Published in the Press Republican on December 3, 2011
A recent editorial in the Press-Republican (« An Understandable Need to Act, » Nov. 20) about Montréal and the French language comes to the conclusion that living the Montréal experience, with its exposure to the French language and culture, is appealing to tourists visiting our fair city. The editorial makes the point that moderate solutions to defend and promote the French language in Québec are understandable, given the historical and political context.
Québec has the only French-speaking majority population in North America It is remarkable that Québec’s population of nearly 8 million inhabitants has been able not only to survive but to become a modern, vibrant and open French-speaking society in North America among 330 million English-speakers. It was not without effort, resilience and commitment.
Historically, the French colony of New France (Québec) came under British control in 1763 following the Seven Years’ War (often referred to in Québec as the Conquest- “la Conquête“). The Conquest began what is often referred to by historians in Canada as “la survivance” (the struggle for survival).
Following the Act of Québec (1774), the British authorities of the day allowed the overwhelmingly French-speaking population to freely practice its main religion (Roman Catholic), preserved its primary institutions (the Catholic Church, the civil law tradition and the land tenure regime), and recognized its right to use the French language before the Courts.
Through the centuries, Québec primarily defined itself by its French character, its use of British parliamentary institutions and practices, and the development of a unique proposition –that a majority French-speaking jurisdiction could survive and thrive in North America.
Over the years, Québec politicians of different stripes have worked to assure the survival of the French language and the development of Québec society . True, it was not without differences. The presence of a significant and well-entrenched English-speaking minority community, with its historical roots and important contributions to Québec society, and the growing presence of ethnic communities who have come to Québec through immigration have brought the political system and the court system to assess various measures to protect and promote the French language, keeping in mind the need to respect minority rights and institutions.
Today, there is a general consensus that Québecers can live their lives in French, whatever their sphere of activity, while working together to build a forward-looking, pluralistic society that respects and promotes the diversity of its overall population. Despite some hits and misses along the way, Québec has always strived for dialogue and debate, finding peaceful, and balanced solutions conforming to both the Québec and Canadian Charters of Rights on language issues.
Québec has become a key economic partner for the United States, and for New York State, its number one trading partner. With an abundance of renewable energy provided by hydropower, we have become a solutions partner for our neighbours’ energy needs and environmental objectives in the U.S. Northeast. Last May, Québec launched the “Plan Nord“, an ambitious 25-year project for the development of the territory north of the 49th parallel, which is 10 times the size of New York State and possesses mineral riches and economic opportunity beyond our borders. In October 2011, Plattsburgh’s SUNY campus announced a new Fulbright Chair for Québec studies, a first in North America. And finally, many of Québec’s artists - including Cirque du Soleil, Céline Dion, Robert Lepage and Simple Plan - are international superstars.
So the road travelled was not without its challenges but for Québec, the present and future in Québec, in all fields of human activity, remains positive, promising and enduring. Worth a visit, no doubt.