Tag Archives: Quebec

Beneath the Surface: Finding Common Ground in Canada’s Most Distinctive Province

To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net.

In this post, Robert Calderisi, author of Quebec in a Global Light, and former director of The World Bank, discusses some of the issues that face Quebec, and why these challenges should be analysed in a wider, global context. 


Books about politics and society can be timely and revealing, but they can also be complicated, as current affairs do not always stay current. Quebec in a Global Light discusses trends and challenges that transcend the day-to-day, but – like all findings – they need to sifted through the sands of new developments. A good example is the remarkable progress made since the 1970s in protecting the French language. Some would prefer that an extra half percentage point of people be fluent in French, but 94.5 percent of Quebeckers can already conduct a conversation in the language. Diehards can worry more about decimals than decades. How will the next census affect their thinking?

Since the book was first written, some details – including the political party in power – have changed but the most important conclusions remain intact. Even under a conservative government, Quebec is the only social democracy in North America. Employment, growth, and investment are still strong. The province continues to reduce its notorious debt burden; in fact, Quebec now has a better credit rating than Ontario. The gap between rich and poor is the lowest on the planet – except for Scandinavia, which is an admirable set of countries to be lagging behind. And Quebec has set a very positive example in flighting climate change.

But one big thing has changed. Apparently out of the blue, Quebec has once again puzzled outsiders by its decision to ban the wearing of religious symbols by certain government employees. Even under a highly divisive US President, none of the other fifty-nine jurisdictions in North America has talked about doing that. And the hospitality and common sense of Quebeckers is being seriously questioned.

Yet Quebeckers have evolved profoundly over the last thirty years. In 1982, a number of Haitian taxi drivers in Montreal were fired because some white clients refused to ride with them. As a result, the Quebec Human Rights Commission held its first-ever public hearings. Many people today – including many Quebeckers – will find that hard to believe, not because racism has been magically exorcised from their society but rather because Quebec has become so diverse that differences of one kind or another – especially in Montreal – have become almost the norm. A third of Montreal’s taxi drivers are now Haitian and the city has the highest proportion of immigrants in that job (84 percent) in all of Canada.

In a society which some regard as under siege, most people are comfortable with diversity. According to a 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey, Quebeckers had positive attitudes to the handicapped (92 percent), people of colour (88 percent), homosexuals (84 percent), citizens of other ethnic origins (76 percent), and followers of other religions (68 percent). This openness to others is sometimes attributed to the dominant role of women and feminine values in the society. Others see centuries of intermarriage and contact with Quebec’s First Peoples as the source of such community and consensus.

On the surface, other provinces have an even greater challenge making newcomers feel at home. While almost 40 percent of Montreal’s population were born in another country or to parents who immigrated to Canada, that number is much higher in Toronto (76 percent) and Vancouver (68 percent). But absorbing such a large number of people in Quebec, which is so determined to protect its language and culture, is particularly difficult.

Despite the proposed law, the common sense and humanity of Quebeckers remain obvious. In Montreal, teachers and students have surrounded schools in human chains promising to disobey the law. The city council has passed a rare unanimous resolution opposing the legislation. The two authors of the original idea that such symbols should be banned – the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Gérard Bouchard – have both come out against the bill. Behind closed doors, the governing party itself was highly divided on the subject. And the second largest opposition party (Québec Solidaire) has revised its own policy in the opposite direction. Instead of backing a compromise, they have now decided that any legislation on personal dress is a violation of individual freedom and an invitation to more general discrimination against minorities. It is just possible that the legislation will collapse under its own contradictions. No one has been able to explain how it will be enforced and no penalties are proposed under the law. In the meantime, the history of the issue – set out in Quebec in a Global Light – remains as relevant as ever.


If you want to find out more about Quebec in a Global Light, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


Robert Calderisi was a Quebec Rhodes Scholar and is a former director of The World Bank. He is the author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working (2006) and Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (2013). He splits the year between Montreal, New York, and Paris.

Behind the Book with Amy Ransom

9781442616196Amy J. Ransom is the author of Hockey, PQ: Canada’s Game in Quebec’s Popular Culture. A wide-ranging study that examines everything from the blockbuster movie franchise Les Boys to the sovereigntist hip hop group Loco Locass, Hockey, PQ explores how Canada’s national sport has been used to signify a specific Québécois identity.

How did you become involved in your area of research?

My route to a book on hockey in Quebec has been a bit circuitous. I love to travel by car, and in this respect, I definitely took the back roads less travelled rather than the expressway!

