Parti Québécois refuses invite to Fête nationale concert over choice of host

The crowd screams at the Fête Nationale, Thursday, June 23, 2022 in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois has turned down an invitation to address the crowd at a major concert marking the province’s national holiday in protest over the choice of host.

In a letter published online Monday, party spokesperson Méganne Perry Mélançon accused the organizers of lacking judgment when they named Émile Bilodeau as host of the Quebec City concert on the Plains of Abraham the evening before the June 24 holiday.

“When you want to bring people together, the first thing to do is to show respect for others,” she wrote. “In recent years and particularly in recent months, Émile Bilodeau has, on many occasions, showed disrespect toward the Parti Québécois, its staff, its leader, its members, its supporters. He has also shown very little respect for anyone who advocates for state secularism,” she wrote.

The 26-year-old Bilodeau, an award-winning artist whose fifth album is due out in September, has been a vocal critic of the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, which he described in 2020 as “misogynistic, Islamophobic and degrading.” The law prevents civil servants deemed to be in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols — including hijabs and turbans — on the job.

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Bilodeau has also mocked the Parti Québécois and its leader as “whiners” and suggested the party should die out to make way for a better sovereigntist option.

Emile Bilodeau at the 40th ADISQ awards ceremony in Montreal on October 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Denis Beaumont.

Perry Mélançon wrote that while Bilodeau has a right to his opinions and that she wasn’t calling for his removal, she said she didn’t feel comfortable attending the pre-concert ceremony. She also accused the group organizing the show of violating its principles of non-partisanship when it selected Bilodeau as host, noting he has campaigned for rival sovereigntist party Québec solidaire.

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The concert on the Plains of Abraham is among the signature events marking the Fête nationale, which is also known as St-Jean-Baptiste Day and is associated with the Quebec sovereignty movement.

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Bilodeau suggested in a social media message that the PQ was trying to “cancel” him, and promised to put on a great show with a variety of diverse performances celebrating Quebec. “If you want to ‘cancel’ me, I suggest you go see what the Republicans are doing in the USA,” he wrote on Facebook. “They have experience in the field.”

The debate stirred strong reaction in Quebec City, where Québec solidaire jumped to the artist’s defence. Party’s co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois described Bilodeau as a “sovereigntist who connects with young people,” and criticized the Parti Québécois for sitting out the concert.

“(Bilodeau) criticized the PQ, so the PQ is boycotting the St-Jean show,” he wrote on social media.

“Putting partisan pride above national pride, what a shame.”

The concert organizer, the Mouvement national des Québécois, has described Bilodeau’s appointment as unifying and non-partisan, and recently minimized the controversy as a “tempest in a teapot,” in an internal note obtained by The Canadian Press.

The group added that Bilodeau wasn’t planning on using the June 23 concert as a platform for his views on Bill 21, which it described as a “depoliticized” event.

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