When people run up to Howard Galganov on a Montreal street, he isn't sure whether they want his autograph - or to just spit on him.
That rarest of breeds in the largely French-speaking province, Mr. Galganov is a bilingual Quebecker who rallies for the rights of English speakers (Anglophones) and against secession from Canada. That makes him an "angry-phone" to moderates in both camps, who tag him a threat to cool compromise.
But to many in Quebec's English-speaking minority, Galganov is a folk hero who talks bluntly about the second-class citizenship they have felt for decades.
Whatever else he is, Galganov is unabashed, uncompromising, even zealous in his crusade to wreck the dream of an independent Quebec for the ruling separatist Parti Qubcois.
"We'll finish them off," Galganov says. Not a subtle message, but Galganov, an advertising executive, says now is not the time to be subtle.
Anglophone moderates say Galganov is making life more difficult by antagonizing the PQ. Indeed, civil servants were told on Thursday they can speak only French in meetings with Quebec-based companies and need permission to give speeches in other languages. These measures were aimed at curbing "rampant institutional bilingualism," said Language Minister Louise Beaudoin.
PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard has called for a truce among linguistic factions and says the next referendum on secession won't be held for at least two years - until the weak economy is rebuilt.
Last month, however, Mr. Bouchard's own party burned him in effigy to protest deep budget cuts, and the former premier, Jacques Parizeau, came out of retirement to attack Bouchard's policies. Bouchard was acclaimed head of the PQ early this year, replacing Mr. Parizeau.
Uncertainty over whether Quebec might eventually separate from Canada has undermined needed investment in the province. "People ... won't even pave their own driveway," Galganov says. "Bouchard and the separatists just don't get it. There is no economic salvation for Quebec without social peace.... And no future for the province of Quebec as long as we have to live with the threat of separation."
Political scientists say Galganov represents the "radicalization" of Montreal's Anglophone community since last year's referendum saw 49.6 percent of Quebeckers vote to secede. That vote deeply frightened the English community, even though the secession side lost.
Concerned by Bouchard's promise of another vote, Galganov has become the informal spokesman of Anglophones fed up with talk of compromise on the language issue and fear of confrontation with separatists over secession.
This summer, Galganov led a boycott against Montreal stores that posted only French signs in their stores - while spending millions on English radio and TV advertising. Signs with English translations were soon posted. Separatists were incensed; Anglophones elated.
But does Galganov's crusade matter on a larger level? Guy Laforest, a political scientist at Laval University, says, "Because of him and others, people are openly talking about the partition of Quebec. It's a serious matter.... this kind of radicalization has ... rendered the dialogue and compromise between the Francophone majority and the Anglo minority much more difficult."
Michael Hamelin, president of the English-rights group Alliance Quebec thinks it's time to look beyond the "angry" approach. "We've been very successful making noise in the past year, but we haven't figured out how we're going to keep Quebec and Canada together. We haven't yet convinced that soft center of the electorate," he says.
It's precisely those "soft nationalists" (which make up one-third of Quebec's electorate) that Galganov is targeting. He wants to remind them how prosperous Montreal was before separatism "hung the sword of Damocles" over Quebec.
To do this he plans what any ad man would: a 13-week ad campaign - to begin just after Christmas - focusing on the "good old days." And this Friday - the same day as the PQ party meeting - Galganov plans to open a new store, one that will give equal play to both French and English signs - a violation of language regulations that require smaller lettering for English words. This, he hopes, will cause a furor at the party meeting.
Galganov thinks Bouchard, who opposes tighter language laws, will either have to toe a hard line, or undermine himself in the eyes of party radicals who have a history of ejecting even popular PQ premiers. While he says he wins either way, others disagree.
"There will be a debate, but not in the sense that Galganov would wish," says Yves Martin, associate deputy minister for language policy. "The radical part of the party might manifest itself more strongly because of Galganov's actions - but it won't hurt Mr. Bouchard or serve the purpose of bringing fewer people to vote 'yes' in the next referendum."