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Thursday, April 03 2003

I do, however, have some observations on Bruce Campbell's observations.

This morning I woke up to Mr. Campbell's missive on politics, daft sports fan and Montréal which had made its way into my inbox by way of the interesting people mailing list. I sent a reply to the list-mom which apparently didn't make the cut, which is fine. This is what I said:

Date: Thu, 3 Apr 2003 09:38:22 -0500 (EST)

From: Aaron Straup Cope

To: Dave Farber

Subject: Re: [IP] Montreal Politics: Full Contact Blood Sport

On Thu, 3 Apr 2003, Dave Farber wrote:

I am not here to make excuses for those people who booed and cat-called

the kids visiting the city for a hockey tournament. They were wrong.

Whatever your feelings about the childish nature of adult sports fans on

either side of the border, taking it out on children is simply


I do, however, have some observations on Bruce Campbell's observations:

> There is the French-English tension on a citywide level.

There are still a few people who imagine themselves to be an oppressed

minority in Montreal and the province as a whole. The rest of get along

just fine, thank you.

If those tensions really existed, I'm not sure I would find myself getting

so annoyed everytime I saw the NY Times refer to the city as an

anglophone's paradise (that's called courtesy, BTW.)

> That is also a class tension, as a large chunk of the French population

> is working class, and traditionally the ruling class in the city was

> English. That has changed in recent decades as, frankly, the English

This is true. The main building on the campus author's alma mater was in

fact James McGill's house. The area surrounding was, until and including

the turn of the 20th century, commonly known as The Golden Mile. It was

the running ground of the ruling elite made up exclusively of English

Canadians from which all but a handful of French Canadians were excluded

(see below re: CDN history)

> have fled, but it's bred in the bone. There is literally a street

> running down the middle of the town: to the East, predominantly

> French-speaking; to the West, English.

This is just not true anymore. It's a good story and we tell it to anyone

who visits the city but the days of Mordechai Richler's Montreal have


> There is a language tension. Laws restricting English have been a

> source of strife and high feelings.

This is perhaps true for some. The rest of us have either learned French

or spoken it our entire lives and we're doing just fine. Some of us even

left the province and then moved back because we found living in a sea of

English to be well, lacking.

Quebec has always had a 90% Francophone population.

After the defeat of the French, by the English in 1759, the English not

wanting to repeat their mistakes in Ireland granted the French colonies in

Quebec the rights to their language, their religion and a civil law.

Very broadly speaking, this played itself out as : Quebec 'belonged' to

the Catholic church and was left to its own affairs so long as it did not

interfere with English Canada's economic interests.

Until the Quiet Revolution of the 1950's and 1960's the province was

roughly half the population of the entire country; families of 10-13

children were not at all uncommon during the first half of the 20th


One of the first things to happen during the Quiet Revolution was a

wholesale move away from the Church and a dramatic decline in the


Politically, Quebec has generally favoured the interests of the community

over the individual. Don't get the wrong idea, Quebec introduced a

provincial charter of human rights and freedoms 7 years before the federal

government but there has never been the same emphasis on the individual

that there is in places like the United States.

Both are valid political views. My point is that, faced with being a

minority of 6-7 millions francophones in a population of 30-300 millions

anglophones (if you include the U.S.), a declining birth rate and an

increasing immigrant population the province opted to enforce laws

governing the language of education and commerce.

If a person doesn't accept the idea that language is culture, or atleast

an intrinsic part of it, then it is unlikely that they will see much need

or merit in doing anything to preserve it.

This is not the case in Quebec so to argue otherwise is basically a


> There is a city agglomeration tension, as traditional

independent > communities have been forced to join a larger urban entity.

True. It should, however, be noted that this is also a Canadian trend.

Toronto did it five years before Montreal with no fewer recriminations

between the parties involved. Halifax, which now technically spans half

the province of Nova Scotia, a few years before that.

> There is economic tension. Things just aren't that rosy in Montreal and

> haven't been for 30 years. At one point in the 60s and 70s (when I

> lived there), gun battles and bus burnings broke out between rival

> gangs of taxi drivers. I kid you not.

Gun battles in an urban environment. Shocking. One can only imagine the

horrors that such a thought must bring to a New Yorker's delicate


> There is nationalist tension. Strained relations with the rest of

> Canada stretch back to 1760. In 1970, that led to bombings,

Without boring people with the niggly details of Canadian political

history it can largely be summed up as : French Canadians know too much

history, English Canadians not enough.

