Charter of values: Old dogs, nous tricks -

Charter of values: Old dogs, nous tricks

Paul Wells on why it’s make-or-break for the entire sovereignty movement


Andy Clark / Reuters

“Hé, si vous voulez, là, on va cesser de parler des francophones du Quebec, voulez-vous?” Jacques Parizeau told the crowd at the Montreal convention centre on the night of the 1995 referendum. Hey, if you want, let’s stop talking about Quebec francophones. “On va parler de nous. À 60 per cent, on a voté pour!” Let’s talk about us. And 60 per cent of us voted in favour of sovereignty.

Later in the speech, Quebec’s premier made his remark about “money and ethnic votes,” much more widely remembered today. Parizeau announced his retirement from politics the next day. But it’s that nous—us—that’s worth examining now.

Defining “us” is tricky, or at least it becomes tricky whenever you define it to mean “some of the people I know, but not others.” Senior members of the Parti Québécois viewed Parizeau’s speech, at least officially, at least later, as a transgression against polite discourse. His speechwriter at the time, Jean-François Lisée, made haste to say he didn’t write this one. “I said, ‘You bet it’s too harsh,’ ” Lisée told the CBC later.

But history has a sense of humour, so 12 years after Parizeau’s speech, Lisée published a book entitled, simply, Nous. The book advocates a fundamental shift in strategy for Quebec’s sovereignty movement. A year ago Lisée became a senior minister in Pauline Marois’s PQ government. The uproar over Marois’s proposed “Charter of Quebec Values” is the fruit of that strategy.

“We must make a simple realization,” Lisée wrote six years ago. “The majority nous is at the centre, at the heart of the nation, and this situation gives it rights and duties.” Denying this realization would lead to “the equality of languages” and “the equality of histories.” It would lead “either to removing the cross from Mont Royal or to adding a Star of David and an illuminated crescent, rotated annually so none is in the middle for long, with space left over for future demands.”

Elsewhere in the book, Lisée takes pains to condemn Parizeau’s speech. But for kicks, imagine if Parizeau had read aloud from the paragraph I just quoted on that night in 1995. Ho ho ho, we can’t take down the cross! Ho ho ho, we can’t put up a Star of David! Think that’d have gone over any better?

“There predominates in Quebec a group that has defined and continued to define the historical, cultural, linguistic and economic space,” Lisée wrote, continuing to channel his old boss. “It predominates by the force of numbers, vitality and the will to endure. This is what, until recently, we were not supposed to say.” Instead, Péquistes used to speak only about a “civic nation” bound by laws and territory. “André Boisclair knew no other.”

That last sentence is designed to bring any debate among Péquistes to a resounding close. Boisclair is a gay, Harvard-educated Montrealer who led the PQ in 2007 to its worst defeat in 37 years, largely because a third party mowed the PQ’s lawn by appealing to some francophones’ mistrust of ethnic minorities. Marois replaced Boisclair as PQ leader four months later. Lisée published his pamphlet four months after that. The rest is current events.

When Bernard Drainville, another minister in today’s post-cosmopolitain PQ government, released the text of his proposed Charter of Values—complete with handy wall charts showing the articles of clothing (Veil! Kippah!) that will heretofore be banished from public servants’ bodies while at work—he had the handy effect of smoking out two federal party leaders who have been equivocal until now. The Liberal, Justin Trudeau, has opposed the charter since the PQ started putting up trial balloons nearly a month ago. The New Democrat, Thomas Mulcair, has most of his seats in Quebec, and had resisted comment until now. So, mostly, had the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, although he did tip his hand when asked about the PQ plan in Toronto: “Our job is making all groups who come to this country, whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, feel home in this country and be Canadians. That’s our job.”

On Tuesday the trial balloons became official government policy. The NDP and Conservatives came out unequivocally against the PQ. Speaking for the government, Jason Kenney suggested a possible federal court challenge.

