Quebec’s right wing Charter of Values

Bernard Landry, Quebec Charter of Values
Bernard Landry, Charter of Values
Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Parti Quebecois government has created controversy by proposing the Charter of Quebec Values aimed at restricting public sector employees from wearing religious symbols — turbans, head scarves, skullcaps and presumably crosses — in their workplaces.

The PQ claims that this would unify Quebecers behind the idea of a secular state, but Charles Taylor, the well-known academic who co-chaired a provincial commission into reasonable accommodation in 2007, describes the proposal as an “absolutely terrible act of exclusion.” 

So the debate is on. Former Quebec Premier Bernard Landry has lashed out at English Canadian media for “Quebec bashing” while covering the matter. Landry told CBC Radio’s As It Happens that Quebec welcomes immigrants but wants them to join society. “When you change country, you change country,” he said. “And you have to get first the language, then the culture and integrate.”

In the same interview, Landry even goes on to ridicule the idea of police wearing turbans, which harks back to the Reform Party’s 1989 convention resolution stating that Sikhs should be barred from wearing turbans in the RCMP.

Landry’s comments on religious accommodation obviously shift quickly to immigration policy although individuals barred from wearing religious symbols would likely include native-born Quebecers.

Still, recent opinion polling shows that 58 percent of Quebecers support the Charter of Quebec Values, compared to 42 percent in the rest of Canada. The Montreal Gazette reports that support for the charter was highest among people who vote Conservative —  at 49 percent.

It’s interesting that right-leaning commentators, including The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente, use what they see as the failed immigration policies of Europe as a basis for claiming that Canada’s multiculturalism policies are failing as well.

Not so, says Professor Will Kymlicka, the Canada research chair in political philosophy at Kingston’s Queen’s University. Kymlicka says that what passes for analysis is often really anecdote and hunch. He adds that research across national boundaries indicates that Canada is, in fact, successful in the integration of immigrants and their children, and that policies — aimed at promoting social cohesion among a variety of racial and ethnic groups — play a role in that success.

Multiculturalism was even included in Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is perhaps another reason why Landry doesn’t like it.  He instead argues that Canada will long come to regret its policy of multiculturalism, which he says creates racial and ethnic ghettoes.

And so, we are left with the odd spectacle of the Parti Quebecois, which has always claimed to be progressive and socially democratic, promoting policies resembling those of Canada’s Right.

This piece was published earlier this week by the United Church Observer.   

6 thoughts on “Quebec’s right wing Charter of Values

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  1. The proposed Charter of Quebec Values is simply an exercise in bigotry. Excluding religious symbols is an attack on people of faith and contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights which protects religious freedom.

    We ought not to forget the PQ’s objectionable remarks about ‘ethnics’ after the referendum was defeated. Now the bigots are hard at work blaming religious symbols for their problem du jour, whatever the heck it is.

    Attacking faith communities is generally popular with tyrants. The ghost of Maurice Duplessis must be dancing in glee.


  2. The king of Sweden is celebrating his 40th anniversary on the throne (no, I am not a royalist). Yesterday in the main speech to celebrate this event, nationalistic references were made to Sweden being a wonderful country, and that we all contribute to make Sweden wonderful, “generational residents” and new arrivals alike. But it went on to say that change is inevitable and that we all, each individual, has to change to make Sweden remain a wonderful country to live in. It is difficult not to view the speech as in part a response to the rise of the xenophobic and right wing Sverigedemokraterna Sweden; it appeals to all those who see immigrants as a threat to their existence …; their existence, that is, as “pure Swedish meatballs”.. (best analogy that comes to mind just now). Its French equivalent is, of course, Marine Le Pen, le Front National in France, who like Bernard Landry and Pauline Marois see multiculturalism not as a normal phenomenon of a rapidly changing world but as a threat to the survival of their own very narrow identity based on a past reality and for society – an unhealthy amount of xenophobia (some is to be expected and may even lead to fruitful discourses) which has many of the same ugly ingredients as racism, and desperately clings to the past. That the French language needs protection (and, not the least, cultural encouragement) in Quebec seems pretty obvious to any one who has lived there any length of time. But trying to strangle multiculturalism would give undue power to all those little xenophobic self-righteous nationalists every immigrant in Quebec has met more than once. The possible impact is frightening, as frightening as if the Swedish state were to be manned by members of the Sverigedemokraterna and all its silent supporters.


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