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Mike's Trek to the Great White North 1994

Part 3: Blame Canada

One of the most recognizable things about Quebec is the on-going political struggle within Canada.  This was demonstrated to me immediately upon setting foot in the country when the customs guard kept talking to me in French.

Yes, Quebec is the French-speaking province, and they want everyone to know that.  So much so, that they pretty much ignore everything English or otherwise Canadian.

One example:  you know that "Canada" logo that the Canadians use on all their government buildings, literature, etc?  (Maybe you remember it from being on the space shuttle arm...)  Anyway, we passed some Canadian government buildings in which the people had painted over the little Canadian flag.

Canadian logo.                     French-Canadian logo
The Canadian logo at left, the modified one in Quebec at right.

Then, the next thing you notice is the Quebec flag.  They fly it everywhere.  It has the the fleur-de-lys on it, which is the symbol of French Canada.

Quebec flag.
This is the Quebec flag.  Note the fluer-de-lys in each corner.

What is weird about Quebec is that they fly the Quebec flag exclusively.  Unlike in the US, where you see the state flag flying alongside or under the American flag, in Quebec you see the Quebec flag flying alone.  For example, in the Hotel du Parlement, which is the home of Quebec's provincial government, you won't see the Canadian flag anywhere.

No Canadian flag...
Quebec's parliament.  Note that the Quebec flag, and not the Canadian flag, flies over the building.

Check out this other view of the building.  Note that there is no other flagpole from which the Canadian flag is flying.  This is secession territory.

Note the empty flagpole.  No Canadian flags visible anywhere.
Still no Canadian flags visible anywhere near the building...

Another thing I noticed was the beer.  In Ottawa, I would drink Labatt Blue Beer, which has the maple leaf on the bottle.  In Quebec, it is Labatt Bleue Biere, which is the same beer with a similar label, but the writing is in French and the maple leaf has been replaced with the fleur-de-lys.  Starting to get it?

We went to a Quebec Nordiques hockey game (it was right before they moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche).  At the beginning, they sang the Star Spangled-Banner and O Canada, which I couldn't sing along with because it was sung in French.  Just as I had witnessed at a Montreal Expos game, the people had more respect for the Star Spangled Banner than O Canada.  At least they weren't as rude as the fans in Montreal, who stood during the US anthem, but sat down during O Canada as a protest against Canada (the Meech Lake Accords had just failed).

Our host, Serge, told me that most of the people around Quebec City speak only French.  He said that in Montreal, a majority of the population is bilingual, but he said that there are some families, especially in the remote parts of the province, that never had any reason to learn English.  However, he did fill me in on more about the politics of the region.

He said that very little of it has to do with so-called "distinct society" that advocates of secession argue about and everything to do with the high taxes.  The Canadians have socialized health care, which requires high taxes to cover it.  He said that taxes average somewhere between 19-26%, and most Quebeckers object to this.  Unemployment in Quebec is much higher than in the rest of Canada, leaving many to blame Canada for the province's economic woes and advocate secession.  Quebec accounts for about a quarter of the total economy of the country, so if they secede, this will likely have serious repercussions throughout the rest of Canada.  Thus, the Canadians have to take the secession threat very seriously.

He also told me that while publicly they may say one thing, most Quebeckers really don't object to being Canadians, but rather they object to the taxes.  Thus, they feel that if they seceded, they could have a better living in which they aren't paying for the rest of the nation of Canada, as in their eyes, the rest of Canada profits at the expense of Quebeckers.  So, according to Serge, it has everything to do with economics.

However, there are some who truly feel like a minority as Francophones, such as the crazy drunk guy who verbally attacked me on the streets of Old Quebec.

My boss and I were walking down the street talking, and this drunk French guy comes up to me and slurs in this really thick French accent.

"When I come to Unites Ztatez, Ize ezpected to zpeak zee English," he says.  "Zhen zyou come to Quebec, zyou are ezpected to speak zee Francais!  Zyou zill only speak zee Francais in Quebec!  We don't want zyou here."

Wow!  Another rude French Canadian.  However, his comments struck a nerve with me. 

"Well, you may think you must speak English in the United States," I replied, "but when you visit Miami, San Antonio, or LA, you better know some Spanish, because there are places there where 'zyou vill be ezpected to habla espanol'.  Oh, wait, forget that - I don't want zyou in my country either!"  I can be an ugly American just as good as he can be an ugly Canadian.  That, and I also had several fleur-de-lys covered bieres...

The guy stumbled off and flipped me the finger, and I returned his gesture, but I made sure to use the British "V" gesture that they use against the French in Europe.  You want me to speak French, I got your French right here...

With the exception of the crazy drunk guy and the rude customs guard, most Quebeckers were very nice.

However, I did notice that the culture in this part of Canada was much different than the culture I had previously experienced in Ottawa and Vancouver.  Whether it be politics or economics, the one thing that I noticed was that this was truly a "distinct society".  So, sometimes when I recount the countries I have visited, I count Quebec as a separate country.  Whether they have officially seceded from Canada or not, if you go and visit the region, you will see that in their hearts, they have seceded.  In everything they do, they make one thing very clear - they are not your average Canadians.

Continue on to Part 4: Work and Fun