Andrew Potter: If the ROC can't bother, why should Quebec?
There aren't a lot genuinely pan-Canadian institutions. The CFL should be one of them, and the absence of French signage at the Grey Cup is a massive fail.
By: Andrew Potter
As an anglophone Quebecer who grew up in Pierre Trudeau’s Ottawa, I’m about as federalist as they come when it comes to my province’s place in Confederation. But sometimes the rest of Canada acts in ways that seem designed to alienate and offend francophones, are hard to defend, and make me wonder why Quebecers should even bother.
The Grey Cup for example.
Last Sunday in Hamilton, the Montreal Alouettes defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 to win the 110th Grey Cup. It was a classic no-hoper vs. heavy favourite matchup, with the Alouettes sneaking through to the finals to play against the Bombers, who were playing in their fourth consecutive CFL championship.
Actually, make that CFL-LCF. Canada is an officially bilingual country after all, and the Canadian Football League is ostensibly a bilingual organization. The league’s official television partners are TSN in English and RDS in French, and the league’s website has French and English versions. And this is as it should be. The Montreal Alouettes were founded in 1946, and they’ve won the Grey Cup/Coupe Grey eight times. The franchise’s current owner is Pierre Karl Péladeau, a Quebec media mogul who also happens to be the former leader of the separatist Parti Québécois.
All of which makes it absolutely inexplicable that the league completely forgot to include bilingual signage at Tim Horton’s Field ahead of the Grey Cup final.
He then uploaded a video that did a slow pan from the field level, showing a stadium decked out in CFL and Grey Cup signage, but nothing about the LCF or Coupe Grey.
The league clearly went into damage-control mode. By game time Sunday, some French-language signage had been hastily scattered around the field, though the huge CFL logo painted at midfield hadn’t been fixed.
At any rate, the harm was done. After the game, flush with the adrenaline of victory, Alouette safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy — the East division nominee for the league’s outstanding Canadian player — gave an interview in French with RDS where he complained that no one ever believed in the team. Which was true — the Alouettes were never really considered contenders for the championship. But then he connected that disrespect for the team’s chances to the disrespect shown to the French language: “But you know what, man, keep your English, because we’re grabbing the Cup, and we’re bringing it to Montreal, and we’re bringing it to Quebec, and we’re bringing it home!”
All told, it was pretty harmless stuff and, truth be told, pretty much justified. But Dequoy apologized anyway for his outburst on Monday, saying he never intended anything against anglophones; he just wanted to note that “I just felt disrespected for me and for my province and for my heritage.”
And you know what? He was. They were. And it isn’t obvious he had anything really to apologize for. If anything, the league commissioner Randy Ambrosie should have been out in front of this issue, apologizing to the Alouettes, to Péladeau, to Quebecers, and frankly, to all of Canada.
Ambrosie has made CFL expansion a priority, telling TSN after the Grey Cup that he’s going to make one last kick at the can at getting a franchise into the Maritimes. When invited to comment on the possibility of expanding to football-crazy Quebec City, he just noted that there might be a door to be opened there, but stopped short of endorsing it as an option. When asked about the absence of LCF-CFL livery during the game, and given every possibility to explain and make amends, he just deflected the question and made vague comments about the league tailoring their message to their locations.
That is, they just forgot.
Look, maybe we don’t want to make too big a deal out of this. Mistakes were made, and so on. But maintaining national unity in Canada is a tough thing at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Many days, it feels like the country barely exists.
At the very least, the two solitudes seem more estranged than ever. Last week, Karl Tremblay died at the age of 47. Who, you might ask? Tremblay was the lead singer of Les Cowboys Fringants, an enormously popular band from Quebec, and his death sent the entire province into a state of deep mourning. Premier François Legault offered his family a state funeral for Tremblay. For Quebecers, it was like when Gord Downie died. And just as Quebecers sort of just shrugged when Downie succumbed to brain cancer six years ago, the rest of Canada barely took note of Tremblay’s death.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. The solitudes are real, and there’s no amount of funding to the CBC that is going to change that. But what we need to do is stop actively making the problem worse. There are very few genuinely national institutions that serve to unify the country, and the CFL-LCF is — or at least ought to be — one of them. The fact that the sort of blatant disrespect shown to the French language at the Grey Cup could happen, without anyone in charge stepping up to either fix it or publicly apologize, is just Canada shooting itself in the foot.
The message it sends to Quebecers is this: If the rest of Canada can’t be bothered, why should they?
Andrew Potter lives in Montreal. Follow him at his newsletter Nevermind: The Forgotten History of Generation X.
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