This, too, happens to be one of the tactical tricks Jean-François Lisée cooked up during the long years before he entered electoral politics. In his 2000 book Sorti de secours, Lisée suggested the PQ cook up some scheme that would be rejected by the rest of the country, so Quebecers would feel insulted and want to secede.

Such a plan would depend for its success on a clear distinction between Quebec public opinion and the actions of national parties. So far it’s not going well for the PQ. Mulcair and Trudeau are Quebecers whose parties hold 66 of the province’s 75 seats. The Bloc Québécois did not hurry to embrace Marois’s scheme. Every Montreal mayoral candidate opposes it, as does the Quebec Federation of Women.

The inspiration for the PQ’s decision to retrench is purely electoralist. It is a reaction to 30 years of failed efforts to make the sovereignty movement every Quebecer’s fight. Forced generosity having failed the PQ, the party is falling back on cynicism and pettiness. It’s make-or-break for the entire sovereignty movement, and I’m pretty sure Marois, Lisée and Drainville just broke it.

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at


Charter of values: Old dogs, nous tricks

  1. Monckton, Winslow, Murray had no problem recognizing what an Acadien looked like. Why is it so difficult to recognize what a Canadien looks like now?

    How does the Canadian parliament itself define the Québécois nation? With the accents in the English text? Surely, for this government and for parliament to pass such a motion they must have had some notion in mind of the identity attached to the nation whose existence they recognized. One of their best description was, the Québécois people know who they are. It seems nobody else is sure. You should ask Mr. Harper the next time you interview him. After all he did come up with this motion and whipped the vote on it too.

    • Harper didn’t come up with motion. Ignatieff came home to Canada and was snookered by the nationalistes into pushing for recognition of the Quebecois nation. So Harper had to diffuse the situation as Ignatieff’s blunder spiralling beyond the Liberal Party.

      The nation motion in Parliament only recognizes what is already established in the law and common law. Official bilingualism. Linguistic minority education rights across the country. 3 Supreme Court justices from Quebec. A guaranteed minimum representation in Parliament. And a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution already with respect for Quebec’s distinctness and specificity. And the notwithstanding clause, which enables a “dialogue” between the Supreme Court and the Quebec National Assembly, where they are allowed to agree to disagree.

      • Why did Harper have to do something that was valueless and potentially very bad for Canada?
        Apparently political gain, to defeat an opponent he was already winning against.
        You have made a much stronger case against him than most of the Harper haters could ever come up with.

        • Harper appended “within a united Canada” to the Bloc motion which effectively meant the motion became essentially a restatement of the status quo.

          Ignatieff was an imported narcissistic sycophantic fool.

      • What do you mean, Harper didn’t come up with the motion? It was Harper himself who tabled the motion in the HoC on November 22, 2006, and who whipped the vote on it. You read a lot in these words: That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
        It was political posturing, on Harper’s part, on Ignatieff’s and Duceppe and Layton too. Same goes for Marois who doesn’t need the vote of the National Assembly on a Charter of Quebec Values to impose a dress code to public servants. This is all about politics and winning votes. Marois is a more competent political operative than Harper, which says a lot, and their maneuvers are identical, as Vincent Marissal noted in La Presse yesterday.

        • Marois is a more competent political operative…er…yet could not beat Bouclair in the leadership race, nor get a majority against a scandal ridden Charest.

          Marios is a Quebecois 1%’er.

          Harper’s policy has been to ignore Quebec and to try to diffuse any Quebec issue that arises because of the stupidity of the Liberals, the NDP, or the Bloc. Support for sovereignty is at its lowest level in decades. i.e. Let the sovereignistes did their own grave. Yes. He is a lousy political operative.

          • Boisclair, not Bouclair, you decorating diva! But you have every right to admire Harper for defeating Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach in the CPC leadership race. .

      • Aside from other craziness in your post, the dialogue theory isn’t dependent on the notwithstanding clause

        You’re reading way too much into the single sentence that makes up that motion. Are you sure you aren’t confusing it with an earlier attempted amendment to the Canadian Constitution known as “teh Meech Lake Accord”?

