My answer to Celine Cooper’s Monday open letter, published this Wednesday, December 19, 2012, p. A21
Dear Celine Cooper, I read with interest your piece in Monday’s Gazette (Opinion, Dec. 17, « Minister Lisée: I share your optimism about the future of Montreal, but not your vision of how to get there »).
I wholeheartedly agree with every point on which you agree with me, including what you wrote about my recent speech to the Jeune Chambre de commerce de Montréal: « Lisée’s approach was both grounded and exhilarating. His argument that we are witnessing the dawn of a golden era for our city showed how he acquired his reputation as a political visionary and master elocutionist. »
Thanks for that. But then I must disagree with the fact that you claim to disagree with me on the part about « how to get there. »
For instance, you write that « Montreal should be approached as the beacon of where we could go, not what is holding us back from getting there. »
Funny, I specifically used the word beacon and stated in my speech: « We want the best and the brightest, from everywhere, to come and participate with us in the laboratory of the 21st century » that we want Montreal to become. That seems inclusive to me.
You also wrote that you were on board with me and my speech until I « started talking about demographics and the pressing need to staunch the exodus of francophone families from the island of Montreal in order for the city to truly reach its full potential. » You said: « He was talking not about families in general, but certain kinds of families. »
Not so. Here is the full quote: « Montreal will never be able to retain all those who come here temporarily to get diplomas for first jobs, and who leave later to settle elsewhere. … But it can and should retain more people. The key lies in retention of families. Every year, 20,000 children aged 15 and under cross the bridges (leaving Montreal Island) to live elsewhere. One can imagine that they are accompanied by one or two parents who have climbed the socio-economic ladder and are ready to invest, elsewhere, the savings that they accumulated on the island. To invest, elsewhere, some of the knowledge that they acquired on the island. As the majority of these parents are francophone, their departures contribute to the marginalization of the francophone population on the island. It is imperative to retain a greater number. »
As I have said on other occasions, retaining anglo-phone families on the island will help stem the decline in enrolment in English public schools. But since the majority of families leaving are primarily French-speaking, retaining families will have, overall, a positive impact on the linguistic equilibrium of the island. It’s a win-win.
As for the impact of my government’s new language proposals, I have qualified as « unacceptable » the high unemployment levels within immigrant populations and have insisted on new funding to improve francisation and integration of current and future immigrants – all with a view to ensuring greater success in Quebec life.
You write, quite correctly, that « one of the things that sets Montreal apart from every emerging North American city of innovation – and there is plenty of competition in that area from cities like Boston, Toronto, Austin and San Francisco – is the French language and culture. Lisée and I share this view. »
So being a beacon of talent for people from outside of Quebec, and helping newcomers to succeed in the language that sets Montreal apart, does seem to me to be precisely the right mix, no?
The proposition that newcomers should be able find a critical mass of French speakers on the island, who help anchor that reality, should be non-controversial, I think.
Let me use this opportunity to draw attention to the part of my speech that specifically dealt with anglo-Quebecers. Here it is:
« I have had many meetings, since September, with anglo-Quebecers from all walks of life and I sensed an enormous thirst. First of all, a thirst for recognition of their contribution to the life of Montreal, and also a thirst to participate fully, as engaged partners, in the development of the metropolis and of Quebec. I have even met anglophones, like the executive director of the Jewish General Hospital, Hartley Stern, or the new president of Concordia University, Alan Shephard, who left Ontario to come and participate in the Montreal experience that they had judged to be more exciting and promising that what they saw elsewhere.
« I asked them: ‘But where did you learn about this – in the Toronto media?’ No, they had not read about it in the Toronto papers. They had heard it through their own networks, this refrain about Montreal being a laboratory of ideas and innovation and, in the case of Hartley, from his own daughters who had studied at McGill University and had become very pro-Montreal. Hartley and Alan are telling us something about ourselves that we should know, and make known. The future of Montreal without doubt rests in its quality of life, its sounds, its seasons, its joie de vivre. Even more so, it is connected to its creative potential. »
Celine, you conclude that I am at odds with your view that Quebec should be « a society in which all kinds of families are valued as equal citizens of Montreal as it moves into the 21st century. »
I respectfully disagree that we disagree.
All the best for the holidays, Jean-François Lisée
Read the Dec. 17 column by Celine Cooper that Jean-François Lisée is referring to in this open letter.
Watch and listen to the speech by Lisée that prompted Cooper’s commentary.