> kidnappings, assasination and the imposition of martial law.

> The license plates say "I remember" but that might be better expressed

> as "we never forget".

Okay, sorry but:

After the Papineau (?) rebellions the English, in England, sent over Lord

Durham to find out why the natives were so restless. He is said to have

famously remarked that he really didn't know what the fuss was all about

and that the Quebecois were "un peuple sans histoire"; a people without a


There's also the one about King George III promising the territorial

intergrity of Quebec in the Paris Treaty of 1774 and then carving the

province in half to form Ontario after the Union Loyalists fled North

after the American revolution and complained that they didn't want to be

governed by a bunch of "damn Catholic frogs".

Like I said: a little too much on one side, not nearly enough on the


> There have been repeated attempts by up to 50% of the province to

> redraw the map of Canada. These campaigns are brutal, vicious affairs

> that leave everyone bruised and bleeding (often literally).

This is most commonly known as democracy. Whether you agree with Quebec's

desire to separate or not there are in fact reasons, and they are more

nuanced that just wanting to piss off the rest of Canada. (see note above

re Cdn history)

A careful observer will have noted that in the last twenty years the

province has held two referenda on the question of secession and, having

lost both time, still remains part of Canada.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that Quebec is not hardly alone in it's

unease over the Idea of Canada. Newfoundland has really never been sure

that they made the right decision to join Confedration in 1949 and, to

hear the stories, plenty of people still believe the election was rigged.

More recently, there is a growing movement in Alberta who are arguing that

their province should secede; some have even suggested that their newly

independent nation should purchase a handful of nuclear submarines and

roam the planet enforcing Alberta's interests.

(Whether they are getting the volume of coverage because they are a real

political force or just because's it's the end of winter and people are

bored remains to be seen.)

> There are ethnic tensions that often explode. I hate to characterize

> people too broadly, but there is a strain of xenophobia in the Quebec

> populace. During a recent electoral failure, a senior government

> official actually referred darkly and threateningly to the "new"

> Quebecers who had defeated the separatist referendum. The implication

> was that they would be dealt with.

I can't say who the author is speaking of specifically, but Jacques

Parizeau did stagger up to the podium on the night of the last referendum

and declare that the seperatists lost because of "the ethnic and money


There are maybe a handful of people who think that his comments and his

interpretation were justified or hold any kind of validity and he was

promptly forced to resign as Premier of the province the next day.

There is plenty to account for in the province's past but the see it as

the whole of today's province is disingenous at best.

> These things pop up like "whack-a-mole" periodically and need to be

> beaten down. Usually with a royal commission.

It is unclear what to 'beat down' means, especially given the implied

bad-ness of 'dealing with' something or someone you don't agree with. I

would only remark that Canadian Royal Commissions are known generally for

being thorough, well-meaning, long in the tooth and almost univerally

ignored by all levels of goverment.

> Italian immigration in the 60s led to French-Italian conflict in the

> 70s. Traditional anti-semitism can run up against a substantial Hasidic

> community and a more ordinary Jewish presence. Large numbers of

> Africans and Caribbeans have moved to the city, adding a racial tension.


> And in recent years (a surprise to me on this trip), large numbers of

> Muslims have moved there from the French-speaking North African

> countries. Concordia U (the other English university) has ongoing,

> often physically violent struggles between traditional ethnic rivals. I

> am told that the nickname for the college is Al Qaeda U.

Didn't we just finish agreeing that xenophobia was bad?

> In addition, the Gallic intellectual does tend to the Marxist, adding a

> soupçon of the romantic revolutionary to the mix. Your average French

> college student (not in business school) tends to fancy himself or

> herself a dashing mix of Che and  Communard. The one-finger salute and

> the rude comment are their way of demonstrating their street cred. Hey,

> it's better than a molotov cocktail or a brick.

Let it stand as a testament to globalization that in blind taste-tests,

this could be your average "not in business school" college student

anywhere in the world.

> In other words, politics in Montreal is a full contact blood sport.


> By contrast, Americans are used to way more gentility and

> bipartisanship than you find on a good day up there.

That would almost be funny if it were actually true.

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Nichola Bouges : "I wrote a very basic SyncML server in PHP."

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Wednesday, April 02 2003 ←  → Friday, April 04 2003