Meeting with English-speaking sovereignists. Québec, my country

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Meeting with English-speaking sovereignists. Québec, my country
in Montréal Campus, October 11, 2006

This is an unofficial translation of an article entitled Rencontre avec des souverainistes anglophones. Québec, my country, written by Gabrielle Duchaine-Baillargeon for Montréal Campus, the student newspaper of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

Patrick Frenioz, 24 years old, was born of a Newfoundland mother and a French father. From Montreal, he always spoke English at home. He attended English language institutions throughout his schooling and the majority of his friends are native English speakers. Since three years, the Concordia University political science graduate believes in the sovereignty of Quebec.

David Levine, longtime PQ militant
"During my studies, I realized that the Canadian federation was a Utopia", explains Patrick Frenioz. "It is an alliance that is unnatural. The governments spend more time solving conflicts between provinces which have practically nothing in common, rather than defending the interests of the citizens."

Although the political ideology of the graduate is rare among the English speakers, the sovereignist parties always had their share of sympathizers from this group, such as former parliamentary assistant to Lucien Bouchard, David Payne, or David Levine, former Parti québécois delegate minister for Health Care.

The proportion would even be increasing at the current. According to the Annuaire du Québec 2006, 21,8% of English speakers from 18 to 55 years would have voted "yes" if a referendum had been held in 2005, compared to 11% in 1995. "This increase is observed among the young English speakers, who are better integrated into contemporary Quebec", explains one of the surveyors, Simon Langlois. "Let us not forget that some of them are from mixed marriages. They are thus English-speaking by their mother tongue, but they are also part of contemporary Quebec, to which they identify."

According to Calvin Veltman, professor at the department of urban and tourism studies at UQAM, English speakers from overseas are more likely to support the sovereignist project. "People who come from abroad and who did not experience the Two Solitudes of Canada bound more easily with their province of adoption", he says.

Of American origin, Calvin Veltman is also a Quebec nationalist. "When I settled here, I found that the English speakers were very racist toward the French speakers, he tells. "I thus integrated into the French-speaking community and I discovered the culture of my new country. At the time, I militated to defend the rights of the French-speaking Quebecers."

With time, Calvin Veltman lost a little bit of his political enthusiasm. "The situation changed a lot. There is more mixing, more intercultural marriages and more respect between the two linguistic groups."

At the defence of the French language

Robin Philpot, holding a copy of his book Le référendum volé (The Stolen Referendum)
The program of the Parti québécois stipulates that "there is an urgency to establish a sovereign Quebec with, at the foreground, the urgency to ensure that Quebec remains a territory of French language and culture; [that] this is the core of the sovereignist project." Some English speakers adhere to the idea sovereignty, even though it principally aims at protecting another linguistic group.

Robin Philpot, author of the book Le Référendum volé (The Stolen Referendum) and future candidate of the Parti québécois in Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, is an enthusiastic partisan of the separation of Quebec. Born in Ontario, the writer settled in Montreal at the age of 25, after developing friendship with Quebecers during a stay in Africa. In spite of his origins and a noticeable English accent, the man considers himself completely Québécois (Quebecer).

For Robin Philpot, sovereignty is much more about politics than genetics. "The federal government did everything to ethnicize the debate and to promote the idea that the French-speaking people are separatist and that the English-speaking people are federalist", says he. "Sovereignty would precisely make it possible to put an end to this idea. One would no longer be defined by his origin but by a country, Quebec."

Patrick Frenioz is of the same opinion. "The majority of people think that all the French-speaking people vote for the Parti québécois and that all the English-speaking people vote for the Liberals. Obviously, it is not the case. I am the best example." As for protecting the French language, the young man who learned the language of Molière while playing hockey agrees with it. "I appreciate the fact of being able to speak two languages and I would not like to lose French to the profit of English."

Comprehensive English speakers

If they do not call themselves separatists, many English speakers are nonetheless sympathizer of the sovereignist cause. "The English speakers of Quebec live in an environment where the majority of the population is French-speaking and where the history and the culture of the province are relatively foreign for them", explains Robert Papen, professor at the department of sociology at UQAM. "They understand what it means to live as part of a minority."

According to [survey] experts, several English speakers vote for the Parti québécois, without necessarily being of sovereignist allegiance. "The PQ is regarded as being a party of the left in Quebec", claims Calvin Veltman. "It is the best option for people who are more socialist." Robin Philpot abounds in this direction. "When I settled in Quebec, the progressive ideas came more from the PQ than from the Liberal Party. At the time, several English speakers were pequists."

If the sovereignist movement has followers in the English-speaking milieu, some could be tempted to change side in light of a reorganization of the State. "A redistribution of more powers to the provinces would be a solution as good as the separation of Quebec", believes Patrick Frenioz. "It is not because the other provinces do not have a sovereignist party that they are for as much satisfied with the Canadian federation."

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