Half a dozen years ago, I attended a corporate reception in Montreal. The catered event in a beautiful venue featured business leaders, famous people, and – with the exception of a four-minute speech by the Toronto-based CEO – was conducted totally in French. I was okay with that. Most of the remarks during the 90-minute program had little to do with the organization that has offices around the world, they were just the usual boring blather of self-congratulation. Still, I saw the full use of French as a remarkable and positive outcome of Bill 101 that demonstrated the self-confidence of Quebec businesspeople.
The Charter of Quebec Values proposed by the Parti Quebecois is just the opposite. Making illegal the wearing of religious items by provincial employees is little more than a narrow-minded fear of “the other.” It’s one thing to tell immigrants they have to speak French, it’s something else to say they also have to look as if their families have been living in Quebec since the seventeenth century. Why should a Sikh doctor have to abandon his turban, a Jewish prof the yarmulke, a daycare worker her hijab?
The PQ has never been comfortable with immigrants. Jacques Parizeau, then Quebec premier, famously blamed “money and the ethnic vote” when the pro-sovereignty side lost the 1995 referendum. In fact, Quebecers have a strange relationship with religion. While people of many persuasions take the name of God in vain, Quebecers go one step further. Some of their worst swear words reference religious objects, words like calice and tabernac. While such words are serious profanities in French, they have no heft at all to English-speakers. Will such words be banned along with burkas? I doubt it.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has roundly denounced the Charter of Values, but other federal politicians have been pussy-footing around. We all need to tell Premier Pauline Marois and the PQ that the cleansed Quebec she envisions is not the kind of Canada that the rest of us want.