Thursday, November 20, 2008

Québécois' obsession with "culture"

My fellow Québécois appear to be bizarrely scared of having their "culture" stolen. During his first term, the Harper government had decided to cut 45 millions $ in arts funding. This was not something unexpected; Harper's philosophy favors small government, so this decision was totally in line with what would be expected from a Conservative. The cut did not focus on any particular province, it was an across the board cut that would affect both English and french projects. Yet the people in Québec were up in arms; there was a widespread feeling here that the "English" were trying to destroy our distinct french culture. A very popular video by some prominent Québécois artists was made during the campaign, playing on the theme of submissive Frenchman vs arrogant Englishmen in power (despite the fact that this bore little relation to reality, the video was a success because it pushed the right buttons). The Bloc Québécois exploited the issue; the end result was that the Conservatives ended up doing far worse than predicted in Québec.

Now, politicians in the current provincial election are trying hard to position themselves as pro culture. Charest (PLQ, Liberals) announced his new policy of removing provincial tax on Québécois' cultural products such as movie tickets. But today, Marois (PQ, pro independence) brought out the big guns. She said that if elected, she will force the federal government to transfer its few cultural responsibilities to Québec; she promised to call a referendum on this specific issue if they refuse. It's too early to tell how this will play out, but my gut feeling is that this will be a winning issue for Marois.

This whole cultural issue resonates with the population because it plays perfectly with our own mythology: the poor humiliated french speakers being trampled on by the arrogant Englishmen who wish to assimilate us. This is sad because it shows that despite the enormous gains of the past decades, Québécois are still insecure. They still see their existence as a separate people somewhat threatened; despite the fact that almost all important decisions about culture and language are taken at the provincial level. Another reason why this makes me sad is the ridiculous notion that culture is dependent on the state. The underlying logic is that Québec culture is so weak that if it was not artificially kept alive it would die a fast death. Again the theme is insecurity.

These insecurity would not be cured by independence either. There are very few important responsibilities in the federal government and we already run the show in regard to language, education or culture; in short all the important Ministries that can do something to preserve Québécois' culture and language. What independentists do not realize is that people decide to speak or work in English not because they have been successfully colonized by the Canadian English or out of deep belief in Trudeau's bilingualism, they do so for the same reason that Spanish, German or Chinese kids learn English: it is the world's lingua franca (as well as our deep economic links with our southern neighbour). The incentives for speaking English would be exactly the same in an independent Québec, and the tools at the disposal of the government to encourage "frenchness" would be exactly the same. So the culture/language fundamentalists would keep on harping the coming extinction of our way of life with the same paranoia and the same pathological insecurity. In the meanwhile, I'll continue to dissent here, in a format that allows me to escape the bubble.

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