Having been made the subject of international mockery so many times within the first 365 days in power would be tough for most governments. Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois, however, seem to bask in it, reveling each time their government is ridiculed within Canada and abroad.
Last week, in what seemed like a concerted effort to double down on unsubstantiated conjecture, Ms. Marois deemed multiculturalism to be the causal factor for Britain’s past violence and social unrest: “they’re knocking each other over the head and throwing bombs because of multiculturalism and nobody knowing any more who they are in that society.” The sheer inaccuracy of the statement is glaring, but it is also rather perplexing considering that multiculturalism as a state policy has many valid criticisms; it just so happens that being wholly liable for causing terror and violence is not one of them.
Her comments last week on multiculturalism simply demonstrate that her party has adopted the strategy of “go big or go home” when it comes to alienating constituents who are deemed unnecessary for a win. From Jacques Parizeau’s “money and ethnic votes” comments in 1995 to the now-defunct Action-Démocratique du Québec gaining official opposition status in 2007 by playing on the intolerant tone in the province, parties in Quebec playing on the ethnic, religious, cultural or linguistic tensions in the province is nothing new. Trying to translate support from a xenophobic segment of the voting bloc through tangible legislation, however, is. Which is precisely why so much has been said about the Charter of Quebec Values in particular and the state of pluralism in Quebec in general.
Many have attempted to draw comparisons between France’s state-enforced policy of laïcité and the Charter of Quebec Values. There is one key difference between the state enforcing secularism among its citizens in France as opposed to Quebec: their respective constitutions. France’s constitution makes reference to the fact that the state is secular in the very first sentence of its first article: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic.” Conversely, Canada’s constitution makes no mention of a secular state, and, in fact, its preamble expressly makes reference to the supremacy of God. In other words, because Quebec is – for better or for worse – a part of the Canadian confederation, it cannot legally force its citizens to submit to secularism.
A secular government is the hallmark of any civilized society. In order to make the case for a secular society and the virtues it extols – reason, altruistic morality, and equality – one only need point out that a society cannot achieve equality under the law while needing to refer to ancient texts that deprive women, children and homosexuals of basic rights. In every part of the developed world, it is becoming increasingly commonplace to hold no religious affiliation – all without having to force people into secular submission.
Ezekiel Hart was an observant Jew, wore a kippah and was elected to office by the people of Trois-Rivières, Quebec three times… in 1807. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in the entire British empire to elect a Jewish representative to the legislature, and granted full rights to Jews nearly thirty years before Britain did. That is the true legacy of Quebec’s patrimoine, or historical tradition, rather than the gargantuan crucifix hanging above the National Assembly, which would be exempt from the Charter of Quebec Values.
Like the constituents she hopes to energize with her bigoted legislation, Ms. Marois seems to be struggling with basic high-school curriculum. The crucifix only became a part of the National Assembly in 1936 under Maurice Duplessis, hardly making the cross an entrenched part of Québécois heritage. But who needs history when you can govern with hysterics?
Supriya Dwivedi is a talk-show host with CJAD 800 in Montreal. You can follow her on Twitter at @supriyadwivedi