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From green to blue without the red

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I am born and raised in Ontario, at a time and in a place where we identified ourselves not only by our ancestry, but by the specific region within the British Empire from which our ancestors came. Back then I was Green Irish, from the town of Mullingar, county Westmeath (even though both my parents were born in Ontario). The collision of various social and personal factors required that I have some identity, and for many Canadians identity is a quest in itself.

I moved to Montréal when I was 19 and began university at McGill, which is probably one of the easiest places in Québec at which to pretend that Québec is just like every part of Canada. Although I had excelled in my French courses in high school, it took years of living in Québec and a factory job before I first began to speak French publicly. I now live (and swear) in French. I do my commerce in French. I speak to dogs in French. I even speak to cats in French (for the little good it does). I also now identify myself as Québecois, even when in foreign climes where I have to explain that yes, Toronto is in Canada and it is a wonderful city in which many people’s cousins live, but I live in Montréal, where we are not Toronto.

My actual introduction is like the plane scene in “Elvis Gratton”. I am an Irish/British, raised-in-Ontario, franglophone Québecois. And here comes the punch kids, I am a separatist (I’ll get more specific in a second).

I realised this just before the last referendum; the first time in my life when I had the chance to vote on something really important. Up until the mid 90’s I was simply enjoying my life as an island in a wonderful city, but in order to properly vote for the future of Québec (where I presumably wanted to stay), I would have to become less of an island. Thus began an assessment of Canada, Québec and my vote. We could mention that the rest of Canada (excluding the native peoples, and this is not the first time that they have been excluded) speaks the same language as, and comes from very similar social and religious traditions as the United States and yet is clearly a separate country, while Canadians in general balk at the idea that Québec, whose language, culture and social and religious traditions are completely different than the other provinces, might also become a separate country. Or we could mention that Canadians don’t, for the most part and quite naturally, have any interest in Québec’s language and culture other than when some of us try to separate. In the end, after much soul searching, beer stores settled the question for me. To paraphrase Pierre Trudeau, surely the essence of democracy is that one can go across the street to the friendly neighbourhood depanneur and buy some beer at a competitive price and that every day until 23h.

When I went to cast my “yes” ballot in 1995, I felt as though I had found a new identity. I even thought, and still do, that my use of the English language would be more protected and respected in a sovereign Québec. Despite the emotional thickness of the referendum, I saw my “yes” vote as not only a recognition of the Québec nation but also as a chance to take part in the making of a new country through a completely democratic process.

I pushed my ballot into the box like a young lover; incredibly eager and a little bit dangerous, and like a young lover I lived a universe of emotions after the act. For the most part I wanted to gouge my way back into the box, steal my vote, and bury it under some shrub. The young republican who voted for a new tomorrow suddenly realised that in a parallel world he was a traitor who had just used a pencil to attempt to destroy the country what had raised him up. I did not overpower the elderly lady who controlled the box but instead went home and thought about what I’d done. I also went to the depanneur and bought decent beer at a competitive price.

Before I close I will clarify my separatism. I would like Canada to evolve into a decentralized republic in which inter state trade as well as defence is regulated by a centralized body, but in which each state is free to join with or conform to the cultural norms of another state, whether formally or occasionally. I would also like my Québec to include the monarchy and remain within the commonwealth. I have not yet had the occasion to broach this with Her Majesty.

I will admit that I now derive intense pleasure from my use of English. My French has become good enough for me to realise what little mastery I have of it, so the chance to fully express myself in the language that my mother gave me is always exquisite. I have even begun tailoring my English so that it has become more British. I use cockney rhyming slang when I can get away with it. My francophone lover has become accustomed to me saying “Give it we” and “That git on the telly is a right t***”. Oddly enough, it seems that my new identity as a Québecois has finally allowed the Irish republican to embrace his Britishness.

John Mooney, 1 mars, 2010

larger_DSC00696.JPGThe man calling himself John Mooney moved to Montréal twenty years ago and likes it very much indeed. He has attended four of Montréal's universities (2 anglo, 2 franco) and has never been kicked out of any of them. He enjoys speaking english, but uses french almost exclusively in public out of a twisted sense of politesse. If you say his real name out loud, three times and in front of a mirror at midnight he appears costumed as a young Walter Cronkite and will answer two questions. Do not taunt the Mooney.