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On being a minority

pauline-marois-pq_sn635Just once, I would like to know what it feels like to be in a majority.

Normally, I embrace my outsider status. I’m the liberal in a room full of conservatives, the conservative in a room of Liberals. I’m a Jewish person among non-Jews and an atheist among Jews, a bilingual Quebecer in the RoC and a federalist anglo Canadian in Quebec.

I’m accustomed to being the dissenting opinion, the devil’s advocate. I love to debate and I admit I sometimes emphasize the differences just to challenge preconceived notions. In a single day, I can go from seamlessly defending the federalist position to my sovereigntist friends, then meet up with my parents for dinner and try to explain where sovereigntists are coming from and that they have some legitimate points. Even in cases where I am part of the majority, I do my best to pull myself out of the context and take up the dissenting argument, sometimes for the mental exercise and sometimes because I think it’s important. I don’t always succeed in seeing things from the other point of view, but I sure as hell try.

See, the thing is, I abhor echo chambers and mob mentality. I think we humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards those who think and believe like we do, and in doing so, we fail to truly understand one another or to see things from one another’s point of view. And that’s dangerous. Very, very dangerous. Green Day said it best: “Down with the moral majority; I wanna be a minority.”

But sometimes, you know, it gets lonely.

Now we have Pauline Marois, who has just been elected — by the slimmest of margins — to lead a minority government. She will have to get her agenda past at least one of the opposition parties in order to prop up her government and avoid triggering an election. She spent the entire campaign trail vilifying minorities, spewing racist and xenophobic hatred against anyone with a different skin colour, ethnic background, national origin or — most of all — mother tongue. How ironic (and poetic) that after preaching so much hatred of minorities, she now gets to lead one.

In her victory speech, she appeared to have grasped the implications of this minority government situation rather quickly. Sounding amazingly conciliatory in contrast to the tone she had taken during the campaign, she congratulated the other leaders (which was met with a chorus of boos in the crowd, I might add), tempered her agenda by speaking of cooperation, and even did the unthinkable and spoke a couple of sentences in English. I don’t trust her further than I can throw a truck, but I’m sure I’m not the only anglophone who was watching last night and was actually kind of impressed.

(What happened afterwards was a horrific tragedy, appears to have been the act of a lone crazed gunman, and should be roundly and unequivocally condemned by all decent human beings no matter their political leanings. Violence has no place in politics. We settle our differences at the ballot box, not at gunpoint. Not that this post has anything to do with that. But it needs to be said, with emphasis.)

Anyway, as it turns out, my minority wasn’t as lonely as it seemed during the campaign, where all I would have to say to anyone was that I was voting for the Charest Liberals, only to be greeted with dirty looks and “you WHAT???” I joked to a few people that I would be the only person in my (solidly Péquiste) riding voting Liberal this time around. Turns out, I was one of over 5,000 in my riding… and one of 31% in the whole province. That’s right, the PQ only won 0.7% more of the popular vote than the Liberals did, and their victory hangs on a measly 4 seats. The “silent majority” that Charest had heralded months ago did not materialize, true, but the “silent minority” was much bigger than any of the pundits or pollsters predicted. Sure, many of those people held their noses and cast their vote — myself included. I’m not thrilled with the Liberals. But I think they were a damn sight better than any of the alternatives. And it might’ve been nice to feel during the campaign period that this level of support existed.

I’ve voted for the Charest Liberals when they won a majority government before. So yes, I was technically part of a majority then. But even then, I was a minority — an anglophone, a take-for-granted vote, someone who, I’m told, doesn’t “get” Quebec despite living here my whole life.

So if I’m not a majority in Quebec, surely I am in Canada, right? English-speaking, federalist, born here, not part of any visible minority group… I’m basically the definition of majority when it comes to Canada, right? Not so much. In May of last year, I watched with dismay while the rest of Canada, province after province, went Tory Blue. On that night, I felt a wave of sympathy for Quebec sovereigntists because Quebec clearly chose another path and I could understand how they felt. How we felt. Disconnected. Disillusioned. Not a part of this. A minority within our own country. I’m a heck of a lot more connected to my Canadian identity than to my Quebecois one, but I don’t understand the direction that our country has chosen to turn, and I feel increasingly out of step with it as well. A member of a centre-left minority whose political party of choice was essentially wiped off the political map last May.

It’s a curious facet of the human experience, this instinct we all have to define “us” and “them”, to create artificial divisions and to seek out those among whom we feel comfortable, secure and like family. It’s a defensive reaction, but it’s an understandable one. At heart, most of us revert to our five-year-old selves when we’re afraid. All we really want is someone to say “I understand you. It’s okay.” So we form political parties and social alliances and groups, and we band together and we find common causes to band against, and sometimes it gets really ugly, but sometimes it feels really great, too. I was disgusted by those who threw smoke bombs on the metro, but I could understand those who were out with the pots and pans this spring. I didn’t agree with them, but I understood their desire to feel like they were participating in something bigger than themselves, to feel like they belonged.

Quebec is my home. I was born here, my parents and grandparents were born here. But it often feels like there’s no group for me here. There isn’t a single political party in Quebec that truly represents my views, or even comes close. The Liberals are sort of the best-of-the-worst alternative. But it’s hard to deny that I’m very often out of step with the discourse around me.

Normally, that’s okay. Vive la différence, and we are normally (again, with the exception of the terrible events of last night) very good at having not-always-polite-but-usually-respectful political discourse. I’m happy to debate, to educate or be educated, and to agree to disagree when it’s all said and done.  I’ll even happily go out for a beer afterwards.

I’m tired, though. I’m tired of always focusing on how we differ instead of on all the ways in which we’re alike. And there are so many ways, but they always seem to get ignored in politics in favour of emphasizing those differences for political gain. I’m tired of always being an outsider, never part of the group. Never part of the “nous” that Pauline Marois referred to in her campaign, no matter how long my family has been here or how much French I learn. I’m tired of scanning Twitter and reading the many thousands of posts that overwhelmingly reflect the exact opposite of how I think and feel, and I’m tired of the sense of alienation that comes from the feeling that I will never, ever get to experience what it feels like to be part of a majority in this province.

And then the sun rises the next day, and I pick myself up and I remind myself of all the reasons why it’s good to be a minority. Why it’s a strength, not a weakness.

Welcome to being a minority, Mme Marois. I don’t think you’ll necessarily enjoy it. But I hope you learn something.

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