      • Apparently all of Harper’s action over the last 7 years can not be attributed to him, and are purely in reaction to incompetence on the party of the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff.
        Wow, for a guy that was never elected to anything, Ignatieff sure has had a great deal of influenced on Canadia, oops sorry, Harper Government policy.

  2. Excellent post PW. They say a wounded animal is more dangerous than a healthy one, and so with the PQ with less tyhan 33% popular support they desperately need to find an issue that they can control. The PQ brain trust has come up with a bad solution to a non existant problem.

    I agree its a roll of the dice for the PQ, they have no more tricks left in their bag and if this one goes south they risk disappearing. Remember when Parizeau admitted to diplomats that all he needed was one more ”Brockville incident” ( angry Ontarians stomping on the Quebec flag) and he would have his majority for sovereignty.

    • The important distinction is, in the Brockville incident, it was the non-Quebecers who were being the bigots. This time, it’s the Quebecers (and, more specifically, their government, governing party and supporters) who are being the bigots. And being held out to contempt and ridicule across the country and around the world, similar to the Brockville idiots.

      • You may have missed my point, The PQ would like nothing more than to provoke another Brockville type incident to further their attempts to divide people into us vs them.

    • Sadly, when this issue is long forgotten and the effort defeated, buried and ridiculed, there will remain a staunch minority of Separatistes who will connive to bring this cause to the front.

  3. One of your better efforts. Hadn’t looked at from that point of view, but the way you’ve laid it out makes perfect sense. Nice job connecting the dots.

    And whoever came up with “old dog, nous tricks”…take a bow.

  4. Excellent article Paul, thank you.

    I can only hope and pray you are right about this, i.e. your final sentence, because as far as I’m concerned there can be no Canada without Quebec, and the idea that this sort of bigotry would be acceptable to the majority of Quebecers is just chilling.

    It’s not that there isn’t some inkling of merit here, but it could have been dealt with using a dresscode. I think we can all agree that public employees should have to show their face when dealing with the public for example, but that’s not because of, or despite religion, but a straightforward sensible position based on human interaction. In terms of scarves or towels or hats or jewelry though, the charter’s banning of these things is an obviously over-reaching move that stomps on our basic human rights.

    That they decided to put forth a CHARTER (instead of a simple dresscode) is clearly intentional and meant to be very wide-reaching. It would impact hiring everywhere–not just in the public service–and the PQ even admits as much! This is meant to redefine Quebec society in a way that intentionally juxtaposes it against traditional Canadian values–as you’ve noted.

    I do hope you’re right about its impending failure, and that Quebecers finally trash this divisive, xenophobic party of radicals. Our Quebec family has bigger more important things to do with its time.

    • Phil, this was never about “public employees [showing] their faces when dealing with the public” because as you might recall even citizens in Quebec cannot enter public buildings with their faces covered. A few years ago a woman who refused to remove her niqab was ejected from evening school classes in the province. No, Phil, this is about a refusal to make accommodation for the deep seeded beliefs of the people who we invited to make their homes in our country and provinces, promising them freedoms they didn’t have where they came from. In England where they have rules that all healthcare workers on med/surg units must wear short sleeves, they have made accommodations for Muslim woman who are very uncomfortable with showing their skin. They have allowed them to wear long sleeves AS LONG as they push them up to elbow and scrub properly using aseptic practices prior to caring for patients. What I find particularly ridiculous is the belief that people not wearing religions garb won’t try to preach their religion. Hasn’t Ms. Marois heard of Tom Cruise?

  5. The main problem with the theory of “la sortie de secours” is what happens if a large number of Canadians are in agreement with the needs to regulate in this area. Canadian political elite and establishment (including JF Lisée) would then have to start spinning stories other than Qc/PQ bashing. Imagine…

    • Tyranny of the majority–look it up.
      Might is not right.

  6. By far the best piece written about this outside of Quebec, Paul. We need more of is this kind of non-hyperventilating *political* analysis. Yet again you demonstrate that you’re one of a very small number of non-QC-based analysts who is qualified to discuss QC politics.

