Break the cassette | When our politicians scare the world

“I want to govern so that Quebec remains Quebec. » — François Legault

To hear certain Quebec politicians these days, one might believe that the Quebec nation is a hair’s breadth from annihilation.

“I heard the president [Emmanuel] Macron, at the start of the year, said that he wanted to govern, and I quote, “so that France remains France”. I can tell you that I found myself in this statement. And I too want to govern so that Quebec remains Quebec,” said Prime Minister François Legault last Thursday, during the visit of his French counterpart Gabriel Attal.


François Legault (right) accompanied by the French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal

In doing so, Mr. Legault adopted an extremely loaded formula in France. The words “so that France remains France” were first uttered by Jean-Marie Le Pen, then taken up as a campaign slogan by far-right candidate Éric Zemmour in 2022. I will come back to this.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also made disturbing remarks last weekend, during the National Council of the Parti Québécois. Promising a referendum if he is elected, the leader of the PQ declared that this was “our ultimate chance to give ourselves linguistic and cultural sustainability.”

According to Mr. St-Pierre Plamondon, the “federal regime” in place in Ottawa “openly and explicitly plans our decline” and “only knows how to crush those who refuse to assimilate.”

Wow! We don’t know what Mr. St-Pierre Plamondon ate for lunch, but let’s just say that he didn’t do anything nuanced.

Opening my Larousse to the adjective “alarmist”, I read this: “Which spreads rumors likely to worry the population. » It seems to me that we are exactly there.

Faced with the exaggerations of the PQ leader, one might believe that François Legault’s declaration that he wants “Quebec to remain Quebec” is rather banal. She is not.

A little research reveals that the first to have uttered the words “so that France remains France” was Jean-Marie Le Pen. This co-founder of the National Front, a far-right party, has been repeatedly convicted of provoking hatred, discrimination and racial violence.

His daughter, Marine Le Pen, echoed the statement. This then became the official slogan of far-right candidate Éric Zemmour in the 2022 French presidential election.1.

It is true that French President Emmanuel Macron, a politician much more likeable than Le Pen and Zemmour, said the same words last January. I contacted French political scientist Jean Petaux to understand the context.

“When Emmanuel Macron uses these words, he does so in full conscience. This is not at all a coincidence. He voluntarily uses the words of the right which I would describe as nationalist-sovereignist [par rapport à l’Union européenne] to position ourselves in this area,” he explains to me.

By saying this, Emmanuel Macron means that the fight against the extreme right must be waged on the terrain of the extreme right.

Jean Petaux, political scientist

Let’s be good players: François Legault was perhaps unaware of the entire context before copying the French formula. His press secretary, Ewan Sauves, assures me that the Prime Minister was referring to Mr. Macron’s comments and not to those of Le Pen or Zemmour (even if the first, as we see, responded indirectly to the other two).

In my opinion, that doesn’t excuse everything. Saying that we want to govern so that Quebec remains Quebec means resisting elements that threaten the very identity of the nation.

Which ? The context is clear. With Gabriel Attal, François Legault spoke of secularism. What would prevent Quebec from remaining Quebec in the eyes of the Prime Minister is therefore immigration, and in particular its religious manifestations within the Quebec state.

The words of Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also depict immigration as a threat to our cultural survival.

We repeat: we can debate immigration. We may find that the federal reception targets are too high (almost everyone agrees). We can defend different models of secularism. And we must be concerned about the survival of French.

But doing so by exaggerating and stoking fear is a dangerous game. This reflex is detrimental to calm discussions. It also runs the risk of ostracizing certain Quebecers and exacerbating polarization.

My colleague Stéphanie Grammond has clearly shown that fears about the supposed decline of French are not supported by the best and most recent data available.⁠2.

As for the dangers of religious symbols, we must take some and leave some. Quebec was a secular state long before the CAQ adopted the famous law 21 on the wearing of these signs by certain state employees. In Quebec, religion has nothing to do in the adoption of laws, in the administration of justice, in the development of the educational program or in any other mission of the State.

The CAQ ruled that teachers must remove their religious symbols when entering schools. It is a very strict vision of secularism, which France shares and which defends itself (even if it collides with the charters of rights and freedoms, which is not a peccadillo).

But many Quebecers believe that it is institutions and not individuals that must be secular. To suggest that this vision threatens the identity of Quebec is as exaggerated as asserting that the federal government is knowingly plotting to destroy Quebec culture, as Paul St-Pierre Plamondon did.

We have the impression that the leaders of the CAQ and the PQ have challenged themselves to see who is the best at the game “Tonight, we scare the world”. Can’t wait for the end of the game. Because sowing panic has never helped us make good collective decisions.

1. Read the text “Macron in turn uses a slogan launched by LR and taken up by Zemmour” on the RTL website

2. Read the editorial “The eclipse (from French) did not take place”

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