Quebec's sad return to identity politics -

Quebec’s sad return to identity politics

The Parti Québécois scapegoats immigrants for electoral gain


In 2007, Quebec had a provincial election. It didn’t go well.

The result was what it was: a minority government, an inherently unstable beast that necessitated a repeat of the exercise less than two years later. Democracy, clumsy as it is, can also be expensive and inconvenient. Schmidt happens, I guess.

No, the 2007 campaign was bad because of the substance of the campaign. You might recall such things as Hérouxville, frosted windows at the YMCA, face coverings on the faces of Islamic women, and the proper size, shape and type of religious garnish one may or may not be wearing around one’s neck.

To be sure, the debate over “reasonable accommodations,” the rather polite moniker given to the mess, was happening in one form or another across the country as it was in much of the western world. But for one specific reason—the usurping of the reasonable accommodations debate by politicians for wholly electoral ends—the collective fit of pique was both louder and longer than in anywhere else in Canada. It was crass and cynical when it happened in 2007. And it’s starting again in earnest in 2013.

Herouxville, you may recall, is the charming town about 200 km northeast of Montreal that in 2007 forbade the stoning, burning and genital mutilation of women. Nothing of the sort came close to happening in Herouxville, of course, which doesn’t really matter. The idea, according to the geniuses on the Herouxville town council that devised this so-called “code of conduct for immigrants” was that it could happen—and, by inference, would happen if “immigrants” (that marvelously reductionist term) were to penetrate Hérouxville city limits in any sufficient number.

Why, just look at Montreal. They may not yet be burning or stoning women, or even mutilating their genitals—but look! Immigrants (Hassidic Jews) are asking for frosted windows! Immigrants (Islamic Arabs, mostly) are wearing face coverings! They (Jews) are serving kosher food in “their” hospital! One day they’re asking for frosted windows to frustrate the eyes of their pubescent offspring; next, they’ll be asking for genital mutilation permits from city hall. To think otherwise, so the Hérouxville reasoning goes, is not to see the giant slippery slope dangling off the island of Montreal and sluicing its cosmopolitan filth into the rest of the province.

Absurd? Alarmist? Reactionary? Yup. And it worked like hell. The rightist Action démocratique du Québec flogged the reasonable accommodations horse. “Multiple incidents in which public institutions decided to put aside our own common values to satisfy the demands of certain communities has created a debate within Quebec society,” wrote Mario Dumont, then leader of the ADQ. Dumont goes on to blame Quebecers’ “old persistent reflex” of folding in the face of confrontation.

It’s classic straw man: inflate the significance of a few isolated incidents; lay on the self-flagellation; then promise to restore, as Dumont did, the “common values and affirm out collective personality.” Roughly two months later, Dumont and the ADQ had a huge electoral victory, winning 41 seats, 30 per cent of the popular vote and punting the Parti Québécois into third place by becoming Quebec’s Official Opposition.

Short story: the ADQ crapped out, more a victim of its own ineptitude than anything else. Meanwhile, a lengthy series of province-wide hearings on “reasonable accommodations” beat the subject nearly to death. We haven’t heard much on the topic since. Until last week.

On May 22, the governing Parti Québécois released a poll it commissioned on the subject of “religious accommodations” (note the not-very-subtle change) that effectively said what everyone already knows: Quebecers, like many westerners, aren’t altogether comfortable with the idea. Naturally, the PQ had a solution, released at the same time as the poll results: a charter of Quebec values. “The time has come for us to rally around our common values,” said “democratic institutions and citizen participation” minister Bernard Drainville.

Drainville, a journalist by trade, knows a news hook when he sees one; just as the poll came out, he seized on how, in the Montreal borough of Côte-Des-Neiges-NDG, observant Jews were allowed to disregard parking restrictions during the holiday of Shavuot.

“You cannot start having parking rules that are different according to your religion. There will be no end to it,” Drainville told journalists, before uttering one of the most absurd phrases I’ve ever heard: “How can we live together in the same society, if we start having different parking regulations according to different religions?”

Never mind that the borough in question has eased parking restrictions for 30 years without any fuss at all, or that they begin and end with the two-day Shavuot celebration within the boundaries of CDN-NDG. For the PQ, it’s  just another slippery slope, mere steps away from genital mutilation and the like.

And here’s the nastiest part of the whole thing: it’s politically motivated. The Parti Québécois is starved for support, even amongst its faithful. Bill 14, the party’s much-ballyhooed attempt to raise Quebecers’ collective angst surrounding the French language, was a flop. Sadly for the PQ, Francophones aren’t nearly as anxious about the future of French as they were, say, 20 years ago. So, the party has simply changed scapegoats. As (noted sovereignist) columnist Josée Legault wrote recently:

By treading on the “values” territory knowing the subject won’t likely go away, this “call” launched to the “population” will in all likelihood be the theme of the next election campaign. The PQ hopes that between now and then, the question of “values” could help win precious votes, which it will sorely need if the polls remain as bad as they are now.

