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Documents in Quebec History


Last revised:
19 February 2001

Documents sur l’affaire Yves Michaud / Documents on the Yves Michaud Affair

The Us and the You of Quebec Nationalism

Parti Québécois ministers have been lining up to condemn PQ activist Yves Michaud for his remarks about the "ethnic vote." On Wednesday, he criticized voters in the predominantly Jewish community of Côte Saint-Luc for voting massively against Quebec independence in the 1995 referendum. He called it an "ethnic vote against the sovereignty of the Quebec people."

An indignant Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard stood up in the National Assembly the next day to deplore the remarks. Deputy Premier Bernard Landry weighed in, too, saying Mr. Michaud should abandon his plans to run for the PQ in a coming provincial by-election.

It is hard to see what they are so upset about. Mr. Michaud was only saying what many separatists feel in their hearts.

The separatist movement in Quebec is, at bottom, a movement of ethnic nationalism. The ethnic group in question is the Québécois -- white francophones with historic roots in the province. Everyone else is essentially an outsider.

When separatists say they want to be "maîtres chez nous" -- masters of our own house -- the nous refers only to "pure wool" francophones. No wonder, then, that separatists get mad at Jews and other minorities whose referendum votes tip the balance against independence. If you have a visitor in your house, you don't want him telling you how to run the place. And that is how people such as Mr. Michaud think of non-francophones -- as visitors, tolerated, even respected, but not really part of the family.

Separatists always deny it, of course. They say their movement is broad, tolerant and inclusive, and get angry when people suggest otherwise. Many of them have made sincere attempts to move away from the movement's ethnic-nationalist roots and to reach out to anglophones and new immigrants.

But the essence of the movement remains the same, and slip-ups such as Mr. Michaud's keep giving it away. Few non-francophones in Quebec will ever forget referendum night 1995, when a bitter Jacques Parizeau blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for his movement's narrow loss. Nor will they forget the way Mr. Landry spoke to a Mexican-born hotel clerk that night, telling her that "you immigrants" were to blame for the loss.

Mr. Michaud was only echoing his higher-ups when he condemned the ethnic vote and attacked the Jewish group B'nai Brith as "extremist" opponents of Quebec independence. He was only speaking frankly when he once told a Jewish senator: "I am a separatist as you are a Jew. It took your people 2,000 years to have your homeland in Israel. If it takes us 10, 50 or 100 years more, I can wait."

"You" immigrants. "Your" homeland. "Us," the real Québécois. The message to Quebeckers is clear: This is our house and you'd better watch your step. Can separatists really be surprised that "ethnics" vote en masse against independence.

Source: The Globe and Mail, December 16, 2000