by James Billot
Friday, 21
January 2022
Spotted
16:30

What’s going on in Quebec?

The French Canadian province has gone in an increasingly authoritarian direction
by James Billot
Credit: Getty

Never fully in but never fully out, Quebec has always had an awkward status in Canada. Fiercely protective of its French identity, it has long flirted with separating from its anglophone motherland  but, a bit like Scotland, the support was never quite there. Also like Scotland, it has, throughout the pandemic, tried to flex its (limited) autonomy over health policy by consistently pushing for more restrictions than the national government.

The announcement of a ‘health tax’ in Quebec for the unvaccinated (at least C$100), followed by a decree that only vaccinated Quebecois could access the province’s liquor and cannabis stores, has drawn this point into sharper focus. These measures are just the latest examples of an increasingly authoritarian attitude towards Covid, but they are not the most severe; at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Premier Francois Legault passed Bill 61, a highly controversial piece of legislation that sheltered the Government from oversight and limited parliamentary discussion on new projects to just one hour. 

The illiberal strain in the Quebecer character is nothing new; in fact, Covid has merely brought it to the surface. During a period known as ‘The Great Darkness’ in the 1940s and 50s, the French-Canadian province was run by Maurice ‘The Chef’ DuPlessis, whose leadership was marked by repression, persecution and patronage. His name has since become a byword for authoritarianism, with one parliamentarian accusing Francois Legault last month of channelling his inner DuPlessis.

Where Justin Trudeau has gone to great lengths to frame Canada as a beacon of multiculturalism, Quebecers have been far more assertive over their local identity. In 1988, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Quebec’s original language law, which banned the use of English on commercial signs, violated charter rights to freedom of expression. More controversially, it copied France with a laicity law of its own, banning public workers in positions of “authority” from wearing religious symbols in 2019.

Covid has accelerated these tendencies, most of which are popular with the Quebecer public. On a recent talk show, for example, a giddy presenter asks a panel of children whether they support mandatory vaccinations (a strange thing to ask children in and of itself). In unison, they reply “oui” before being asked about what “should be done” about the unvaccinated (again, a rather peculiar way to talk about 15% of the province’s population). One boy says that “we should call the police”, while another offers a rather more detailed proposal: “We should cut everything from them little by little until they submit and get vaccinated”. Cue thunderous applause and a prediction from the presenter that there is a “future politician in the making”.

From Covid to anti-jaywalking billboards, the state has asserted itself in daily Quebecois life in a way that would have been unimaginable two years ago. And like so many other countries in the world, the majority of people don’t seem to mind.

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Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
5 months ago

I have to stop being surprised. It’s like one of Robert Conquest’s rules: any organisation or country that purports to be of the left, will over time, descend into authoritarian oppression.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

There are plenty of right wing authoritarian countries too!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

Far left, far right. Authoritarian.

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago

Far left, authoritarian, far right, mythical.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
5 months ago

Could you help out and name a couple? I’m struggling. Right-wing countries?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I wondered – who is totally Free Market Capitalism?

All I see are extreme hard Left, Hard Left, Middle Left, Left of Center, and center. I cannot even think of any country which is even moderately Right.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

China?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
5 months ago

Singapore?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

Just how different are this mob to the Ontarians? Better? Worse? We all know Canada is one of the countries sliding downhill into authoritarianism.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
5 months ago

Canada is a mess, I have been over every bit of it, lived there, and you are correct – they are a nation of busybodies out to make rules restricting everything to only Left endorsed actions. I could have citizenship there but it is NOT the land of the free. Canada is like Universities – completely under the thumb of the Postmodernist woke.

It is in lock step with Australia, New Zealand, Scotland – and fallowed by England, Wales, Ireland….. A sad mess to see the Anglosphere become degenerate Left/woke. Thank God America still has the ‘Bill of Rights’ or we would be just like them; what a bunch pu* sies who every day ask for more of their freedoms to be removed.

” One boy says that “we should call the police”, while another offers a rather more detailed proposal: “We should cut everything from them little by little until they submit and get vaccinated”. ” sounds like something a leftie frog would say….

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Poor old Galeti – there is nowhere on earth that satisfies him/her/it.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I agree with Galeti.

James Joyce
James Joyce
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Don’t forget “they….”

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

A little bit mad I think, but I quite like mad people, and I’m quite fond of of his contributions, and his voice is no less valid than yours.

