Oh, hi there, Prime Minister Trudeau, or as we say here in the Townships, “hi there.”
You see, Justin (may I call you Justin? I think I may), the Eastern Townships is a pretty easygoing place when it comes to the whole English-French thing. Certainly we’ve had our battles – sign complaints, bilingual status debates, health care access. But for the most part, even during difficult times, both linguistic communities have been fairly even-tempered, dare I say cooperative.
Just ask around, and by that, I mean ask the endless stream of your political peers who have stood before English audiences over the years and reminded them of how tolerant and open this community is – as if we needed reminding from politicians, whose goal is actually to demonstrate how tolerant and open they are. But, still, it’s nice to be thought of once a year or so.
That “once a year” I speak of, JT (may I call you JT? No? Too far?), is usually Townshippers’ Day, an annual event that takes place in a different community each fall across the Eastern Townships. It’s a celebration of the English community, a day just for us, a day to essentially say, “Hi there. We’re still here.” Politicians come out, make some speeches, and say, “Yup, we see you.”
Oh, I see your confusion; I need to explain to you what I mean by the “Eastern Townships.” Well, you go to Montreal, see, and then you take a right. Sometimes people refer to it as “the Estrie” but those people should be shunned. And don’t get me started on “Montérégie.”
The Eastern Townships, you see, was settled primarily by the English. I don’t want to brag but we were kind of a big deal. The English community has a long and proud history here. Schools, banks, churches, community organizations, even hospitals – all founded by the English community.
But you know what, times change. Demographics change. Politics change, as I’m sure you’re aware, given that you must always be looking over your shoulder, and not just for selfies. As the French community in the Eastern Townships expanded, the English community went into decline, for many reasons. But like I said: hi there. We’re still here.
And the best part of all is that our francophone neighbours generally recognize this. It’s not just about tolerating or patronizing the English community – a little linguistic pat on the head here and there. There’s a real recognition that the English community has deep roots in the region, whether it’s Sherbrooke or Stanstead or Richmond or way up in St-Félix-de-Kingsey.
In other words, Prime Minister, “English Quebec” does not equal “Montreal.”
That’s the only way I can interpret your decision at Tuesday’s town hall in Sherbrooke to answer English questions in French. You must have thought, “This isn’t Montreal, so the English community doesn’t exist here, or at very least doesn’t matter. I’m in ‘the regions,’ the hinterland, so I better play the French card, demonstrate that I’m in touch with le collectif, pander to the hardline, remind this English speaker the reality of Quebec in 2017.”
Well, no, sir. This isn’t a hardline community. Remember what I said about being tolerant? The soul of the Eastern Townships is more than that. It’s about being polite. We are very polite. If someone asks you a question in English around here, you answer in English, or you try. If you can’t manage, you work something out. No big deal.
“Yes,” you’re probably saying, “but there might have been people at the meeting who didn’t understand English. Plus, if you’re at a town hall meeting in Sherbrooke, surely you must understand French. Therefore, if I answer in French, everyone will understand!”
I see your point, Trudeau Fils, but it’s not up to you to dismiss over 200 years of history and community engagement. It’s not up to you to override the sense of politeness that we’ve worked so hard to establish.
Now, believe me. The last thing we want is to turn this into a language crisis. We are so over that. The English of the Eastern Townships know that this is a French region and that French is a fact of life and that you better manage at least a little in French if you want to get along. But we expect and deserve respect. Thankfully, most of us as individuals and institutions receive it from the people who live here. We expect the same from our Prime Minister.
Thanks for stopping by. À plus tard.