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First Watch: Stomping toward oblivion

Stomping toward oblivion

Outgoing Alliance Quebec president Brent Tyler doesn’t walk. He doesn’t even stroll, saunter or stride. Brent Tyler stomps. He is the only human being I have ever interviewed who can make his footsteps known on wall-to-wall carpeting.

On a cold afternoon last year, Tyler did this unnerving stomp into an Hour interview, and before he even considered the first question he asked a question. "Mind if I smoke?"

Of course not.

Silly me, expecting a quaint Du Maurier, or even a relatively inoffensive cigarello, à la Colts Mild. Without really waiting for an answer, Tyler lit up a cigar the size of a smoked ham, and not nearly as fragrant. For the next 90 minutes, every angry retort, every categorical denial, every single piece of angered invective lobbed at his detractors was punctuated either by a puff of smoke, or a stab of the air with that bloody cigar.

His targets were numerous: The federal and provincial governments, the Supreme Court, former AQ board members, other assorted language-rights groups, various media outlets, people who have taken him to court for assault, and just about everyone else who didn’t subscribe to his litigious, slash-and-burn style of promoting language rights. Interview Brent Tyler and you’ll literally have his stink on you when you leave.

Despite his brazen, ramrod persona (or perhaps because of it), Tyler crept out of Alliance Quebec late last week with hardly a peep. The Gazette duly covered his departure, as did the CBC and CJAD, among other English language media outlets. But for all his noise about French language laws – and the subsequent ire he has drawn from the types who get paid to be horrified about this sort of thing, like Le Devoir’s editorial-page staff – Tyler’s exit, his political obituary of sorts, merited exactly 65 words of wire copy in La Presse.

Surely this isn’t the guy who promised to bring one of the tenets of Quebec society, Bill 101, to an inglorious end by way of the courts? This can’t be the same Tyler who has trashed the PQ and Liberal governments at every opportunity, and who once garnered death threats from the likes of FLQ bomber and noted nut-job Raymond Villeneuve?

Sure is. So why the deafening silence?

Simply put, it’s because Alliance Quebec has about as much clout as one of Tyler’s cigars. The organization, which once boasted some 40,000 members back in the heady days of 1986, has dwindled to less than 1,500 today. Tyler took over from William "Pit Bull" Johnson, his ideological equal, and promptly went to court on AQ’s tab, thus becoming both AQ’s president and lead counsel – a murky relationship, to say the least.

Since 2001, he’s taken some 18 language-related cases to provincial and federal court, and even threatened to go to the United Nations when the Supreme Court refused to hear one of them. "The Supreme Court screwed up," Tyler declared in a beautiful bit of rhetorical flourish. "It screwed up big time." (One wonders where Tyler will turn in the likely event the UN ignores him. Is God available?)

Under Tyler, Alliance Quebec became all the more radical, even as the province’s brand of language politics became less so. We progressed, Alliance regressed. Nearly 25 years after René Lévesque became premier, and 18 years after Alliance Quebec came to be, a wide-ranging poll of Quebec anglos told an interesting story indeed: 50 per cent of respondents said it is important for the Quebec government to maintain laws that protect French. And over half of those who said so were between the ages of 45 and 54.

Granted, Tyler isn’t the only one responsible for AQ’s move from the community to the courts. William Johnson can stake this dubious claim. Tyler, though, made it his job to be in court, and also guaranteed AQ’s dance toward irrelevance by closely aligning the group with the Equality Party, another pressure group that imploded during the last provincial election. (Don Donderi, former Equality Party member, garnered exactly 330 votes – 2,028 less than the candidate for the Parti Québécois. In Westmount, for Christ’s sake.)

In the process, the day-to-day grind of the group went by the wayside. Until March 2003, when the error was pointed out, the AQ website listed 34 board members, 15 of which had long departed – one of them for good, because she was dead. Tyler didn’t even try to clarify the discrepancies in the AQ budget, instead labelling the droves of people questioning his reign as "losers and malcontents." Similarly, the group couldn’t explain a recent Canadian Heritage audit that suggested they owed nearly $63,000 in "ineligible expenses," other than to say the "report is wrong."