    • Did not quite read it this way. Remember Bush needed a Bin Laden. Everything falls apart at both ends otherwise, e.g. advertisers, readers, public relation agencies, special interest groups, political parties, organized religions, unions, etc.. Nature hates vacuum. Old dogs, old tricks in my books. Food for thoughts.

  7. Don’t assume that this kind of bigotry is limited to Quebec. We may be 25 years removed from the RCMP Turban kerfuffle, but once you get outside of the major cities you start seeing attitudes much like those espoused and exploited by the PQ.

    The difference? There’s so polite cover of ‘distinct society’ to use as a convenient excuse for it to be exploited by politicians. The ROC is a nation of mutts that knows it’s made up of many parts mashed together. Some of us don’t like that, they’re the same folks that had protestant marching parades in Orangeville until the 1970’s. People have forgotten about that. That’s a good thing.

    Quebec has to come to grips with its own self-delusions before it can reach a moral consensus on identity. It’s biggest problem is right on the licence plate: “Je Me Souviens”. The best way for Quebec to accept the future is to be a little more forgetful about the past.

    • Ironically, the most widely accepted etymology for “Je Me Souviens” is actually quite “multicultural” in intent. The focus is always on “I remember” but people too often ignore the next lines of Taché’s poem.

      It’s “I remember / That born under the lily / I grow under the rose”.

  8. .” Denying this realization would lead to “the equality of languages”
    and “the equality of histories.” It would lead “either to removing the
    cross from Mont Royal or to adding a Star of David and an illuminated
    crescent, rotated annually so none is in the middle for long, with space
    left over for future demands.”

    Wow Lisee is really still beating that same old ethnocentric drum!Just with a smile instead of the more familiar Parizeau scowl. I wonder how the James’s Bay Cree would feel about some of those sentiments? Lisee might do well to remember what’s sauce for the gander is also good for the goose.
    Hopefully Paul isn’t the only one who’s read Lisee’s stuff. Someone in the pmo/pco should maybe take some time off from the full time campaign and hit the books…maybe the PM has time now that THE book is done? Perhaps Martel can send him over a copy or two?

    • My reaction on reading those lines was that Lisee is Quebec’s Mark Steyn.

      • My reax on reading those lines was that Lisee is Quebec’s Heinrich Himmler.

  9. How is this significantly different than Justin saying that he would take his cards and go home and become a separatist if Harper kept on winning? Justin’s Canada doesn’t include all the Canadians who disagree with him.

    Contrast that to Manning and Harper who rejected Western isolation and separation, and created the Reform Party dedicated to the notion that “the West wants in”.

    But if the West gets too far in, Justin wants out.

  10. Good post and analysis, Paul. The PQ thinks it’s found itself a wedge issue, and these days, professional political types get a big political woody when they think they’ve found an effective wedge issue. Look how clever we are!
    One of the big problems I see with this policy is that it again puts Quebec on the losing side of history, with their ethnocentrism and inability to get with the modern program. The world is headed in the opposite direction from this. The most radical version of this sort of ethnocentric, traditionalist myopia is in traditionalist societies such as in the Middle East and India, where traditional cultural practices are keeping women from getting and education and participating meaningfully in the work force, and as a result, these countries’ economies are grossly underperforming compared to OECD countries where women participate in a huge way in the workforce (and, as we know, now outnumber and outperform men in university and so on).
    Similarly with immigration — within the G7 and the OECD and particularly within North America, if you are going to make yourself a place that’s hostile to multiculturalism and immigrants (even if it’s just the perception of it), you are going to ultimately lose in terms of prosperity, innovation and growth. Look at the role that immigrants play in the vitality of California’s silicon valley, to take just one example. This is yet another example of Quebec nationalism taking Quebecers backwards rather than forwards — and in that case, those people who observe that the PQ has effectively supplanted the old Catholic Church as the standard-bearer for a benighted, provincialist outlook are bang on.

