Ugly nationalism? Not in Quebec.

A poet's anti-immigrant rant, a speedy backlash and a sign of real change in Quebec

Claude Péloquin has a book to sell. Unfortunately for him, it’s a book of poetry, so were Claude Péloquin to keep his mouth shut, he would probably sell exactly 17 copies, mostly to his inlaws and a few charitable souls at Renaud-Bray. According to the blurb, Péloquin’s most recent oeuvre is a “poet’s scrapbook,” in which he invested his “body and soul” to produce. “I can’t live without writing,” Péloquin writes. Bully for us, I guess.

Fortunately for Claude Péloquin, he has a mouth, which he recently used on the airwaves of Radio-Canada to pimp his book on the backs of Quebec’s immigrant population. Apparently, he got airtime on Radio-Canada because of his reputation; a poète engagé of some renown, he is a prototypical nationalist, with roughly a dozen axes to simultaneously grind. Not too long ago, it was the English. Now it’s immigrants—Muslim immigrants, mostly.

Here is a translation of his Dec. 8 exchange with Rad-Can host Marie-Louise Arsenault:

Claude Péloquin: It’s a book that hits hard. I talk about religion, I talk about things we don’t like to talk about, about the invasion of Quebec. The death of Quebec.

Marie-Louise Arsenault: The death of Quebec? What do you mean by that?

CP: That’s what I wrote to Pierre Karl Péladeau. […] We aren’t stopping the flow of foreigners. We’ll never have a country. We’ll never have a country. Forget Quebec.

M-LA: That’s not a racist comment, Claude Péloquin?

CP: No, it has nothing to do with the races. We are not responsible for the overpopulation of other [countries]. We did more than our share and we were only six million. Sweden is starting to wake up. I don’t want to get into this debate.

M-LA: Well, it was you who said it, not me.

CP: I know, I know. You have to read [my book] because I explain why I say these things.

M-LA: Right. Is this provocation, Claude Péloquin?

CP: No, they are cries from my heart. I love my Quebec.

M-LA: But poetry is your tool. Now you’re writing letters that there are too many immigrants. That’s something else entirely, Claude Péloquin.

CP: It’s why I thanked the media for having boycotted me. It’s easier to interview comedians. Quebec doesn’t fly very high. We don’t speak from our heart. It’s why we’ve disappeared. Immigration was once a source of wealth, a richness. Now, it’s a plague. That’s it.

M-LA: Why is it a plague, Claude Péloquin?

CP: Too much is too much. It’s why there’s friction. We can’t swallow all of this. We can’t integrate all of this. It’s impossible! They are doing the same thing to us as what happened to the First Nations. That’s it.

M-LA: You see this as a political conspiracy?

CP: It’s a genocide.

M-LA: Oh, now you’re exaggerating.

CP: It’s a genocide.

M-LA: Oh, come on.

CP: All you have to do is look around. The car-free day we had on Saint Catherine Street; there were about 5,000 veiled women. Where were we that day? Were we in Tunisia?

This mix of pride and self-flagellation has been standard nationalist fare for upward of 20 years, as has blaming others for your supposed shortcomings. As such, Péloquin was precisely the kind of nationalist the Parti Québécois targeted with its so-called Quebec values charter during the last election: disaffected, old-stock Francophones who were so tired of Quebec’s very Canadian status quo that they were willing to blame new Canadians for what ailed them. That the PQ lost last April’s election is an indication that the party can’t rely on Péloquin types to win elections any longer.

And yet the Claude Péloquin saga, such as it is, actually ends well. What usually happens in situations like this is the following: Someone in Quebec says something intolerant or intolerable in French, the English media picks up on it by way of often debatable translation, Quebec is pilloried in the national press, and certain sectors of Quebec erupt into cries of Quebec-bashing. Then everyone goes back to sleep till the next outrage. It’s what has constituted a news cycle in these parts for far too long.

Not this time, however. Péloquin’s bon mots were met with near-instant outrage in the French press well before the English press even had a chance to pounce. Journal de Montréal’s Sophie Durocher, a formerly ardent supporter of the “Quebec values charter,” called Péloquin “an old, racist poet.” La Presse’s Marc Cassivi said Péloquin “had completely come off the rails.” And his Radio-Canada appearance notwithstanding, Péloquin himself bragged about a virtual “boycott” of himself and his book by Quebec’s press—though you can’t help but wonder if he’s frustrated not by veiled Arabs, but by the lack of attention he’s getting.

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