Stereotypes are abound in Quebec City. Recently the mayoral candidate Jean-François Gosselin, elegantly stated that when he frequents restaurants or bars on the rue Maguire, it isn’t more trees he would like to see, but more parking lots. He likes trees as much as anyone else, though not the detriment of parking spaces. Also heavily promoting the “3rd link” project, meaning a third bridge or tunnel linking the north and south shores of the Saint-Lawrence in the Quebec City region, in addition to the two existing bridges, he has said that “all respectable cities have a big perimeter beltline highway. It’s time for us to have ours!” He is not a fan of the SRB (Service rapide par bus), proposed and then put on hold by the current Mayor Labeaume’s team, stating that SRB is too expensive (wouldn’t the 3rd link project be loads more expensive?). I myself am also not too crazy about the SRB. I would much rather have a métro or tramway, but I digress.
Jean-Marc Léger, Jacques Nantel and Pierre Duhamel explain in their book Le code Québec :
[People in Quebec City] are more involved in their community life, identify more with their city than with their province or country, and are interested in municipal politics. It's simple. They are civil servants who value the private sector. They are proud people who cherish individual freedoms, but who mobilize quickly for common causes. In short, they are rebellious conservatives who also demand change. From a Montréal perspective, these are contradictions difficult to understand. That is why many Montréalers often talk about the mystery of Quebec City.
A short time ago, I caught a new TV show called Les Simone, where the first episode presented a Quebec City woman who had spent some time in Montréal. When her boyfriend picked her up to drive back to Quebec City, all of the usual clichés were plentiful. He kept on complaining about how bad Montréal smells — too crowded and dirty with pot holes everywhere. Montréal just plain sucks. She wasn’t quite so critical and said that the city had its charms. The shows plot followed her leaving him after he told her that he was on the verge of buying a typical suburban house across the street from a cemetery. She then went back to Montréal and began a bit of partying, seemingly not yet wanting to “settle down” to a more conventional suburban life.
On one of my recent trips to Montréal, I stopped at the neighborhood restaurant, Les belles sœurs, and while at the counter I struck up a conversation with two servers and the cook. Upon hearing that I live in Quebec City, they presented me with the line about how racist Quebec City is (and how supposedly better and cosmopolitan Montréal is) and congratulated themselves on living in Montréal. But sometimes you have to bring some context and nuance. Montreal wasn’t in the past, nor is today a little hipster paradise where everyone gets along and tolerates anything and everything. For example, Mathieu Lapointe in “Nettoyer Montréal” explains:
The generation born during the Second World War or after lived through the long period when Mayor Jean Drapeau reigned supreme at the Montréal City Hall. For them, Drapeau had become the embodiment of a paternalistic and unshakable power, vaguely megalomaniac, insensitive to social issues and the perverse effects of a modern urban development centered on the automobile, as well as other “big projects” (Expo 67, Olympic Games, etc.).
Then there’s the famous radio poubelle of the Quebec City region. People hear many things about it, but I’ll try to be objective. The pejorative term radio poubelle refers to the talk radio style with little real content and puts more of an emphasis on trying to attract the largest number of listeners, often to the detriment of pertinent and “intelligent” content. The label started to stick in the 2000s, when several Québec media outlets and academics began referring to the style and content of some animators of stations like Blvd 102.1 or CHOI-FM (Radio X). Jean-François Fillion, André Arthur, Sylvain Bouchard, Jonathan Trudeau and Stéphane Dupont supposedly represent this trend in Quebec City. It is said that the hosts of these stations have nothing good to say about the Parti Québécois, the Bloc or Québec sovereignty in general and are strongly anti-union. Others even say that it’s right-wing radio (though I beg to differ, it’s more liberal in the classical use of the term).
One of those personalities, Jean-François Fillion (going by the name of “Jeff” Fillion, which I can only imagine is because he is of that ilk in Québec who think everything in English is better) has been the target of much controversy. In 2007, he and Patrick Demers (owner of CHOI-FM) were ordered to pay $593,000 to the ADISQ and a few others, after apparently questioning the ADISQ’s credibility, calling them a music industry mafia, while personally insulting certain individuals, calling them things like “cow” and “cunt.”
Regarding language and nationalism, the stations seem pretty federalist and anglophile, though they broadcast in French to a francophone audience. That being said, wouldn’t it be in their interest to at least promote the French language instead of always having a chip on their shoulder about it? What would their careers be without French? Something tells me that Mr. Fillion thinks that everything the Anglophones do is better. Whether or not that’s true, he’s still putting that idea out there and people believe it. They think Québec is awful and that everything would be better with more English. I also read was that Demers considered the host Gilles Parent of not being a true radio X-er (which is what they call listeners and staff at CHOI-FM) because of his insufficient interest in rock music (I imagine this means US pop-rock). Shows where their values are.
