselves from her remarks while Quebec nationalists accused them of secretly agreeing with her.

sorta related but I was just in Montreal, some obervations:

  • definitely seems like if you are a twenty something there you need to speak French. Communities / friendships seem largely segregated by francophone or anglophone groups, and there are more francophone ones

  • Downtown Montreal is full of taller buildings, but definitely seem like they stopped building after 1970s. Seemed to coincide with the first French language laws? My local friend said Montreal was the natural economic engine for Canada, not Toronto, since the former is on the coast, benefited from trade since 1600s, etc.

  • Seems like the first french language laws in 1970s are partly a reason for the switch to Toronto. Apparently those laws stipulated that companies headquartered in Montreal needed to have a CEO who has a certain leve of French skills (don’t quote me on this). Seemed to motivate companies and rich Anglos to move HQs to Toronto, spurring Toronto’s growth to now be the premier Canadian city.

  • the arguments for the laws were cultural, but seemed that people also think it was economically redistributive from the Anglophone to the Francophone. As my friend said, “yes Montreal lost companies, but it largely worker on the Quebec context, as there was really a trend that the Anglos increasingly economically dominant over Francophones here”. Not sure if that was an explicit reason for these policies, tho.

  • You mentioned the schooling language thing. Seemed like you either have to prove you already got anglo schooling or go private school to avoid French schooling. Seemed like more choice before.

  • Quebec gives free French classes to anyone, apparently. Plan to take advantage when I am between jobs if I have the living costs

It at least appears to me that Quebec has been able to solidify its status as a Francophone region. I was impressed by how French they are, despite not being part of New France for hundreds of years. Honestly maybe it was confirmation bias, but even the construction workers look French; I swear this older man looked like a second cousin of Charles De Gaul, but like, working class.

From a self preservation aspect for their Francophone culture, language, and identity, these policies all seemed to work. And Im impressed they work so well!

I’m not an expert on Louisiana, but other than their legal system, New Orleans and Louisiana in general does not seem French / Cajun to me anymore. Quebec is the largest province and most or second most populous, so LA and Quebec do not have similar situations. Nevertheless, LA’s current state seems like a possibility for Quebec had Quebec not enacted these policies (and taken the economic penalty for the cultural win. Montreal seems to have the lowest rents of the bigger Canadian cities)

Overall: impressed by the choices made there and the results. Seems like something other places that wanna strengthen their cultural identity can learn from. It would probably work if they have the will to enforce similar cultural / language rules and the unity to endure the economic costs. Maybe more impressed cuz these policies seem driven by the people, not some random Politician making choices thay the people have to endure (though that probably happened too, in the beginning)

oh and fun fact: Canada does border a tiny French territory still.

I won't able to comment on most of your post objectively for obvious reasons, but I'll at least try to answer some of your questions.

Downtown Montreal is full of taller buildings, but definitely seem like they stopped building after 1970s. Seemed to coincide with the first French language laws?

It coincides with with language laws as you note. It also coincides with a terrorist group kidnapping and murdering government officials and a couple dozen incidents of bombs in mailboxes in Montreal. Then the two independence referenda in 1980 and 1995 really drove the nail in the coffin, with the second referendum to separate from Canada failing by 1% of the vote (50.58% remain versus 49.42% leave). The voter turnout was a shocking 93.5%. It's pretty wild to imagine how different history may have been if that vote had swung another half percent in the other direction. The premier went on television after losing the referendum to say the following:

"It's true we've been defeated, but basically by what?" Mr. Parizeau asked in his concession speech. "By money and the ethnic vote."

But I suppose I'm veering into dangerous territory. Back to the story.

The 60s and 70s were a boomtime for Montreal, when they had the world expo as well as the olympics resulting in a lot of new major infrastructure like bridges, the metro system and an artificial island/amusement park. Probably other things I'm ignorant of.

The factors mentioned above also led to a steady bleeding of educated anglo professionals. It's difficult to get exact numbers, but about 250,000-500,000 seems in the ballpark]. This isn't insubstantial in a province with a population of 8.5 million, and the impact is again probably heightened by the fact that these were many of the wealthier residents.

Which brings us to the next point...French people were probably right that Anglos fucked them over economically for decades if not centuries. Some of my family members in my parents generation would casually make comments about how they were too stupid/uneducated to perform the better-paying jobs anyways. They were dismayed that my school was teaching me that the French had been subjugated, but as far as I can tell, it was true.