The last thing Quebec needs is a throwback to 2007. But in all likelihood that is exactly what it’s going to get.

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Quebec’s sad return to identity politics

  1. Throwback to 2007? How about 1957? The strategy of rallying the vote through attacking a scapegoat seems reminiscent of Maurice Duplessis. For him, unions and Communists fitted the bill.

  2. Everybody’s doing this. The Hungarians, the English, Burmese Buddhists fergoodnessakes….

    We always have a hard time switching over from our small tribes to a larger tribe……and this time we’re going global so there are going to be rough patches.

  3. Then we shall show them that Montreal also has its values, its identity and its unique culture and that we are tired of getting suffocated. By rule of democracy it shall have the right to determine our identity.

    Vive Montréal Bilingue!

  4. Genital mutilation is widespread in Quebec. Ask any Muslim or Jewish man if he has a foreskin on his penis.

    • Ask pretty much any Canadian-born male born in the early 60s…

      • Or the 40s

        • And probably in between but I tended to only share changerooms with people my own age so my first-hand knowledge s a bit limited ;-)

          • LOL I don’t know when it originally became a common thing in Canada……but all my male relatives and peers born in the 40s had this done.

            It was refused for my own children and grandchildren.

          • My father was born in the 20’s. He is not circumcised. It was common during war years because genital infections were common due to difficulties with adequate facilities available to keep soldiers clean on the front. It continued on for those reasons….physicians did circumcision as a regular practice to avoid infection. For the last 35 years, that has no longer been the practice. For the last 20 or so years, if a parent wanted their male child circumcised, they have had to find a physician who will do it and pay up front themselves. Jewish babies are of course done by their religious leaders. Female circumcision is against the law in Canada.

          • LOL I doubt they were circumcising adult males for or at the front.

            Boys are still having it done….right after birth.

            Europeans don’t do it, and that’s where my family is from.

          • I am sorry if I was unclear in my explanation…what I should have clarified was that physicians recommended the circumcision of male babies after drawing the conclusion that a circumcised penis was much less likely to be become infected during unhygienic conditions (as witnessed during wartime). No, of course they weren’t going off circumcising random men but they were treating men for penile infections and they had to circumcise quite a few at that time They used that experience to draw their conclusions and shape their practice. They decided that the procedure was less painful at birth and it became a justifiable preventative surgical intervention UNTIL someone questioned the need for it when it was apparent that adequate hygiene was available and education regarding hygiene would make the painful procedure unnecessary. If you read your favorite source, Wikipedia, you would see that currently the rates for circumcision are very high in Africa. This is related to efforts to stop HIV infection.
            As for Canada, we are declining in our rates of circumcision. Our latest records from 2006-2007 show a rate of 30%. The rates differ greatly depending on the province you live in. In Newfoundland the rate is almost zero while in redneck Alberta, the rate is 44%. Apparently men in Alberta want their sons to look like they do when they drop their pants.
            As for your belief that circumcision did not occur in Europe. It actually was a common practice among the higher classes in the 18th and 19th century but is rarely practiced there now.

          • I have read Wikipedia before and I did read the whole article this time too. I also read other source articles regarding circumcision….enough to know that developing countries’ rates are rising (related to HIV) and Canada’s rates are declining.

    • Equating male and female circumcision is ridiculous. Female genital mutilation involves the removal of the clitoris, vastly reducing the possibility of pleasurable sexual relations on top of numerous health complications.

      Male circumcision has no such negative effects, and reduces the risk of certain ailments (e.g. urinary tract infection, std’s). Men circumcized later in life (e.g. for conditions like phimosis) do not experience loss of sensation, and usually recover from the operation shortly.

      • While I would NEVER compare female genital mutilation with male circumcision, I believe that circumcising male babies is like removing all breast tissue at birth because some people (girls and boys) are going to get breast cancer at some point in their lives. Given that girls with the shorter urethra, are much more susceptible to urinary tract infections, that is kind of a silly argument. Also, given the pain involved (I have watched one and seen the raw and nasty mess after) and the upset to the new mother (it was the father insisting on the surgery), I cannot imagine any really good reason to get it done unless you have a really strong religious conviction.

        If a child or a grown man requires a circumcision, they are provided no only with anaesthetic drugs but also a nerve block and analgesics after the fact. The newborn baby gets bupkis. It really is cruelty for no appreciable benefit.

