Late in the evening of October 30, 1995, Jacques Parizeau states: "True, we've been defeated... at the very heart of it, by what? By money... and ethnic votes... essentially." French and English media across the country are unanimous in denouncing this faux pas. Since then, English federalist circles have been exploiting lesser incidents to associate an image of intolerance to the sovereignty movement, a palpable embodiment of Québec's nationalism.
In March 2007, the leader of the Parti Québécois, André Boisclair, praises Asian students he met at Harvard for their work ethics and dedication. He uses the expression "yeux bridés". These words are translated by the Montreal Gazette with "slanted eyes", a derogatory expression compared to its French equivalent. The story is taken up "as is" by the majority of English media. In the following days, Barbara Kay of the National Post writes a column that outlines the contradiction between the English media's interpretation and Boisclair's intent.
In August 2007, Michael Fortier, then minister of Public Works, accuses Gilles Duceppe of putting more value on a Québécois life than an Anglo-Canadian life. The death toll in Afghanistan had started hitting the Québécois and Duceppe pointed out how tragic, loosing someone who could be your neighbor is. The death of a Canadian soldier is certainly more emotionally charged for Canadians than the death of an American soldier. Are we to conclude that Canadians are self-centered, insensitive or racist?
After the 2008 federal elections, Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail writes that the Québécois always elected one of their own when facing the possibility. Mr. Simpson has enough credentials for anyone not to question his affirmation, but it's simplistic and misleading. It doesn't acknowledge that election results aren't necessarily representative of popular votes. It doesn't address voting patterns such as Montreal's West Island's consistent habit of supporting the Liberal banner. It buries, among other things, that Harper got more votes than Paul Martin in 2006 and more Francophone votes than Stéphane Dion in 2008.
On February 2nd of this year, French president Nicolas Sarkozy states that France and Québec share universal values, such as "the refusal of sectarianism, the refusal of division, the refusal to be self-absorbed, the refusal to define one's identity by fierce opposition to another." In doing so, he subtly, but clearly, attributes all these flaws to the sovereignty rationale. French media in Québec (federalists and sovereigntists alike) rapidly denounce this erroneous link. The majority of national media is too busy celebrating France's stance for Canadian unity to take notice.
The following day in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper adds to it and blames Gilles Duceppe for being sectarian when accusing Ottawa of favoring Ontario over Québec. "Mr. Speaker, this is the sectarianism Mr. Sarkozy talks about" says Harper while responding to the Bloc leader. In reality, the sectarianism Mr. Sarkozy talks about is more along the lines of Jean-Marie Le Pen's racist rant.
Such a vision of Québec's nationalism is shallow and light years behind the Québécois federalist argumentation of people like La Presse's André Pratte who regularly underlines that Duceppe's and Marois' brand of nationalism is respectful of Canada.
The ethnic tune continues to play in English federalist circles. Perhaps, there will come a time when its exposure passes the limits of acceptability. In the meantime, by casting specific characteristics to a group without proper argumentation, this trend ironically takes the same intellectual shortcut that it aims at denouncing, discrimination.