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Monday, 16 September 2013

According to the PQ, "Loving Your Mother" Is Not a Québécois Value

Since first hearing about the Parti Québécois’ proposed “Charte des valeurs,”  I have gone through the typical range of emotions that I keep hearing all around me:  outrage, shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, fear.  What most continues to bewilder me is the idea that any democratic government feels that it can legislate the values of its people.  If a Taliban government announced that it was planning to legislate a charter of values for Afghanistan, I could at least recognize a level of coherence.  But who ever heard of a western democracy announcing plans to legislate people’s values?

Every law, every constitution, every judicial proceeding emerges from and is a reflection in some degree of the people  governed by those laws.  The laws change as a culture and its values evolve.  Laws are the purview of legislators, but values belong to the people.  Attempting to legislate values directly is by definition reactionary conservatism; that is, it is an attempt to stop any change from happening, an attempt to make the future like the past, and to stop culture from evolving.  “Preserving culture,” an expression you hear a lot in Quebec these days, is an oxymoron.  It only makes sense if  you are talking about the preservation of artifacts.  The root notion of “culture” is “to cultivate,”  to grow, and that means change.  Attempting to legislate culture, to specify a charter of values, is  indirectly an admission that a culture is dead, that it cannot survive the current environment, and attempting to compel the people to live in the government’s vision of the past.

However, in all of this I am attributing nobler motives to the Parti Québécois than they have actually shown in their proposed legislation.  The “Charte des valeurs” is, above all, an exercise in hypocrisy.  It is presented as an attempt to create equality and neutrality, but it is all too obviously intended to be exactly the opposite in its effects.  The evidentiary intent of the charter is to appeal to an imagined xenophobic base which defines itself as “pure laine” or “de souche” and at the same time pass on the not-too-subtle message that if you are not part of this mono-culture then you should not feel too welcome or comfortable in Quebec.  This ugly real-politicking is designed to mobilize those Quebec ethnocentrists who attach themselves to the slogan “nous sommes un peuple” and discourage anyone else who might consider Quebec as home; the ultimate goal being, of course, winning an eventual referendum in favour of Quebec’s independence.

You might ask why I am ostensibly talking politics on this blog about education.  I’ve been hearing the slogan all week and then the brochure arrived in my mail announcing “Parce que nos valeurs, on y croit.”  (I am not the first to immediately ask if my tax dollars are being used by the Parti Québécois to spread their message of xenophobia and ethnocentrism.)  No doubt the government will try to claim that this is an “education” campaign.  The fallacy and disingenuousness of using propagandistic, tautological arguments under the pretense of “education” was the subject of my first posting, and, in many ways, the raison d’être of this blog.  Excuse me for quoting myself, but just to remind you, this is what I wrote on the first posting, May 15, 2013:

"Education" too often means simply replacing one set of ideas with another set that the educator likes better. Unfortunately, whenever you ask someone why one set of ideas is better than another, you very quickly find yourself running in a circle, trapped in a tautology, exhausted by a conversation that never quite takes place. 'My ideas are better because they correspond to my values.  My values are better because they correspond to my ideas.'

