“Mangeur de hot-dogs”

An insult flung at Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau after provincial legislation, Bill 22, made French Quebec’s sole official language in 1974.

Pierre Trudeau’s flashy, academic style made it easy for opponents to paint him as condescending and arrogant. That elitism sometimes got him into trouble. But his detractors could not accuse him of being afraid of – not so occasionally – slinging a colourful insult. Or several.

In this case, the object of his contempt was Robert Bourassa. Trudeau joked to reporters that the Liberal premier of Quebec was a “mangeur de hot-dogs” or “hotdog eater”, shorthand for a classless, lowbrow kind of guy. The irony of the gutter insult was that Bourassa, having studied at Oxford and Harvard, was not the everyman that Trudeau was painting him to be. The demeaning remark from one elite to another was the stuff of (private) school yard bickering.

But why the bad blood?

Trudeau was in a (language) funk. He had made Canada officially bilingual with the Official Languages Act in 1968. This did not go over well with budding Quebec sovereigntists. Quelle surprise. In response, the federalist (light) Bourassa government passed Bill 22, thinking their linguistic legislation would appease growing sovereigntist and labour movements in the province.

The concession did not work. It angered both sovereigntists and Anglophones in Quebec, for opposite reasons. Bourassa and his Liberal government were voted out of office in a landslide victory for René Lévesque and the Parti Quebecois in 1976.

The first sovereigntist government in Quebec quickly made their keystone legislation Bill 101, a controversial and comprehensive language law to replace Bill 22. C’est la vie. More than three decades later, Bill 101 was back in the headlines as François Legault’s nationalist government sought to strengthen its provisions. The bill is just one element in a larger debate about the identity and future of Quebec.

Image Source: Creative Commons, OZinOH

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