Pouring gasoline on the debate over Quebec separation

The mainstream media's reaction to the Parti Québécois victory may have been predictable, but Justin Ling says it risks fanning the flames of intolerance.   The mainstream media's reaction to the Parti Québécois victory may have been predictable, but Justin Ling says it risks fanning the flames of intolerance. By Justin Ling Quebec is set to make history on…

The mainstream media's reaction to the Parti Québécois victory may have been predictable, but Justin Ling says it risks fanning the flames of intolerance.


The mainstream media's reaction to the Parti Québécois victory may have been predictable, but Justin Ling says it risks fanning the flames of intolerance.

By Justin Ling

Quebec is set to make history on Monday, when it will swear in its first female premier — ever. It’s just the beginning in a string of firsts: the first time sovereigntists have won government when a Quebecer is not leading Canada; the first time the PQ has won, but with only a minority; and the first time since 1993 that the PQ does not have a federal ally in the House of Commons.

Yet we’re left to ponder those interesting caveats on our own, with no guidance from the mainstream media, who, for the most part, have deafened themselves with high-pitched squealing over the apparent national unity crisis that lurks for us behind each shadow.

Take, for example, when Licia Corbella rhetorically asked Calgary Herald readers on September 7, Are onethird of Quebec voters bigots?”

From that headline, there was little doubt as to where that trainwreck was headed.

The nausea has been passing faster, as of late. Had I read that just a month ago, I probably would have been offended.

That “one-third” Corbella references is the number of voters who opted for Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois on September 4 (actually, it was 31.94 per cent. But, hey, who’s counting?)

That frustrating rhetoric, which has been cropping up more frequently on editorial pages across the nation, has been pushing Canada’s collective toes to the edge, threatening to send us over the cliff of reasoned debate. The rest-of-Canada, having anointed itself qualified to cover Quebec politics after a mere glancing over of the battlefield, is opening fire with a six-shooter of offensive political stereotypes.

The majority of the offending press pivots around two example of Marois’ so-called bigotry – extending Bill 101 to small businesses and CEGEPs, and enacting a self-styled Charter of Secularism. Those two supposed racist acts that the conservative-minded media joust with are hardly the controversy that they’re made out to be. Expanding language controls, far from creating an Anglo-lynching dystopia, would empower the province to impose tighter regulations that would, ostensibly, have those small bastions of Anglophone Quebec operate more functionally in French. The Charter of Secularism, meanwhile, would ban visible religious symbols for public servants – well, except a little crucifix.

Start the car, Martha, we’re moving to Prince Edward Island.

This legislation might not be a shining beacon of intelligent reform, sure, but rest assured that Marois’ brownshirts are not goosestepping in the streets.

One contentious part of the PQ platform revolves around shutting down ‘Bridge schools’ – essentially a loophole that allows francophone students to attend English colleges – is something that the Liberals have been trying to push for years. Originally, Jean Charest also supported expanding Bill 101. Where is the lambasting of that dirty nationalist?

But, nuance be damned. Pauline Marois must hate Anglophones and brown people.

Or, if you’re occasional National Post contributor and Montreal radio personality Dan Delmar, it’s “francosupremacy.” For the Toronto Star, Marois’ win means an end to a nineyear era of tranquility.” Michael Den Tandt, for Postmedia News, says the PQ win brings about a whiff of apocalyptic déjà vu.”

Way to elevate the debate, guys. I’m getting a nosebleed, up here.

It's actually worth noting that Marois is one of the less radical of the Pequistes. Just like the federal Conservatives – or any party, really – she has a raucous caucus of some more hardline sovereigntists that she, from time to time, must satisfy.

Then there’s the man you can always count on for a good face-palm, Rex Murphy, who penned a particularly painful complaint which doubled as justification for imposing a mandatory retirement age for newspaper columnists. With remarkable tact, Murphy manages to embody the problem with the rest-of-Canada yammering on about the national question in a single line, writing, “I cannot speak for the dynamics within Quebec, but outside, the feeling is more and more clear.” In that vein, I would like to read Rex Murphy, sports reporter: while I’m not actually in the stadium, the feeling in the parking lot is that the home team is winning.

This seems to be a common theme: I’m not there, I don’t know much about it, and I can’t offer any relevant insight – but boy, I sure do have a strong opinion about it.