If you have ever tried to have an in-depth conversation with a Québécois/e who labels her/himself as “pure laine” and  “de souche” then you have already faced the passionate closure of this tautology.  The brick wall pictured on the PQ’s propaganda brochure is a good representation of what you will be hitting your head against if you attempt to challenge the project with logic or rationality.  The PQ wants the world to believe that Quebec’s ethonocentrism is an impenetrable fortress.  
The wall of cinder blocks in the PQ brochure is also an ironically apt representation of the Bloc Québécois.  Decades ago when Mordecai Richler described PQ policies as “non-violent ethnic cleansing,” I thought the description was exaggerated and inappropriate.  This week the expression seems stickily appropriate.  It is universally acknowledged that the Quebec government has a very poor record both in terms of attracting immigrants and employing minorities.  The charter is going to make that record a lot worse, and it is very hard to imagine that this result is unintended.  
Maria Mourani’s exclusion from the Bloc caucus and her eventual resignation from the party have made her the icon of “ethnic cleansing.”  It was astounding to hear her Bloc colleagues (on Le Club des ex) claim that she was excluded from the caucus because she had described the PQ policy as ethnic nationalism, when television viewers who heard her comments only moments before could recognize that that is not what she said.  They excluded her without even paying attention to what she actually said.  She had made it clear that she wanted to fight against the misperception of her constituents that the charter was proof of ethnic nationalism.  Now we know that, no matter what the context, the words “ethnic nationalism” cannot be spoken.  I wonder why?
The whole idea of a charter of values is not just an absurdity, it is a perfidious absurdity.  If it was really intended to represent what we all really believe and value, shouldn’t “loving your mother" be included as one of our common values?  What about compassion, fairness and kindness?  Shouldn’t the charter indicate that we are all against bullying?  And against fascism?  And pedophilia?  And exploitation of the young and the elderly?  The point is there are lots of values that we hold in common.  If we already hold them in common, all the less reason that we need laws to spell them out.  If those values already exist in law, all the less reason that we need a special charter of values to repeat them.
This realization brings us to a whole new level of the hypocrisy and misrepresentation with which we are dealing.  The project is not to create a “Charte des valeurs.”  This phrase is just part of the sales pitch which the PQ is spreading in the media in order to sell the idea to its ethnocentric base.  The proposals are supposedly beneficial additions to the existing CHARTE DES DROITS ET LIBERTÉS DE LA PERSONNE to encourage greater equality, clarity, tolerance and harmony.  The very serious question which I have yet to see debated or even mentioned is:  What changes is the government planning to make to the existing charter?  More precisely, what “rights and liberties” are they planning to remove?
If you take a look at the existing CHARTE DES DROITS ET LIBERTÉS DE LA PERSONNE it becomes patently obvious that the PQ’s inclusion of sexual equality in the new proposal is redundant, purely an exercise in political gamesmanship.  The inclusion of sexual equality in the "Charte des valeurs" simply means that everyone who wishes to oppose it is forced to say, “I agree with part of the charter; the part concerning sexual equality” before they can go on to register their objections to what the charter proposal is really all about.  For the same reason, the PQ has already rejected the repeated suggestion that the sexual equality and religious neutrality proposals be dealt with separately.
In other words, “égalité hommes-femmes” is already covered in the existing Charter, and what is really being proposed is the removal of rights and liberties related to religion and ethnic origin, and the amending and limiting of rights to liberty of religion and expression.  

When we come to consider the proposals for religious neutrality, the hypocrisy and perfidy of the PQ prove even more profound.  While head scarves, mandalas and turbans might be banned, the loopholes which will allow Catholic symbols not only to exist, but to proliferate and become more visible have already been written into the proposal.  The cross which will be allowed to remain in the National Assembly is the leading and most infamous example, but it is just one example of how the same loophole will be allowed to operate across Quebec.  Not only will numerous levels of government and institutions be allowed to write their own rules, but any religious symbol which is considered part of Quebec’s history and culture can also remain, ensuring that Quebec will remain dominantly and visibly Christian and Catholic to the detriment of all other religions and cultures. 
Of all the disturbing suggestions in the PQ proposal, the most disturbing for me is that the government will control history.  The PQ plans to protect religion (we can safely assume Catholicism) on the grounds that it is part of Quebec history and heritage  (and in the name of “preserving culture” we can assume that Quebec history and heritage will end the day the Charter of values becomes law).

So much for religious neutrality.  But what makes the proposition even worse is that a PQ government seems comfortable with the idea that they will determine how history gets written and taught.  Presumably, from now on, Quebec history will be all about white Catholics, and the artifacts and symbols will be maintained to ensure that the story gets told and taught that way.

