There is another element in the distinction between Quebec and the rest of Canada and that is the general public approach to the involvement of government in our daily lives. There is a lot more of it here and it seems generally accepted. I'm not the best person to make this kind of analysis, because I rally against all bureaucracy, be it government, corporate or personal. Also, I lived half my life in the States where there is a much greater tendency to complain as a citizen and consumer.
Nevertheless, it seems that in Quebec the government asks a lot more of its citizens. And there are laws ensuring that you do what is asked. These laws seem, in principle, to be in direct violation of the individual freedoms I hold precious as a member of a free society. When I question the laws, the people act like I'm a little crazy.
Here is an example. I recently got a notice to renew my health card. Everyone in Quebec has to have a health card. It's probably more important as an identifier of who you are than your driver's license. The requirements for proving your residency are much harder for the health card than the driver's license, for instance.
With the notice was a flyer explaining the Quebec prescription drug plan. Everyone in Quebec must be covered by a prescription drug plan. If your employer doesn't provide you with one, you must indicate this and pay it in your taxes. If you are below a certain income level, you don't have to pay the taxes. Now personally, I think this is a good thing and this isn't the violation of freedom I am going to talk about.
When I called to renew my health card, I also said that I had a prescription drug plan provided by my employer. She started asking me all these questions. Exactly when did I get it? Why do you want to know? I asked. Am I going to be reimbursed for the money I unnecessarily paid in the last two years? She seemed miffed that I would ask such a question. Her answer was that it was the law. Then she started asking me about my conjointe's medical plan. I told her that I am not privy to that information. She said that it was also the law that I reveal how long my conjointe has had a prescription plan. When I kept pushing back on her with more questions, she did say that all of this info was held in the strictest confidence and that other branches of the government did not have access to it.
These kinds of questions struck me as being invasive of my privacy. I know they aren't a big deal and I ended up giving them the data they wanted. It's probably just to get their databases up to date, a motivation with which I am familiar and sympathetic.
It's the tone of the discourse that sets my alarm bells off. The way she just assumed that I would know to give her this info and the way any questions about it are brushed off with "it's the law." This sets my anglophone alarm bells ringing and I think it's the same for the old school anglophone minority here in Quebec. They see the kind of laws that came out of Bill 101, laws that restrict how you can express yourself, laws that go across private property (albeit commercial property) and they get alarmed.
And why do we get alarmed? I think you can take this all the way back to the Protestant/Catholic divide. The British are the champions of the kind of mercantilist liberty, whereas the French, though strong believers in liberty as well, have always been more comfortable with a healthy dose of government intervention. We North American anglophones moved even farther away from the British and the idea of things like nationwide school exams would be unthinkable here.
It's also important to remember that a strong portion of the anglophone minority in Quebec are Jewish. They are a people who will never forget where a few slightly invasive laws can lead.
So once again, trying to bridge the divide, I think it's important for francophones to understand some of the culture behind the aggressive reactions to the Quebec government's attempts to shore up the french culture and language here. It's not just that it's french and different and not ours. It's also the way it is applied. Personally, I am very supportive of the work that has been done in the last 40 years to keep the culture of Quebec strong, but when I hear some of Pauline Marois measures, such as forcing immigrants to sign a paper declaring they will follow the values here, I react strongly. My reaction is one of anger, which comes from fear (which leads to hate, and we all know where that leads). Yes, teach the language and the culture. Spend tons of state money on encouraging immigrants to embrace all that Quebec has to offer and to help it proliferate. But never let it not be a choice for me.
On the other hand, I think us anglophones must understand that there is also a lot of fear in the francophone community. The commercial power of english is so pervasive and subtle. Things in the majority always are. More and more in downtown Montreal one is approached by store employees in english. That sets off alarm bells in many francophones and it is natural for them to look to laws to prevent such a phenomenon from spreading. It seems like the only solution in the short term. As an anglophone here, though locally we are in the minority, we are, strangely, a minority, inside another minority, surrounded by our majority. You shouldn't forget that.
In general, we should all drop our reactive, defensive stances and work positively to encourage the adoption of french among immigrants and the acceptance of all minority groups here in Quebec.