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Quebec Premier François Legault walks to his desk for Question Period, Nov. 29, at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Christmas came early this year for Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec.

Trailing a born-again Parti Québécois in its former hinterland strongholds, the CAQ spent the fall watching helplessly as more and more Quebeckers seemed to lose faith in Mr. Legault’s messianic qualities.

Since winning a second term last year, the Premier has seemed like a lost soul. His flock has been deserting him and the doubting Thomases in caucus have been worrying about holding on to their seats. A heretofore radiant Mr. Legault has been sulking, Job-like, in the corner.

But hark! Out of the dark November sky, by what could only have been the grace of some higher power, this week emerged the gift of fate that Caquistes had been needing. It came in the form of a Canadian Human Rights Commission discussion paper that the CAQ seized on as a frontal attack on Christmas, allowing it to present itself as the defender of the faith against the woke zealots.

“Honestly, we’re going to continue to celebrate Christmas, and we’re not going to apologize for celebrating Christmas,” CAQ Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted after the National Assembly voted 109 to 0 to approve a motion denouncing the CHRC paper. The offending tract referred to statutory holidays related to Christianity as examples of the “present-day systemic religious discrimination” that is “deeply rooted in our identity as a settler colonial state.”

The motion tabled by Christopher Skeete, the CAQ’s Minister Responsible for the Fight Against Racism – you really cannot make such things up – called on the legislature to “denounce all attempts at polarization regarding unifying events that are part of Quebec’s heritage for generations.” It invited all Québécois and Québécoises (inclusivité oblige) “to unite during the Christmas period that is approaching.”

Even the Quebec Liberal Party, traditionally the defender of the province’s linguistic and religious minorities, got in on the act by voting in favour of the motion. Jennifer Maccarone, the Liberal MNA for Westmount–Saint-Louis, even co-sponsored Mr. Skeete’s proposal. But these days, the once-dominant Liberals are like lost sheep in need of a shepherd. Only the far-left Québec Solidaire seemed to take issue with the motion, though its MNAs did not vote against it.

Granted, the rights commission’s overzealous definition of religious discrimination made it an irresistible target for the ayatollahs of anti-wokeism, including the folks at Fox News who made mincemeat of the CHRC’s attempt to “appease” the “woke mob.”

Still, the National Assembly’s condemnation of the federally funded agency that calls itself “Canada’s human rights watchdog” smacked of the same overkill of which it accused the CHRC.

Since coming to power in 2018, the CAQ government has sought to exaggerate threats to Quebec’s distinct identity by immigrants and federal multiculturalism policies to rally nationalist francophone voters behind it and distract from its own failures of governance. It has deftly exploited Quebeckers’ attachment to their unique form of cultural Catholicism – which values traditions rooted in the faith while simultaneously rejecting most of the doctrine – to bolster its claims of protecting them against forces that seek to snuff out the Québécois nation.

Under the CAQ, Quebec is a self-proclaimed secular state that wraps itself in the cloak of Catholic rites and traditions as a marker of identity. Any menace to the status quo, real or imagined, must be addressed with forcefulness in what the CAQ depicts as an act of self-affirmation.

Bill 21, which prohibits public employees in a position of authority from wearing religious symbols, remains the CAQ’s proudest achievement in this respect. The CAQ invoked the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to shield the law from being struck down by the courts. In 2021, the Quebec Superior Court upheld most of the law on that basis. The CHRC is among the groups that have intervened before the Quebec Court of Appeal to overturn that ruling.

“This new law not only breaches [Canada’s] promise to uphold international human rights commitments, it also runs contrary to the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” then-CHRC chief commissioner Marie-Claude Landry said in a statement after Bill 21′s adoption in 2019. “This law’s ban on religious expression puts everyone’s rights at risk, no matter where you live in Canada. Laws in Canada and in every province should seek to end discrimination – not promote it.”

Mr. Skeete’s motion condemning the CHRC’s Scrooge-like knock on Christmas might be seen as payback for the agency’s attacks on Bill 21. It also underscores the clash of ideologies at the heart of the conflict over religion and secularism in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Mostly, though, the rights commission just gave the CAQ an early Christmas gift.

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