This idea that history can be controlled by government and rewritten to suit policy is the kind of thinking we used to criticize the old Soviet Union and 1950s China and various totalitarian regimes for.  How did this mode of thinking suddenly become acceptable in Quebec?  Is there anyone literate enough in the Parti Québécois to remember Winston, the hero of Orwell’s 1984?  Winston’s job was to rewrite history for the government.

This week Barry Wilson delivered a Postscript editorial on CTV television lambasting the Charter project as ethnic nationalism, but he eventually commented in an offhanded tone that he does "not believe this will ever be voted on in this legislature because the PQ does not want it to pass." The cartoonist Aislen also claimed the legislation would never pass, and journalist Jennifer Ditchburn implied the same on CBC television.  Have any of these people done the math?  Of the 125 seats in the national assembly, 2 are currently vacant.  The PQ and the CAQ together currently hold 72 of the Assembly’s 123 seats.  By my count that is more than 58% and more than enough to pass this legislation. 
According to the party press release, CAQ (the Coalition Avenir Québec) is not only in favour of most of the Charter’s provisions, CAQ representatives claim: “We’ve debated enough in Québec. It’s time to take action.”  With the CAQ’s urgent support most of the provisions of the charter of values are bound to pass.  The CAQ’s official position is that 
The CAQ’s urgency remains as mysterious as the imagined problems which the PQ is supposedly solving with the charter.  As if to prove that their ethnocentrism and determination to legislate Quebec values are even stronger than the PQ’s, the CAQ has already announced that 
Sometimes it is easy to forget that François Legault is an old-time PQ sovereigntist with the same ethnocentric baggage and attitudes.  But the important point here is that the PQ and CAQ have the votes to pass this legislation, or am I missing something?  Why is the English-language media so certain that this legislation will not be passed?
I truly empathize with Maria Mourani because like her I have allowed myself to maintain an open mind toward the PQ and the sovereignty movement in general, believing that they could be open, inclusive, socially responsible and  democratic.  Right now I feel that my open-mindedness has been simply foolish.  I have been conned by the humanistic faces that the PQ have occasionally been able to show to the public. However, now I realize that behind every René Lévesque there is a lobsters-in-the-pot Jacques Parizeau ready to blame the “ethnic vote” for the referendum loss and a Bernard Landry ready to accost an innocent hispanic bystander with the same accusation.  We might want to think of the PQ as being like Lucien Bouchard in his 1996 address to the Anglophone community saying: 
No, none of these “values” made it into the charter, unless you count a redundant, hypocritical use of “equality.”  In fact, we can now recognize that the charter is designed to resist these values and ensure that they do not take hold in Quebec. Behind the humanist face of Lucien Bouchard there will always be the PQ reality of an Yves Michaud chastising Montreal’s Jewish community for failing to vote in favour of Quebec’s independence, and of course Drainville’s Herouxville-style Charter, and Premier Pauline Marois still pushing the PQ’s failed enthnocentric slogan, “Nous sommes un peuple.”  Et les autres?  Well now we know; they are expected to remain invisible.  

Monday, 5 July 2021

Virtues, Vices, and Values

A Charter of Values?

 In 2013, when the Parti Québécois government was proposing a “Charte des valeurs”  I reacted, on this blog, with "outrage, shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, fear."  Admittedly, by the time the  Coalition Avenir Québec introduced its  "Bill 21: An Act respecting the laicity of the State," a watered-down version of similar legislation, my reactions had mellowed.  (See The "We" Vote in Quebec.) Nonetheless, I remain distinctly uncomfortable whenever I hear a politician invoking "values" and, still worse, "our shared values."  We might expect the expression "our shared values" to be followed by a list of said values but it almost never is.  Upon hearing "our shared values," the white supremacist and the advocate of Black Lives Matter might both breathe a sigh of relief thinking "finally, one of us"--which explains politicians' love of this empty expression.

