Much has already been written, and far more is yet to come over the weeks and months ahead, about the proposed Charter of Quebec Values that has just been unveiled by Quebec’s Premier, Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois (PQ) government. For those that are not familiar with Quebec politics, a subject too complicated for this post, let’s just suffice it to say that the Parti Quebecois stands, at its heart, for the defining of the Province of Quebec as a totally distinct society from the rest of Canada, so distinct in fact that it advocates for the formal and legal succession of Quebec from Canada to become a sovereign nation unto itself. It feels itself distinct in language, culture and parts of its system of laws and governance so that political parties like the PQ have from time to time thrived on a separatist platform.
However even most Quebecers seem tired of this constant cat-and-mouse with the rest of Canada and ostensibly elected Ms. Marios and her PQ government NOT on the basis of the separatist platform, but on the basis that they hoped she might provide better leadership than her predecessor Jean Charest on critical issues like the Quebec economy (which is stagnating) health, welfare, education. etc. You know, the kinds of stuff governments are supposed to preoccupy themselves with…
So now, instead of dealing with the more pressing matters, and some cynics like me might say specifically to deflect attention away from their inaction on those pressing matters, we have a pronouncement of a proposed new Charter of Quebec Values, a document that seems, as many have said, to be a solution looking for a problem to fix.
At its heart, the new Charter seems not to be about values, but about discrimination. It purportedly wants to provide the basis for a truly secular state where public and government employees will be forbidden to wear articles of clothing or jewellery or other adornments that are overtly religious in nature . So, for teachers, professors, hospital workers, government employees etc., no more turbans, hijabs, kippas etc. No more big jewellery with religious symbolism. People will be free to “practice” or observe their religion in private, but all public trappings would be required to be modest if not outright inconspicuous.
On the surface, many might agree with the principle behind this. Except there is no real principle behind this in my view, or at least if there is, it is not the one Ms. Marois is hypocritically promoting.
If Ms. Marois and the PQ were serious about fashioning a truly secular state, they would have to start with Quebec’s very conspicuous Catholic heritage and all the trappings of Christian symbols that will continue to adorn public spaces, including the very conspicuous crucifix above the Speaker’s Chair in Quebec’s own legislature. These religious symbols will apparently be exempt.
A very conspicuous carving of Jesus Christ hanging on a cross is not a religious symbol, but a “cultural” one, according to the new rules. Likewise Christmas trees. But a small kippa worn by a University professor will not be allowed. Quelle surprise!
That’s unfortunate and hypocritical. Many (like me) are far more affronted by religious symbolism coming from institutions (including the very government that supposedly now opposes them) than by those emanating from any individual.
Until Ms. Marois applies her new rules truly across the board on Quebec public life – which of course she never will because secularism is not the true intent of the charter – then this new charter must be seen as what it truly is – a discriminatory practice that will say all non-Quebecois are welcome, as long as you look like us, talk like us and are Catholic/Christian like us.
And if you don’t like it, well there is always the rest of multicultural Canada waiting for you.
And, inevitably, when the rest of the country rallies against this act of wilful discrimination against immigrant minorities, Ms. Marois and the PQ government, who were NOT elected on a separatist platform, will react divisively and have yet one more reason to try to rally the troops by saying – “See, we told you. The rest of Canada just doesn’t understand us!”
One of the biggest problems with Quebec politics over the past decades has been, in my opinion, not Quebec’s politics but the pandering of successive Canadian federal governments to allow this kind of division, enmity, petulance, temper tantrum and in-your-face “you’re not the boss of us” mentality to thrive. Quebec is yet again going to try to push the buttons to see what kind of reaction if gets.
Let us hope that this time we have the balls to stand up and say “Non, merci!”
This is nothing short of shameful, wilful, hypocritical discrimination that has no place in my Canada.