The Parti Québécois’ plan to stamp out religious rights is unlikely to succeed in the short term because the minority government does not have enough support in its national assembly, but that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real.
The PQ knows it could face a general election at any time and identity politics plays well everywhere in Quebec, except Montreal. The issue alone might not be enough to propel the separatists into majority status, but it’s clear the question of minority rights is going to be on the political agenda in la belle province for many years to come.
That’s why it was important for the federal government to stake its ground immediately by vowing to launch a legal challenge if the PQ manages to pass legislation that overturns long-standing legal rights that have come to define what it means to be Canadian.
Canada’s premiers and mayors should also consider what they might do to express their opposition.
Quebec, of course, has always sneered at the concept of multiculturalism, preferring a francophone version of the American melting pot. In fact, the immigrant experience in Canada and America isn’t that different, except for the fact the two countries emphasize different myths.
It’s unfortunate Quebecers have not understood cultural diversity is not a threat to their concept of a unique culture that is predominantly French-speaking.
Newcomers to Quebec, for example, have largely joined the melting pot, just as they have in the rest of Canada. They’ve learned the language, found jobs, obeyed the law and made good citizens. Many Muslims, for example, consider themselves loyal Québécois, just as other groups from the past have embraced Canada, despite their differences.
Quebec’s twisted notion of racial purity, however, threatens to alienate new Canadians, or at least those who wear religious garb in public. Some of these groups, including many professionals, have already said they would leave Quebec if strict secular laws are passed.
History shows prejudice and discrimination tend to create ethnic ghettos, where outsiders feel safe, but ultimately it leads to racial tension, poverty and even violence. The Europeans are struggling to deal with this phenomenon today, with countries such as France demanding conformity, while Germany is still struggling to understand the concept of multiculturalism.
Quebec’s pursuit of uniformity will make for a more boring society, but also one that will be known around the world as intolerant and narrow-minded. It’s a quest that is beneath Quebec and, by extension, Canada.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 16, 2013