The Common Objects of a People's Love

In his inauguration speech, Joe Biden offered this list: "Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth."  But he didn't call them values.  Citing Saint Augustine, he referred to them as "the common objects" which define a multitude as a people, and this particular list as what defines Americans.  However, as some critics have pointed out, what Augustine was suggesting wasn't necessarily values or virtues.  

“If one should say, 'a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.” — St. Augustine, City of God 19.24

The objects of a people's love could equally well be venal, could be vices.  The USA may be the "land of opportunity," whose "military-industrial complex" ensures its security, and whose constitution guarantees its citizens the liberty to have guns but not necessarily abortions or to use the girls' washroom if your birth certificate says you're a boy, but I've never thought of dignity, respect, honor (except for the spelling) and truth as being distinctly American. 

Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues

The more I have reflected on this topic, the less certain I've felt about what counts as a value.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the vices or "deadly sins" are clear:  pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.  The "heavenly virtues"--prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity--are more ambiguous. We might like to imagine that virtues and vices are absolutes, but it seems obvious that the difference between them is one of degree.  Moderate degrees of the vices seem desirable, while exaggerations of the virtues are equally undesirable.

Values and Valour

Invariably, we imagine our values are virtues and, conversely, we are likely to imagine that other people's values seem like vices.  In truth, few of us ever have to discover what our values truly are or if we have any.  The word "values" shares its underlying root with "valour"; that is, not just worth but strength and courage.  Our values are the principles that we have the strength and courage to maintain under stress and to act upon.  Still, even the most valourous among us can find themselves in a conflict of values, a no-win, double-bind situation which is the defining characteristic of tragedy.  (See The Double-bind Theory of Tragedy and Madness.)

Obedience to Authority:  Virtue or Vice?

Anomie, the absence of values, has long been the claimed condition of privileged, modern societies.  I am mindful of social psychologist Stanley Milgram's infamous Yale "Obedience to Authority" experiments which revealed that 65% of the test subjects would torture a victim to death using electric shock simply because someone who appeared to be in authority told them to.  Obedience is, of course, the most taught and enforced value in education.

What Are Your Values?

The webpage What Are Your Values? provides a list of 150 potential values, including obedience.  Looking at this list and every other list I have considered, I come away wondering:  are these really values?  The webpage offers a soft definition of values as "the things you believe are important." Sex and money don't make anyone's list of values, but I've met a few people who seem to think they are important.

The Central Bank:  God or the Devil?

I was drawn to Mark Carney's Value(s), in the first place, because of the title and because he was Governor of the Bank of Canada and Governor of the Bank of England.  To conspiracy theorists like my friend Henry Makow and members of the Zeitgeist Movement (not to mention bitcoin fans and fanatics), central banks are the spawns of Satan.  Against this foil, it was striking to read Carney's passionate prescriptions and earnest defense of central banks and a "sound dollar."  His sententious, Polyanna proposals for a better world are occasionally ponderous and left me wondering: would fat cats on Wall Street and in the Federal Reserve give two seconds of consideration to what he is recommending?

What's Good for General Bullmoose . . .

In Values, Carney comes across as a nice guy determined to be nice to everyone, even  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and a member of the New York Federal Reserve Board.  However, in Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland reports on the animosity between Carney and Dimon which exploded at a meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington in 2011.  Freeland points out:

The battle between Carney and Dimon gets at a bigger and more contentious issue [than taxes and profits]:  Are the interests of the state and its big businesses synonymous?  If not, who decides? And if they do clash, does the state have the right--and the might--to curb specific businesses for the collective good?

As Freeland records, Dimon widely promulgated his position that the kinds of global banking regulations Carney was proposing were "anti-American." The Carney speeches Freeland quotes show that the genesis of Value(s):  Building a Better World for All is at least a decade old.  Carney himself traces its origins to his childhood in Canada.

Can values drive value?

Carney argues that:

Values and value are related but distinct. In the most general terms, values represent the principles or standards of behaviour; they are judgements of what is important in life. Examples include integrity, fairness, kindness, excellence, sustainability, passion and reason. Value is the regard that something is held to deserve – the importance, worth or usefulness of something. Both value and values are judgements. And therein lies the rub.

