In Quebec's Battle of Tongues, One Man Lashes out at French-Only Rules, Secession

By Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

In Quebec's Battle of Tongues, One Man Lashes out at French-Only Rules, Secession


Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When people run up to Howard Galganov on a Montreal street, he isn't sure whether they want his autograph - or to just spit on him.

That rarest of breeds in the largely French-speaking province, Mr. Galganov is a bilingual Quebecker who rallies for the rights of English speakers (Anglophones) and against secession from Canada. That makes him an "angry-phone" to moderates in both camps, who tag him a threat to cool compromise.

But to many in Quebec's English-speaking minority, Galganov is a folk hero who talks bluntly about the second-class citizenship they have felt for decades. Whatever else he is, Galganov is unabashed, uncompromising, even zealous in his crusade to wreck the dream of an independent Quebec for the ruling separatist Parti Quebecois. "We'll finish them off," Galganov says. Not a subtle message, but Galganov, an advertising executive, says now is not the time to be subtle. Anglophone moderates say Galganov is making life more difficult by antagonizing the PQ. Indeed, civil servants were told on Thursday they can speak only French in meetings with Quebec-based companies and need permission to give speeches in other languages. These measures were aimed at curbing "rampant institutional bilingualism," said Language Minister Louise Beaudoin. PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard has called for a truce among linguistic factions and says the next referendum on secession won't be held for at least two years - until the weak economy is rebuilt. Last month, however, Mr. Bouchard's own party burned him in effigy to protest deep budget cuts, and the former premier, Jacques Parizeau, came out of retirement to attack Bouchard's policies. Bouchard was acclaimed head of the PQ early this year, replacing Mr. Parizeau. Uncertainty over whether Quebec might eventually separate from Canada has undermined needed investment in the province. "People ... won't even pave their own driveway," Galganov says. "Bouchard and the separatists just don't get it. There is no economic salvation for Quebec without social peace.... And no future for the province of Quebec as long as we have to live with the threat of separation." Political scientists say Galganov represents the "radicalization" of Montreal's Anglophone community since last year's referendum saw 49.6 percent of Quebeckers vote to secede. That vote deeply frightened the English community, even though the secession side lost. Concerned by Bouchard's promise of another vote, Galganov has become the informal spokesman of Anglophones fed up with talk of compromise on the language issue and fear of confrontation with separatists over secession. …

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