Why the PQ won’t back down

Martin Patriquin on an identity bill that throws moderation to the wind


Jacques Boissinot/CP

So the Parti Québécois finally introduced its so-called ‘charter of Quebec values.’

You’ll note the lack of capitalization in the name. The proposed title, loaded as it was with the PQ’s usual shabby patriotism, was a last-minute victim of the National Assembly’s bureaucracy. Its title is now a Twitter-challenging 28-word clunker best described by the noise one makes when pronouncing its acronym: CALVDLEDNRDLEAQDEELFELHEELDDA. (In English, it translates to ‘Charter Affirming The Values Of Secularism And The Religious Neutrality Of The State, As Well As The Equality Of Men And Women, And The Framing Of Accommodation Requests.’)

The PQ’s trial ballooning of its identity bill was a long, drawn-out process fraught with  predictable outrage and outrage-at-the-outrage, so much so that it’s not really worth going over again. I’ve written plenty about how it’s a cheap vote-grabbing distraction from Quebec’s other, bigger problems; how the obsession with identity issues is a last-gasp effort on the part of the PQ establishment, larded as it is with baby-boomer separatists, to reawaken the moribund issue of separation; how even paleo-sovereignists like Jacques Parizeau are against the bill; how telling a Muslim woman what she can’t wear for sake of society is pretty much the same as telling her what she has to wear for the sake of her religion.

What I find more interesting is the timing and scope of the bill itself. And it requires an admission: I was wrong. About two months ago I wrote how the PQ wouldn’t push forward with the bill’s more controversial propositions. Since coming to power, the PQ has only retreated in the face of public outrage.

Abolishing the health surtax, freezing of electricity rates, increasing mining royalties, tax increases for higher income earners, retroactive dividend and capital gains taxes: the party has reversed itself in every case in its year in power. Surely, I reasoned, the minority government would do the same in the face of a collective spleen venting from the likes of the Quebec women’s federation, its main teachers union, every main Montreal mayoral candidate, three former PQ premiers and some 28,000 “Québec Inclusif” signatories.

But it didn’t. Just the opposite: PQ minister and charter architect Bernard Drainville has actually strengthened the main precepts of the bill and done away with any attempt at moderation. One example: the bill includes a provision outlawing the serving of kosher or halal food to children. It also removes the transitional period for those governments and institutions wishing to opt out of the charter for a renewable five years.

The hardening of the PQ’s position is the product of one or several things. In opposing the charter, the opposition Liberal party has essentially taken itself out of the Quebec values conversation. The PQ’s unbending support of its charter is a gambit to reclaim once and for all a monopoly of virtue over all that bleeds nationalist Quebec blue. The vote-rich ring around Montreal is largely made up of white Francophones who, like many suburbanites the world over, are forever wary of the vast, multicultural metropolis in their midst. The Coalition Avenir Québec remain a threat in these ridings; the charter could help them wrestle that support back to PQ ranks.

The charter itself is like electoral cyanide in Montreal—the economic centre of the province, and home to the biggest concentration of voters. Contrary to common sense, not having the support of the province’s largest city might actually play well for the Parti Québécois.

The PQ kissed goodbye what Parizeau called the “ethnic vote” long before the charter reared its head. Immigrants, like English people and Francophone federalists, won’t vote for the PQ anyway; why not just ignore them altogether? After all, our first-past-the-post system ensures that the Liberals will just win by that much more, without winning any additional seats. It’s far easier to focus on rural and suburban swing ridings in the Quebec hinterland, where votes are that much more valuable.

Of course, this strategy goes straight to hell should the PQ call another referendum, which is one-person, one-vote. But as former Bloc Québécois MP and noted charter critic Jean Dorion has noted, the PQ probably isn’t thinking that far.