"Therein lies the rub" indeed.  Can we separate values and value, the dancer and the dance?  Or, on the other hand, are they in complete contradiction to one another?  Witness the paradox of The Antiques Roadshow.  An expert explains the values embued in an artifact, but the climax of every episode is the revelation of the dollar value of the object, which is based on the current market and only a tertiary result of beauty or craftsmanship, history or sentiment.

The fiat global reserve currency:  where's the trust, integrity and transparency?

Carney claims that the value of "fiat money is grounded in the values of trust, integrity and transparency." The US greenback, the fiat (non-gold/commodity-based) money that really counts because it is the "global reserve currency" and about which Carney has remarkably little to say, as we have seen, is backed by the threat of military intervention.  (See Petrodollar Warfare.)  Moreover, in recent years, as Kishore Mahbubani (Has China Won?) decries and Josh Rogin  (Chaos under Heaven) lauds, the US has been weaponizing the dollar. (See Analysing the Discourse on the USA-China Cold War.)  The US Federal Reserve was born in secrecy and, to this day, most people don't realize, as Carney confirms, that 80% of the money in the world is created by private banks.  (See The Truth About Money.)

How Many "values" are there?

Carney's orbit of values expands centrifugally to include, in his final chapters: "solidarity – fairness – responsibility – resilience – sustainability – dynamism, and – humility." Once again, I find myself questioning which, if any, of these stand as values.  Values are the principles we are prepared to uphold in the most challenging of times.  Logically, values spring from ethics.  The word "ethics" comes from "ethos," behaviour over time, often translated as "character," and contrasts with "pathos," the emotions of the moment.  In the end, I conclude "values" is a misnomer.  There is only one value: justice.  Those things we call "values" are details:  customs, habits, rituals, and allegories.  Justice must be based on ethics, and Kant's much-maligned "categorical imperative"--laws are moral if you accept them being applied to you--imperfect as it is, is as good an option as we have available to us.

Monday, 18 May 2020

The "We" Vote in Quebec

Les Patriots 

Today is la Journée nationale des patriotes in Québec.   (Prior to 2003 it was Dollard des Ormeaux Day in celebration of the garrison commander who died fighting the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee]  at the Battle of Long Sault in 1660. Times change.)  In the ROC (the Rest of Canada) today is Victoria Day (in honour of Queen Victoria).

In popular lore, les patriots are remembered as French peasants battling their English overloads.  This version of history is at least partially true; however, some leaders of the rebellion in Lower Canada (today Quebec) were English (notably Wolfred Nelson and his brother, Dr. Robert Nelson), some members of the upper class--opposing les patriots-- were French Canadian seigneurs, and, at the same time (1839), a similar rebellion of English-speaking farmers was taking place against the ruling-elite Family Compact in Upper Canada for the same reasons--demanding representational government.

In Quebec, history is often retold as a battle between English and French

In this age of polarizing algorithms, viral conspiracy theories, fake news and internet trolls, it might seem like small potatoes that Canadian history tends to get rewritten from a linguistic perspective (not to mention the obvious, that it is written in two languages).  In Quebec, at a popular level and sometimes beyond, the stories of Canada tend to be told (or performed) as a conflict between an oppressive English elite and an oppressed, minoritized French-Quebec majority.

"Mon non est québécois"

During the 1995 referendum campaign on Quebec independence, a whisper campaign emerged suggesting that advocates for the "non" side ("no" to separation from Canada)  didn't have French-sounding names.  In response, the "non" campaign led by Claude Ryan, came up with a slogan punning on "non" [no] and "nomme" [name], which are homophones in French.  (See Quebec and the ROC.)

Since those days, I've thought someone needs to write an article entitled "The 'We' Vote in Quebec."  (Much as I hate to kill the pun with an explanation; to be safe, I should explain that "we" and "oui" [yes] are homophones.)

