Dan Delmar: PQ leaders know their secularism plan is illegal. They just don’t care
The Parti Québécois (PQ) has fired the first of many shots in its apparent battle against cultural and religious minorities; a battle which will culminate with the release of what promises to be a highly offensive and illegal Charter of Quebec Values this fall.
When philosopher Charles Taylor read the tabloid headline Tuesday that the Parti Québécois government intends to ban the wearing of all religious symbols in public institutions, he assumed it was a blunder by the excitable Journal de Montréal.
“I don’t think the government would go that far,” he told a Radio-Canada interviewer.
Telling workers in the public sector, from daycares to hospitals, that they cannot wear a hijab, kippa, turban or conspicuous crucifix on the job would be “an absolutely terrible act of exclusion,” said Mr. Taylor
A few details reportedly to be included in the Charter were leaked to the Journal de Montreal this week as the PQ presumably wants to gauge the level of outrage that their misguided “secularism” policies will produce. It is just as outrageous as expected.
If the Charter becomes law, it would ban all religious symbols in public institutions (hospitals, government offices, courts, schools, daycares and more). Those symbols include crucifixes, kippas, turbans, hijabs and others – most public employees would be prevented from having these symbols visible on their persons.
It’s an unprecedented attempt at social engineering, even by Quebec standards. The PQ is telling Quebecers that a secular state can only be achieved if the free-thinking individuals who make up the state’s
institutions tacitly renounce their religious beliefs publicly. It’s a stance that is, of course, preposterous, irresponsible and a blatant violation of one’s freedom of expression and religion that would never hold up in court.
Leaders in this PQ government have on a number of occasions expressed their disdain for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They’ve similarly expressed their disdain for democracy in implementing a wide range of “sovereignist governance” policies across many departments despite the fact that they lead a minority government and most Quebecers voted against separatist policies last September. Premier
Pauline Marois and Charter author Bernard Drainville, ironically the minister responsible for democratic institutions, are no fools: They understand their plan is illegal. They just don’t care.
The PQ understands that divisive questions like those surrounding secularism can be political winners in Quebec. This type of divide-and-conquer strategy can produce votes. Accountability means nothing to the PQ because they’re focused on running the big race: Produce winning conditions for a referendum on sovereignty.
The PQ understands that divisive questions like those surrounding secularism can be political winners in Quebec, and virtually everywhere else; it was the case for the old Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), who were propelled from virtual obscurity to the official opposition after they helped set off a province-wide debate on “reasonable accommodation”. This type of divide-and-conquer strategy can produce votes, but is intellectually dishonest and regressive. Accountability means nothing to the PQ because they’re focused first and foremost on running the big race: Produce winning conditions for a referendum on sovereignty as fast as possible before Marois and the old guard die off and their cause becomes even more irrelevant to Quebecers than it already is.
Their secularism plan, pending the release of a first draft, seems likely to be rooted in ethnocentrism and ignorance. One of the religious symbols that would benefit from an exemption is the one symbol that, in a true secular state, would be the first to go: The crucifix above the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly. Five decades of legislating took place at the Assembly before Maurice Duplessis installed it there in a reasonable accommodation of sorts made with the Church. That fact hasn’t prevented the PQ – and, worth noting, both the opposition Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ – the ADQ’s reincarnation) – from ruling out its removal as part of a secularism plan. What credible secular jurisdiction would have Jesus looking over the shoulders of legislators as they enacted laws? The completely unanimous position of Quebec’s ruling class that Catholicism can be exempt from this Charter is deeply troubling – either promote true secularism or admit that this initiative is a not-so-subtle attack on Canadian multiculturalism.
The plan is rooted in a cultural insecurity that plagues Quebec’s leadership; an obsession with being distinctly non-Canadian when the values of Quebecers are, in the grand scheme of things, not so drastically different from their counterparts in other provinces. The problem is that Quebec’s provincial leaders tend to be neither mature nor enlightened enough to responsibly carve out that distinct identity.
So, we’re left with improvised policies like the upcoming values charter that are, at best, unintentionally bigoted.
“The fundamental question in this societal debate is to ensure that the government does not create two classes of citizens,” Montreal city councillor Lionel Perez told the National Post. As the only current city councillor wearing a kippa in council chambers, Perez could become, by default, one of the strongest critics of the PQ’s plan. He’ll be presenting a motion next week expressing his concern. “Montreal is an open, tolerant society, with respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and personal autonomy. This charter should not be used as a pretext for any identity debate surrounding who is a Quebecer.”
Instead of using education or persuasion to effect change on questions of religion or language, Quebec prefers the swiftness of repressive legislation. It’s a dangerous philosophy and one that will hasten Quebec’s isolation and brain drain. With over $250-billion in provincial debt, rampant corruption, growing bureaucracies and a shrinking workforce, it is a convenient distraction from more complicated questions of great import.
When government believes it’s more appropriate to remove religious symbols from people’s heads than from walls, a constructive conversation on secularism becomes impossible – and that suits the PQ just fine.
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