Though the group receives $634,534 from the federal government, the lion’s share of cash earmarked for language advocacy groups in Quebec, they can’t even get enough people at many of the chapter meetings to make quorum. The AQ’s website has yet to announce Tyler’s resignation or the upcoming elections, even though Tyler said goodbye a week ago. In short, Alliance Quebec is shrunken, sickened and (thanks to the audit) short on cash.

So why, oh why, should anyone devote precious column inches to the inglorious end of Brent Tyler? Simple. Alliance Quebec has a recognized name, and is ready to be rebuilt from the ground up, thanks to its former president. Though it may be difficult to get rid of the deadwood diehards that make up the group’s board, a new president will bring fresh blood to the ranks. Among the candidates is Rev. Darryl Grey, a preacher and community leader whose populism and connections almost make up for his lack of French – and he’s taking lessons, or so he told The Gazette in a recent interview.

Brent Tyler has stomped out of the building, and we’re better for it. With any luck, the memory of his term will slowly dissipate, not unlike the stink of his cigars.

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  • by Pedro Eggers - February 5, 2004, 11:19 am

    Hmmmm….well, before I proceed with my retort in full I’d like to clear up something. According to Martin Patriquin’s article and I quote, “…, it’s because Alliance Quebec has about as much clout as one of Tyler’s cigars”

    Really? I’m sorry but WHEN if EVER did Alliance Quebec have any real clout?

    As political entities go Alliance Quebec was and ever shall be the equivalent of a de-clawed wildcat on the verge of extinction. Oh sure, it makes some noise and at time might even be fascinating to observe but you know it’s survival thus far is more due to luck than anything else. Clout? If Alliance Quebec ever even had that, it sure as Hell didn’t use it to anyone’s longterm benefit.

    Anyways, on with the Brent Tyler show…

    So, he’s leaving. Oh. Who. The. Hell. Cares? No really, Alliance Quebec is about as broken down and redundant as a party can be nowadays so losing one more talking head really won’t matter. Granted, it’s the head talking head but I believe that any change now has got to be an improvement. A major one? Nope, let’s be realistic, folks. Canadian and provincial politics are currently in such utter flux that even Jojo Savard wouldn’t want to hazard a guess as to what the future holds.

    I’m pretty sure that Brent Tyler will bounce back from this reversal of fortune (as if we really cared anyways) and come back booming. Oh joy, more noise…nice to see nothing will change after all.

  • by Ben Kalman - February 6, 2004, 2:51 am

    They fight for language rights and human rights, they bid in auctions to restore property back to owners fighting for bilingual signs, they generally vow to make Quebec a 100% equal and muti-culturally integrated society.

    But what have they done for me lately?

    The fact is that Alliance Quebec does a lot of good, but most of their work is futile – they simply don’t have the power, politically or economically, that they had 25 years ago. And don’t believe Darryl Gray is the answer – he’s too radical and he has too large of an agenda to function objectively in such an environment.

    So Brent Tyler’s swan song is essentially to watch the AQ burn, like Nero on the hill watching the flames of Rome light up the night sky.

    How do you say fiddle in French again?

  • by Stephen Talko - February 6, 2004, 7:59 am

    I once had a opportunity to have a meeting with Bill Johnson a former head of Alliance Quebec at his Montreal office. I found him soft-spoken, articulate, cheerful and reasoned in his arguments. I could not understand how he got the moniker -Pit Bull-. Like Brent Tyler these two individuals have passionately defended anglophone rights in Quebec and their commitment to this cause has never been questioned. The internecine warfare at Alliance Quebec revolves around the question of which methods and strategies to use to achieve their aims. There may equally be nasty personality conflicts which can hamstring any organization.
    It would be nice if Alliance Quebec were self-supporting and did not have to answer to the Federal Government which has often been challenged in court by this organization and is in direct conflict of interest. Membership is not a true test of popular support. The Liberal Party both federally and provincially has relatively few members but has millions of votes cast for the party come election time. The Equality Party is more of an insurance policy in case the
    Provincial Liberal become hostile to anglophone interests in this province. In the meantime it lies dormant.
    It saddens me when Bernard Lord becomes premier of New Brunswick and no anglophone has aspired to become premier of Quebec in over one hundred years. At Montreal City Hall anglophones have been shut out of the top job for close to a century. The future head of Alliance Quebec should not accept having anglophones as second class citizens.