Recently, I heard Jonathan Trudeau say that “if the French language is in decline, the fault lies with francophones themselves, so quit complaining about anglophones and allophones.” While there may be some truth to this, it is not that simple. Look at the kind of comments their listeners leave on social media. They say that something is pathétique or that they want to supporte something. The average person cannot be bothered to look up a word in a dictionary to make sure they are using it correctly. Calling something pathétique in French means that you are moved emotionally. Saying you supporte someone means that you can barley tolerate them, not that you want to offer your support, in the English sense of the term. The right word is soutenir in French. The public murders their own language though the constant exposure to English and that, coupled with bad attitudes from anglophiles like Jonathan Trudeau, the radio personalities and public are incapable of seeing that constantly being surrounding by English has a detrimental effect on our French language. Is Fillion’s and Trudeau’s way of thinking preventing them from seeing this flagrant reality?
In numerous ways, many of these radio hosts do nothing but work the base desires of their listeners. Turn things into a spectacle, into comedy, make fun of people, attack the person, not their ideas, etc. This kind of tactic is as old as time. Offer them bread and circuses, dumb down everything so that everyone can understand and make it funny so that they keep listening. Not all the radio poubelle folks are this way, but many are and this is why they have their reputation (and their audience).
Is the so-called radio poubelle of Quebec City really such an important factor? When I listen to it, I hear both good and bad content. I like it when they grill politicians and don’t seem to be afraid of calling a spade a spade. Much of the media in Québec tiptoes around sensitive topics instead of addressing them full out. The radio poubelle has a style that sounds like your average Joe complaining over a few drinks, which can be quite funny. The negative side is how much they like English (to the detriment of French), how they so often talk about the superiority of cars and highways and their aversion to public transport, with snide remarks, claiming that “nobody wants it.” What we need are more highways, because everyone apparently has a car and cars are freedom. However, they were almost unanimously for the amphithéâtre (Centre Vidéotron), which was a pretty expensive project for a flimsy idea of one day attracting a hockey team in Quebec City. Does this touch on the so-called Québec-Montréal rivalry, explaining why Quebec City wants a hockey team so much, as a way of saying: “we exist too!” I’m sure there are plenty of people attached to their cars in Montréal, and I am not anti-automobile. But I would also like things within the city to be reasonably accessible with public transport. Why should people NEED a car to get to work, go to the park or go grocery shopping?
Returning to Le code Québec, pages 152-153:
On October 19, 2015, the Conservative Party won 10 of the 12 ridings in the Quebec City area and 10 of the 12 ridings during the federal election. It was the most recent manifestation of what some commentators, researchers and politicians call the "mystery of Quebec City," a phenomenon so named by Montrealers to show their incomprehension at the propensity of the citizens of the old capital to behave differently from those of the rest of Quebec on many aspects. For Quebec City, it’s rather the Montréalers who distinguish themselves from the rest of Quebecers. The city counts 87% of the 974,900 foreign-born people during the 2011 census, representing 23% of the total population of the city.
Moreover, the vast majority of Quebec's English-speaking population lives on the Island of Montréal. This gives the metropolitan region a distinct characteristic distinct from other regions of Quebec, which are more homogeneous both demographically and culturally. The population of Québec as a whole recognizes three great advantages for the Québec City region: the beauty of the city, the proximity to nature and the fact that this city is predominantly francophone. Conversely, Montreal is recognized for its transportation system, cultural activities and access to all services. The relationship with Quebec City is more emotional, whereas that with Montréal is more rational.
Although Quebec City has also voted bleu in the past, why do people generally vote more on the so-called right (except in the city center riding of Taschereau)? I don’t think the blame can be placed on the radio poubelle, at least not as much as many say it does. Why is there a supposed hostility to public transport, but an openness to individual cars (and consequently the highways necessary)? Why do they seem to admire English and run around talking about how things like the loi 101 are preventing economic growth or that a greater anglophone population in general is no problem, as the francophones are at fault if French declines? The radio in Quebec City often provide a fast-food version of history, while other media outlets tend to provide a fragmented version, making it next-to-impossible to connect the dots and get a clear picture of what’s going on in our society.