  11. Having spent the last 3 days in Montreal, I found quite refreshing the chorus of francophone opposition to this absurd charter. One in particular (Jean Lapierre?) went as far as saying when he saw the poster he thought the only thing missing was the gothic lettering (!)

  12. What you write may be true, but it’s still repugnant that this electoral strategy ever came to exist.

    And if one of us were one of the targeted professionals in Quebec, such as a Sikh doctor or daycare worker, we would be feeling very uncomfortable these days.

    Here’s my take:
    If you believe it’s ok to be telling people what language they can
    use at work, what writing they can put on signs, and in what language
    their kids can learn in at school…

    …then it’s not much of a stretch to think you can tell people what they can wear.

    It’s very simple. It’s all about power, and it’s been seen throughout human history. We are not seeing a desparate last make-or-break. What we are seeing are their true colours.

    • Reminds me of what a wise old person (and a survivor of WWII ethnic cleansing) once told me: “Whenever somebody shows you what they’re really like . . . believe it.”

      • Very wise.

  13. The self absurdity of plotting legislation (a charter no less) against religious symbolism when your largest city has a whopping great cross on it’s namesake mountain is surely not lost on most Quebeckers.

    For those who’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Montreal:

    • “. . .is surely not lost on most Quebeckers.”
      I’m not so sure about that. Based on early polling, apparently the absurdity IS lost on most Quebeckers.

  14. Nice piece!

  15. Lisée is still not as intolerant and far-right as Mark Steyn, whose venemously Islamophobic your magazine published for years, right alongside your stuff, Paul Wells.

    • Mark Steyn is a private citizen and journalist/commentator paid by Macleans to help sell magazines (who, as an aside, no longer has his articles published in Macleans). Lisée is a high-ranking member of Quebec’s current government who has enormous influence on political decision that affect millions of people. You do see the difference, right?

  16. This article sets a benchmark for thoughtful, well-researched journalism; it should be translated into French and made available to Quebecois, perhaps via La Presse.

    It makes an analysis that PQ progagandists want suppressed (witness the post below).

    RDI (French-language CBC) has just confirmed, unintentionally, Well’s assertions. But it did so backhandedly, by trying to deny it.

    On Sept. 13, RDI invited Guy Rocher, a Quebec sociologist to be interviewed re: the Charter. Rocher, a long-time supporter of sovereignty, tried to refute Maria Marouni’s charge, that Quebec sovereignty was turning into ethnic nationalism. He repeated the canard, that the PQ wants a ‘secular and non-ethnic’ nation, so it appears that the PQ is aware of how discrediting this turn can be and deploying teams of ideologues to deny it.

    • The only reason anglophones are shocked by this is that they don’t pay attention to the francophone conversation – “two solitudes” – two parallel conversations, still. Lisée “Nous” book came out a while ago, nobody in anglo Quebec paid attention.
      If anglos want to change the conversation, they have to participate in it.

      A qui la faute?

  17. It is funny that the Article show Parizeau because I am not sure if parizeau is for the chart of value – we dont know at this point – I know for sure that his wife, Lizette Lapointe is against it. Lapointe is a former PQ MP and was then in the Option National Party since 2011.
    Let me try to explain to the best of my knowledge what is the situation in Quebec regarding that chart of value.

    After the Maria Mourani affair (Federal Bloc Quebecois) Lapointe (Parizeau`s wife)supported Mourani who opposed the chart of value. Mara Mourani is a lebaneze who did not agree about the restricion regarding religious symbols for public servants. She was the only deputy in montreal for the bloc Quebecois, and a lebaneze and a women. She is a strong symbol of immigrants who support the Quebec soverainty movement.
    When Paillé leader of the Block Quebecois decided to exclude her from the caucus she did quit. Bad thing for soverainist because she represents women and immigrants in Montreal that support Quebec soverainty. The charts of value would mainly affect mainly muslim womens. I think Paillé shoot himself in the foot because now the soverainist are all divided.

