Champlain and his gang notwithstanding, Quebec is really quite young, or modern Quebec is, at least, especially when you consider that the Quiet Revolution began only in the 1960s. In fact, Quebec has often been compared to a teenager: rebellious, demanding, petulant, a bit spotty.
But if you think about it in real human terms, if Quebec was born in the sixties, then the province – and the nationalist movement in particular – is actually… middle aged. And suddenly it all makes sense!
Back in its youth, Quebec had dreams. Quebec had fun. Quebec smoked. My God, the smoking! Hanging out with the cool kids, quietly revolting, staying up all night discussing the utopian state and how to get Liberals into bed with you. (“Hey, baby, you want to come to my place and nationalize some hydroelectricity?”)
But, good lord, Quebec can’t do that anymore! We’ve got work in the morning, taxes to collect, everyday lives to over-regulate. And smoking? No, no, no. That’s bad for you. So is religion. And English. And multiculturalism. And Montreal. And English. And confederation. And English.
You know, we just can’t be a party all night like we used to. Everyone’s… changed. Some want to talk only about business, some keep cornering the other guests and nattering about the same thing over and over: “Creeping bilingualism” this and “cultural values” that. All the cool kids? They turned into Bernard Drainville. That’s just no fun. You add some wine and students with entitlement issues banging pots and pans, that’s a recipe for a headache right there, and God! I wish we could smoke in here!
Middle-aged Quebec is soft, it’s nearsighted, it’s out of breath. The ol’ infrastructure ain’t what it used to be, falling apart all over the place – chunks of concrete from overpasses mainly, but also just plain tired.
And, well, Quebec is a little worried that it can no longer perform… you know, politically. It used to be the nationalist movement could have secessionist talks two, three times a decade. But now, looking at that flabby support, there’s no sure bet of even getting an election.
Mostly, Quebec is frustrated by years and years of failure. But worse than that, the thing that really hurts the most is the nagging self-doubt. Back in the day, Quebec had clear goals – move out of Canada, get our own house. But now, ugh, do we really want a house? There’s the upkeep, the bills, all that territory to mow, a standing army to maintain. And you still have to deal with inconsiderate neighbours (yeah, Maine, don’t think we’ve forgotten the time you backed over our recycling bins).
In short, Quebec is cranky, Quebec is bitter, Quebec is sitting out on the front porch yelling, “You kids get off my lawn! Especially you in the turban!”
And in this haze of existential funk, Quebec has become so unpredictable and erratic, on the one hand, letting the whole place go to pot, while on the other hand transferring all that frustration into devising unreasonable petty rules for the most innocuous things: “You are not going to work dressed like that! And don’t use that language with me! Or that language. Or that language either.”
It’s not a healthy environment to live in. Sadly, it’s always the immigrant children who suffer.
Thankfully, most of those in middle-age eventually come to peace with their limitations and failings – even if there are many, many, many failings, and we can only hope that Quebec’s midlife crisis passes soon. Maybe Quebec just needs to buy a new sports car or bring back the Nordiques.
My fear, though, is that what’s going on in Quebec might not be a midlife crisis at all but actually early-onset dementia.
Originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway,” September 17, 2013.