Intolerance and division: the agenda of the P.Q. minority government?

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Canadian politics taking a turn for the undemocratic

By Kai Yang Shiao
Photos by Ben Buckley

Although it failed to win a majority of the seats in the National Assembly (provincial legislature of Quebec) the pro-independence Parti Quebecois (P.Q.) managed to obtain a plurality, and thus form a minority government. This is disturbing, as the party was able to achieve this electoral outcome with 31.94 per cent of the popular vote despite the troubling tone of its campaign rhetoric. A closer examination of its various proposals demonstrates that the minority mandate is effectively giving the P.Q. the green light to pursue discriminatory policies.

During the campaign, the P.Q. asserted itself as the guardian of the secular nature of Quebec society. Its official view was that the Government of Quebec must never adopt an official religion, and remain completely neutral. According to party leader Pauline Marois, in its first 100 days in office, her party would introduce a bill designed to better protect this principle by banning religious symbols from being worn in government offices. While the proposal may at first seem to strengthen secularism, a further look at the other provisions contained within the same proposal would actually undermine this principle. By exempting those wearing a Christian cross from the proposed bill, the P.Q. is implicitly sending the message that it prefers those belonging to the Christian faith over Quebeckers’ other faiths.

More importantly, the proposal indicates a strong desire to use the legal authority of the state to ensure the favourable treatment of Christians over all other religious communities. Such a proposal, if enacted into law, would further divide, rather than unite, a province that has already seen heated battles between federalists and separatists. The proposal to extend the jurisdiction of the existing language law Bill 101 will further exacerbate this by reigniting tensions between the anglophones and francophones after years of relatively peaceful coexistence between the two groups.

The language debate was brought into the spotlight once again as Pauline Marois recycled the decade-old myth that French was on the decline in the province. While statistics show that the opposite is true, an appeal to emotion was evidently effective in attaining considerable electoral success. This formed the basis of the P.Q.’s attempt to provide the justification for its proposal to further marginalize the use of English in a province where its status is already in a fragile state. Under a P.Q. government, Bill 101 would be extended to ban francophones and allophones (mother tongue is neither English nor French) from attending English-language CEGEPs (pre-university colleges). By depriving its citizens of the freedom to choose the language of instruction at the university level, the proposal represents an unnecessary intervention by the state. Furthermore, this raises a question: once the ban on English-language CEGEPs is enacted, will the same be done for their university counterparts, including the world class McGill University?

The open use of divisive tactics to stir up tensions to achieve political desires has no place in a modern, multicultural, and tolerant Canada. Rather than giving votes of confidence to the party, it should have been shunned and sidelined in Quebec politics.