15 May

Relations between French people and French-Canadian people:

How are the relations between French people and French-Canadian people? It depends. Between both people there exists a significant portion of the population who think the other side is a friendly people. In France, people who dislike French-Canadians will often blame them for being uneducated, citing the Quebec “joual” accent/dialect, and many people in Quebec will find French people racist towards non-white people, sexist or macho in their approach towards women for example. But overall both people have a respect for each other. Very often French people will call French-Canadians their “cousins”.

Quebec’s impact on the relations between France and Canada:

Quebec has both been a factor of friendship and of diplomatic rift between Canada and France. A factor of friendship because the presence of a French-speaking population in Canada makes the France-Canada easier, and Canada knows how to use it. Since 1944, all Canadian ambassadors to France were either of French-Canadian background or from Quebec.

Quebec was also often a factor of division between Paris and Ottawa. We can talk of the 1967 visit by then-French president Charles de Gaulle, who openly supported Quebec independence, giving credibility to the then-young movement. Since de Gaulle, no French president has since openly supported Quebec independence, while having most of the time a policy of promising to recognise Quebec if an independence referendum succeeded.

A few recent diplomatic incidents revolved around French “laïcité” policy. For example, then-French prime minister Manuel Valls, during a visit to Quebec city in 2016, had a vibrant speech in favor of Laïcité and against Burkini, knowing that the governments in both Quebec and Ottawa were against Laïcité and against banning Burkini.

Another incident happened in 2020 in the aftermath of the Samuel Paty assassination. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau compared Samuel Paty’s action to someone yelling about a fire in a crowded theater, while Quebec premier François Legault clearly condemned the assassination and took a position in favor of free speech. This led to French president Emmanuel Macron calling François Legault to thank him for his support, while warning countries which wouldn’t give their support to France that they would be remembered by Paris. Trudeau was forced to take a clear stand in favor of free speech, and afterward abstained from commenting on France’s “Loi séparatisme” which effectively put Islam in France under French government’s regulation.

Links between France and Quebec nationalists:

During World War 2, both Allies and Axis, and therefore both Free France and Vichy France tried to seduce Quebec nationalists. Union Nationale, which was Quebec’s governing party at the time World War 2 began, was filled by people who had fascist sympathies. The party openly opposed drafting French-Canadians. It was defeated in 1939 election following a rally-around-the-flag effect which permitted the Quebec Liberals to win power again. During a referendum about military draft in Canada, most of Quebec voted against the draft. At that time, the mainstream French-Canadian nationalist point of view was that waging a war against Germany would violate Britain’s engagement it took in 1763 to never force French-Canadians to wage a war against France, would engage them in a war which didn’t involve them and would hurt Quebec’s effort to have a solid demography, which was at the time seen as necessary to have political weight. Prominent conservative Montreal mayor Camilien Houde was at that time arrested by Canadian government without regard for habeas corpus following his call to disregard the Draft. Since Quebec was at that time a very catholic nation, nations like Francoist Spain and Vichy France had some level of support among the general population and nationalist politicians. Some Vichy France politicians had also support from Quebec nationalists during their exile.

Allies on the other hand tried to seduce French-Canadians using their solidarity with a France that was crushed by the germans and needed Quebec’s help to regain liberty. Free France leader Charles De Gaulle came to Quebec once during the war.

After the war relations between France and Quebec nationalists remained calm until the 1967 visit by Charles de Gaulle. After 1967, sympathy towards at least some level of Quebec nationalism became mainstream in French politics, unconditional support towards Canada and rejection of any Quebec autonomy being rare, and limited to the Sarkozy presidency (2007-2012).

Quebec nationalists on their side often viewed France as a kind of side-show relatively to the United States. Historic separatist leader René Lévesque, while having good relations with both Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand, was mostly influenced by America. This led to an awkward scene where he tried to seduce American businessmen by talking to them about the American revolution, only to lead them to being scared due to thinking of the U.S. civil war. Jacques Parizeau, on the other hand, managed to get Jacques Chirac’s support for Quebec in the event of a separatist win in the 1995 referendum, which narrowly didn’t happen. No notable Quebec nationalist leader ever had a French university as an Alma Mater, preferring the London School of Economics. A few notable Quebec nationalists such as former PQ leader Jacques Parizeau, former PQ no. 2 Bernard Drainville and former CAQ youth wing president Samuel Lemire also studied in LSOE.

Is Quebec nationalism linked to the French far-right?

