Townshipslaining the PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

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.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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51 Responses to Townshipslaining the PM

  1. voamusicJF says:

    Well written as always. Unfortunately, I think he knows all this, and it was a calculated play. And unfortunately for both sides of the “linguistic divide” everyone saw through it, and really didn’t appreciate it. But this essay will save many of us the time of having to explain the area to out of towners now tuning in… Thanks!

  2. msmarguerite says:

    Reblogged this on Ruby Pratka – Year of No Fear and commented:
    My colleague Ross Murray’s take on the Justin Trudeau Sherbrooke town hall debacle…figured it was worth sharing here. Context to come.

  3. Shall we give him “A” for effort? Or add it to “Trudeau Fils” to become “Trudeau Fails.”

  4. Corinne Smith says:

    And then there are us left coasters, who know so little about Quebec (some would argue we know little about anything east of the Rockies, but I digress). Thanks for the history lesson. JT has a lot to learn about us, too, by the way.

  5. JT dropped the ball, er, balle, for sure. For all of his “man of the people” hype, his life has been very insulated and backstopped by privilege and money – yup, I’m stating the obvious, but it’s over his head.

    Great piece.

  6. Alexandre Hebert says:


  7. Townshipper84 says:

    I was born in Sherbrooke and I grew up in the Eastern Townships. As an anglophone Quebecois, this decision saddens me. With all that is going on in politics lately I hoped that our PM was above these divisive tactics. My wish is that all Quebecois would look beyond ones language and behave respectfully and courteously. If I am spoken to in French, I respond in French. If I am asked about the health care of anglophones in the ET in English, I respond in English. I can even stumble along in Spanish, when pressed. This is Humanity 101.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      You get no argument from me.

    • Marc Dufour says:

      This is amazing. Being criticized for speaking French in Québec.

      Nobody made a fuss when Trudeau answered in english a question that was asked in French in Ontario earlier.

      It just shows that you blokes are a bunch of whiny self-entitled assholes. You just want your cake and eat it at the same time.

      Act like an asshole? Be treated like an asshole.

      • Michael Dion says:

        And so it begins,,,the first insulting Frenchman I hear make an insulting and aggressive comments towards the English A bloke, huh? 30 years ago I would have responded with “frog” thrown in, but like I said, that would have been 30 years. Something has happened since then. I grew up. You might want to try it.

        • David Hawke says:

          Interesting comment considering your surname, back in the day when I lived in the Townships our French neighbours named Dion were nice people who likely would have responded to this disrespectful person the same way.

      • Patrick says:

        Speaking French or English is just a way of communication, bilingualism is the way most of us grew up. As for others respect and education was just not on the agenda. Everyone has the right to their opinion and also the right of their opinion being respected.

        Vivre et laisser vivre….

  8. michael nerenberg says:

    Our old and dear friend would have been proud of you, Ross. The Trudeau fils evoked Bushy memories. Nice to see all is well, Ross.

  9. sylvie Lafreniere says:

    He also could have answered i English then repeated in french. He is bilingual. I enjoyed this, very well written.

  10. Rod Hatch says:

    I also fired off my thoughts on this debacle ( that’s a french word, I believe). It got my dander up and I couldn’t let it go. I am a proud Anglo from Sherbrooke who now lives in New Brunswick and I can express myself in both official languages ( sorry, that’s a New Brunswick thing). It was a slap in the face, from someone who should know better having been raised in both languages! I said my piece on English Canadian Quebecers Rant Here and sent an email to the PMO, knowing fair well that not much will come of it, but it had to be said. As I mentioned in my email to the PM, he couldn’t have gotten more press if he tried!! I encourage more people to vent their frustrations or just say what they feel…

  11. gavinkeenan says:

    I enjoyed this. Born and living in the U.S.A, I am quite used to politicians using identity politics to focus attention on themselves. Unfortunately, they are blind to the factionalism this creates. Good for you to give your PM a dope slap. Canadians are known to be unfailingly polite and mannered. We could use a good dose of this below the 45th.

  12. pinklightsabre says:

    “A little late,” a plus tard? God, this just spools. Was there a lot of editing here or normal? It reads like you didn’t have to edit much, like it oozed out comme “butter.” Seriously, loved it. Reads like a book. Amazing too?! WTF JT?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’d already submitted my Thursday piece to my editor Tuesday, woke up Wednesday to read this, wrote it in about half an hour before work. Quick edit, hit send. Like old times, writing an editorial on deadline. Something for the locals.
      “See you later.”

  13. Marc Dufour says:

    More proof that Canada is a bullshit country.

    Can you imagine? Being roasted because you DARED speak French in Québec! Oh! The Humanity!

    You blokes should at least really get a fucking life if you are too goddammed fucking stupid to learn French.

    You get the fucking respect you deserve. Bitch about speaking French in Québec? You don’t fucking deserve any goddammed fucking respect.

    And I say that to you in English, just to make sure you get my point.


    • Michael Dion says:

      If you think Canada is such a bullshit country, I will assume you do not live in Canada. France maybe? If so, you might want to remember that if it wasn’t for Canada, you would speaking German right now. Didn’t you actually wave the white flag and surrender to the Nazis? So don’t even dare try to say who deserves respect and who doesn’t. You don’t even deserve your language or your country, seeing as you were so quick to surrender it to the Nazis. I have no problem with the French in Quebec, except for maybe the ignorant ones like yourself. This is why I don’t like “France frogs”. Too arrogant. While the rest of Europe hold some respect in remembrance for all the Canadians who gave their lives to liberate Europe from the Nazis, France goes on acting like nothing ever happened, and continue to be the douches that they are. Now get the fuck out of here and stuff a croissant up your hairy France asshole.

  14. List of X says:

    We have the same problem with our new president, too: someone would ask him a question in English, and he would respond with some barely intelligible word salad generously topped with angry yelling.

  15. ksbeth says:

    i’m sorry but i cannot move beyond the fantasy of trudeau speaking french to me.

  16. stephen comstock says:

    I went to the official website: “no apology. In every province he should be asked in French why he did so. And then he is on hot seat…does he respond in French or not….lose, lose”

  17. David Hawke says:

    I think his advisors through their ignorance of the Townships gave him the bad advice to speak French only.

    He claims to be all for the common man but by refusing to answer questions in the language asked he is showing great disrespect to that person whether it be an English one in QC or a French one in ON and especially to the immigrant lady who had yet to learn French struggling to ask one in English.

    Here in my retirement country where the language is Spanish if someone, trying to improve their English skills, asks a question in English I answer in English then if I see they don’t fully comprehend I explain further in their language, otherwise I use Spanish it’s only common decency.

  18. Melanie says:

    Well said!!

  19. The political Ross! I like this very much. Our new guy is quite the healer. You may have heard. His superpower is bringing people together (clasps his hands together tightly for emphasis). We’ll send him up. He’ll iron all this out.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I link the finger-to-thumb hand gesture. Like a three-pointer, every speech.
      I wrote this piece really quickly. Like being on deadline back in the day.
      You’ll appreciate this. This and the last post have been quite popular. I’ve had 10,000 visits or so in the past 10 days. Great publicity, right? Number of clicks on my Amazon link: 5. Books sold: 0. Yuge.

  20. Karen says:

    Ok, I was going to reply in French (“En français!” I can hear Madame Blanche shouting at me from the deep recesses of my memory of 7th grade French class) but I struggle composing a coherent thought in my native tongue most days, and, anyway, I’m not that much of a connard.

    Glad to hear political controversies are embroiling our neighbors to the North, I guess. I was afraid we Americans had cornered the market on them.

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