Monday, August 04, 2008

Ah, Quebec...

Quebec City recently celebrated its 400th anniversary, making it one of the oldest cities in Noth America (and still one of the most beautiful). It was evidently quite a party -- there were tons of special events, including a free concert headlined by Paul McCartney, which a teeny but vocal number of separatist members of the National Assembly opposed. Evidently, the presence of Sir Paul, being British, would evoke "painful memories" of the British conquest. Quel horror!

Evidently, there are many 270 or so- year-old French war vets living in Quebec City, still seething over their defeat by Montcalm's forces in 1749. Who knew?

I mean, get a grip. McCartney man wrote "Ebony and Ivory" and "The Dog Gone Girl is Mine" and they complain about his nationality???

Fortunately, the three members of the Loyal Opposition don't reflect the views of anyone but a few other petty-minded, ethnocentric twerps. Most Quebecers didn't mind Sir Paul being British at all. Something like 270,000 showed up for the show.

And really, the yahoo fringe of the PQ should pick its targets more carefully. McCartney isn't some poor Anglo shopkeeper with an "illegal" sign in his Greenfield Park window that they can bash around or drive into bankruptcy with a barrage of fines -- he's one of the richest men in the world. The PQ should just be grateful that McCartney doesn't buy the entire province and turn Quebec City into a seal sanctuary.

Somewhere, the ghost of Mordecai Richler is laughing his ass off.


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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved Mordecai Richler. Good to see his name in print. The Apprentice ship of Duddy Kravitz was a terrific book. And Joshua Then and Now. Solomon something too. Thanks for reminding me.

4:48 PM, August 04, 2008  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Patti, if you haven't read it, you've GOT to read BARNEY'S VERSION, his last and funniest (and arguably best) book. Certainly, it's my favourite, It's not noir, but the humour, especially the punchline, is deliciously black and bittersweet, and probably the closest he ever came to crime fiction (although, of course, all his books deal with the petty crimes and scandals of his beloved targets: hypocrites, bureaucrats, politicians and fundamentalist true believers of all stripes, from Orthodox Jews to separatists.

7:24 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Guillaume said...

I don't want to stir another controversy, I commented about McCartney's visit on my own blog and I got the attention of a troll, I don't want to become one myself here (since we disagree on many of these issues Kevin)but I do want to comment on this. Yes, the reaction of people who opposed to McCartney's visit was often hysterical, but the people who were for his visit often were just as bad. read the comments on the blog of Patrick Lagacé on of you want to have a little "aperçu". Hysteria is not a PQ monopole. I am glad Macca waved the flag of Quebec, thus "nationalising" a celebration that so far had been recuperated by the federal government (they seem to think that Champlain was the predecessor of the general governor). That said, there were reasons, legitimate reasons to wonder what the heck Macca was doing in Quebec City. Lagacé wondered why, Richard Martineau wondered why, Christian Rioux wondered why, Michel Vastel too, and so did I. I doubt you can label all of them big bad closed-mind separatists. I lived a year in Liverpool, I love the city, I admire the Scousers, I recognize the importance of the Beatles in modern music and culture. That said, one can find ironic that McCartney was invited to celebrate a city he knew nothing about (and still knows zilch) before his very first visit a few weeks ago, a city he never was associated with, a city that never inspired him, a city he never particularly liked before getting paid to sing there. One can find even more ironic when that Scousers are trying to distantiate themselves with the Beatles and their often heavy heritage, some people would want McCartney to sing in QC, as if he was the second Messiah (or the real one?). Having Leonard Cohen celebrate the 400th anniversary of Montreal, if he lives that long, woul be in order, as he grew up in Montreal, he created in Montreal, Montreal made him what he is. But what's the link between McCartney and Quebec City? Yes, the show was a success, it was bound to be, Macca is a great entertainer and he is no amateur. Yes, it sure was financially profitable, but the financial gain, although important, was far more modest than the organiser boasted. It didn't give much visibility to Quebec City, if any at all. Inrernational medias talked about the controversy for a few days, that's it. And it didn't make frontpage.

So yes, you can bash the PQ about it, c'est de bonne guerre, I like Daniel Turp but he did made a blunder signing that text. That said, there were legitimate reasons to question the choice inviting of Macca.

4:42 AM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Oh, certainly, I wondered why on earth they invited McCartney. And the points you raised are exactly the ones I'd have asked.

But what might have been a valid gripe was once again sandbagged by the over-zealotry of some fundamentalist holy cause (in this case, Quebec separatism).

Of course, there are fundamentalist yahoos all over the world-- I live in a bland instant suburb in the States, remember, where political discourse too often and easily devolves into belligerent polarization. And trust me, I long for the days of informed political, historical and cultural passion that's such a part of the fabric of Montreal. We may disagree about the viability or likelihood of a Quebec "nation" but we'd be speaking, I hope, from positions of honour and respect. Over a couple of cold drafts on St. Denis or the Main or Bishop where we can take turns complaining about which language the inevitably beautiful waitress fails to serve us in...

Turp's a smart enough guy, a constitutional lawyer and responsible for international affairs within the PQ (or has that changed?). And last I heard, Quebec is still not a country. So what on earth is Turp doing wasting his time worrying about boring old Paul McCartney? This is the very sort of pettiness that damages and trivializes the cause, and embarrasses so many nationalists (and homesick Canadians, for that matter).

As for Canada "recuperating" the celebration, well, Quebec City is still a Canadian city, after all. At least according to the wishes of its majority.

Imagine the fuss among the PQ/BQ and the other professional separatists if Canada hadn't chipped in. (Though it would have made the anti-Canadian, anti-Quebec types happy. I'm actually surprised that weasel Harper actually coughed up the dough... Quebec City better cash those big federal cheques quick!)

12:40 PM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger Guillaume said...

QC is still a Canadian city, of course. But to associate Champlain with the position of the General governor and to imply that the Brits took over almost naturally (from a French monarchy to a British one) is a clear disregard of history and is downright plain wrong. Harper has been very keen to make Canada more nationalist, up to the point of using independentist's keywords, (he often uses "Canada libre et souverain" for example) and that's fair enough: those words have strong emotional reasonance and it's normal to use them if one wants to build a nationalist sentiment among his voters. That said, rewriting history for one own's politiccal gains is intellectually dishonest. Quebec City was not found for the British crown, after all.

Now, about McCartney, the problem with the reaction is that while there was good grounds to question the decision of the Committee to invite him, it took the form of a pointless and infantile fit of anger. That said, the controversy was unwillingly started by journalists (especially Patrick Lagacé I would say) not associated with the sovereigntist movement (not all of them anyway, and not partisans in any case). They made good points, but they were recuperated by some hot heads (and among them some smart people who should have known better, either by not taking part in the controversy either by writing a better text in the same tone as the people who pointed the incongruity of Macca's presence in the first place). They tried to recuperate the controversy, consciously or not, and it turned against them, but also, against those who started it and who had a point.

But even the early controversy was fuelled by the hysterical defenders of Macca's visit, often hot heads themselves (some federalists, some QC people who viscerally dislike Montreal, or simply fans of the Beatles). The attacks against the so called "clique du Plateau" were disgusting and just as embarrassing. I have witnessed it on my blog, where I wrote three small entries on the subjects, one in English and two in French. As I said in my previous comment, my blog got the attention of a troll, he started writing very nasty comments in the French entries. The insults I received were so vehement that was surrealistic. I was a big bad separatist, a isolationist, close minded and so on. I was surprise he didn't accuse me of writing that bloody letter (I wish I did, at least he could have had insulted me for some reason). Hell, the English entry about Macca, where I speak about him in much harsher terms, didn't get much reaction, apart from a Scouser who agreed with me! But then again, many Scousers can't stand the Beatles.

1:33 AM, August 07, 2008  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Here we go again, folks...

Of course Quebec becoming a British city wasn't natural. It was conquered.

Just like the French had earlier conquered the local natives. And then the British did something either incredibly stupid or honourable and generous, depending on how you want to spin it: they allowed the French to keep their own language, culture and religion; it may have been simply a pragmatic political decision since England was a long way off from their new colony, but it was also a radical, pretty much unheard of decision at the time.

And a decision that gave rise, eventually, to not just Quebec nationalism (mostly because the rest of Canada conveniently "forgot" their promises) but also the American Revolution -- Washington and his "freedom fighters" would be damned if they would let the Brits give the Ohio Valley to Catholics, never mind French-speaking ones.

So, no, Quebec City didn't become a part of the British Empire "naturally" -- unless you consider war and conquest to be a natural part of history.