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The second child’s opinion is chilling. Does he suggest that bits of unvaccinated should be cut off, i.e fingers first, then an ear, followed by nose?

mauerback
mauerback
5 months ago

The proposed taxation on the non-vaccinated creates a horrible precedent for behavioural taxation. And many of the restrictions make absolutely zero sense. If you’re going to make bars and restaurants contingent on being vaccinated, then why also prohibit the unvaccinated from purchasing alcohol or legalised cannabis to be used in their own home? Even Duplessis never dared venture that far during his time as Premier of “la belle province”

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
5 months ago

There seems to be something wrong with an increasing number of people.

James Joyce
James Joyce
5 months ago

I used to think that my cousins to the north were gentle, kind people, the ones who say thank you to the cash point, and that the French speakers were just a European variant. I understand and even applaud their linguistic chauvinism, but there are limits.
Maybe 15-20 years ago I saw the movie MESRINE, about a French criminal, who at one point in his career, moves to Quebec and continues his crimes. He gets caught, imprisoned. Now let me say that I understand criminals need to be punished, removed from society, incarcerated, and all that, BUT I don’t believe in torture. In the movie at least, and this seems historically based, each new prisoner in French-Canadian prisons was held in solitary for the first 60 days–a form of torture–and there were other tactics to essentially “break” the prisoner and force the prisoner to submit. This was some seriously bad stuff! The friendly, polite Canadians? Who knew?
The comments of the child above reminded me of that.
As an aside, I cannot recommend the film MESRINE enough. A two part movie–about 4 hours in total–it is well worth the investment. I think it is the best crimi I have ever seen.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Jeez with that tale my respect for Quebec has just shot up.
I couldn’t stand their pathetic french rights histrionics but now it’s Go Quebecois!

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
5 months ago

How did the authoritarians take over? Gradually and then suddenly

Peter Currie
Peter Currie
5 months ago

Nothing new, it’s just been exacerbated by Covid. In the top ten countries for healthcare spending but end up with a 30th ranked system. Critique it and you will hear a tale of how it is worse in the US which doesn’t explain why over 100,000 Canadians go to the US each year for care.
We are the tall poppy people, get ahead and we will cut you down to size. Woke and lazy.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
5 months ago

“Blame Canada”

from South Park

Should we blame the government?
Or blame society?
Or should we blame the images on TV?

No, blame Canada, blame Canada
With all their beady little eyes
And flappin’ heads so full of lies

Blame Canada, blame Canada
We need to form a full assault
It’s Canada’s fault

Well, blame Canada, blame Canada
It seems that everything’s gone wrong
Since Canada came along

Blame Canada, blame Canada
There not even a real country anyway

Blame Canada, blame Canada
With all their hockey hubbabaloo
And that bi* ch Anne Murray too
Blame Canada, shame on Canada

The smut we must stop, the trash we must smash
Laughter and fun must all be undone
We must blame them and cause a fuss
Before someone thinks of blaming us

Geoffrey Wilson
Geoffrey Wilson
5 months ago

Fascinating article, thanks. I did wonder about the relative health risks involved in, one one hand liquor and cannabis, and on the other hand choosing not to be vaccinated. Surely, if the government cares about people’s health, it should advise the vaccinated to stay away from these stores! Perhaps to persuade the unvaccinated to get the vaccine, they should actually force them to visit liquor and cannabis stores once a day, or be fined! Just saying.

Jon Game
Jon Game
5 months ago

Never been so proud to be English.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
5 months ago

What earth do you expect, they’re French aren’t they?
Have the French, despite much posturing, even done ‘freedom’? It is completely alien to their nature and will always be so. Given half a chance Quebec would reintroduce the Guillotine for ‘vax miscreants’.

Andrea X
Andrea X
5 months ago

Dear me, I thought the article on breast milk was the low point, but this one here beats it hands down!
You count make up certain stories (and if you did nobody would believe you).

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I agree Andrea…. children made into creepy automatons.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
5 months ago

Who cares? Canada is such a sad, underperforming backwater: it is beyond belief that a country with agricultural, mineral and enery assets, and a border with the world’s biggest market just cannot produce any world leading companies, or businesses… or culture, art, sport… or indeed anything aside from some very gorgeous women!