Historically, there have been sympathy in Quebec nationalism for French far-right during the events of World War 2 as previously explained. However, as of today, things are different. There are links between mainstream Quebec nationalists and the French far-right, but there is an important warning to be issued here: Quebec nationalism as it’s practiced today by the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec and the separatist Parti Québecois isn’t far-right. It is a movement that rigorously adheres to the principles of liberal democracy, of a plural and open society, while wanting to preserve a 400 years old French-Canadian culture and make it prosper. On topics such as American politics and Ukraine, Quebec have no ambiguity: it stands with liberal democracy. Now that it’s said; some Quebec nationalists are influenced by the French far-right’s rhetoric. It is notably the case for Notorious French-Canadian editorialist Mathieu Bock-Côté, who is a staunch Quebec separation supporter but wages a career in French medias in support of French conservatism and nationalism, being on the same channel and schedule spot as Éric Zemmour once was. As of 2022, Mathieu Bock-Côté, despite his links and support for the French far-right, hasn’t been canceled by Quebec nationalists, may them be in the CAQ, PQ or libertarian PCQ. It is also to be noted that Mathieu Bock-Côté’s speeches differ whether they are published in Quebec or France’s medias, his speeches in Quebec media being more moderate. CAQ and PQ have a policy of expelling their members if they publicly express support for the French far-right. It isn’t the case for PCQ, whom leader openly supported Marine Le Pen in 2017 while he was an editorialist in Quebec city’s trash radio.

What are the links between Quebec far-right and France’s far-right?

Quebec far-right is more influenced by the US far-right than the French far-right. Only far-right activist who use a French far-right rhetoric is Alexandre Cormier-Denis, from NOMOS-TV, but it is way smaller than the QAnon inspired Radio Québec from Alexis Cossette Trudel. Let’s note that Cossette-Trudel is the son of a former FLQ militant, and is himself a former PQ youth wing president.

How do French politics impact Quebec’s political climate?

French politics is the second foreign political scene to be the most covered by Quebec medias, after the American political scene. There are special broadcasts in Quebec medias for French presidential elections, for major terror attacks in France and for major revolts like the yellow vests in 2018. On Quebecor’s Qub radio, Quebec most popular talk-radio, there are multiple segments every week talking about French politics, being made by nationalist like Étienne-Alexandre Beauregard, Mathieu Bock-Côté, Christian Rioux or Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel. It is noteworthy that of all of these people commenting on French politics on Quebecor radio, only Beauregard supports France’s Macron, the rest having at least some level of sympathy for France’s far-right.

The most important example of Quebec politics being influenced by French politics is the question of Islam and secularism. Historically, Quebec Muslims and Quebec nationalists had a cordial relationship. Quebec’s Liberation Front had sanctuary in newly independent Algeria in 1970. And afterward it was always rare to hear Quebec nationalists criticise Islam, because they would often see Muslims as being sympathetic to their cause. This all broke down in the 2000s and 2010s, with the Quebec secularism debate which happened in parallel to the French secularism debate. French secularism debate was triggered by immigration, terrorism and 2005 suburban riots. While the separatist PQ was at the beginning against a Quebec version of secularism, it changed its mind afterwards when its position made it lose support among the French-Canadian electorate in 2007 towards the autonomist Action Démocratique du Québec, leading to Marois’s charter of Quebec values, which failed following a snap election that the liberals won by warning about imminent separation. While French-Canadians voted out the PQ to prevent an independence referendum, they still supported some degree of laïcité. This led to autonomist CAQ being elected in 2018 on the promise of doing a Laïcité bill. Bill 21 is openly inspired, while being a soft version, of French laïcité, having the name of “Loi sur la laïcité de l’Etat” which means “A bill on the state’s Laïcité”. It is unclear if Quebec would’ve had adopted bill 21 if it wouldn’t have been for the wave of terrorism the West and especially France lived from 2014-2017.

CAQ is a party that hates being controversial, and the reason it felt the need to go through Bill 21 even with the consistent critiques from English Canada, leftists and liberals is because it would’ve had been otherwise impossible to keep massive support from Quebec’s nationalists, who made Laïcité a very important issue in Quebec politics and in their political agenda.

Benoit Khezami

Benoit Khezami is a student of humanities at Collège de Maisonneuve in Canada. He is an active member of the Quebec ruling party "Coalition Avenir Québec". He can be found on Twitter as (@BenoitKhez)