MONTREAL — Here are two issues in this city’s conversation, one reflecting the culture, the other altering the culture:
Allowing bars to remain open until 6 in the morning. Separating Quebec from Canada.
We can linger on the question of a 22-hour drinking period — under this notion the bars would be closed only between 6 and 8 in the morning — another time. The real question of the day is whether, in an era when Crimea and Scotland are holding referenda on nationhood, a ballot to determine whether Quebec secedes from Canada is consistent with the zeitgeist of the times.
Readers on the American side of the 49th parallel may be pardoned if they thought that Quebec separatism — or, put another way, the continued territorial and cultural integrity of Canada — were a settled matter. The question has been voted upon twice in a generation, rejected soundly once (1980) and very narrowly the second time (1995).
It might be appropriate to say that the issue is back like a bad penny, except that Canada began phasing out its penny a year and a half ago. But it is back, and along with the talk about Quebec nationhood is renewed talk about a flood of English-speaking Canadians — “the next glug of the brain drain,” as National Post columnist Mireille Silcoff put it the other morning — out of what is arguably the most diverse, most interesting and almost certainly the most gastronomically adventurous city in North America. (Try to find a better baguette anywhere. Or a richer soupe a l’oignon gratinee.)
This province-wide debate is occasioned by April 7 elections to Quebec’s unicameral legislative body, itself a symbol of Francophone aspirations. In a province where language matters so much, it is illuminating that the legislative body here is known as the Quebec National Assembly; similar chambers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are called, simply, the Legislative Assembly, with no subliminal suggestion that Saskatchewan or Manitoba are nations unto themselves. (Agricultural products labeled in British Columbia and Alberta are usually regarded as having been grown in Canada, but the Empire apples on sale in the Provigo supermarkets scattered about this province carry little black stick-on labels saying pommes qualite Quebec.)