Richard Desjardins is a recognized icon of Quebec. One only has to see audience reaction to him when he’s on stage. His songs and poetry are about Quebec and the people who live here. They are humourous, to the point, invoke memories and patriotism and they make him one of the most beloved sons of French Quebec. He is the son of a forestry worker and from the Abitibi region.
All of this makes Desjardins a strong spokesperson for the boreal forest. Desjardins shocked people last year when he came out with a homemade documentary called L’Erreurre Boreale on the northern forests and what the forestry companies were doing to it. Desjardins says he was and still is shocked by the clear cutting practices and fears there won’t be any forests left for the children and others to enjoy. Forests that Desjardins says are magnificent.
Forests that brought Desjardins to Montreal’s Spectrum on Monday, June 19th to put on the first of two benefit shows for Action Boreale. Action Boreale is the brainchild of Desjardins, songwriter, poet turned forestry activist. Action Boreale is designed to pressure the government and the forestry companies to change the current clear-cut and gut practices. Desjardins said the money raised from the show would be used to open a small office dedicated to fighting current forestry practices in northern Quebec.
Desjardins has said he’s not alone in this fight, along with thousands of Québécois he points out that the fight is carried out also by the First Nations Peoples of Quebec.
Desjardins said publicly that he’s allied himself with the Crees in a desire to save the boreal forest. In one venue he said he could understand why Crees have been taking the fight down south. Desjardins said that with the removal of Judge Crouteau from the forestry case, anybody would a lack of confidence in the Quebec justice system. Pretty strong words from anyone but Desjardins is used to strong words.
His words during the show were to the point and humourous. Words that possibly only Desjardins could get away with. At one point he told of how beautiful the untouched forests were. He said that the old growth were virgin forest and with a twinkle in his eye said that in Quebec we had to protect virgins as there weren’t many left.
In the past Jacques Robitaille, president of the Association des Manufacturiers de Bois de Sciage du Quebec, said Desjardins is misleading and doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Perhaps Desjardins has heard what was said about him because at the benefit he was talking not only to the heart but also to the mind. He said that the governments own figures say that forestry companies are cutting 30 per cent more than the forest could produce. Desjardins was giving government and forestry company exact figures on what was being cut and where.
Desjardins distrusts those figures though. He wonders about the government’s schizophrenic role as protector and exploiter of the forests in Quebec. That is why Desjardins has said Quebec needs an independent public inquiry into forestry practices. “How can we really know what is going on without it,” said Desjardins. He doesn’t trust the government to make public input of the Quebec Forestry Act meaningful. “People in Quebec want this but the government doesn’t. It makes you ask why?”” said Desjardins.
But does Desjardins have a chance to do anything? Jacques Brassard, Minster of Natural Resources wrote to Desjardins saying his film may hurt Quebec like films on the seal hunt hurt the Magdelan Islands. Brassard said 200,000 jobs are at stake and that the government wasn’t going to stop the forestry industry but had a duty to support it.
The film has English sub-titles and is being used by Crees south of the border in the US to support the Cree fight against forestry. The combination of Desjardins and like-minded Quebecer’s and the Crees may very well prove too much for the government in the long run. Desjardins popularity as a respected songwriter-artist even runs to the international market.
One such inspired songwriter Roger Tabar came from France and asked for Canadian citizenship so he could be in the same province as Desjardins. “Richard Desjardins is the Greatest,” he said continuing with “he’s my master, master of the words, of the spirit, master of love. He’s my idol,”
I asked Tabar what he thought about Desjardins taking on the forestry issues in Quebec and he said, “Richard is a good way, an able ambassador of this cause.”
The Spectrum benefit show was packed. There weren’t enough seats for all the people who came. I guess this is what they call a sold-out show. A beginning that promises much. A second show was held in Rouyn Noranda on Wednesday June 21st.