Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quebec's Immigration Dilemma- Part 3 Montreal versus the ROQ

The history of Quebec has always been defined by the clash of the 'Two Solitudes', the competition between the English and French communities, a struggle that lasted for over three centuries.

But the era of French versus English drew to a close with the election of a separatist government in the early 1970's. The decline and fall of the Anglo empire was first signalled, much like the fall of the Roman empire, by the slow and inexorable withdrawal from nether regions of the province.

Vibrant English communities in the Gaspé, the Eastern Townships and the Pontiac, melted away like snow in Spring  and today these communities are a mere shadow of what they once were, as the exodus of Anglos out of the province or to the last safe haven in western Montreal expanded. While there remains some scattered vestiges of their presence around the Province, these Anglo communities are no longer self-sustaining and destined to become historical footnotes.

The Anglo community has fallen to just 8% of the provincial population, the vast majority holed up in the western part of the Island of Montreal and like the Christians of West Beirut, survival and perseverance, is the best that can be hoped for.

While French language and cultural militants continue to fight a battle for language supremacy against the English, a fight, that has already been won, they are blithely ignoring the growing influence of Montreal's ethnic community.

Once again Quebec is two nations.

The battle today no longer has anything to do with language, but rather culture, the conflict between traditional white, unilingual Catholic francophone society versus the cosmopolitan melting pot that the Montreal region has become.

Despite forty years of sustained immigration, the rest of Quebec (ROQ) remains as lily white and Catholic as ever. With the withdrawal of the English from the regions and the refusal of immigrants to settle anywhere but the Greater Montreal region, it's hard to find a place of worship other than a Catholic Church outside the Montreal region.

Ethnics are so scare in the ROQ that even the Chinese restaurants have white francophone operators and servers.

While 25% of Montrealers are members of a visible minority, less than 2% of those who live in the ROQ can say the same and while 50% of Francophone Montrealers are bilingual, less than 15% of those in the rest of Quebec can carry on a decent conversation in English.

The cultural differences are so striking that the ROQ looks upon the region of Montreal as a modern version of Sodom and Gomorrah, a foreign, unfriendly place where a common language cannot mask the  overwhelming cultural differences.

Like tourists with craned necks gawking at the skyscrapers of New York, visitors to Montreal from the ROQ stare in utter disbelief at the city's changing face.

Hasids in broad hats and long coats, Indian in saris, Muslims in Hijabs and a Sikhs in turbans leave these visitors shaking their heads in utter disbelief and muttering under their breath words like, "Ça's peut pas!" ('No way!').

It's as if they have landed in another country, one that speaks the same language, but one that is as culturally different as Toronto is from Glasgow.

The rest of Quebec remains frozen in time. Crucifixes adorn town halls and Catholic benedictions are offered before town council meetings. No 'holiday' parties here, it's strictly Christmas and Santa Claus and elves adorn city offices, stores and public streets.

Fearful that immigrants will change their way of life, rural towns that can't count a Muslim, Jew or Black among them, draw up holier than thou manifestos, instructing immigrants on how to act, lest they bring discord to the hitherto harmonious community.

Francophone and Anglophone Montrealers have to a large extent made their peace with the immigrants. Like Toronto or Vancouver, the city has become a vibrant multi-coloured collage of different elements. While Montreal speaks French as a common language, it does so in so many different ways and different accents.

Montreal society has evolved, while the rest of Quebec society stubbornly resists and dreams of the good old days of Gilles Vigneault, Felix Leclerc and Maurice Richard.

As their numbers grow, newcomers to Montreal are finally shedding their historical role as fearful outsiders and have become proud and involved elements of Montreal society.

North African Muslims have successfully petitioned the city to create it's third 'ethnic' neighbourhood and so 'La Petit Mahgreb' joins Chinatown and La Petit Italie as recognized districts.

When the city decided to rename an important artery to honour the memory of the late Premier Robert Bourassa, the city's Greek community organized a successful defence of their beloved Parc Avenue. Interestingly, the majority of city Francophones supported the demand that the Greek community's fierce attachment to the name be respected.

Nationalists decry the fact that Montreal is now less than 50% old stock francophone and with 30,000 new immigrants arriving and settling in the city each year,  there's little doubt that the divide will widen.

The immigration debate is only now igniting. Old stock Quebeckers are sounding an alarm that may be, in many respects, too little and much too late.

With Quebec set to accept a record 55,000 new immigrants for the next few years, the writing is on the wall.
Quebec society is branching off into two distinct directions.


  1. It's only the island of Montreal that is "only" 50% francophone. The francos move to the off-island suburbs, so the metropolitan census area is still majority old-stock.

    Also, as a counterweight to Herouxville and its no-stoning-allowed edict, which you allude to, the Gazette featured a small town that actually works hard to recruit and retain immigrants. But for some reason, that town's name is not as famous.

    But don't forget what the "National" Assembly did when the Bouchard-Taylor report recommended that "if this is a secular society now, remove the crucifix from the Assembly walls." What they did, was nothing.

    Still, let's all cast a wider view. Let's see the numbers on how many in the Rest of Canada (ROC) can carry on a conversation in French.

  2. NoDogs, I think you are exaggerating here, there are well integrated immigrants outside of Montreal, and not all rural quebeckers are this narrow-minded.

    Otherwise than that, thank you for your very interesting analysis of the immigration problem in Canada.

  3. Thanks for the interesting analysis.
    It's a good point of view. However some stats and idea are a little to general.

    As a proud resident of Montreal (from lebanese) decent. I grew up in the west island and speak perfect french and english. I feel confortable and welcome in 95% of all places i got in the province of QUEBEC. Something i cannot say about the rest of canada.

  4. "NoDogs, I think you are exaggerating here, there are well integrated immigrants outside of Montreal, and not all rural quebeckers are this narrow-minded."

    Really??? I wonder how many immigrants you will find in the Beauce. The Vachon factory may be owned by a member of the ethnic community but you won't find any immigrant workers settling in St. Marie. But you don't even have to go that far. How many immigrant business locations can you find in St. Jerome, mere minutes from Montreal where they can be found on every street corner?

  5. Perhaps the entire issue of immigration itself needs a rethink? How about a moratorium on immigration while Quebec and Canada decide what (if any) immigration they want and how much change this will bring and what are they prepared to tolerate?

  6. If the ROQ can get by without any immigrants settling there why can't Montreal?


  8. I am an immigrant and I live in Montreal,I learned French but so far I couldn't integrate with the French community instead I have some English speaking friends and immigrant friends.In some way I did't get to mix with the French,and without recognizing I found my self hanging out with immigrants ,making friendship with the Anglo-phone and really ,so far, I can't tell why?I guess that even in Montreal we don't have any kind of integration with the francophone.we have some kind of separated communities like east and west Berlin ,but without even having a wall.