A matter of prejudice

Par Beryl Wajsman le 21 août 2012

There is a troubling aspect in the coverage of the unprecedented series of debates in the current provincial election. Too many commentators are paying attention to everything from hand motions to smiles and smirks. They should be paying attention to what is said. And so should all voters.

This is the most important since the 1995 referendum. The reason? After a spring and early summer of social insurrection organized and mobilized by the radical CSN union, the PQ and the QS as much as by students, we enter a fall and winter of public sector union negotiations and the sword of Damocles of more urban paralysis and economic atrophy caused by more demonstrations and marches. It is important for voters to use intellectual rigour to look at actions and results and not just body movements.

The Charest administration’s tough stance on the students must be credited to a great degree in getting most of the students to vote to go back to class. Charest has made it clear in the debates that he will continue to protect the economic engine of Quebec. Marois has clearly stated that she would have an “assembly” of discussion. What that means nobody knows. And this is not the time for kumbaya circles. But very few commentators are making this clear. Legault’s position was represented by his ex-ADQ MNAs supporting the Liberal government in the Assembly vote on Bill 78, but as to how tough he intends to be is still not clear. That near ambivalence is also something you should be listening to. And it is something that is getting too little press.

This is an election not only about economic stewardship, but about the toughness required to maintain a society of free thought and a free economy. Listen for those words. Only Charest has been expounding them. And that is important. But there is another dark shadow hanging over this vote.

I have used the title "A Matter of Prejudice" once before. In a column in October 2007. The prejudice then was the push by the PQ for a Quebec Identity Act. That proposition would have put egregious and draconian limits on citizenship, rights to stand for election and even communication with elected officials. All those who did not speak French would have those rights compromised.

Last night and today Pauline Marois raised that spectre again. After the Monday debate she came out with a clear statement that a PQ government would pass a law that would not allow anyone to run for public office, not even for a city council seat, if they were not fluent in French. she began to make noises about re-introducing the infamous Bill 95 that Don Martin, then of the National Post, termed “Racism – in any language.” More than ever it is important to listen to what she says and not just read the commentators who tend to downplay it as electioneering.

The Quebec Identity Act would not only provide a rationale for intolerance, but institutionalize it beyond anything we¹ve seen before. Marois would create two classes of citizenship. She does not understand that laws must be of universal application that respect, with equitable treatment, the rights of every single individual. Another reason to listen, not just look.

Too many commentators have over the years, and still do today, explained away separatist rhetoric and that all the laws and all the power-sharing arrangements with Quebec were necessary to subdue nationalist fervor. That as long as language and culture were protected, no laws would ever appear that would threaten basic democratic rights. Listen to Marois. She is proving them all wrong.

The debate on identity that Marois is rekindling, including her “lay” charter that would do away with religious symbolism in the public square save for that of Christians, goes to the heart of the blackest delusions of the Quebec malaise. The Marois proposals should not be glossed over or apologized for as so many are doing. Listen, and understand the consequences. 

So this election is about more than just economics, or stability, or even separation. It is about freedom. And only Jean Charest has properly characterized it as such. Francois Legault may believe that too. But he has not given us the clarity, candour and courage necessary on these issues.

In his historic speech made upon his departure from office Lucien Bouchard sounded a clarion call for freedom. He said, “When issues are matters of principle, there is no room for negotiation. We touch here clearly at the heart of what is essential. I wish to affirm with absolutely no qualifications, that citizens of Quebec can exercise their right to vote, in whichever way they want, without being accused of intolerance.” Marois and today's PQ, in a desperate bid to pander to Quebec's hard-line exclusivists, are ready to jettison those noble sentiments to the dustbin of Quebec history. 

So before any voter thinks that change for sake of the change is a rationale, listen to the words. Listen to what the leaders are saying. And remember how precious your freedoms are.

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Beryl P. Wajsman

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