Robert Libman: Appeasement a losing strategy for Quebec anglos

The CAQ government must be pressured by the wider community — anglophone and francophone — to reverse course. And where is Ottawa?

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More than ever before, it seems, Quebec’s English-speaking community is under siege. There have certainly been many rough patches and language battles over the past several decades, but these past few months have been particularly difficult. Our pride and joy — our valued and highly respected institutions — have been in the crosshairs of a callous Quebec government that looks desperate to reinforce its nationalist credentials in response to resurgent poll numbers for its Parti Québécois rival.

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No previous government dared target so recklessly the universities and health care institutions that our community has built and sustained since their inception and that have always been respected by, and available to, all Quebecers regardless of language.

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The new health care reform — with its creation of a centralized Crown corporation, Santé Québec, to run day-to-day operations — severely weakens the community’s hold on its institutions and leaves the door open to the possible dissolution of health care services in English.

Quebec’s plan to hike university tuition for out-of-province students is designed to cause enrolment at English universities to plunge, which will diminish these venerable institutions financially and, inevitably, compromise their quality and stature. Any other government around the world would take great pride in these institutions as a badge of honour.

It’s almost surreal what’s been going on. This misguided fantasy that weakening highly respected institutions that draw top researchers and deliver quality higher education, or that curtailing health services to an individual in their language, will somehow protect French is ludicrous.

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None of these measures will help in attaining that objective nor stand up to any intellectual argument claiming they will do so.

So what can be done? How can anglophones and leaders of their institutions fight back? Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy of just hanging on against the ropes, taking punches in the hope the aggressor gets tired, isn’t working. Too much damage is being done, and this government shows no signs of relenting.

Do we try to appease? The universities offered major concessions to try to ward off the tuition hikes, and that got them nowhere. The board of the McGill University Health Centre is reported to have conducted board meetings in French only. What will that achieve? Appeasement just nourishes the appetite of the aggressor.

Protesting in the streets or ranting on open line radio is cathartic and reinforces a sense of community, but likely won’t get the government to sit up and take notice.

It’s time to call on heavy hitters. There are so many prominent alumni around the world from our respected universities — accomplished members of Quebec and Canadian society, francophone and anglophone, intellectuals, benefactors and captains of industry. There are highly respected board members of our hospitals and foundations. Where are they? The universities and institutions should be frenetically organizing and calling on them to wade in.

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Why haven’t the heads of French-language universities and Montreal’s chamber of commerce, who have criticized the move, been recruited in an ongoing initiative to push back? The government must be pressured by the wider community to reverse course.

Treating these reputable, historic community institutions like a political football is immoral and damaging to all of Quebec — and Canada. And where the hell has Ottawa been?

In his year-end holiday greetings speech in the National Assembly, Premier François Legault spoke about the many twists in 2023. He joked about his flip-flops on the Quebec City “third link” tunnel project and said he asked Santa for a compass to help prepare for 2024. What he really needs is a moral compass to guide him toward doing what is right — and far, far away from our institutions.

Robert Libman is an architect and planning consultant who has served as Equality Party leader and MNA, as mayor of Côte-St-Luc and as a member of the Montreal executive committee. He was a Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election. X @robertlibman

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