Le malaise Quebecois (National Post February 11, 2009)

Barbara Kay, National Post 

Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Feb. 2, Sylvain Bouchard, host of a Quebec City FM 93.3 talk show, got himself in hot water with the redoubtable Francoise David, head of the Lilliputian far-left political party, Quebec Solidaire.

Bouchard had expressed (justifiable) spleen over David's personal prominence as -- literally -- the face of feminism in a text for Quebec's new, compulsory Ethics and Religious Culture high school course. (David's photo appears alongside a narcissistic interview of the leader on one page of the tome.) No other ideology's or even religion's spokesman is so privileged.

But then Bouchard overstepped: He exhorted high school students to punish her exploitation of their captive readership by ripping the offending page from their manual and sending it to the station.

David promptly announced she would complain to the CRTC. Bouchard's station director expressed regrets, but Bouchard himself defended his action: "I'm only referring to her ideological choices and not her person."

Whether or not one is sympathetic to Bouchard (I confess I am), what's notable is that David would never have been so "dissed" by Montreal's politically correct bienpensants.

This was definitely a Quebec City phenomenon. In the big national picture, the famous Two Solitudes are the province of Quebec and the ROC-- the Rest of Canada. But within the province of Quebec, the two solitudes are Montreal and the ROQ-- the Rest of Quebec.

Quebec City is the seat of Quebec's left wing government, but --in what is often referred to as "the mystery of Quebec" -- the Quebec City region is one of Canada's most conservative constituencies. Boasting a high bourgeois population of politically prudent federalists, Quebec City and its surrounding enclaves, which elected four Conservative Party MPs in 2004, remain respectful of their founding military and Catholic traditions, and unthreatened by (sometimes even nostalgic for) their rich English past.

Marginalized by the major political parties and the mainstream media, made to feel guilty for being culturally homogeneous (a factor in producing the Herouxville crisis during the reasonable accommodation debates) and insufficiently deferential to grievance-collecting minorities, many otherwise voiceless inhabitants of Quebec and the regions find validation in the strident resistance to postmodernism exemplified by radio talk show hosts such as Sylvain Bouchard.

Bouchard himself took his stylistic cue from the most famous of Quebec's "shock jocks," Jeff Fillion, a household name here between 1996 and 2006 as the Quebec City morning man for CHOI.

An ardent conservative-libertarian, Fillion adopted the kind of edgy, Howard Stern-like style he had come to admire on a U. S. sojourn. He was hugely popular. Then, after 6,000 hours of his program's "incongruous mixture of vulgarity and social criticism," and amidst vigorous debate between free-speechers and political correctniks, Fillion was ousted for 15 minutes of poor judgment in a too-sexist riff. Since 2008, Fillion, as feisty and politically incorrect as ever, has been manning a satellite talk show, RadioPirate.com.

A recently published little book, Jeff Fillion et le malaise quebecois, by journalist Jean-Francois Cloutier, sees a symptom of Quebec's contemporary malaise in the otherwise-ignored undercurrents of the burgeoning sociological landscape that Fillion tapped into.

While admitting Fillion often crossed over into "trash radio" territory, Cloutier admires the "sometimes exemplary quality" of his right-wing discourse. Fillion, he notes, gave passionate expression to the ROQ's feeling of alienation from the demographically small, but politically dominant elites, incestuously clustered in the "Plateau Mont Royal." This neighbourhood is Montreal's "Rive Gauche," populated almost exclusively by intellectuals and mainstream media types, virtually all relentless conduits for the militant multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism and other leftist social causes that constitute Quebec's public face.

Fillion is most notably a voice for Generation X, those under-35s in Quebec who are impatient with the economically counter-productive, but politically sacrosanct "Quebec Model" that monopolizes public fealty. This CHOIloyal constituency has grown up in a period of economic upheaval and global change. They have witnessed rising divorce and abortion rates, disastrous educational reforms and the total disappearance of religion. In terms of its social outcomes, they see that defensive nationalism and leftist ideology have not been kind to their province. Although often dubbed ignorant and vulgar, Jeff Fillion emerged as the spokesmen for those children pointing out the nakedness of the Quebec Model emperor.

Since it is unlikely to be translated into English, I suppose Jeff Fillion et le malaise quebecois will only circulate within a small polity of conservative-minded francophone Quebecers. That's a familiar story in this nation of two linguistic solitudes, and a shame, because this slim, easy-reading little book offers an original, objective perspective on a Quebec few Canadians in the ROC know.