Which brings us to the last reason why the PQ is holding fast to the charter: it’s about all the party has left. Quebec has lost over 45,000 jobs since the beginning of the year. PQ finance minister Nicolas Marceau has already mused about blowing off Quebec’s zero-deficit budget obligations. If you can’t appeal to the voters via their purse strings, so the cynical reasoning goes, why not appeal to their heartstrings?

There are evident risks to this strategy. Successive polls (like this one) suggest Quebecers are far less worried about what’s on a woman’s head than what the mobster is stuffing into his sock. As Parizeau’s sortie demonstrates, the charter has divided the sovereignist movement itself. There are inevitable court challenges should the proposed bill become law. And though Drainville et al. are loath to talk about it, there is the sticky matter of enforcement: what happens when, not if, a Muslim, Sikh, Jew, Christian refuses to remove his or her religious accoutrement?

But these are logical considerations, and logic has no place in pride. In one form or another, CALVDLEDNRDLEAQDEELFELHEELDDA is now a political inevitability in Quebec. God help us all.


Why the PQ won’t back down

  1. You know it’ll be tossed in a Charter challenge….it’s just politics…appealing to the lowest common denominator.

    • Not if they use the notwithstanding clause.

      • We don’t have one anymore

        • I did not know that Section 33 of the Chater of Rights and Freedoms (the “notwithstanding-clause”) was struck down or otherwise removed. When did this happen?

          • Apparently there were so many legal restrictions on it’s use…like questions about a province trying to override a federal charter right…and it was only temporary to begin with……anyway it hasn’t been used or even tried in years…and is considered dormant.

          • Yes. I just finished reading a study done on the constitution and the notwithstanding clause can only be applied to legislation related to Canadian Charter Sections 2,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14, and 15. It cannot be used on rights enshrined in Sections 3-6, and 16-23. However, in this case, this Quebec Charter clearly violates section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ie: “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without
            discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race,
            national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or
            physical disability.” Any court challenge against this proposed Quebec Charter would succeed based on Section 15 and the Quebec Government would then have the right to apply Section 33 (the “notwithstanding clause”). The lawyers get richer.

          • No, that’s not the one I meant….I believe Quebec violates the UN charter as well….which we are signed on to.

  2. Wasn’t there a time when the PQ cared about its image abroad? Now it’s just le Québec profond vs. not just Montreal but all foreigners everywhere.

    • I think they’re hoping for a Le Pen bounce, without the necessary understanding that France has its open Euroborder influencing its public mood about immigration while Quebec has no such thing.

      • France is not Canada.France brought millions of peoples from French colonies to fight for France in the WW2 and to build France after the war. Most of those immigrants are illiterate and didn’t chose to live in France. In canada we have immigrants with high level of education and those peoples choose to come here because they want to live with us and contribute to the success of this nation. Please don’t compare oranges and apples.

        • I think you may have misunderstood my comment.

        • Ummm… France did none of those things during WW2. What is your source for such a pack of lies?

        • And in further opposition to OttawaBen, I disagree that ‘those peoples’ want to live with us & contribute to this nation.
          They demand exclusivity & foster it everywhere you look-they wear highly religious & offensive clothing & headdress & try NOT to blend in.
          If it stopped there, it might be OK, but they have demanded that our nation’s founding principles be sacked in favour of theirs-how is a Christmas tree offensive & a turban not?

          No sir, many are building a nation alright, but it’s the one they came from & located right here within our borders.

  3. It is too bad these grandstanding wanna-be’s don’t simply step up and state their lame-assed case… personally, I think it is time to amass the troops on the plains of Abraham again and … erm… provide some insight development for the whining weenies… once again…???

  4. Why is it Marois always appears to be trying to sneak out of town…like there’s a zipper at the border and if she does it quietly, pretending nobody’s looking….ZIP! Quebec’s gone!

