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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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