Bouchard-Taylor report is a mix of apple pie and analysis

Commissioners made recommendations but balked at tackling some tough issues

Commission BT - le rapport «Fonder l’avenir - Le temps de la conciliation»

The first impression left by Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor yesterday was that the whole reasonable-accommodation debate was much ado about nothing.
In their report and at their news conference, they noted that Quebec's public institutions have dealt pretty well with the whole issue. Basically, they said, there was no crisis at all about reasonable accommodation, except for the one created by distorted perceptions by both the francophone majority and minorities as well.
While the report amply mentions the identity-based insecurities of francophones, it falls short of openly stigmatizing them. In fact, Bouchard stated quite clearly that "no serious data support the notion that in Quebec there is more racism, more xenophobia or discrimination than in other societies."

"Our model of integration has had very positive results," he said, adding that francophones are "people who listen to others."
It was a given that the report would contain a heavy dose of motherhood-and-apple-pie statements about fostering better intercultural relations, fighting discrimination, establishing exchange programs and subsidizing more community groups. But it also makes some interesting suggestions. One is asking the government to do its own work by preparing a white paper on secularism. Another is banning the wearing of religious symbols for government employees who exercise "authority," such as judges and the police.
Another suggestion is to take the arbitration of reasonable accommodation issues on religious grounds out of the courts by allowing citizens to work it out among themselves. That contradicts another suggestion that a law on interculturalism be adopted. Laws do tend to judiciarize things.
The commissioners also fail to take a clear position on a number of issues, asking the government to create more committees and task forces. On the issue of language, the report also fails to propose any concrete measures, such as strengthening Bill 101.
The report does use the term "French Canadian" repeatedly. But it does it in an academic, historical manner, and it doesn't in effect suggest we return to using this outdated term when describing what they recognize as the larger "nation" of Quebec or the "francophonie québécoise."
This choice of words is questionable because the report sections Quebec society on an "ethnocultural" basis, describing it as a society made up of a number of ethnic groups and of "Quebecers of French-Canadian descent" who make up the "majority group."
Still, their overall theme is that things are going well and peacefully among communities, thus the report's main buzz words: interculturalism, reciprocity, continuity and conciliation.
When asked by an anglophone reporter what distinguishes Quebec's policy of interculturalism from federal multiculturalism, Taylor recognized the bold reality. The difference, he said, is that the majority here is "in fact a minority" in this country and that the society is still under pressure. Hence, he added, the need for it to take measures to protect itself and foster a kind of integration that assures just that. "That doesn't exist at all in English Canada," he finally noted.
So basically, the report is an uncanny mix of apple pie, straight-shooting analysis, and the fear of suggesting action on some things but not on others. But the Bouchard-and-Taylor ball is now in the court of partisan politics. So far, surprisingly, Mario Dumont has managed to steal the show while Premier Jean Charest appears incapable of dealing with such issues as secularism, integration and francization in a concrete and larger, more political manner.
Sounding almost prime ministerial, Dumont rose twice in the National Assembly this week to demand an all-party, non-partisan process to draw up an internal constitution - something the B&T report fails to recommend. Dumont presented the Quebec constitution as a solemn way to define what Bouchard and Taylor call Quebec's common public values and culture, including the French language, state secularism and Quebec's charter of rights. Dumont said this would be a real follow-up to the report and would send newcomers a strong statement about this society, as well as being a counterweight to the federal constitution of 1982 that was adopted without Quebec's consent.
With no sovereignty in sight for quite some time and the PQ's refusal to commit to a referendum should it take power, Pauline Marois would be wise to join Dumont in his quest and shelve her own constitution bill as a gesture of non-partisanship.
But Charest seems intent on blocking any such initiative. It's as if this government of "cohabitation" that he always talks about with such humility doesn't quite extend to joining opposition parties on giving this "nation," a word he also uses often, its own constitution.
Chances are the premier caught a chronic allergy to the C-word when he was in Ottawa, where even thinking about constitutional change has become a deadly sin. But Charest is in Quebec now. It's OK here to talk about an internal constitution. In fact, governments have discussed it for decades, but none has had the courage to do it.
And it looks like this premier won't be any different.

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