My career trajectory has been somewhat unique, with a lot of serendipity leading me to develop particular projects within a core set of long-term interests and innate personal tastes. My first book (my dissertation revised) dealt with relatively canonical nineteenth-century French fantastic stories; but as a young scholar, working as a one-woman show in a small liberal arts institution’s French program (thus, without the constraints and pigeon-holing of colleagues’ expectations for what I “should be doing”), I had a lot of freedom to explore other, often marginal areas. After my first trip to Quebec City, I fell in love with the hybrid culture that combined both the otherness of the French and the sameness of the North American. Some fortuitous calls for papers then got me attending conferences and publishing on Quebec’s science fiction and fantasy. Living in Massachusetts at that time, I often traveled up to Montreal on book-buying excursions; my office at Central Michigan University probably holds the largest collection of French-Canadian SF & F and fantastique literature in the US.

This was also during the first half of the first decade of the new millennium and every time I was in Montreal, I saw at least one, if not two or more films that simply blew me away with their aesthetic quality, their universal messages about the crisis of identity of Gen-Exers, and what they said specifically about Quebec. These viewings inspired me to develop more formally an interest in film that I’ve had since a kid (my research skills began to develop as I catalogued and check-listed the classic horror films I’d seen and researched the history of the genre and its tropes). Although I didn’t first see them on the big screen, the films Maurice Richard and the Les Boys franchises were simply too rich to not explore further, so the hockey-film connection was made.

When I moved to Michigan, I missed the closeness to Montreal, but I bought a new car that had XM satellite radio. This turned me on to contemporary French-Canadian popular music, which, like film, is a thriving industry, supported, of course, by provincial and national funding. Since then, I’ve published several scholarly articles; serendipity intervened yet again as franco-nationalist rappers Loco Locass released “Le But (à la gloire de nos glorieux)” the year I began my first project on Mes Aïeux’s song and Jean-Pierre April’s SF stories both titled “Le Fantôme du Forum.”

What inspired you to write this book?

I first became interested in hockey via Québécois science fiction, of all things! Ironically, as a child growing up in America’s “Hockey Town” of Detroit, I was a Tigers—not a Red Wings—fan, and later I married into Red Sox Nation. Sports fandom and SF & F fandom don’t often overlap, so I was intrigued by this recurring theme of hockey in several SFQ stories. Then I discovered its presence in popular music, film, television and so on, and I was hooked: the sheer vastness of the corpus of titles I was collecting made me realize this had to be a book treatment. This interest, though, was fostered by a couple of outside events: I really became a hockey fan watching the 2010 Winter Olympics and this was revived in 2014. I also learned how deep national loyalties can cut, as my rational mind wanted to root for Team Canada, but my heart consistently rooted for the US. I was particularly let down by the US women’s defeat for gold in 2014 by Team Canada in the last minutes of the series! Another inspiration was the conversations I had with hockey scholars Jason Blake and Andrew Holman, whom I met at a Sport Literature Association Conference. Their early intervention in my thinking and their leads for key resources was essential and inspiring. Ditto for the support of Jane Moss, editor of the journal Quebec Studies where my first article on this topic appeared; the input of its independent readers and the independent readers and editorial staff at UTP were also highly encouraging and informative in helping me get the hockey talk right.

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

Great question! Indeed, my whole goal as a teacher and as a researcher is to expose people to something new, most obviously teaching the French language to beginning students, but also French and Québécois film and literature to advanced students. In my scholarly publications, this usually involves bringing to the fore marginal aspects of national cultures and/or aspects of the vibrant popular cultures of marginal “nations.” When I began working with science fiction from Quebec I felt like a proselyte, preaching an alternative gospel to scholars in the SF & F field and even to Quebec studies experts. Even with the topic of hockey—perhaps THE most central and identifiable aspect of Canadian national culture and THE clearest aspect of that culture that unites the Two Solitudes—because of the conservative nature of academia, focused on high culture, many Quebec studies scholars (in the US, anyway) have little or no knowledge of the significance of hockey in La Belle Province.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

I think the most surprising thing I learned was how the aspects of a national culture that are taken the most for granted by those growing up in that culture can be completely elided in academic discourses about that culture. At least this is largely the case in programs based in literary studies, the type of program my academic background developed in, but I suspect that courses and programs in Quebec and Canadian studies in history, political science, and even film studies programs also leave out discussions of hockey.

Thus the extent and the depth with which hockey runs through Quebec’s popular culture surprised me at first. It appears in all sorts of ways, from the appropriation of Maurice Richard as a national hero, a precursor hero for the Quiet Revolution, to the sport’s use as a marker of the “québécitude” of André Fortin, lead singer of the iconic rock group Les Colocs, to the popularity of the television series Lance et compte, a primetime drama about hockey players and the women in their lives. The extent of hockey’s presence in Quebec’s music, film, and popular literatures nearly blindsided me since references to it were nearly absent in much of the academic reading I’d done, which focused, of course, on Anne Hébert, Michel Tremblay, the Plains of Abraham, and so on.