We even had to face a wall of cognitive dissonance, listening to Conrad Black proclaim the Quiet Revolution as dead. This, from a man who has spent much of the past year in an American prison. Yes, he’s the Quebec expert.

This babble is not news. It’s barely punditry. It’s all essentially tilting at windmills in a car with no muffler. It has no place in the newspapers of the nation.


But it was, of course, the Sun chain that committed the worst crimes against reasonable dialog. Now, there are those who would brush aside Sun as a clown car of right-wing blowhards, Ezra Levant wannabes and, unfortunately, Ezra Levant – but their rhetoric must be challenged. While it’s true that the Sun’s editorial stance of brazen lunacy is largely ignored by reasonable people, it doesn't mean that the paper's editorial narrative isn't seeping through. Thus far, the paper's nuttery has just been allowed to pass – we looked away in shame when the Sun suggested that working with Quebec is appeasement,” compared the province to a deadbeat, and called Pauline Marois a fascist. Maybe it’s time we ask our offensive uncle to leave the dinner table.

By even allowing the Sun to move the Overton Window towards that insanity, the lofty goal of creating reasoned political dialog has escaped, replaced with a crazed Brian Lilley, hurling feral cats at the population and screaming obscenities. The PQ is racist! Quebec is xenophobic! Pauline Marois is literally Hitler!

Make no mistake that the word ‘fascist’ may have been bouncing around Richard Henry Bain’s head when he walked into PQ headquarters on election night, cursing the heavens and promising “payback” from the Anglophones. While I don’t want to start the descent into insanity that is launched by trying to pin acts of deranged gunmen on the national media, I also don’t buy this rationalization that this man was created in a vacuum. Vitriol breeds vitriol, breeds violence. Elements of the mainstream media have helped to create the atmosphere that spawned Bain. And, more importantly, it seemed to do little to prevent it.

While some of the media appeared to try and elevate that debate, it often amounted to little more than lip service. The Montreal Gazette published an editorial decrying the lack of focus on substantive immigration policy. Yet virtually in the same breath, the English-language newspaper penned an editorial calling Pauline Marois intolerant.

Evidence for this meltdown of respectful dialog can be found on just about every street in Montreal, where it’s not uncommon to hear a string of sexist slurs starting with B and C levied out our premier-designate in ways that should make any reasonable person cringe themselves into whiplash.

Maybe all this originated in the mouths of Quebec’s boisterous political class, but it should end there, too. The media outlets cannot let themselves slide into the ravine and merely broadcast verbatim the demagoguery.

There’s a reason we’re journalists and not politicians – we have ethics.

We ought not engage in irresponsible – and unfounded – Henny Penny rhetoric that serves only to stroke radical partisanship. This national naval gazing emanating from Ottawa’s high-rises is pouring gasoline on Quebec’s still-smoldering identity crisis.

Let’s do a little review.

Good criticism:  Pauline Marois’ language policies may only serve to set up inconveniences for the Anglo- and Allophone minorities in the province, while doing little to promote or preserve the French language. There is probably a more acceptable way to promote la Francophonie that brings in all parties.

Bad criticism: Pauline Marois hates Anglophones.

Good: The state really has no business limiting displays of religious imagery in the workplace, as it still constitutes freedom of expression and religion. We can, however, talk about finding workarounds to problems that may be caused by civil servants covering their faces at work.

Bad: Pauline Marois is a racist.

Try it at home!

Godwin’s Law, for those of you unaware, states that as a debate goes on, the likelihood of someone making a comparison to the Nazis or Adolf Hitler increases. Once that happens, the debate is over and that person loses.

I would like to establish the Marois Law. It goes like this: as time goes on, the chances of a newspaper columnist calling a political figure – especially a Quebecois one – something outlandish and offensive approaches certainty. When that happens, they should be forced to pen a 1,200 word analytical essay on the nature of Quebec’s political dialog.

I will not call Pauline Marois a racist…

I will not call Pauline Marois a racist…

I will not call Pauline Marois a racist…


Justin Ling is a Montreal-based freelance journalist who provided coverage and commentary on Quebec’s election for OpenFile Montreal, CTV Newsnet and CJAD. His work has appeared in The Globe & Mail, the Ottawa Citizen, the Tyee and the National Post. He is a regular contributor to Xtra! Canada.