    The main reason PQ is a minority government is that the vote was divided into 3 political parties: Option Nationale, Quebec Solidaire and PQ. But now they are all divided regarding the chart of value, depending the support they have from immigrants.
    for exemple Quebec solidaire (a left party similar to a NDP at the provintial level) have strong support from immigrants and they oppose the chart. The co leaders of QS is Amir Khadir and Francoise David. Khadir is from Iran.

    For the PQ, Mainly the support for the chart comes from outside Montreal. A big proportion of Montrealers oppose the chart. Mainly people not living with Immigrants outside Montreal support the Quebec chart of value. People living with immigrants in Montreal oppose to it. Lately we have seen School teacher, all candidate for mayers have express their opposition people that could have support PQ on the last election.
    Mainly the chart concern 5 points, 1 – modify the Quebec Chart of rights, 2 – affirm the neutrality of the state, 3 – Put estriction on the religious symbols for public servants, 4 -Tell when you must not hide your face when you receiving a public service (ex when you vote), 5 – rule the public organism. For exemple Employees reques to have holidays in concordance with their religious beliefs . But if the state is neutral then why would you allow a christmas holiday and not a muslim or jewish holiday. The chart try to clarify those situations. I dont know were exactly in the chart but it state somewhere that Egality of sex would be prioritized over Religious rights. So the chart might be unconstitutional because you cannot prioritize one fondamental rights over another since it is fondamental.
    Regarding the restriction to wear a veil in schools, the argument is that if I am a catholic for exemple I dont want to have a Muslim teacher weiring a veil teach my catholic kid. They are in position of authority. But in my oppinion it is very risky to do that because stating restriction on this in the name of the neutrality of state would be like to forbid dress for all women and wear pants because the sexes are equals. This is stupid.

  18. Last time I lived in a country that had a legislated dress code was in Malawi in the 1970s; one party police state. Way to go PQ

  19. The same kind of ethnocentric nationalism spawned Bill 101, which discriminates against children based on who their parents are. How can our politicians condemn the one, but embrace the other?

  20. When Parizeau blamed “money and ethnic votes,” money was a veiled attack on the English-speaking business elite (money) and dispossessed asylum seekers (ethnic votes) propped up by the federal government.

    Bernard Drainville and Jean-François Lisée are trying to engineer an exodus from Montreal by Anglos and minorities with their “Charte des Valeurs”. What alarms me, is the rest of Canada is playing into the PQ’s hands by trying to poach skilled immigrants and wealthy Anglophones from Quebec. If you look at our 1995 near-death experience, an exodus from Montreal at this juncture would be disastrous for the rest of the country. The Canadian business elite is misreading this by trying to poach skilled immigrants and wealthy Anglos.

    If the PQ is successful in whipping up nationalist fervor, who’s to say another political party or union elsewhere in the rest of Canada won’t try the same quasi racist gambit if it’s politically expedient? The RBC debacle last spring for hiring foreign IT workers shows the temperature is rising in English Canada as well. Don’t forget that one large Quebec union came out to support the PQ’s initiatives. I’m probably reading too much into it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    • “Don’t forget that one large Quebec union came out to support the PQ’s initiatives.”

      The union supported it, but not in its entirety and said the cross in the Quebec National Assembly should be removed before the union would give 100% of its support. One of the reasons they are supporting the charter, is apparently, not one of their members came to them and spoke out against it.

  21. It is clear that this type of independentism, pushed by the PQ, is old of date, out of touch and mostly controlled by what is a Mugabesque remnant of another era… Desperately clinging to power and unable to renew itself. Luckily, this last series of stupid forays will help Qbers reject it for good, and help bring the emergence of newer, more globalist, cosmopolitan and serious forces to achieve Qc independence!
    It seems that the splitting of the separatist forces in many group is both the first phase, the 2nd one has to be the implosion of the old bastion ( PQ) and the 3rd one is the emergence of the new force.
    At the end, i feel this crise may be good in precipitating this occurence and may also , this will seem paradoxal to non Qc anglos who basically understand little of Qc, help better align all Qcbers of all origin behind the separatist agenda.

  22. or the PQ solidifies core supporters & a majority is now possible