When you’re blaming someone for the uproar in Sherbrooke, I hope you’re looking in the mirror.
It wasn’t the fault of your town hall advance team that nobody briefed you on the woman asking you that question about health and social service availability in English.
It wasn’t the fault of the media that your fartbrained decision to answer an English question in French escalated into a Facebook feeding frenzy. You’ve been a Quebec MP long enough to know federal politicians always answer in the questioner’s language if they’re able to. Your father was a stickler for federal bilingualism protocol. Frankly, everyone thought you were past that petty linguistic bullshit.
Yes, you sort of apologized but it only compounded the problem. You had a second chance to admit your mistake and make amends to perhaps the one person in that entire room who has personal experience dealing with Quebec’s systemic linguistic discrimination. You blew it.
Judy Ross is the name of the woman who asked you that question in English. She’s the founder and longtime executive director of Mental Health Estrie. If your handlers do their job, they’ll discover that Mental Health Estrie does incredible work on a shoestring for English-speaking Townshippers living with mental illness. They run peer support groups for patients, caregivers and their families. They run social integration projects for patients attempting to reintegrate into their communities.
Each year from November until March, Mental Health Estrie runs its annual HUGS for the Homeless for the Acceuil Poirier homeless shelter in Sherbrooke. HUGS stands for hats, underwear, gloves and mittens, socks and scarves but they accept new articles of clothing that will keep people warm in subzero temperatures. (Mental Health Estrie’s website notes that Sherbrooke is one of 11 Canadian cities that can expect at least one night of -30.)
HUGS was started because Quebec has been cutting the number of psychiatric beds in its hospitals since Jean Rochon was Lucien Bouchard’s health minister. Outreach funding was supposed to bridge the gap but a succession of governments has slashed those budgets as well. Of the 600 or so homeless people the Acceuil Poirier provides for, at least 75% of the men and 90% of the women are dealing with a persistent mental illness.
Maybe you’re getting a glimmer of why Judy Ross was so put out by you switching into French. Mental Health Estrie exists mainly because Quebec anglos are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to accessing health and social services in English. If you’re dealing with a mental health crisis, your only option is the Hotel Dieu Hospital, where you’ll be lucky if there’s a clinician available who speaks English.
It’s the same for English-speaking communities everywhere off the Island of Montreal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s getting your slow learner child assessed, arranging respite care for a spouse with Alzheimer or dealing with persistent mental illness. The average wait time for English-speaking patients and their families is half again as long as it is for French speakers because of Quebec’s specific demands. For example, files must be in French even if the care provider and patient are both anglos. Bilingual providers must be paid a premium so there’s less incentive to hire bilingual staff. Ottawa, through the Health Care Act and the federally funded CHSSN, has some influence, but every dollar going to minority-language health and social services in Quebec is measured against an equivalent amount for francophones in the rest of Canada. It’s an old, old fight and there are no winners.
So, Mr. Trudeau Jr., this is why Judy Ross reacted like you’d slapped her. How were you to know? These town halls across Canada are supposed to be feel-good photo ops and soundbites of scrubbed, respectful Canadians listening intently to your self-congratulatory speechifying and queuing up for selfies. One can imagine the horror among your handlers when angry, disrespectful Canadians puncture the PMO bubble and the fickle media zoom in on their outrage. Those of us who have spent their working lives chronicling this are never surprised. The longer the honeymoon, the greater the fall.
In a Facebook post this morning I compared Canada’s relationship with you and your government to any personal relationship. Most of us have gotten over the initial puppy-love giddiness. We’re beginning to see the things that attracted us to you are becoming the things that piss us off. We still can’t resist a selfie with you at Smoked Meat Pete’s but we’re beginning to hate ourselves for our weakness. Most of us are still hoping you’ll move past the narcissism, the self-love and the bogus I-care-about-you act to a place where you can be both yourself and politically honest.
Wise up, and quickly. Learn from your father’s experiences. PET won grudging acceptance in Quebec because he never tried to suck up. Trudeaumania had a fast, rude trip back to earth during the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste riot where PET’s presence enraged a coalition of violent Quebec secessionists and union militants. Thirty months later, he was dealing with the FLQ insurgency and an apprehended insurrection that would have seen a popular common front take over the government of the province from the rookie Liberal premier Robert Bourassa.
More free advice: Don’t expect worshipful, happy crowds in Alberta unless you’re ready to Trump the hecklers. I just got off the phone with Garth Pritchard, who is hoping to get into one of your town halls to ask you who you represent — Canada or Quebec. Like most Albertans, he’s angry at his premier Rachel Notley for not taking a stronger stand against carbon taxes. He’s angry on behalf of the 200,000 unemployed Albertans, angry about the average $2 billion a year Alberta still transfers to Quebec.
Like most Albertans, Garth can’t grasp why you’re going around bragging about how your government plans to phase out the oilsands while approving new pipelines. Which is it?
I was at a riding environment committee meeting last night in Hudson where someone asked that same question. There’s a conspiracy theory out there that Ottawa promised $40-50 billion to B.C. to approve the Kinder Morgan project. There’s another conspiracy theory that your government’s picks for the reconstituted National Energy Board have a mandate to ensure Energy East gets its pipeline to Montreal and its tankers downriver passage to the Irving refinery. You should know your credibility in environmental circles is melting faster than the Greenland icecap.
You’re a smart, likeable guy. You’ve done well in making Canada cool. But you’re losing credibility for no good reason and when that’s gone, Canadians will begin to wonder what’s left.