Fuelling the Linguistic Debate: Who Are They?

By JD Lagrange – In the summer, the sun will shine. In the fall, the leaves will take on colour and eventually cover the ground. In winter in Canada, the snow will fall and we will be able to practice winter sports… and we will swear every time we have to shovel. In the spring, trees and flowers will bloom and everything that has been sleeping for months will wake up. These are certainties in all the provinces of Canada. But in Quebec, there is another certainty that comes up every year, and it happens at every opportunity: the francophone debate on the Montreal Canadiens.

This year, that debate came up once again at the Draft, blaming the Canadiens for not selecting enough Quebecois. It usually blows over and we can get back to business. But it’s showing its ugly face a second time, after the team named Nick Suzuki the 31st captain of their long history.

Most people roll their eyes, even the die-hard francophones who live in this unique province, in our beautiful country. But there are those who will continue to have the same heavy conversation that goes around in circles, throwing the same old criticisms at the Canadiens for not recruiting enough local talent, or hiring a francophone at the position of coach or GM, or not trading for French Canadians. For the most part, their research is incomplete or there simply isn’t even any research. No context.


Although I moved from Sherbrooke to British Columbia in 1992 as an adult, I still have strong roots in my home province. I understand the importance of language in Quebec and the effect of the Montreal Canadiens on young hockey players in that province. I do understand the need for people in Quebec to associate, even relate to the players on the team in the province’s number one language. But it has its limits and must be taken in context.

Having experienced this phenomenon for years, one thing that comes to mind is the variety of people who discuss this issue during the draft or at any other opportunity. I probably could have broken it down into more categories, but I counted four distinct and very different types of people who fuel the linguistic debate with the Canadiens.

1- The butt-hurt

You know these people. They are the ones who, for one reason or another, still have a grievance against the organization. It has nothing to do with the number of French Canadians in the Habs. Their motivation is of a personal nature. This is mainly or even strictly due to the fact that they have been put in their place by the organization at one point or another in their careers. Or because they were denied something. 

This is the case of Réjean Tremblay , to whom the Canadians refused to give the right to use the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge for his “Lance et Compte” series. He had to settle for the colours of the Nordiques instead. Since then, he has been unleashed against the team and will find, even invent, stories for the sole purpose of tarnishing the organization.

Others, like  Richard Labbé and Phillip Cantin, were publicly humiliated and put in their place at press conferences or other events. José Théodore is angry with the Habs for having drafted Carey Price when “the handsome Théo” was at his peak in Montreal. And he was eventually traded, ripped from his throne, to make way for a better goalie.

They all seem to have one goal: revenge. These people will often progress to the next category.

2-  The sensationalists

We are talking about journalists who need to create controversy in order to be (a little) relevant, to have a platform and… a job. They are not good enough reporters or media to gain market share in the traditional way. In French, they were given the nickname of journaleux instead of journalist. They are also easy to spot! 

The Michel Bergeron, Norman Flynn and company are experts in sensationalism. In English, a few radio show hosts need controversy to sell. Brendan Kelly is perhaps the best example of this category in the print media. Someone who writes about show business, with a hockey platform in spite of a very, very limited knowledge of the game, or so it seems judging from published material.

How these guys get a platform to spew their nonsense is beyond me. But guess what? They have their groupies. On Twitter, they were once referred to “Subbanistas”. You know those people who hated Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin  for daring to trade their beloved PK Subban? Those who proclaimed at the time that Preds GM David Poile should be named GM of the year because of this trade? They’ve been even angrier with Bergevin ever since; not only did he win that trade, but he also robbed Nashville in the process. 

You can add to that group those who never (or rarely) have anything positive to say about the organization. You see, one would think that with Bergevin fired, they would be happy. But no, they turned on players instead… Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher are today’s prime targets. Add the Suzuki learning French debate now too.

3-  The politically motivated

Ah, we know these people. They follow Canadians very little or not at all, but they are there when we give them a forum to talk about the language. Many are separatists (not all separatists are in this category, mind you) who follow an agenda. Many hate the rest of Canada or those who speak the language of Shakespeare instead of Molière. You know? They were on the streets of Montreal in December 2011 when the Canadiens dared to give the interim coaching job to Randy Cunneyworth, a unilingual anglophone, after firing Jacques Martin . This is why, a while ago, Bergevin felt he had to apologize when he put Kirk Muller in place after Claude Julien had his cardiac episode in the playoffs.

With the recent debate about Suzuki “having to learn French”, it just so happens that it’s during a political campaign in Quebec. Great… mix politics (elections) and the Habs. That will guarantee some coverage, right? See? Opportunistic and politically driven.

4-  The true journalists

Luckily, they do exist! When you meet them, read them or listen to them, they are like a breath of fresh air. They are professional. They report the facts. When they criticize, they support their argument with facts and figures. But most of the time, they don’t have a program or an agenda. A less positive article will be balanced and you know that their next piece will be different. You see, these people don’t need sensationalism. They have won their audience and readership through good, ethical journalism, with quality material and interviews.

They have the talent, notoriety and track record to back up their work and it shows. In press conferences, you recognize them by their relevant and intelligent questions. They understand hockey and stay away from Echo Vedette and TMZ type reporting . I don’t like trying to name them because I know I’ll forget some of them. But to give you an idea, here are a few anyway: 

  • Mathias Brunet 
  • Marc-Antoine Godin
  • Jean-François Chaumont
  • Guillaume Lefrançois
  • Marc-André Perreault
  • Patrick Friolet
  • Jonathan Bernier
  • John Lu
  • Eric Engels

I bet you can see the difference in quality just by mentioning their name, right?


The next time the subject comes up — because you know it will come up again — take a step back and try to notice who the loudest people are about it. You will be able to put them in one (or more) of the four categories mentioned above. Most likely in the top three since those in the fourth category won’t be a problem. Those who fall into the top-3 categories are the people who don’t have the skills and talent to rely on quality to get readership, viewership or listenership, and/or rely on opportunity to get their agenda across.

Do yourself (and everyone else) a favour and focus on that last category. It will be better for your mental health and you will have a clearer picture of the situation. Just beware of people in the other three categories. They try to provoke you for their own reasons, their own advantage, which have nothing to do with language itself. Or at least, they don’t provide context, because they know they have no arguments to stand on. Don’t be like them. Ignore them.

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