So what could be going on? I did a bit of sleuthing and, while nothing I found explains the differences, I did find some food for thought. I read about the Educational reform form the 1960s, usually shortened to the Commission Parent, which was an investigation on the educational situation of Québec in the 1960s, with the Rapport Parent, responsible for things like the creation of the Ministère de l’éducation du Québec, mandatory schooling until 16 years of age and the creation of CÉGEPs to replace the classical and Catholic education institutions.
The context of the Rapport Parent concerned a debate on the historical cause of the economic inferiority of French Canadians. The Commision d’enquête Laurendeau-Dunton on bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada showed statistically that French Canadians were the poorest ethnic group in the country, followed only by recent Italian immigrants and Amerindians. From this point, two schools of thought contested the reasons to explain this phenomenon—the École de Montréal (School of Montréal) and the École de Québec (School of Quebec City).
For the TL;DR crowd, here’s a quick graph illustrating the main differences between the two schools of thought.
From the book L’histoire nationale à l’école québécoise, page 338, the École de Québec from Université Laval, under the direction of Marcel Trudel, Jean Hamelin and Fernand Ouellet proposed the thesis that the economic lag among French Canadians was largely due to the superiority of the “Protestant Work Ethic” regarding capitalism, which was inspired from German sociologist Max Weber. This school of thought viewed the British conquest as having many beneficial effects, especially economically speaking. They had the idea that it was better to have good relations with the rest of Canada (ROC) and not rock the boat. In short, the École de Québec is usually thought of as bonne-ententiste. The solution to French Canadian economic inferiority is that Quebec should abandon classical and Catholic pedagogy in favor of an Anglo-American teaching style, seen as more pragmatic and scientific for economic competition—in the spirit of the “struggle for life” idea. Generally, Quebec City is liberal (in the classical sense) and thinks we should make an effort to get along with the ROC because, after all, they are not so bad, are nice to us and are better at making money.
So, from the École de Québec point of view, we should be more like the British and Protestants, but still be Catholic and Francophone? Am I missing something? Does this help explain the favorable attitude of cars and highways in order to be more like the Americans?
By contrast, the École de Montréal, established at the Université de Montréal, under the direction of the historians Michel Brunet, Guy Frégault and Maurice Séguin, was inspired by Lionel Groulx and insisted that the underlying cause of the French Canadian economic inferiority was due to the 1760 British conquest and the negative effects thereafter. Differing from the École de Québec, which perceived that the economic lag was due to Catholicism and that the arrival of the British was beneficial on just about all levels, the École de Montréal’s vision of history is much more nationalist and presents the Conquête as a fundamental military defeat that had tarnished everything that came afterward in Québec’s history.
The École de Montréal asserts that only the independence of Québec could remedy this situation in any real and meaningful way, as long as such a thing remains possible (given the mass immigration policies we have today). The founding of the Parti Québécois in 1968 and the rise of the Québec independence movement in the following decades are directly linked to the École de Montréal.
And then there’s Rémi Guertin, who wrote a doctoral thesis on the structure of Quebec City in which he devoted a full chapter on the mystery of Quebec City. Mr. Guertin believes that Quebec City originated from the regions and purchases symbols of urbanity (such as the Centre Vidéotron, the Le Phare real estate project, a new airport, a congress center) in an effort to forget its regional situation and to prove that it is not just a city of civil servants. The frustration of always trailing behind Montréal and the reality of being a “provincial city” despite its status as the Capitale-Nationale would explain the mystery of Quebec City.
Another line from Le code Québec, page 155, went something like this: “the people of Quebec City are proud. They demand respect for their difference. They are the Capitale-Nationale, the center of Québec, the heart of the nation.”
Generally, I found Le code Québec to be a feel-good book, with a pat-on-the-back writing style. For me, while I like living in Quebec City, people here, and more precisely those in its suburbs, seem to be disenchanted with their language, culture, history and French-speaking identity. They are unwilling to assume the role that the capital of Québec must play. They are indifferent to the fact that the French language in Montréal is diminishing and consequently deny that this affects them because this isn’t so much the case in Quebec City (yet).
While I still cannot explain the origin of the differences between the two cities, I think the Rapport Parent had some interesting things to say about the differences, while not explaining them. It seems perfectly obvious to me that without independence, we’ll just disappear. The basic question that Quebec City folks need to ask themselves is this: do you prefer a small provincial capital (resembling a suburb outside of the riding of Taschereau) or the capital of a country and all that this would bring? This would be real control of our resources and economy, dozens of embassies and all the tra-la-la. Maybe we could keep our chars and also have better public transport!