Quebec’s values failure
Identity-driven initiatives have long been the bread and butter of the Parti Québécois. The sovereigntist party has a mostly successful track record of venturing where angels fear to tread and surviving to reap the electoral spoils of such expeditions.
Over the years, a cacophony of protest about a PQ policy in the rest of Canada has come to sound like music to the party’s ears; it has usually been the prelude to a concert of support in Quebec.
That may explain why the current PQ government seems so tone-deaf to the false notes it is hitting with a significant section of its usual audience with its proposed charter on so-called Quebec values and an attending plan to ban public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols.
In the lead-up to Monday’s presentation of the actual plan, government spin doctors have been trying hard to cast the controversy over its approach to religious rights as a clash between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
In fact, some of the most pointed criticism has come from inside Quebec and from within sovereigntist-friendly ranks.
Here is a sample:
Françoise David is the leader of the sovereigntist Québec Solidaire. The left-wing party is so committed to gender parity that it actually has two leaders — one male and one female. David says she cannot fathom how the PQ charter would enhance Quebec identity.
Louise Harel is a veteran PQ member who sat in the national assembly for more than 25 years before moving on to the Montreal municipal scene. She once served as interim leader of the Parti Québécois.
She says governments should not be in the business of dictating values. Like others running in Montreal’s municipal election, she has distanced herself from her former party’s plan.
David and Harel have impeccable feminist credentials. Neither is buying the PQ’s argument that the principle that men and women are equal is at stake in this debate. Nor is Le Devoir’s Francine Pelletier — another leading feminist voice — who is similarly critical of Premier Pauline Marois’ approach. In a column on Wednesday, she warned that the government risked inciting bigots to strike out against religious minorities.
Over at L’actualité, Josée Legault briefly served as an adviser to premier Bernard Landry on language issues.
This week she wrote on her blog that to make a parallel — as PQ ministers currently do — between the current plan and Quebec’s 1977 Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) is to distort history.
The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement du Québec represents one-third of the province’s public school teachers. On Wednesday, it called on the government to remove the crucifix from the wall of the national Quebec assembly and to drop plans to impose a secular dress code.
Raymond Gravel, a priest who in his days as a Bloc Québécois MP defied his bishop to support liberal policies on abortion and same-sex marriage in the House of Commons, was even less kind. Earlier this week he described the PQ’s intentions as “worthy of a dictatorship.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was the media darling of the student leaders at the time of Quebec’s 2012 maple spring. This season he is part of a debating duo of pundits on Radio-Canada.
But on their first joint appearance, he and his fencing partner — former magazine executive Lise Ravary — agreed to disagree with the government’s approach to religious minority rights.
With the helium of its trial balloons on the charter having momentarily buoyed the party in voting intentions, the PQ’s brain trust seems oblivious to the reality that never has one of its identity-driven initiatives drawn as much friendly fire as this one. Or perhaps Marois simply does not mind being shot at as long as it is from Montreal’s progressive trenches. For this is a Hail Mary pass designed with the rest of Quebec in mind.
Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.