"We" yes; "ethnic nationalism" no

From a sovereigntist perspective, there are certain words that cannot be used to describe the movement for Quebec independence.  In 2013, Bloc Québécois member of parliament, Maria Mourani was expelled from the party for stating publically that many of her constituents viewed the Parti Québécois “Charte des valeurs" [Charter of Values] as ethnic nationalism.  "Ethnic nationalism" is verboten, but I think we can safely describe the sovereigntist position as being in favour of "we." "We" (in its various cases--us, our, ours) is a consistent presence in independentist slogans:  "Nous sommes un peuple" [We are a nation], "Maîtres chez nous" [Masters of our house], and the PQ slogan for the “Charte des valeurs":  “Parce que nos valeurs, on y croit” [Because our values, we believe in them].

"Nous et les autres"

Although it might be viewed as politically incorrect in recent times, the dichotomy of "nous" and "les autres" [the others] has always been a part of life in Quebec.  I grew up in a small town on the Quebec side of the Ontario/Quebec border.  From birth to retirement I spent virtually the entirety of my life and career in Quebec; as a bilingual anglophone, perennially perched on the divide between "nous" and "les autres."  Contrary to what you might imagine, most of the time, it wasn't a bad place to be.

Lord Durham's Report on the Affairs of British North America 

As the newly-installed Governor General of British North America, John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, was tasked with writing the (in)famous Report in which he claimed:
There can hardly be conceived a nationality more destitute of all that can invigorate and elevate a people, than that which is exhibited by the descendants of the French in Lower Canada, owing to their retaining their peculiar language and manners. They are a people with no history, and no literature.
[ . . . .]
In these circumstances. I should be indeed surprised if the more reflecting part of the French Canadians entertained at present any hope of continuing to preserve their nationality. Much as they struggle against it, it is obvious that the process of assimilation to English habits is already commencing. 
Despite (or perhaps, in some small part, because of) Durham's predictions, the language and culture of the people of Quebec are still with us 180 years later.

How has Québécois culture survived?

Asking how French Quebec has lasted so well for so long, you might credit the enlightenment of the British Quebec Act of 1774  allowing French inhabitants to maintain their language, social structure (the seigneurial system) and religion (Catholicism), or modern Canadian federal policies of bilingualism and multi-culturalism.  However, within Quebec, the long-term objectives from The Conquest onward--including the Durham plan as well as multi-culturalism and bilingualism--are understood to be the reduction of the French of Quebec to one of many minorities, the tokenization of their language, and ultimately their assimilation within an English federalist system.

The real answer to the question of French Quebec's survival is the willingness of individual Québécois to privilege the collective over individual ambition, to think in terms of "we" rather than "I."   Quebec's language law (Bill 101) is a constant target of attack as it restricts the use of English on signs and requires immigrants to educate their children in French. What is truly striking, and rarely discussed, in the context of English being the lingua franca of North America and global business, is the willingness of the French-speaking majority of Quebecers to accept that their children may never learn to speak English (See "Yes, no, toaster").

Individual rights versus collective rights

The conundrum of parsing perceptions of and from Quebec boils down to the distinction between individual and collective rights. (Personally, I tend toward a libertarian, live-and-let-live view though I remain wary of radical individualism.)  As a minority in Canada and the Americas, francophone Quebecers are entitled to claim the collective rights of their language, culture and identity.  However, as the majority in Quebec, they are compelled to respect the individual rights of citizens and the collective rights of minorities within the province. When the collective rights of the Quebec majority collide with the individual rights of persons within Quebec, whose values should prevail?

Rights versus privileges

Quebec's privileging of the collective rights of the French-speaking majority--most often in the form of language laws (Bill 22 and Bill 101)--is typically met with incomprehension in the ROC and by minorities within Quebec. Conversely, what Anglo-Quebecers might claim as "rights"--the "right" to a public sign in English, the "right" to educate offspring in English--are viewed from a French perspective as "privileges." Actually, parents who were educated in English in Quebec themselves maintain the "privilege" of having their offspring educated in English in Quebec.