Which brings me to my last point, it absolutely has been a rather gentle ethnic cleansing. Most of my family and friends have left, myself included. Those that remain speak french professionally. The laws that were passed would 100% be unconstitutional in the US, hell, they're unconstitutional in Canada too but when the Supreme Court struck them down Quebec basically said fuck you and nothing happened. I guess they didn't want to [deploy the army again] and/or spark another referendum. Francophones scoff and say anglos are just whining about having to learn French, when after all, they need to learn English. But it's more than that - it's feeling distinctly unwelcome at every level of government and society, it's an inability to integrate into social groups as you point out, it's the French Karens who report you to the language police for speaking English in the workplace (if you have a public facing job).

All that said, if this was the cost of national unity, I'll still take it. It seems to have worked; desire for independence is much lower in the younger generation.

You mentioned the schooling language thing. Seemed like you either have to prove you already got anglo schooling or go private school to avoid French schooling. Seemed like more choice before.

You can only go to an English school if your parents went to an English school in Canada. There used to be a loophole where private schools were exempt so that all the French elites could send their children to English prep schools, but it was closed relatively recently. The Anglo school boards are bleeding students hard and downsizing, closing or giving half their classrooms to French school boards. In other 2-3 generations I expect they won't exist assuming nothing else comes along to kick over the game board. McGill could have been a great college if they hadn't been repeatedly kneecapped by the French government trying to promote UDM and UQAM.

From a self preservation aspect for their Francophone culture, language, and identity, these policies all seemed to work. And Im impressed they work so well...Overall: impressed by the choices made there and the results. Seems like something other places that wanna strengthen their cultural identity can learn from. It would probably work if they have the will to enforce similar cultural / language rules and the unity to endure the economic costs.

Quebec is propping up their population with immigration. Back-of-the-envelope math seems like it's 2-3 times the rate of immigration in the United States, although not sure how illegal immigrants change that picture. You're conflating culture with language, however. Quebec seems worse at assimilating immigrants than the US - they may speak the language, but I don't think most of them share values and they largely stay within their ethnic groups.

It's pretty wild to imagine how different history may have been if that vote had swung another half percent in the other direction.

The result would not have been Québec leaving Canada, but there probably would have been a marked increase in French/English antagonization, as well as presumably French/indigenous strife. The 1995 referendum question was much too vague; while the PQ fully intended that a 50+1 Yes vote would allow them to proceed with a negotiated or unilateral secession, how it would have played out in reality is doubtful. Subsequently the Supreme Court adjudged that provinces do have the right to secede, but it requires "a clear question and a clear answer" (neither of which the 1995 vote had), and that would oblige the federal government to negotiate an exit for whichever party was seceding.

But one could certainly imagine a lot more social strife and culture war if the vote totals had been reversed. For reference here is the referendum question:

Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?

I imagine that for many it was very much less than clear what this entailed. This was of course, by design.

Thank you for that clarification, wasn't aware of the context.

I didn't know that. What do you think would have actually happened if they had won the referendum?

In the short run: Jacques Parizeau, leader of the Parti Québecois (the provincial separatist party) and premier of Québec announces victory in the referendum means secession from Canada. He probably immediately starts a tug of war between himself, the federal government, and Lucien Bouchard (head of the Bloc Québecois, the federal separatist party). The PQ leaders were "hard" secessionists in favour of quick and if necessary, unilateral secession; the BQ leaders were largely "soft" secessionists who wanted a negotiated exit with specific details determined by further referendums, and envisioned a Québec that was still largely within Canada's economic sphere.

This would've presumably created a three-way media battle, with each side claiming the referendum results as validation of their own perspective. Indigenous groups and anglo-dominated neighbourhoods/cities would announce their own secessions. The Canadian military would've likely secured important federal property but not be required to take any aggressive position. The western-based Reform party and the out-of-power Progressive Conservatives would likely demand a new federal election if PM Chrétien did not form a unity government.

In short it probably would've been a mess with no one side having a clear advantage in popular support. Any slow-moving legal proceedings would've doubtlessly favoured the government of Canada. I think there was little chance of serious violence; very high chance of a kind of political gridlock between the various factions. Antagonism and generally shit-slinging between anglo and French-Canadians would've reached a zenith and maybe pushed the needle towards more support for secession. On the other hand, political uncertainty and economic chaos might push support back towards federalism instead. Hard to say.

Interesting, thanks for the added detail.