Raquel Fletcher, the National Assembly reporter for Global News, has some critical questions for Quebec, the place she calls home since 2016. In her new book,
Who Belongs in Quebec? (Linda Leith Publishing), Raquel takes a look at identity politics in Quebec's national identity, posing the question "what does it mean to be a Quebecer?" Below, she talks a little about moving to Quebec City from Saskatchewan and the changing politics in her adopted province.
I don’t know why exactly, but it has always been my dream to live in Quebec. Something about living in a place where my children could grow up perfectly bilingual, where the winters were warmer than they are in the prairies, but where there is just as much snow. Or maybe it was something about the way it called itself a nation and fiercely protected its culture and arts sector. All of this appealed to this Francophile writer from Saskatchewan who desperately wanted to belong somewhere she could earn a living and work in a creative industry.
It might have taken me over a year to get my health card—the time it took to learn to navigate Quebec bureaucracy in my second language. When native Quebecers hear my accent, they still ask where I’m from. I might still look at them blankly when they talk about a famous Quebec personality I should know but have never heard of. And I admit I might have driven my new Quebec City friends crazy with all my questions about renting here (everyone moves on July 1?) or finding a family doctor (I felt like I’d won the lottery when I finally succeeded) or traveling to Montreal (obstacles include any number of things from ice storms to detours because of construction). I might have once squealed in delight the first time I saw one of those recycling machine that accept bottles and cans in a grocery store. I might not be from here originally, but I totally belong here.
When I moved to Quebec City at the beginning of 2016 to work as a journalist, I met a lot of people who felt like me—newcomers excited about this new experience. But I could also see that a growing visible cultural diversity was a new reality here. At one time, Quebec was much more homogenous than it is today—to be Québécois meant you were white, francophone, and Roman Catholic. That’s changing here—as it is everywhere. Quebecers, like Canadians in the rest of the country, mostly embrace that diversity. But sometimes it’s the subject of contentious debate. I was surprised to see just how often identity politics—and the issue of reasonable accommodations—makes its way into headlines. And yes, some of the commentary, sadly, seems to stem from racist or xenophobic beliefs.
Of course, there has always been a vibrant national discourse about a common national identity—stretching back to before the Quiet Revolution. More recently, however, a common identity is increasingly difficult to define (if such a thing as a “Quebec identity” can still exist in a multicultural society). What’s more, while identity is a common topic of discussion, particularly in Quebec media, not everyone is having the same discussion.
Who Belongs in Quebec? is an exploration of those many different voices and their many different visions for the future of Quebec: politicians, pundits, religious and ethnic minorities, francophones, anglophones…because no matter how diverse and multicultural Quebec society becomes, Quebecers will still have to collectively decide what the future should look like.
They already have a few options to choose from. For example, when the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) came into power in October 2018 with a sweeping majority, it quickly introduced Bill 21. Dubbed its secularism bill, the legislation banned certain public employees, such as judges, prison guards, police officers and teachers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. Premier François Legault has said this is a strong compromise that should satisfy Quebecers who want to protect majority rights, while keeping “racists” from pushing for more reforms to limit religious freedoms even further. Many minority groups hold the contrary view and have argued that nothing justifies restricting minority rights.
Are diversity and the protection of traditional Quebec culture mutually exclusive? Or can Quebecers agree on a common national project? Whatever the outcome, it will have repercussions for the rest of the country as well. This book is for anyone and everyone interested in contemporary society and identity questions—whether or not you are a Quebecer.
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Raquel Fletcher is the Quebec National Assembly reporter for Global News. She was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, and is a graduate of the University of Regina School of Journalism. She is a world traveler, proud Francophile, and dog lover. She lives in Quebec City.
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