Last Wednesday, the Quebec Community Groups Network and the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) released the data from a poll they had conducted, which compared the amount of COVID-19 anxiety felt by francophones and anglophones. The survey found that one of the biggest gaps between the two linguistic groups was in the number of people who were afraid of contracting the virus (68 per cent for anglos, compared to 47 per cent of French-speakers). In the Montreal area, where most of the province’s English-speaking population resides (and the overwhelming majority of cases have been confirmed) the gap was roughly the same, with 72 per cent of anglophones reporting that they were afraid of getting COVID, compared to 50 per cent of francophones.
Speaking to both CTV and the Montreal Gazette following the release of the poll, ACS president and CEO Jack Jedwab offered some explanations for the disparity, such as the fact that many of the hardest hit neighbourhoods in Montreal are heavily English-speaking, as well as that anglophones are more likely to know someone who has contracted COVID-19.
When Premier François Legault was asked for his take on why anglophones were apparently more anxious, at a press conference later that day, he fingered an entirely different culprit: the English media. More specifically, he named the Montreal Gazette, saying “I don’t see why the result is not the same for francophones and anglophones. I guess maybe The Gazette has a certain responsibility.”
Legault even went so far as to single out their health reporter, Aaron Derfel, whom he “sometimes really disagrees with”, adding that “[Derfel]’s on Twitter about 25 times a day.”
Derfel is a veteran journalist that’s been on the health beat for more than 20 years. In addition to his articles in print and online, Derfel puts out lengthy, detailed threads on Twitter, the coclusions of which, often contradict the “official” party line. He has reported extensively on the conditions of Montreal’s emergency rooms and long-term care facilities (CHSLDs), detailing the atrocities in places like CHSLD Herron, where at least 33 people have perished from COVID so far.
The most powerful politician in the province suggesting that a single reporter or news outlet swayed the views of Quebec’s vast English-speaking population is laughably absurd. Even if this ridiculous conclusion has some basis in reality, the lion’s share of the blame obviously belongs to the CAQ brass that have handled the health care file.
In April, the health ministry mailed out an information booklet to Quebecers, which detailed ways they could protect themselves. When asked why it was only available in French, a spokesperson for the ministry told The Gazette that “Under our language policy and the Charter of the French language, it was not possible to distribute the self-care guide in English by direct mail.” While there was an online version made available en anglais, this kind of bureaucratic boondoggle isn’t an isolated incident, but par for the course.
The anglophones in Pontiac are likely not surprised by the results of this survey, as skepticism of the suits in the National Assembly (of any party affiliation) is deep-seated and stems from years of neglect. After watching our health care facilities dwindle due to decisions made in Quebec City or Gatineau, especially the slow death of the local obstetrics unit in the months leading up to this pandemic, it’s not shocking that English-speakers wouldn’t have faith in the provincial government.
If Legault and his colleagues want to inspire more confidence in Quebec’s anglophones, they would do well to assess their government’s shortcomings instead of blaming the people holding their feet to the fire.
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