Anglos in exile: Why they left and what it will take to bring them back to Quebec

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WATCH: Quebec premier Philippe Couillard has been urging “exiled” Anglophones to come home – but is it genuine, or a move to get more votes in the 2018 provincial elections? Global's Anne Leclair finds out what English speakers who have left Quebec think – Sep 27, 2017

Quebec’s Premier recently urged exiled anglophones to come back home. “It’s time if you want to come home to Quebec,” Philippe Couillard said on Friday.

Was it simply a move to get more votes, or is it a true sentiment and sign that times have changed? Global News meets three Montrealers who have left the province to find out if the premier’s call has hit close to home.

“To be honest, I actually felt sort of touched that he made that verbal gesture,” Montreal-native Marianne Wisenthal said. “Because, when I lived there, I never felt like any politician was remotely interested in my rights or my happiness or whether I could make any sort of life there.”

READ MORE: Premier Philippe Couillard makes plea for English speakers to move back to Quebec

Wisenthal moved to Toronto a decade ago after meeting the love of her life. While she misses Montreal, she feels the grass is greener in Ontario on many fronts, including education and health care.

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“From what I hear from friends and family, the wait times at ERs or for any specialists is pretty crazy,” Wisenthal said. “I have to say I’m kind of glad that I’m not getting older in Quebec right now.”

Jessie Laflamme is another one of the half-million English-speaking Quebecers who fled the province for a better future.

“I left Montreal when I was 19, basically, and I had planned to come back but when I was a nurse in Toronto it’s just I found jobs and settled basically,” Laflamme said. “And then I met him (her partner) and then we settled in Toronto even more.”

The now 40-year-old left Quebec in the late 90s, first for school and then for work. Higher salaries and access to quality health care in Ontario are what she says kept her away for so long.

“I think Quebec needs to make it more attractive, like in terms of salaries and helping people get employment here and just general infrastructure,” Laflamme said. “That would probably entice more anglophones to come back.”

READ MORE: Quebec may soon welcome an anglophone affairs minister

Philippe Couillard’s recent invitation urging exiled English-speaking Quebecers to come home has received mixed reviews. For one former Montrealer living in the Maritimes, it was nothing more than a confusing message.

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“Is he in a time warp? I’m not sure who he’s referring to?” said Filmmaker John Walker. “My generation who left you know they’re approaching retirement age so what, does he want us to come home and retire there?”

Walker was just 11 years old when the FLQ planted bombs and sparked fear in Quebec’s English-speaking community. His recent film Quebec My Country Mon Pays tackles his life-long trauma.

“This was clearly against the English community so you felt under attack you felt not wanted at that period,” Walker said from his home in Halifax. “But things have changed.”

Many experts agree that Quebec is more open today than ever. And after years of inequalities, some believe Quebec’s two solitudes have finally reached a form of linguistic peace.

“I’m seeing generally on the part of the current government an openness to working with the English-speaking minority,” Coordinator of the Quebec English-Speaking Communities Research Network (QUESCREN) Lorraine O’Donnell said. “I’m happy about it I think it’s a signal that things are changing.”

But will that change be enough to push exiled anglophones back to La Belle Province?

“I do think with a climate of increasing openness, rising rates of bilingualism there will be some coming back,” O’Donnell said.

But it will likely take much more than a simple statement from the premier to convince people to return to their home province.

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“It would take a job that I love for myself and a job that I love for my husband,” Wisenthal said. “But I don’t see that happening, he doesn’t speak French.”

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