  5. PQ 5-step plan: Step 1-Put forward a bill of “values” targeting those pesky brown ethnic people. Step 2-Plan is so outrageous, undemocratic & blatantly racist, ethnic people (with their money) leave province of Quebec in droves. Step 3-hold a referendum regarding separation with remaining white, true-blooded Quebeckers. Step 4-win vote as you have rid the province of “money and the ethnic vote”. Step 5-wait for transfer payments from “Canada” to roll in.

  6. There are many thousands of Quebecers who work in government, schools, universities, hospitals and health clinics who oppose this bill. If several thousand of them simply show up at work wearing hijabs, kippas, crosses etc and dare their employers to fire them then the bill will implode. The PQ will not put all these professionals in jail but, if they don’t, they will have admitted that the law doesn’t really exist. I’m an atheist but I would gladly put a kippa on my head and a big cross around my neck along with others to protest against this bill.

    • I’m an English-speaking United Church member and I was thinking the same thing. If I lived in Quebec I would gladly protest this bill by borrowing garments and jewellery from friends of other religions and wearing them proudly.

      • Both of you suggest that you would participate under ‘false pretenses’ (proudly I might add) to protest a Bill by a dually elected government. This is unethical.
        Why not just do the right thing and show up at a legal protest to have your voices heard or is that the way many atheists and English speaking United Church members cheat their way into protests?

        • Sully99, how is “borrowing garments and jewellery from friends of other religions and wearing them proudly” protesting under “false pretenses”? Surely protesting against the removal of the right to wear or eat what you choose is not protesting under false pretenses! I attempt to contemplate the moral universe you inhabit and I cannot. You desperately need to rethink your beliefs.

  7. I wonder if feathers are a religious symbol/

    • Good question.
      Yes; in fact feathers are a religious symbol used by many Indian Bands and individuals. I don’t think this would be a problem for the Indians in that this symbol would be grand fathered much like the crucifix in the National Assembly.
      What isn’t grand fathered is the illegal road blockages across the country, violence and occupation of various Canadian Lands such as Caladonia in Ontario for the past 5 years with the Provincial Government doing ‘zero’ to allow the good citizens of Caladonia direct access to their homes and businesses.

  8. A shorter title “Charter of Revenge” would encompass all of their aims…..namely reverse the outcome of the battle of the Plains of Abraham.
    How can this ever end when Canadians actually pay people to advocate the destruction of the best country on earth? Duh!

  9. Whether all of you agree or not Ms. Marois is the premier of Quebec and has put forward a Bill with the National Assembly for a vote by members legally voted in by the citizens of Quebec. A very lawful process.
    I admire her and the PQ for having the guts to do so (I don’t think any other province would dream of causing such a non-political correctness initiative). Good for her.
    I live in Ontario and can only comment but if I lived in Quebec I would support this bill. Hey; all of you…isn’t democracy great as I hear well over 75% of Quebecers agree not to mention over 60% of Canadians in other provinces agree.
    Like I say…democracy in action.

    • And how is dictating what people can or cannot eat, or wear, “democracy in action”? Any democracy has two basic precepts: the minority must respect the wishes of the majority, and the majority must respect the needs of the minority. This is Democracy 101, a class that it appears the majority of Québecs missed.

      • I’m not sure where you got this definition of democracy but the situation fits in fine with your definition. The Bill is not taking away any ‘needs’ of the minority in such a secular society. Maybe taking away their ‘wants’ or ‘desires’ but certainly not ‘needs’.
        Sharia or other tribal customs of many Muslims are also ‘wants and desires’ but certainly not needs and Quebec or the rest of Canada have not and hopefully will not accept these Islamic tribal Laws.

  10. If one is an atheist does that mean it is OK to wear a large cross such as many rappers do? Will the children of buddhists be forced to eat burgers in the daycare, how about pork for jewish or moslem kids. This laundry list of restrictions on ‘all those who are not like us” would be hilarious if it was not so serious. The intolerance and assumption of moral and intellectual superiority by the PC is breathtaking in its arrogant, paternalistic chauvinism

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