As Muslims, we are taught from a very early age that the Koran says “O Mankind, we have created you male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (49:13). As Canadians, this belief is reflected in our society, one that accepts and advocates pluralism. To me, this means that we live in a society that harnesses the power of its diversity to improve our quality of life, to bring prosperity to our communities and to resolve our challenges. This is the main reason why Canada is one of the most successful countries in the world.
So, it is no surprise that as a Canadian Muslim living in Quebec, the unveiling of the proposed Quebec Charter of Values is an affront to everything I believe in. It is indeed a sad moment for me as a Quebecker. This is not the Quebec I know, not the one I grew up in and not the one that my family and I live in. In my nearly 40 years in Quebec, not once have I felt discriminated against or pushed aside because of what I believe in or where I come from. My experience is quite the opposite. Whether it was at school, at university, at work, with friends or in business now, my interaction with other Quebeckers has always been warm, generous, open-hearted and respectful. They are interested to learn about my background and my values. This notion of the “fear of the other” has no place in Quebec and is in no way representative of what we are as Quebeckers.
What drives then, our politicians to propose this “state-sanctioned discrimination” as Thomas Mulcair puts it? And why do the polls suggest that the majority of Quebeckers support this proposed Charter of Quebec Values?
Much has been written in the last few days about the real motives behind the PQ government proposal. I think it is absolutely correct that this proposed Charter moves the severe economic woes of our province off of the front page. This government cannot blame the global economic context any longer for its poor performance. The Canadian economy is growing again and the United States – our largest trading partner – is recovering. The reality is that Quebec is the only province where there has been no job creation so far this year and where retail sales are down year-over-year.
I agree with political analysts that this Charter is an attempt to solidify the PQ’s eroding base. The PQ has realized that positioning themselves as the victims of the “maudits Anglais” no longer works with today’s educated and willingly-bilingual population, so they try to play the victims of globalization card. I am skeptical that this approach will be any more effective.
The primary driver for this proposed Charter is the thirst for power. The trinity of Marois-Lisée-Drainville are realizing how poorly they have managed this province. Facing their demise as the governing party, they are willing to sacrifice the social harmony in our society to remain in power and to maintain a faint hope of one day being the Président de la République du Québec. It is all about themselves and not about the people of Quebec nor the future of Quebec. Philippe Couillard is correct when he says that this PQ government is betraying the legacy of René Levesque, who believed in an open and inclusive definition of whoever was to be part of the Quebec nation.
The recent polls really cannot reflect the true sentiments of Quebeckers for two reasons. Firstly, the proposed Charter includes what I would call “beliefs” that no one can disagree with, such as the equality of women and men and the separation of church and state. The PQ was Machiavellic enough to include in the charter some of these obvious notions that we all abide by. The polling results do not differentiate between the populations’ acceptance of these notions versus the more drastic elements of the proposed Charter. Furthermore, I suspect that polls these days fail to capture the sentiments of a silent but important minority. This explains, in my view, why the polls got it completely wrong in the last provincial elections in Alberta and in Quebec.
The heartfelt message I want to convey to the rest of Canada is this: what you are seeing today coming out of Quebec, is not a true reflection of who we are as Quebeckers and what we believe in. Unfortunately, my presumptions cannot be validated until elections are called in our province. This is why the two opposition parties have a moral obligation to force an election on this issue.
So, to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, we appreciate your welcome and thank you for opening your doors to us, but Quebec is our home as much as it is Pauline Marois’ home. I intend to stay in Quebec and continue to raise my family, grow our business, create jobs and actively participate in the civic life of my community with confidence in what the future holds for us.
Amir Karim is an entrepreneur who lives in Mont-Royal