Andrew Figueiredo
Andrew Figueiredo
5 months ago

Quebec’s 60’s turn away from the reactionary Duplessis just instituted a new kind of authoritarianism when taken to its extreme. Bill 21 and actions taken in the name of aggressive secularism attempt to muscle religion out of the public sphere entirely. Same with the province’s attempt to take religious content out of even religious schools.

Odette Hélie
Odette Hélie
5 months ago

Maybe the fact that our hospitals are so overwhelmed that the government has announced that patients in general will receive less than optimal care can be factored in (out health system gas been attacked by successive neoliberal government and is in shambles) ? Vaccinated people are frustrated (especially vaccinated people who need urgent surgeries and cannot get them). I think this tax is useless except that it may make vaccinated citizens more patient (we are still in lockdown !!!). Also, drinkers, drug addicts, smokers and diabetic do not overwhelm our hospitals and their problem/addiction cannot be solved easily with a jab in the arm. I do not think the extrapolation is appropriate even if we hear it everywhere. As for Maurice Duplessis, few people regret him. It must be said that after his death Québec rushed into modernization at a unmatched pace ! A bit superficial this post !!

David Giles
David Giles
5 months ago
Reply to  Odette Hélie

“Successive neoliberal governments”? I’m sorry but where exactly do you live?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  Odette Hélie

The fact that hospitals are overwhelmed by the unvaccinated (if this is indeed true), is largely due to poor public management and poor work conditions for health personnel. I would rather these factors were improved than to force individuals to undergo medical procedures that may or may not be effective. The messaging around vaccinations has been atrocious, being little more than diktats from above. ‘Do this because we tell you to’ is not a good look for governments, no matter how worthy or noble the cause.

Philip L
Philip L
5 months ago
Reply to  Odette Hélie

Pretty easy to find the impact of alcohol in Canada specifically
“Alcohol consumption in Canada was associated with approximately 15,000 preventable deaths, 90,000 preventable hospital admissions and 245.000 potential years of life lost in 2014. The collective impact of alcohol use on health care, crime and lost productivity was estimated at $14.6 billion, higher than the costs of tobacco use and the costs of all other psychoactive substances combined, including opioids and cannabis.”
So then. Where do you start, and where do you stop?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
5 months ago
Reply to  Philip L

I lived in the Canadian far North – and the Native peoples there are being destroyed by alcohol – some places the fetal alcohol syndrome was 50% of children born!

Back not that long ago, say 60s, 70s rules stopped Native communities from being allowed alcohol, and limited free money – so the Native Peoples still worked their Nature for subsidence and had some outlet for their energies. But the Liberals said they must have exactly the same rules as everyone – so free money and alcohol. They do not handle idleness or alcohol, and it is terrible what this liberality brought.

JP Martin
JP Martin
5 months ago
Reply to  Odette Hélie

This is absolute rubbish. Sorry, but I have lived in Canada and the hospitals are always overwhelmed. Waiting lists are chronic. Each flu season is a catastrophe. It’s always impossible to get a GP. At the mere mention of a private healthcare alternative, Canadians have a meltdown. That would be too American, apparently. Of course, other healthcare models exist in other countries but Canadians are hopelessly obsessed with the USA. Meanwhile, the USA barely notices the existence of Canada. The national healthcare strategy is based on the fact that rich Canadians cross the border when they get desperate for treatment and everyone else just accepts the sorry state of affairs. If the Canadian healthcare system is a mess, it’s due to incompetence, waste, and indolence. It has been this way for a long time; it’s not because of Covid. And the absurd idea that the demographic collapse and marginalisation of Quebec within Canada is “modernisation”. Du grand n’importe quoi!

Odette Hélie
Odette Hélie
5 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

About a third of health spending in Québec is done in the private sector. Because of poor working conditions, many medical workers are fleeing to the private sector. I said our public health system is in shambles. Neoliberal = Liberal party. True accessibility has been deteriorating but not to the point of sending back cancer patients at home like it is the case with COVID . Our system is centered on hospitals and physicians and it is a failure .

JP Martin
JP Martin
5 months ago
Reply to  Odette Hélie

The total proportion of spending in the private sector is misleading because there are so many restrictions on private healthcare. If you look at the breakdown, a lot of the private spending is in medical consultations, specialist visits, plastic surgery, dermatology, psychological counselling, diagnostic imaging, orthopaedic surgeries, opthamological surgeries, etc. The private sector is not really a comprehensive alternative. You are, however, correct that QC spends less than other provinces on a per capita basis.