  • by Mathieu Romero - February 6, 2004, 2:52 pm

    As we all know, Quebec has so many immigrants from countries such India, China and Russia. English is the universal language and pratically all the ethnic groups speak it at work or at home. French becomes less ans less used because of the natality in Quebec. The average of children is 1,9 which is very low…therefore less quebecers who speak french and an increase of immigrants. One day, french will disappear slowly but surely.

  • by Alain Gauthier - February 7, 2004, 11:50 am

    Amazing how Alliance Quebec has lost of his influence and importance throughout the years. I was not even aware of the departure of the last president Brent Tyler before I read this article. He should write a book on how to reduce the membership (40 000 to 1500!) of this pressure group, although his predecessor (Bill Johnson) had started the job all right, and although, nowadays, such pressure groups don’t have such an importance. It is not surprising to realize only extremists fought for their leadership.

  • by CARLOS ROLDAN - February 11, 2004, 1:38 pm

    Non-profit organizations benefiting from government funding should take lessons from Alliance Quebec’s failure to implement conflict of interest guidelines on its recently departed president. After a costly audit of Alliance Quebec, the Ministry of Canadian Heritage apparently has, placing the organization under strict scrutiny and establishing funding criteria designed specifically to prevent such future abuse.

    Allegations of glaring conflict of interest nagged Tyler since his initial candidacy. To deflect such criticism, he turned to the Quebec Bar Association asking: “Can a lawyer legally represent an organization of which he is the President?” The answer was of course yes, but it qualified that all benefits must be disclosed and transparent; Canadian Heritage’s recent audit reveals the very opposite.

    In fact when AQ actually needed legal defense, Tyler chose not to represent the organization. The hiring of another lawyer (Walter Elmore) thus added to the financial burden of Tyler’s presidency on AQ. In a position to both influence decision-making and redirect AQ’s assets and resources, Tyler soon mutated the role of the organization so that the bulk of AQ’s activities became the promotion, servicing and subsidizing of his clients’ legal disboursements; a very different situation from that sanctioned by the Quebec Bar.

    Contrary to highly publicized representations to the media, Alliance Quebec is not a litigant in any of the English rights court cases with which it is vicariously associated, nor has it launched any court challenges over the issue of access to the English school system.

    AQ is today insolvent, devoid of active volunteerism and facing a multitude of serious legal and financial problems. Curiously, Tyler’s alleged reasons for resigning from AQ are the professional demands of a successful private practice. Take lesson.

  • by JH Belizaire - February 15, 2004, 4:18 pm

    I could be wrong, but I sense that Martin Patriquin tried really hard to make that Brent Tyler fellow look like a big, fat, loud idiot. Or maybe Patriquin didn’t try at all and Tyler is actually as moronic as he sounds, here. That said, other comments made by the journalist make me wonder if he isn’t as dumb as the ex-president of Alliance Quebec.
    Saying that the most maligned english-speaking special interest group in the province can make themselves viable, now that the last inefficient leader to reign over them has vamoosed out of there, simply by trying to build bridges with the french-speaking people that they’ve tried, for so long, to piss-off at any chance, it’s a little bit like expecting Tyra Banks to show up at your door steps, declaring her love for you… Yeah, that’s gonna happen REAL SOON.
    Alliance Quebec are right now pretty much hated, disliked or totally ignored by almost everyone in Quebec, french and english alike. Francophones look at them as pompous, right-leaning, rich douchebags from Westmount who simply have nothing better to do with their times, but to annoy us ’til we drop dead; Anglos see them as outdated parasites that don’t even speak of more important topics that have nothing to do with Bill 101 or anything like that, and that they must face everyday.
    I don’t need, then, to tell you that it’s gonna take a LOT MORE than a well-liked preacher like Rev. Darryl Grey as his new president or the question of whether or not can he have a conversion in french to make Alliance Quebec looks once again respectable. And I really don’t think that they have, right now, the necessary tools to start rebuilding themselves.

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