  5. I wonder how many parking tickets are issued during Christmas and Easter.

  6. The NDP decided to remove all mention of socialism from their charter. The BQ and PLQ have always had strong traditions of socialism in their party planks.Quebec now turns to the PQ, and you think it’s just because of the nationalist rhetoric?

    It’s not. It’s because Quebec voters are democratic socialist. They want to vote for democratic socialism. And if the NDP refuses to give them democratic socialism, they will turn to someone who will.

    In economics and in politics, he who follows a trend gets burned. People don’t like voting for wannabe Liberals. If they want to vote for liberals, they will vote for the real deal, the Liberal Party. What you have to do to remain competitive is to give people an alternative to both conservatism and liberalism. People need and want a third option. By imitating on of the two other options, you will at best become absorbed into that party, and at worst vanish for the political stage altogether.

    The Orange Crush happened because of Quebec. You will never reach that level of strength again unless you give the voters of Quebec what they want. and Quebec wants democratic socialism.

    NDP, return to your roots.

    • I disagree. Quebecers did not “turn from the NDP toward the PQ,” unless you consider getting 31.9% of the total vote, and only 0.7% more votes than the Liberal party, as some sort of definitive moment when Quebecers overwhelmingly returned to socialist values.

      Granted, some voters vote along the federalist/sovereignist lines, and will vote Liberal despite their personal socialist views. This certainly muddies the waters a bit. But consider how many voters chose the CAQ and PLQ (almost 60%). Consider how staunchly conservative our 2nd-largest city (Quebec City) is, and has always been. Consider how many ridings in the Montreal and Gatineau areas (where a large portion of Quebec’s population live) have always gone Liberal. Consider how the PQ is languishing in the polls, and the more socialist parties (most notably Quebec Solidaire, which has 2 elected MNAs) aren’t really getting much more traction in the polls than a year ago.
      This doesn’t all add up to “Quebecers want a more socialist government.” Not by a long shot. The fact that the PQ is “imitating” the more conservative and liberalist parties just goes to show that they’re not that stupid, as they realize people don’t want such an option.

    • @disqus_Iyy4ILhgCQ:disqus
      I’m hopelessly confused by your conflation of provincial and federal parties.

      Quebecers have a history of collectively throwing the bums out, and they’ve been dreadfully tired of the sovereignist rhetoric for many years now.

      The PQ were tossed out in 2007 and we have the ADQ a chance at opposition — only to see them fall on their face.
      We just tossed out the provincial Liberals because of some individual MNAs accused of corruption. The PQ won power but only as a minority, and only because we’ve got a new third party in town.

  7. Minor point: In your reference to Josée Legault’s column, you left out the word “broader,” as in “the broader territory of values,” and not merely the “values territory.” This word makes a world of difference. Consider that Herouxville was originally an attack on immigrants (or perhaps a thinly-disguised and unofficial attack on foreign religions). The discussion later officially changed to “religious accommodations.” And now we’re back to a broader (and more vague) discussion on Quebec “values.”
    Josée Legault’s point (one of them, anyway), is that the discussion is becoming increasingly ambiguous and vague, mixing laity, neutrality of the state, history, culture, identity, etc all into one broad discussion. Of course (as mentioned), this is totally politically motivated, and the PQ is trying to cast a wider net to get Quebecers riled up enough to vote for them in the next election.

  8. Once more,
    let have a session of Quebec bashing! A Canadian tradition since 1763. Once
    again the Anglo, have found a “Québécois de service” with Martin Patriquin to
    do it. We just need to look across the Atlantic and ask the English and the
    French, what they thing about it? They are themselves more than fed-up about
    that kind of immigration and the problems that it bring. The English have the English
    defense league. The French have the Front National. Let not forget many others European
    nation do have immigration challenge too. So the situation here is not unique
    to Quebec, but it reflects preoccupation that all nations face currently.

    • Macleans is a Canadian Magazine. We are concerned with what is happening in Canada. If one of the provinces in Canada is following the same practices as countries “across the Atlantic”, then that is news we Canadians want to know about. Martin Patriquin is right to be concerned about bigotry in his own province. I live in Alberta and when I see it there, it certainly concerns me.

    • He’s critical of PQ tactics, not the province as a whole.

      Seriously, every time someone like yourself screams ‘Quebec-bashing’ whenever anyone who is not a Quebecois de souche writing in French says something mildly critical of anything taking place in this province, it just makes you look impotent.

      If Richard Martineau had written this column (not that he ever would, but you know what I mean) you would never dare criticize it.

      • Martineau, is a SOB! He the type of guy able to wright that kind of c*** too. You could be sure, I would denounced him. And about the ‘Quebec-bashing’, don’t denied it, it is indeed ROC first national sport.