English Speaking Women in Quebec

English Speaking Women in Quebec

Between August and October 2011, Samara spoke to disengaged Canadians across the country in a series of focus groups. The complete findings from this study are published in Samara’s report, The Real Outsiders: Politically Disengaged Views on Politics and Democracy. These briefs are designed to augment The Real Outsiders, by providing greater detail and insight about the conversations in each focus group.

English Speaking Women in Quebec | Lower Income Canadians | Urban Aboriginal Peoples | Francophone Women in Quebec | New Canadians | Less Educated Youth | Rural Canadians

A Constant Fight

Focus Group Profile: In Montreal, Quebec, Samara sat down with seven women aged 31 to 63 years. They all expressed a preference for English rather than French. However, Samara did not confirm if English was in fact their first language – thus, this report does not refer to “Anglophones”.  Most had some college or university studies with the exception of one participant, and most were stably employed. Three participants had children at home. 

For English speaking women in Quebec, the availability and quality of public services was the primary lens through which they viewed politics and democracy. As the focus group began, many of the participants were already articulating their efforts to address their concerns, such as ensuring their child was getting the help needed at school.

Another woman described her challenge of starting up her own business – and not knowing where to start. While she thought the city government did help to push her in the right direction, “it took six months of running around and not giving up”. Indeed, the theme of “running around” was agreed to be a common experience among participants. “One government does not know what the other hand is doing”, said one woman. Most of their criticism was directed at the local or provincial government. Seldom did any reference to the federal government or Ottawa appear.

 Being given the ‘run around’ led to sense of frustration and growing sense of futility: “there is a lot of ‘go there’ … Nobody else will listen any more, I think.” Many lamented the lack of front-line service providers who “go the extra mile to help you”, feeling that if they did, “you would see better results”.  Ultimately, they questioned why they had to face such an uphill battle. Even when “you do have good servicing people out there,” described a woman, “you have to keep pushing. You can’t give up.”

Being a language minority certainly exacerbated their frustrations at engaging, as well.  One participant called her relationship with government around language and services a “confrontation”. Another woman observed that, “a lot of times they [in government] just ignore you” if you are speaking English.

Granted, some felt they could, to some extent, confidently express their voice “in your own job where you have a say, a small piece.” But by in large, the group shared a strong cynicism towards engagement with any level beyond their own job from city to province to federal political systems:

  • “You go to these meetings and you say your mind and you have one or two people who are supposedly representatives in the Commons or something to hear you out and you don’t hear anything more. I just spent two hours of my time here talking and voicing my opinion, you are not going to get anywhere.”
  • “I do seek out what’s happening, but I mean at the end of the day, a few times I have done something or want to be heard, nobody is there to listen – well actually they are, but it doesn’t go in.”
  • “…sometimes I am there to help with petitioning and go around and do it because I believe in it, but then you do that so many times and you don’t see any movement [so] they will come around in my community, they know that I get involved and I say [to them] ‘I just don’t have time for it this time’. I feel bad…”

Their decision to participate less in politics is not a surprise given how futile they feel their actions are. “It’s not about not caring,” reassured one woman, but rather, “you [feel] in a way that you are almost abused.” Such characterizations suggest that disengagement is a reasoned decision the part of participants. Why would you continue to raise a voice if you felt abused in return? As such, members of this group described democracy as an “illusion” at some level. In other words, democratic ideals were not being lived up to.

One woman suggested that citizens will not accept such a situation indefinitely. But without faith in traditional avenues of political participation, such as voting, she felt people will be left with no option other than taking to the streets: “we’re going to have some hell on the streets, hell on the way we do our daily living and everything else.”

While these women seem to have a strong sense of the qualities a democracy should possess, the notion that democracy constitutes an “illusion” or “dream” indicates that they have participated within the framework that exists but have become fully aware of its perceived limits.