English common law versus Napoleonic civil code

A typical criticism of Quebec legislation (beyond the infringement of human rights) is that it tends to be a solution in search of a problem.  Certainly, this seems to be an apt critique of the recent Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State.

Is the wearing of religious symbols by persons in authority a threat to the collective rights of the people of Quebec?  The English common-law approach to solving this question would be to allow a number of cases to be brought to court; that is, a number of plaintiffs claiming that their rights had been prejudiced by someone wearing a religious symbol (a police officer, a judge or a teacher).  This jurisprudence, these precedent decisions of various judges, would eventually become the "common law."  The French tradition, in contrast, is more top-down.  A code of laws is enacted, and future judgments are based on that code.  This legal tradition, together with the privileging of collective rights, adds to incomprehension in the ROC.

The Bouchard/Taylor Commission on Religious Accommodation

In 2007, Professors Bouchard and Taylor were commissioned by the Liberal government in Quebec to review, analyze and make recommendations on  "Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences in response to public discontent concerning reasonable accommodation."  In what might be taken as a "common law" approach (although, obviously, the Commission was not a legal body), Bouchard and Taylor did a substantial stock-taking of all the legal cases related to religious accommodation in Quebec--73 cases over 22 years prior to June 2007.  What emerged from their review was that an "accommodation crisis" was being provoked by a series of fairly minor, misconstrued incidents which escalated because of media attention:
40 cases out of 73, were brought to the public’s attention during the period March 2006 to June 2007 alone. The investigation of the cases that received the most widespread media attention during this period of turmoil reveals that, in 15 of 21 cases, there were striking distortions between general public perceptions and the actual facts
as we were able to reconstitute them. In other words, the negative perception of reasonable accommodation that spread in the public often centred on an erroneous or partial perception of practices in the field.

Bouchard's and Taylor's repudiations of Bill 21 

As the authors of the report upon which Bill 21 is ostensibly based, it is telling that both Bouchard and Taylor have publicly stated their opposition to the legislation.  Taylor has flatly declared that he has changed his mind.  Bouchard argues that the timing was wrong, and the bill should not have been passed in the current climate of polarization.

The Separation of church and state is a French idea

The concept of laïcité (or, more commonly, "secularism" in English) is rooted in the French Revolution and the political desire to undo the domination of the Catholic Church. When Durham claimed that the French of Lower Canada were a people "without a history," he was no doubt considering that between the settlement of New France and the publication of his report in 1839, there had been a revolution in France, cutting the Québécois off--practically, ideologically and culturally--from the motherland.

Catholic church domination prevailed in Quebec until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s.  Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State, which prevents persons in authority from wearing religious symbols, is less broad than the law in France banning religious symbols which applies to all civil servants and to students in public schools and has been in force since 2011.  Bill 21 is less strident and overarching than the charter of values proposed by the Parti Québécois in 2013.

Individual liberty:  the ultimate shared value in Western democracies

In Western democracies, there is a presumption that individual liberty is our ultimate shared value--which paradoxically makes it a collective value.  Part of our belief in individual rights is respect for the collective rights of minority groups.  To further confuse the paradox, all individual rights, upon reflection,  end up being collective.

Rights versus freedoms

Nour Farhat, a young lawyer with aspirations of becoming a crown attorney in Quebec,  has become the poster person in the conflict between individual religious rights and the collective aspirations of Quebec's becoming a secular society.  The question being asked in Quebec is: "Should Nour Farhat have the right to display her religious convictions while she is prosecuting someone who might be Jewish or Hindu or Buddist or Sunni or Shiite or Christian or an atheist?"  But the underlying question which Quebec has raised, since the opening discussion of a charter of values, is:  Are religious rights individual rights?   Interestingly, both the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms identify religious expression as a "freedom" not a "right."  I have not, however, been able to find a succinct legal or constitutional distinction between a right and a freedom.

