The “vague bleue” hardly attracts the same crowds seen at some far-right demonstrations in Europe, but there are some common elements in the discourse.
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“We have so many enemies in Quebec,” Diane Blain lamented the other day, just after telling a small crowd that patriots must sometimes take up arms for the cause. “The federal government, federalist journalists, the Muslims, the Jews, the English, the Sikhs who turn our flag backwards.”Blain said as much out in the open on a recent sunny day in Trois-Rivières, an otherwise lovely town better known as the birthplace of Jean Béliveau. Her words were greeted with cheers from a gaggle of people, part of la “vague bleue” (blue wave), a fleur-de-lis-filled march through Quebec’s fifth-largest city. In practice, this meant a sunburned crowd wandering Trois-Rivières, with many carrying signs demanding a secular state.Secularism is a fig leaf that in Trois-Rivières was ripped away to reveal the loud and hateful few like Blain. And she certainly wasn’t the only one dishing out demonstrably racist pensées. “I’m white, I’m proud of my heritage and I like walking around and feeling like I’m at home. This isn’t Montreal here. This is why we need to keep our image as a city of whites,” a certain Stéphane Gagné told La Nouvelliste.Diane Blain isn’t representative of your average Quebecer. Not even close. A septuagenarian member of the far-right group Storm Alliance, Blain is one of the blinkered few who evidently sees the enemy in every non-white face and non-French tongue. A video of her two-minute diatribe, since removed from YouTube for violating the site’s hate speech policy, garnered scorn from scores of people, including well-known nationalists. It spurred a larger concurrent counter-protest. And for all its hateful noise, the vague bleue was more of a trickle of about 125 people, according to Radio-Canada.Yet make no mistake: the vague bleue march was just a cruder and more extreme manifestation of Premier François Legault’s own brand of nationalism, one that both reflects and reinforces a broader sense of insecurity. Legault is an astute politician in large part because, as a successful businessman before, he knows exactly what does and doesn’t sell. What sells in Quebec? Insecurity. Specifically, Quebecers’ own abiding and understandable beliefs about the vulnerability of their own culture and language. What doesn’t sell, at least not anymore? The cause of Quebec separation. The two were once sold as a package by the Parti Québécois. Legault’s genius was separating the two, discarding the separatism bit, then selling Quebecers a ready-made boogeyman fashioned from those very insecurities, one that is willing to foist the alleged loss of identity onto the backs of immigrants and non-francophones.Since Legault’s election, the net result of this sale has meant a demonstrably unfair bill banning religious garb from the bodies of certain government workers. Dressed up in the genteel garment of “laicity,” it was debated then shoehorned into law, with a corresponding uptick in the number of attacks against Muslims in Quebec. It has meant Legault himself travels at home and abroad with mouthful of dog whistles. He’s reduced the number of immigrants to Quebec in the name of protecting the province’s culture — despite a greying population and a corresponding labour shortage. Speaking of which, he has also pined for “more European” immigration. Not all of these immigrants would be from France, or francophone, but at least these immigrants would be — what? Less religious? More white?For his part, Legault himself failed to denounce the march or the many words emanating from it. Instead, on the very day of the vague bleue march, he was on Twitter, singing the praises of Mathieu Bock-Côté’s newest book, in which the columnist and noted ultra-nationalist decries political correctness. “Thankfully, in Quebec, nationalism has returned to its rightful place,” the premier wrote.Indeed.twitter.com/martinpatriquin