Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quebec in the Rearview Mirror

When I lived in Montreal, I responded to the question about how I like it with this response:
"I love Montreal, I hate Quebec."  No, I don't hate all of Quebec, I just hate the entity that is the Quebec government and I hate the nationalist politics that produces policies such as this.  In short, if you call the provincial health care folks (and remember, despite talk about Canada's national health care program, the policies are provided/regulated/administrated by the provinces), you will have to wait quite a bit to be told that you can press 9 for English.  Then once you do that, someone at the health ministry will assess whether you can speak French enough to keep the conversation in French.

What utter bullshit!  There are areas where the stakes are high enough that we ought to be trying to minimize confusion.  For instance, one time I was stopped for speeding, the officer started in French, and I asked if he could speak English.  I didn't want to make a mistake with an officer of the law.  He replied, "I don't have to" and then proceeded to speak perfectly fine English with me.  Health care is a similarly high stakes enterprise.  If you make a mistake there, someone could literally die.  One could speak good French (not me) and still not master the words associated with advanced health care problems.

In my time in Quebec, I did note that nationalists were upset that one could dial 9 for English.  Note, not 2, not 1 but 9.  I understood why the default would be French and not English (never dial 2 for French), but to deny people the chance to get information in English?  Well, I guess their preference of pushing the Anglophones out is now a policy at the health care ministry.

The funny thing is this is under a Liberal, federalist government that is the only haven for Anglophone votes.  Ah, there is the rub: the Anglophones have few choices, so the provincial Liberals sell them out on a regular basis. 

The reality is that Quebec is always willing to be bilingual--when it is taking your money.  The tax agency, the parking tickets, and such always have been very accommodating to those who are not fluent in French.  But Quebec, I found, to be almost always monolingual when it came to giving out money: grant agencies to be an obvious case.

I didn't move to Ottawa just to escape Quebec, but it certainly played a role.  We are loving Ottawa and Ontario.  The few government folks (motor vehicle, schools) have been very customer service-oriented.  Nice change of pace even if finding a doctor turns out to be a Canadian challenge, not just a Quebec one.


Steve said...

I believe your story is one in which a great deal of anglophones as well as allophones can relate to. It is unfortunate, and quite sad to see many good, honest, and decent people feel alienated in their own society primarily because ultra-nationalist politicians get it into the heads of a considerable portion of the population that 'Les Anglais' are the enemy! Anglos want what Francos want, to live in dignity and to be respected on the basis of their differences.

Hugo Shebbeare said...

Thank you Sir for this post! Yet another reason to Abolish Bill 101 and replace with Bill 199 that would respect the bilingual reality of the province: