Anglophones for Quebec Independence ready to recruit
When Quebecers cast their ballots in the 1980 referendum, Jennifer Drouin was much too young to be paying attention. She was born in 1976, one month after Rene Levesque led the Parti Quebecois to its first term in office.
Drouin’s political coming of age was in 1995 when Quebecers were asked, for a second time, to make a choice about their future relationship with Canada.
“I lived through the referendum at the same time that I was kind of becoming aware of Quebecois language and culture and history,” said Drouin.
A Nova Scotia-born anglophone, Drouin’s bookshelves are filled with an assorted collection of Shakespearean tomes and French literature. She started reading the works of Quebec author Michel Tremblay when she wanted to pick up joual.
Drouin moved to Quebec in 2001, to pursue a PhD in Quebec studies at the Université du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres. By that time, she’d already been a card-carrying member of the PQ for three years.
She is currently a professor of English Literature at the University of Alabama, on leave.
The transition, she said, began as she sat in front of her TV in the Maritimes, watching the results roll in on referendum night.
“I realized I was against something and I didn't even know what it was or why I was against it – other than that's the way I was born and raised and grew up thinking, without having any kind of critical perspective on it, or background or history of knowing why I was automatically a ‘No’ and why I was against Quebec sovereignty,” she said. “But I could see on the faces of the people on the ‘Yes’ side that they were for something, and they were for it very strongly, and there had to be reasons for that – and that was kind of the beginning of the turning point.”
She now sees Quebec independence as the best way to protect the French language and Quebecois culture, while taking control over other issues, such as protecting the environment.
“The pipeline, Energy East, is a good reason for Quebec to have sovereignty over its own territory and to be able to say ‘No, we don't want (it),’” she said.
Anglophones for Quebec Independence
Drouin, now living in Montreal, is the driving force behind a new organization called Anglophones for Quebec Independence.
The group launched a Twitter account in June, and went silent after sending out a single tweet: “We’re here and growing - More to follow.”
The social media presence sparked plenty of online chatter and speculation, with critics questioning who was really behind the mysterious account.
The idea for the new group, Drouin said, was inspired by PQ leadership candidate Jean-Francois Lisee, who first floated the proposal for “Bold Anglos For Independence” in a blog post two years ago.
“When I said, 'Hey, I like your idea and I'm going to take it and run with it (…) I've got your blessing?' he was like, ‘Yeah,’” said Drouin.
Despite Lisee’s support, Anglophones for Quebec Independence isn't endorsing him.
“We’re non-partisan in the sense that we are open to members from the PQ, Option Nationale and Quebec Solidaire – any sovereignist,” said Drouin.
Lisee said he welcomes the new addition to Quebec’s political landscape, while acknowledging they’re unlikely to attract much support.
“I fully expect that they're going to have a hard time and that's why they need to be bold and strong and have character, and build their credibility over time, and build their numbers over time,” he said. “We know there's a small percentage of anglos who vote for the PQ. I want to expand that.”
Jean-Marc Fournier, Liberal MNA for Saint-Laurent and government house leader, questioned the attempts to attract English-speaking Quebecers to the sovereignty movement.
“I just want to know, in the anglophone community, is there this big will now to separate from Canada?” he asked. “In my riding there are a lot of people from the English community,” Fournier added. “I’ve never heard that what they want is for Quebec to take its own road, apart, deciding to isolate itself.”
But Drouin said English-speaking Quebecers should not be pigeonholed.
“There's simply the assumption that anglophones are de facto federalist, as if speaking a language equated to particular political views – which is really reductionist,” she argued. “As we know francophones have a range of political views and they can be sovereignist and federalist, so there's no reason why anglophones can't have a range of political views and be sovereignist or federalist.”
Former PQ premier weighs in
For former premier Bernard Landry, despite the English community’s traditional support for the Liberals, it’s not surprising that a group of anglophones has formed an organization promoting Quebec independence.
“I am, of course, delighted to see such a group come into action,” said Landry. “I spent an important part of my political career [working] with anglophones and allophones.”
Landry said the PQ has made progress with its outreach efforts, but needs to continue working at being inclusive.
“We must be in fraternity and harmony with our compatriots coming from other places whatever the language or the ethnic origin may be,” he told CTV News.
Robin Philpot, an Ontario-born Anglophone who has long been a sovereignist, was one of the first people to join Anglophones for Quebec Independence.
“We do want people to know that if they decide that they're a sovereignist, there are also many others who've gone through the same thinking. They're not alone,” said Philpot.
Philpot is no stranger to controversy. In a book he wrote about the 1995 referendum, he claimed the No side used dirty money and illegal tactics to steal away a victory from their Yes adversaries. The book drew scorn from federalists in and outside of Quebec.
Philpot also came under fire when he ran for the PQ in 2007, in the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne. He was criticized about another book he wrote, in which he challenged accounts of the Rwandan genocide.
Then-premier Jean Charest was categorical on the campaign trail.
“If Mr. Philpot is continuing to pretend that this genocide is something other than a genocide he should not be a candidate for the Parti Québecois,” Charest said at the time.
Drouin refused to reveal how many members are in her group. She said Anglophones for Québec Independence will unveil its action plan at a press conference on Friday morning, at the Societé Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s Montreal headquarters on Sherbrooke St.
Drouin and Philpot are currently the only two group members who have spoken publicly about their cause.
They also have something else in common – they are both from other provinces.
“I certainly want there to be more members who are from Quebec,” said Drouin. “Our message is genuine and we are genuine about what we are doing and people can choose to believe us or not,” she added. “It's always difficult to challenge perceived ideas, but as we say in French, ‘Il faut avoir la force de ses convictions.’”