But it did become a Canadian city willingly in 1867, when it entered into Confederation. And has remained so ever since, as expressed by the democratic will of its people in two referendums (so far).

You make it sound like before Harper there was no Canadian patriotism. Which is bullshit. The phrase "The true north strong and free" is right there in the anthem (the original French version of the anthem, of course, having been composed by a French-Canadian ).

Despite the claims of the some separatists who aren't too shabby at rewriting history themselves ("Canada is not a real country"), Canadian patriotism has always existed, albeit not in the mad dog way uber-nationalists (certainly not limited to Quebec) view patriotism. Canadians are more quiet, in general, and reserved; slightly embarrassed by overt displays of nationalistic loyalty.

But that doesn't mean Canadians don't have a deep and abiding love for and pride in their country. The sort of in-your-face exhibitionist patriotism, so beloved of many Americans and some Quebecois nationalists, just doesn't feel right.

And hyper-active indignation and anger over the most trivial of slights, real or imagined, like the Macca kerfluffle, drive us all further apart -- no doubt the intention of the haters and separatists on both sides.

To me, some drunken dickheads in Belleville or Calgary with maple leaves painted on their faces posing for TV cameras are just as silly as the notorious Suzie Quebec of the seventies, a statuesque dyed-blonde Montreal stripper with large fleur-de-lys tattooed on her rather ample breasts who vowed to "dance only in French" until Quebec was a free and sovereign nation.

If you're thirty, you weren't even born during the years of Trudeaumania or Expo 67 (or the first PQ victory or the FLQ crisis) and were educated in the increasingly seperatist-leaning, anti-Canada Quebec school system, so I can understand your often quite different take on things, or how difficult it may be for you to understand that Canada is in fact a real country. But trust me on that one.

It's not only a real one, but evidently a thriving one -- a recent survey comparing us to our favourite mirror, the U.S., suggests that "we work less, live longer, enjoy better health and have more sex. And get this: now we're wealthier too."

You can check it out at ( )

Not bad for a country that doesn't exist. Good thing Quebecers have decided to remain here. Looked at that way, suffering bilingual Corn Flake boxes, two official languages and "Ebony and Ivory" every 400 years seems a small price to pay.

Now if only the Habs would get their act together...

12:02 PM, August 07, 2008  
Blogger Guillaume said...

About Harper, I never ever said he invented Canadian nationalism. I am saying he wants to strenghten it, especially in Québec, using often sovereigntist words, partially to appeal to Quebec nationalists (why would he use "Canada souverain" if he didn't understand the strong symbolical meaning the word has in Québec?). The 400th anniversary of QC, however, is not a longer version of Dominion Day. It's about the birth, survival and growth of the only French speaking nation in America. Anyway, it's not only big evil Quebec separatists like myself who think Harper tried to appropriate himself the celebration. Denise Bombardier thought the same, and she is hardly a separatist. In the end, Michaëlle Jean is not the heir of Samuel de Champlain, neither were any of the general governors of the past. It is not Canada that was found in 1608.

As for the influenes that shaped me, some members of my family are staunch federalists and I had teachers of various ideologies through all my education. I can think for myself, thank you.

I could write a longer answer, but it's getting late here.

2:23 PM, August 07, 2008  
Blogger Guillaume said...

Oh, and about the education system, just a thought: I grew up in very nationalist Saguenay, yet we had a ceremonial about the Canadian flag and we were taught the meaning of the Ô Canada (which is in original French a song about French Canada more than anything else, and more of a Catholic anthem). If anything, school system was more eager to repress any separatist feelings we might have. They were quite eager to make us good Catholics too, survival of the faith was probably more important than any political project.

3:01 PM, August 07, 2008  
Blogger OlmanFeelyus said...

Hey wow, a bit late. I found your blog on a link about Westlake's sad demise, but I couldn't help noticing this post. I think you guys are missing a major factor here about the mini McCartney non-controversy. He had been in Quebec about six months earlier with his legless wife and they did a big, ignorant and uninformed media piece against the seal hunt. Now I'm no fan of the seal hunt, but the whole thing came off like stupid lovesick older guy takes bad advice from his shrill, younger girlfriend. The seal hunt is strongly defended by a majority of Quebecois, even ones who consider themselves otherwise "green", so his popularity in Quebec in general took a big hit. I think the concert was in part a quiet way to apologize for that (saw things a little more clearly once he got some distance from that woman).

12:01 PM, January 07, 2009  

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