Québec at a crossroads

So Quebeckers will be going to the polls on April 7th.  At issue is whether my fellow citizens will follow the Parti Québécois’ hard right turn on identity issues. The centerpiece of that turn is the so-called “charter of values” which would, among other things, alter the province’s own Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to allow the government to prohibit anyone drawing a salary from the public coffers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols.

What’s going on here? To begin to answer that question, one has to realize that many strategists within the governing Parti Québécois have come to the conclusion that unless a winning referendum can be held during the PQ’s present turn in power, the dream of an independent Quebec can pretty much be kissed goodbye forever. Were they to leave power without getting a “yes” on a sovereignty referendum, they would next be coming to power after 7 or 8 more years of Liberal rule.… Continue reading

More thoughts on Kymlicka

As Jocelyn points out, most intellectuals in Quebec have had their say about the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, and are now forced to observe things from the sidelines, with a growing sense of frustration and impotence. Things have now moved decisively into the realm of politics, in the pejorative sense of the term; it seems pretty clear that whether or not the policy is adopted will have nothing to do with its merits as a strategy for managing pluralism.

Nevertheless, as an intellectual, I can’t stop myself from intellectualizing. And so without any illusions about the political significance of these debates, I just want to draw attention to a really interesting exchange that occurred between Will Kymlicka and David Miller in September, 2011 in the journal Ethnicities (unfortunately gated), which lays out all of the issues that we’ve been debating for the past year with exemplary clarity.

I missed this when it came out – I must admit that I find it increasingly difficult to follow Will’s work, because all of his titles seem to involve different variations on the same six or seven words (like the names of James Bond films), so I can no longer remember which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t, or what he said in any specific paper.… Continue reading

L’endurance civique : le débat sur la Charte et l’envie de se barrer

Le débat sur la Charte de la laïcité est psychologiquement éprouvant pour ceux qui, comme moi, s’opposent à l’interdiction des signes religieux pour tous les employés des secteurs public et parapublic. Après six mois de débat, les opposants sont toujours minoritaires. Des amis ont vu leur réputation attaquée, et il fait moins bon aujourd’hui d’être un Québécois de confession musulmane qu’avant le début du débat. Le Parti québécois, les Janette et les autres ne l’ont pas eu facile jusqu’ici, loin s’en faut, mais la Charte reçoit l’assentiment de la moitié de la population. Les partisans d’une laïcité apaisée et équilibrée gagnent les débats d’idées, mais perdent pour l’instant la joute politique. Certains diront que mes biais cognitifs embrouillent mon jugement, mais on ne peut nier que les universités et la majorité des chercheurs spécialistes des questions soulevées par la Charte, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés du Québec, la Fédération des femmes du Québec et d’autres acteurs majeurs se sont tous prononcés contre la Charte.… Continue reading

A backgrounder on Canadian multiculturalism

One of the most baffling features of the debate about the Charter of Values in Quebec is the number of politicians and commentators who have lined up to defend the Charter by denouncing multiculturalism in Europe, but without showing even the faintest notion of how multiculturalism functions in Canada. Consider, for example, the bizarre lede of Jean-François Lisée’s op-ed in the New York Times:

Angela Merkel deemed multiculturalism — the idea that social harmony is best achieved through celebrating our differences — a complete failure in Germany. David Cameron claimed it facilitated the rise of radical Islam in Britain and called for “stronger societies and identities at home,” along with a “much more active, muscular liberalism” that “believes in certain values and actively promotes them.” Last fall, the European backlash against multiculturalism crossed the Atlantic and landed in Quebec…

A reasonable person might wonder why a European backlash against multiculturalism might land on the shores of Quebec.… Continue reading