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  (Curtis Lantinga)

 

(Curtis Lantinga)

MARGARET WENTE

Ms. Marois lays an egg Add to ...

According to Pauline Marois, there’s a crisis in Quebec. Quebec’s identity is being threatened by daycare workers in hijabs. Who knows what they’ll get up to next? “In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism,” she told Le Devoir.

The real crisis is no secret. The Parti Québécois is in desperate shape. It’s about as popular as stomach flu. And now that the sovereigntist project is dead, it needs to justify its existence. Economic management, to be polite, is not its strong suit. How, then, to win the next election? Whip up a little populist resentment!

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Thus was born the newly unveiled Charter of Quebec Values, which promises to rip the veils off Muslim women, the turbans off Sikhs and the kippas off Jews (although the Sikhs and Jews seem like collateral damage).

Not surprisingly, the Rest of Canada has reacted with satisfying outrage. Outside Quebec, the charter has been universally condemned as an ugly, racist, indecent abomination. “This is about erasing human dignity from the public commons,” the Toronto Star thundered in an editorial.

Sovereigntists love this stuff. It feeds the local paranoia, on which they thrive.

But this time, something’s gone wrong. Quebec’s opinion leaders hate the charter, too. Even sovereigntists are divided. Journalist Josée Legault, a former PQ adviser, denounced it as a naked wedge issue. “Kafka, meet Monty Python,” she wrote on her blog. “Incoherence and absurdity join the arbitrary.”

About 15,000 people have signed a petition against it, including nationalists such as musician Michel Rivard. None of the candidates running for mayor of Montreal support it. Gérard Bouchard, the co-chair of a commission on cultural accommodation, predicts that the debate over the charter will be “heated, unpleasant and useless.” Even Le Devoir is having doubts.

Since the PQ issued those silly pictograms last week, popular support for the Charter has been eroding. Perhaps that’s because people are laughing too hard. Technocrats will legislate the size of crosses and other religious symbols worn as jewellery. Squads of values police armed with tape measures will scrutinize the public square for infractions. The rules will apply only to civil servants, but which ones? Some nurses will have to ditch their head coverings; others won’t.

The charter’s supporters are a weird amalgam of intellectual, leftist baby boomers (Ms. Marois, Jean-Francois Lisée) and small-town cultural conservatives. It’s as if Margaret Atwood and John Ralston Saul decided to bed down with Myron Thompson.

The people who devised the charter are strongly feminist. They claim that women should have choice, except when it comes to head coverings, when they should not. (Interestingly, the charter is largely opposed by Quebeckers who actually live and work with minorities – and supported by those who don’t.)

Ms. Marois promised that the charter would unite Quebeckers. Instead, it’s proved bitterly divisive. And for what? The chance that it will ever become law is small. And the chance that people will forget about the economy is remote. A new poll conducted for L’Actualité found that Quebeckers ranked adoption of a values charter next to last of 11 priorities for their government.

Nonetheless, the Rest of Canada shouldn’t be too smug. In case you think that the RoC is more enlightened than those intolerant Quebeckers, take a look at any English-language publication’s online comments, including The Globe’s. If social media are any indication, the unease over multiculturalism is deep-seated and widespread. Which means that somebody, some time, will try to exploit it.

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