Freedom from Religion

The broader Freedom from Religion movement puts Quebec secularism in a slightly different perspective.  You might have seen Steven Pinker's endorsement of the Freedom from Religion Foundation television ads.  Pinker, himself an Anglo-Quebecer who studied at Dawson College and McGill University before moving on to California then Harvard, established his position as an avid atheist in his monograph Enlightenment Now.

While I have generally accepted the idea that Quebec has little to fear from the growth of Islam; not only is Islam the fastest-growing religion in the world but, as Pinker points out, its adherents have proven more faithful and tenacious in their religious beliefs than followers of any other religion.  In terms of (non)religious trends, the growth of Islam and of atheism have outstripped all other movements in Quebec in recent years.

It's about equality, stupid!

The purpose of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to create equality.  The problem with "being equal" is that it often seems to imply "being the same."  The challenge of our time is to honour equality and celebrate difference at the same time.  In Quebec, the interpolation to "join the family" and "become one of us" is frequently and reasonably met with wariness and skepticism.  As George Orwell pointed out in his allegorical novella, Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Parti Québécois Hypocrisy Has a New Face

PQ hypocrisy has a new face:  Jean-François Lisée, elected as the PQ Member for Rosemont in 2012.  When he was a journalist with L’actualite, I don’t remember ever feeling that he was unmeasured or unreasonable in the presentation of his ideas.  When he debated Mordecai Richler on English-language television, he seemed not only more on top of the issues but the more reserved and rational of the two.  I was therefore very curious to see how he would defend the Charte des valeurs in his press conference on RDI this week.  His presentation and responses were brisk, vague and evasive:  sure signs of a politician who knows he is skating on very thin ice, or just a man forced to defend a policy that he doesn’t believe in.

When I quoted Premier Lucien Bouchard’s address to the Anglophone community of Quebec at Centaur Theatre, March 12, 1996, in my last posting, what I didn’t mention was that Jean-François Lisée was the Premier’s speech-writer at the time, as well as  the organizer of the event.   We can safely assume he had a substantial hand in preparing the speech, if it wasn’t entirely his work.  So here, once again, is what Jean-François Lisée supposedly believed in 1996:

This week, Jean-François Lisée, defender of the “Charte des valeurs,” no longer believes in “freedom of expression” or “pluralism” or “a taste for each other’s culture.”  A “sense of fun”?  That’s not even on the map anymore!

If you want some sense of the depth of his newfound hypocrisy read the first entry of his journal on his official web site concerning the program of Africa-Quebec cooperation that he seems so proud of and moved by.  Of course, under the Charte des valeurs which  Minister Lisée now espouses, these “professionilized,”  Senegalese women in their brightly coloured costumes, which he was so moved by, would not be allowed to hold  a job in Quebec’s public and parapublic services unless they were ready to abandon their head scarves.  How’s that for a message of welcome!  And a message of respect for the people of Senegal invested in cooperation with Quebec!

What does Jean-François Lisée really believe in?  Not much it would seem. If his support for the charter of values is an attempt to follow through with the strategy outlined in his book Emergency Exit: How to Avert Quebec's Decline  and provoke a new conflict with the federal government and a referendum on Quebec’s powers within Canada, then he should say so clearly. Like the rest of the PQ, his sense of “values” this week seems pretty vacuous and negative.  Like the rest of the PQ, he seems ready to surrender his values of pluralism and openness in favour of the political exigencies of the moment. Like the rest of the PQ, he seems ready to surrender his earlier beliefs for a charter of non-values, a charter of anti-values, a charter in opposition to minorities’ expressing their beliefs and values, in a vain attempt to claim some sort of petty, short-term, ethnocentric political victory.  History, the one which won’t be controlled and written by the PQ, will judge him poorly.

Dialogue Is Dead. So Now What?

Dialogue is dead In the history of the planet, there has never been a time which even compares with the circumstances, technologies and poss...