THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tony Kondaks Headshot

An Open Letter to Jean-François Lisée

Posted: Updated:
Print

Dear Mr. Lisée,

As the newly appointed Minister Responsible for the Montreal Region, Quebec Premier Marois has asked you to start a dialogue with the province's anglophone minority.

This has resulted in a spate of opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and open letters in The Montreal Gazette, Quebec's only English language daily. Of note were the articles by Jack Jedwab and Julius Grey, as well as your response.

Conspicuously absent from this heart-to-heart you have initiated between the Two Solitudes was a request that your government consider the most obvious and easiest way to convince anglophones of the sincerity of your mandate: authorizing section 23.1.a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to come into force in Quebec.

Jaded "language wars" veterans such as Messrs. Grey and Jedwab didn't bring the subject up knowing all too well the history of previous Liberal governments who, over the past thirty years, have done diddlysquat when it came to 23.1.a. They probably reasoned: if the pro-Canada Liberal Party won't do anything, why even bother to ask the avowedly separatist PQ?

They didn't, but I will. As someone predisposed to Quebec independence perhaps my chances for receptivity are better.

As you know, Quebec and Canada are not equal when it comes to immigrants who want to send their children to publicly-funded schools in the minority language of a province. Section 23.1.a is in force across Canada, except Quebec.

Immigrants from French-speaking countries, such as France, whose first language learned and still understood is French, can come to any of the English-speaking provinces outside Quebec, become citizens, and have the constitutional right to send their children to French publicly-funded schools.

However, immigrants from English-speaking countries, such as the United States, whose first language learned and still understood is English who come to Quebec and become citizens, do not have the constitutional right to send their children to English publicly-funded schools.

Quebec claims to be a nation. At every turn, it demands this recognition. An equality between nations. How did one former premier of Quebec put it? Equality or independence I think was the tagline of his day. Yet when it comes to section 23.1.a, an inequality between nations is strikingly apparent.

Well, you're in luck. It just so happens that it is within the power of your government to do something about it. Section 59 of the Constitution Act, 1982 allows the Legislature or Government of Quebec to, unilaterally, rectify this inequality and eliminate the disparity...and you don't even need Ottawa's permission to do it.

I believe you when you speak of "changing the tone of the debate and opening minds." You've even gone to bat for us when it has been unpopular for you to do so; I appreciate the fact that, as you wrote, there probably isn't "another sovereignist who's put more intellectual effort into that task."

Mr. Lisée, will you go to bat for us again? At the next meeting of the PQ Caucus, please become a surrogate for the anglophone community: ask your fellow MNAs for their consent to place a resolution on the Order Paper implementing section 23.1.a in Quebec. I also ask that you lobby Members to vote in favour of the resolution once it reaches the floor of the National Assembly.

Here are some talking points:

  • If Quebec is a nation, we must demonstrate to the rest of the world by deeds and not just words that we are Canada's equal.
  • We want to encourage newcomers from affluent countries -- such as the United States -- with large pools of entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals to come with their families to live in Quebec so that they will invest, create jobs, and provide their know-how and skills for the betterment of Quebec. Many will not come if they can't send their children to English schools.
  • There is no better way to demonstrate to our American friends the openness and tolerance of the Quebec people.
  • From a high of 250,000 in 1972, the English school system has seen its student population dwindle to some 100,000 today.
  • Implementing section 23.1.a would translate into approximately 10,000 students currently enrolled in French language schools in Quebec becoming eligible to attend English schools. This would mean an insignificant 1 per cent loss to the francophone school system (assuming all those eligible took advantage of it) but a very significant 10% boost to the anglophone system.
  • All other immigrants to Quebec would continue to be enrolled in French language schools.
  • In the early '90s, the Quebec government formed the Belanger-Campeau Commission on the Constitutional and Political Future of Quebec. In point #8 of the second addendum of the official report, Commission member (and future PQ MNA) Richard Holden called for section 23.1.a to come into force in Quebec.
  • Mr. Lisee, I will even spare you the heavy-lifting of having to sit down and thrash out the text of the resolution. Here is a suggested wording:

    THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF QUEBEC ISSUES THE FOLLOWING PROCLAMATION:

    In recognition of the equality of the Quebec and Canadian nations;

    In recognition of the spirit of the Parliamentary Motion tabled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada on November 22, 2006 and passed by the House of Commons, including all Members of the Bloc Quebecois, that the Québecois people form a nation;

    In recognition that non-activation of Section 23.1.a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is causing an unacceptable inequality to exist between the nations of Quebec and Canada;

    In recognition that English speaking immigrants to Quebec who become Canadian citizens whose first language learned and still understood is English cannot send their children to English language schools in Quebec yet French speaking immigrants to any of the nine Canadian provinces who become Canadian citizens whose first language learned and still understood is French can send their children to French language schools;

    Therefore, it is the desire of the National Assembly of Quebec to bring the nation of Quebec into equality with the nation of Canada;

    BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

    The National Assembly of Quebec issues this proclamation, pursuant to subsection 59(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982, declaring that subsection 23.1.a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is now in force in Quebec.

    Some forty years ago, it took an ardent anti-Communist, Richard Nixon, to open up relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, two countries with diametrically opposed political philosophies. The world has become a better -- and safer -- place because of it.

    Quebec's anglophone community, I think you'll agree, is unanimously opposed to the independence project. And they'll never vote for the PQ. So there really is no political payoff in implementing 23.1.a. Yet I believe there is no better candidate than the current PQ government, one devoted to the independence of Quebec, to be the government responsible for such a magnanimous concession. Real nations are benevolent to their minorities. Perhaps acting as if you already are a nation may make nationhood become a reality that much faster.

    Mr. Lisée, give us this pittance. Throw us this crumb.

    Thank you,

    Tony Kondaks