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Documents in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Documents on the Controversy Surrounding the Language of Commercial Signs in Quebec (Bill 178) December 1988

Anglo Quebec Must Start All Over Again
William Johnson,
Columnist, Montreal Gazette,
December 19, 1988, p. B-3

OTTAWA - The masks have come off. The illusions are shattered.

English Quebec, its hopes and its faith in ruins, exposed to the savage resentment of its enemies, finds itself today abandoned by all it took to be its friends. It must start all over again.

Many English-speaking Quebecers will now take the road towards exile, joining the hundreds of thousands who have left in the past 20 years.

Those who remain must re-examine their assumptions, change their leadership, learn the toughness and the caniness required to survive as a minority in a Quebec sick with nationalist fever.

The banning of outdoor English signs, with or without the notwithstanding clause, whether for two, five, or a hundred years, sends one clear message: English is not wanted, English is viewed as a threat, and the many harassments which have decimated the community will continue, perhaps intensified.

The Quebec government's decision to ban all but French outdoor signs is the worst setback for Canadian unity since the conscription crisis of the Second World War.

It is worse than the election of the Parti Quebecois in 1976, or the imposition of Bill 101 in 1977. The PQ came to power on anger at Robert Bourassa: it seemed a fluke. The brutal suppression of English rights then was the work of separatists, surely temporary.

The PQ lost its referendum and the I985 elections. The provincial Liberals came to office on a promise to permit bilingual signs.

Minority rights guarantees

The shock, now, is to discover anti-English sentiment in the provincial Liberal Party.

The three federal parties also gave their assent, tacit or explicit, to the suppression of' English Quebec.

Make no mistake, the Meech Lake accord was one of those historic agreements in which leaders declare a great victory for peace by tacitly agreeing to sacrifice some threatened, group. Munich comes to mind.

Brian Mulroney, by giving Bourassa . a blank cheque to promote his "distinct society" at a time when Bourassa was actively repressing English in Quebec was giving a clear signal: do what you want with English in Quebec, we won't interfere.

Mulroney, as prime minister, as an English-speaking Quebecer, could have insisted that Bourassa keep his promise and give guarantees for minority rights in Quebec.

On the contrary, Mulroney said he was for the visage français of Quebec - a well-known code word for prohibiting English.

He passed Bill 72, the new Official Languages Act.

When the Official Languages Commissioner D'Iberville Fortier said last winter that English Quebecers were "humiliated," Mulroney disowned him.

The members of the National Assembly passed a resolution censuring the commissioner. The English-speaking members disgraced themselves by backing the resolution.

Now they must redeem that act of treachery by taking a principled stand against the banning of outdoor signs and company names in English.

John Turner also supported Bourassa’s "distinct society" without demanding minority rights guarantees or without ever denouncing the repression of English in Quebec. Ed Broadbent did the same.

In Quebec, when Meech Lake was debated in the National Assembly, none of the elected politicians in the Liberal government raised a question about guarantees for English rights.

Chose an ‘act of faith’

The Gazette editorially backed Meech Lake. Alliance Quebec said it chose to make an "act of faith" in Quebec society at a time when English was still publicly banned.

Bourassa concluded that he had tacit complicity on all sides, in Quebec, Montreal or Ottawa, and in all the provincial capitals which signed the Meech Lake accord, to do what he wanted with anglo-Quebecers.

"Social peace" could only be troubled by nationalist lions, not by the gentle souls who would rather lose their rights than make a scene.

So Bourassa will introduce his bill today to prohibit outside English signs and company names in any language but French.

Enough. No more. The elected representatives of English Quebec must dissociate themselves utterly from the provincial Liberal Party, which has become an instrument of nationalist oppression.

They must sit as independents, until the future course to be taken by English Quebec has become clear.

The three parties in the federal Parliament, which helped, by their opportunism, their lack of vision and of principle, to pave the way for today's disaster, so destructive to the future of Confederation, must articulate now a clear message disavowing what Quebec is doing.

This is not an issue that involves just Quebec. Official languages are vital to the social contract on which this country is based, and French cannot long be promoted in nine provinces if English is suppressed in Quebec.

English Quebec is threatened with extinction as a large, dynamic community. It must come together as a community to study its present and plan its future.

English Quebec must decide how to rebuild a community on the ruins of the past.

© 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College