QUEBEC – The media of English Canada are to blame for pathetic, unfair coverage of the Parti Quebecois’ controversial minorities plan, according to prominent Pequistes.
A former premier called the coverage pitiful. And a current cabinet minister took to Twitter to condemn it Tuesday.
The complaints about the Anglo fourth estate came amid a furor over an impending plan by the PQ government to restrict public employees’ right to wear religious clothing.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, ex-premier Bernard Landry said he can’t accept some of the complaints directed at the Quebecois.
“I take pity on some of Canada’s English newspapers,” Landry said.
“It’s infuriating but it’s so pathetic to go and say that Quebec is xenophobic and racist — when from the start of our national adventure we intermingled with Amerindians. The majority of us have Amerindian roots, one-quarter of us have Irish roots, we have had six premiers of Irish origin. What are these people talking about? Why are they so misinformed in the rest of Canada?…
“Do they think our culture minister was born on Ile d’Orleans? It’s (Cameroonian native) Maka Kotto. We (the PQ) elected the first black person in the Quebec national assembly. The Bloc Quebecois elected the first Latino to the Parliament of Canada. They should open their eyes.”
Landry made a prediction: that the rest of Canada will one day “deeply regret” having embraced the doctrine of multiculturalism.
He says it leads to a lack of integration that harms social cohesion and, pointing to Europe, he says that ultimately risks feeding right-wing extremist politics over time.
“Multiculturalism will lead to more and more problems, like in Great Britain. In Holland, in Germany, same thing. Angela Merkel came out against this doctrine a while ago. Immigrants themselves are the first victims of multiculturalism,” he said.
“In the U.S., you never see a police officer with a turban. There are things worth regulating and I hope it gets done (here).
“The rule is, when you change country, you change country. They can’t expect to find everything here that they had in their country of origin. Intergration is a powerful signal that they need to adjust to a new nation.
“And the majority of them do it wonderfully.”
In fact, following Landry’s remarks, people shared images and anecdotes on social media of U.S. law-enforcement officers wearing turbans.
There’s also some research that suggests Canada’s approach to integrating immigrants has worked comparably well.
The most recent international Migrant Integration Policy Index placed Canada at No. 3, behind Sweden and Portugal, by using 148 criteria to measure successful integration.
The PQ says it will put forward its Charter of Quebec Values within several weeks, and seek to get it through the legislature.
Critics have called the plan unconstitutional, or worse.
A leaked version of the proposal says the government would bar public employees from wearing religious clothing — such as turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes.
The plan may have enough support to be adopted in the legislature. The opposition Coalition Avenir Quebec says it would support parts of the plan, although it would apply the rules to far fewer public-sector workers.
The idea has majority public support in Quebec, according to polls, but it’s far from clear that such support would translate into more votes for the PQ.
Landry, 76, was briefly premier after he replaced the retiring Lucien Bouchard in 2001. He lost the 2003 provincial election.
A Jesuit-trained former lawyer, economist, civil servant, university professor and cabinet minister, Landry was best known in politics for a sharp tongue that once compared the Canadian flag to “bits of red rag.”
He wasn’t the only Pequiste to take a swipe at the Anglo-Canadian media on Tuesday.
The province’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, who is also the minister of “sovereigntist governance,” used Twitter to take a swipe at pieces in the Calgary Herald and National Post.
“Being called a xenophobe by the Calgary Herald,” he said, in remarks he repeated about the other newspaper. “Once again, a lack of perspective and understanding from the ROC.”
It’s not only Anglo pundits blasting the idea, though.
Although the editorial-writers in French have been less unanimous than their Anglo counterparts on the subject, numerous columns have denounced the PQ plan — a minority in the Journal de Montreal, but especially in Montreal La Presse.
One Tuesday in La Presse, by the newspaper’s chief editorial writer, called it an extreme measure that smacks of intolerance. He compared it to Maurice Duplessis’ persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a piece titled, “The Tyranny of the Majority.”
Another in the same newspaper called it a manufactured crisis by the PQ, and urged respect for minority rights.
A column in the same newspaper last week compared the PQ approach to McCarthyism and, using the crude eight-letter English term for bovine droppings, pointed out the government’s inconsistency in preaching state secularism while keeping the crucifix in the legislature.
A pair of representatives from minority organizations interviewed Tuesday expressed concern about the direction Quebec politics was headed.
And they weren’t blaming English media.
David Ouellette, spokesman for the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said things got tense in part thanks to sensational media coverage within Quebec a few years ago.
That news coverage created political pressure, amid which the then-Charest Liberal government created a commission to explore minority accommodations.
“Certain media milked it with very tempestuous and virulent declarations during the commission’s hearings, which created a climate of uncertainty for minorities in Quebec,” he said.
“Why is the government reviving this debate and unleashing dangerous passions?”
Mukhbir Singh, a spokesman for the World Sikh organization of Canada, says community members in Montreal are genuinely concerned about the PQ proposal and the direction the province is headed in. Especially because it comes on the heels of the short-lived Quebec turban ban in soccer.
“I think we’re seeing a progression here that’s worrying everyone,” the organization’s vice-president for Quebec and Atlantic Canada said in an interview.
Some federal politicians have also weighed in to blast the plan, including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.