What are your current/future projects?

I usually have several projects going at once, all at various stages of development so that I can choose what I am in the mood to work on, both topic-wise and task-wise. My next major Quebec-oriented project is a book on cinema since 2000; the province’s film industry is now in a really mature phase, producing an amazing variety of films, many of which are of world-class quality as seen by recent Oscar nominations for Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies and Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar. I’ve discovered a secret love for military history as I’ve been researching the chapter on historical films, reading Dan Snow’s Death or Victory: The Battle of Quebec and the Birth of the British Empire and memoirs of Patriots transported to Australia after the Rebellion of 1837-38.

As a science-fiction and fantasy scholar, I’m currently developing two projects related to the treatment of race in the work of Franco-Belgian writer J.-H. Rosny Aîné. He can be called the father of the prehistoric novel—the 1980s film Quest for Fire was based on his 1911 novel La Guerre du feu. I’m looking at the history of paleoanthropology and his (then) cutting-edge use of scientific discovery, as well as his ambivalent use of contemporary pseudo-scientific theories about the hierarchy of races and his occasional ability to transcend the limits of such biased thinking.

Often, projects in my two fields dovetail, as is the case with my examination of the links between contemporary discourses about the Belgian Congo (Rosny was writing right at the height of the controversy over Leopold II’s personal colony and the horrific abuses occurring there) and my research about Belgium and Rwanda as these are thematized in Quebec films like Philippe Falardeau’s Congorama and Robert Favreau’s Un Dimanche à Kigali, as well as Roger Spottiswoode’s film adaptation of Romeo Dallaire’s (the French-Canadian commander of the UN Forces at the time of the Rwandan genocide) memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil.

What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

I am a voracious reader with really eclectic tastes. I particularly enjoy reading history and biography for leisure, but a huge novel in which I can immerse myself is my first choice for vacation reading. This could be science fiction or mainstream literature, something like Anne-Marie McDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. Right now, I am on volume two of John English’s marvelously entertaining biography of Pierre Trudeau—its provocative title, Just Watch Me caught my attention immediately. During my summer vacation in Alaska and the Yukon Territory this year, I am reading Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy and a sci-fi/fantasy novel, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.

Behind the Book with Jennifer Drouin

9781442647978Jennifer Drouin is the author of Shakespeare in Quebec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation. In Shakespeare in Québec, Jennifer Drouin analyses representations of nation and gender in Shakespearean adaptations written in Québec since the Quiet Revolution.

How did you become involved in your area of research?

This research topic was a way for me to combine my two strongest passions, Shakespeare studies and Québec studies. I’m an anglophone, but I did my undergraduate studies entirely in French at an Acadian university where most of my professors were Québécois. I quickly fell in love with Québécois culture, which was a new and exciting revelation once I had learned enough French to understand it. I now consider Québec my home, yet I’ve never forgotten my roots in Nova Scotia where Shakespeare was very important to me growing up in a Loyalist town with deep colonial ties to British culture. My scholarly trajectory has alternated back-and-forth between English and French. One summer I was browsing in a friend’s used bookstore on rue Hart in Trois-Rivières (“bouquiner,” a word I like as much as the activity itself), and I stumbled across an original edition of Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec, and, voilà, le tour était joué! With this research, I wanted to bridge the “two solitudes” by bringing an analysis of Québécois plays in French to an anglophone audience. I’m fascinated by the Québécois nationalist movement and its long, rich history, but I’d always been interested in feminism, gender, and sexuality studies too, so rather than focus on only nation or only gender in the plays I decided to look at both and the relationship between the two.

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

I wish scholars would take care with the word “adaptation,” which people tend to throw around a lot as a catch-all term, often without defining it. I proposed my own theory of adaptation in the book because over the past decade or so adaptation studies has taken off, especially with the increasing interest in postcolonial and global Shakespeares, but that has meant that we have more scholars using the term in different ways. I don’t expect everyone to adopt my definitions, but I would like to see others take care to define how they use the term and hopefully adopt my proposal to use qualifying adjectives to distinguish between different media and genres. Stage plays and cinematic adaptations are very different cultural products, and there are multiple types of stage adaptation that need qualification before we can compare them to each other in productive ways.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

The sheer magnitude of Québécois adaptations of Shakespeare is startling. I started this project with just one play, Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec, and then I discovered Michel Garneau and a few other authors, then I saw the production of Henry. Octobre. 1970., and by the time I finished the book I had uncovered 37 adaptations, and that’s not counting the many direct translations, stage productions, titular allusions, and cinematic adaptations that I excluded from the book. It is surprising to discover that Shakespeare is a more popular author in Québec than Molière, at least when it comes to rewriting these canonical authors to suit contemporary social and political agendas.

Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

I travel every summer, which is truly a pleasure. Since I’m currently a professor at the University of Alabama, I return home to Montréal for three and a half months when classes are not in session. Most of the adapted plays I wrote about can be found in the archives of the Centre des auteurs dramatiques which is now in the Old Port area downtown, I conducted a lot of research at McGill’s library, and a good chunk of this book was written at Café Expressions on Avenue Mont-Royal where I was a regular fixture. Obviously, it helps to be immersed in Québécois culture when writing about it, so just hearing people talking on the streets, songs on the radio, and watching television or films when I wasn’t writing provided inspiration and sometimes helped make ideas click. I also travel regularly to national and international conferences to present this work, and as a result of a conference I attended in France I was invited to be a visiting professor for a month last year at Université du Havre and to present my work in Montpellier. It’s exciting to see how Québécois Shakespeares are received in France and to discern the linguistic and cultural similarities and differences between Québec and France.

What are your current/future projects?

My work on this book has not ended but rather has dovetailed into Shakespeare au/in Québec (SQ), which is a bilingual, open-access digital humanities project dedicated to producing a critical anthology and interactive database. Of the 37 adaptations mentioned in the book, 25 are not in print and are currently inaccessible to scholars, teachers, theatre practitioners, and the general public. Of the 12 plays that are in print, none exists in a critical edition. SQ will mark up the play texts in TEI-compliant XML and create two sets of pop-up bubble annotations; the first set cross-references the French plays with the Shakespearean source text in English while the second set explains all the historical and political allusions one would traditionally annotate in the footnotes of a print edition. The SQ site will also have a searchable database of each play’s theatre history and production details, as well as multimedia image, audio, and video files; a bibliography of secondary sources on these plays, including production reviews; academic essays providing critical analyses of the plays; interviews with playwrights; writings on the literary and political history of Québec; and information about non-adaptations (such as direct translations, innovative stage productions, and titular allusions) and cinematic adaptations.

What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

As an academic, I rarely get to read for pleasure; most of the time, I read for work. However, I have been trying to recapture the joy of reading that first made me want to study literature in the first place, so I’m catching up on classics of contemporary Canadian and Québécois literature. I recently read Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees (1996), which takes place in Nova Scotia where I grew up. Set at the turn of the 20th century, this novel portrays, sadly, all too accurately the secrecy, racism, abuse, and homophobia typical of small town life, which still exists today in some rural communities. This book blew me away and I wish I had read it sooner. Now I’m reading Michel Tremblay’s novel La Nuit des princes charmants (1995), which I picked up last summer at a Fierté littéraire Q&A session Tremblay did as part of Montréal’s Pride week. One of the many things I love about Québec is that as a small nation its cultural stars are often very down-to-earth and accessible to the general public, unlike, say, Hollywood. In the US, politicians try to craft an image as someone with whom an ordinary Joe could have a beer, but that’s just spin. In Québec, one really can chat one-on-one with a famous author of Michel Tremblay’s calibre, a filmmaker, a television star, or a politician.

What is your favourite book?

Shakespeareans often get asked what their favourite play is. For the depth of the writing and emotional impact, King Lear is my favourite, and I teach a course on sources and adaptations of King Lear that starts with Geoffrey of Monmouth and covers several theatrical adaptations, including Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s Lear which I discuss in my book, as well as Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres and several cinematic productions and adaptations. King Lear is so rich that it’s not surprising that it’s one of Shakespeare’s most frequently adapted plays. My other favourite play, The Two Noble Kinsmen which Shakespeare co-wrote with John Fletcher, is less well-known. I like it because it’s Shakespeare’s queerest play, full of both male and female homoeroticism, and because it’s interesting to see how Shakespeare and Fletcher adapted the story from Boccaccio’s Teseida and Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. We tend to think of Shakespeare as a creative genius, but we tend to forget that he was the ultimate adapter whose plays are rewritten from prior source texts.

In non-Shakespearean literature, I have fond memories of reading children’s editions of Dickens when I was a kid, as well as Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, so I was thrilled to visit the Château d’If off the coast of Marseille when I was in France last year, but if I had to pick a single favourite it would be Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Hall. A Shakespeare conference in Australia a few years ago provided the opportunity to realize a childhood dream and stop off in Tahiti where I got to taste breadfruit, the impetus for Fletcher Christian and William Bligh’s excursion. Dickens, Dumas, and the Bounty remain favourites because they were windows into historic, foreign worlds peopled with compelling characters; they inspired me to travel as an adult because they captured my imagination as a child and moved and transported me, as great literature should.

If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

I would be a lawyer or a politician or ideally both. While I was writing a substantial portion of this book, I did a lot of volunteer political work on the side and I felt pulled between the two career paths. I would like to write laws that shape society, help people, and make the world a better place, especially for those who are disenfranchised or marginalized.