Damaged commission

Reasonable accommodation commissioner already has made up his mind

L'affaire Gérard Bouchard - accusé d'élitisme et de "séparatisme"...

File this one under the heading Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. The idea was Premier Jean Charest's announcement, two weeks before he called the March 26 election, of the creation of a commission to study the thorny question of the "reasonable accommodation" of non-Christian religious practices.
The commission is headed by historian and sociologist Gerard Bouchard, who is affiliated with the Universite du Quebec a Chicoutimi, and philosopher and author Charles Taylor, professor emiritus at McGill University, who have devoted some thought to questions of relations between communities.
Its mandate is to make an inventory of current practices, hold consultations in every region of the province and make recommendations to the government by the end of next March.
The creation of a commission to study a controversial question is a classic tactic. Its political purpose is to buy time for the government while the commission seeks a consensus on a controversial issue.
In this case, Charest hoped to deprive Mario Dumont's Action democratique du Quebec of perhaps its strongest issue during the campaign.
If the ADQ raised the question, the Liberals could reply the question was being studied by a commission headed by two of the province's deepest thinkers and that Quebecers in every region would be given an outlet for their opinions.
And even if the commission's consultations degenerated into a travelling circus of xenophobic hysteria, the election would be over by then.
Sure enough, the commission has got off to a slow start. Nearly two months after it officially started work on March 1, its assistant secretary-general, Rosemarie Tasseroulle, told me yesterday it had not yet finished hiring staff, including a press secretary.
And she said it probably wouldn't have a website until its consultation document is published, which would probably not be before mid-August. The consultations would probably not begin until mid-September.
But what Charest didn't count on was that one of his hand-picked co-chairmen would embarrass him, provide encouragement to one of his adversaries and discredit his own commission by declaring, before receiving a single brief, that the solution to the problem is Quebec sovereignty.
Little had been heard from the commission until Bouchard gave an interview reported in question-and-answer fashion in the March 29 edition of the weekly newspaper Voir, which was brought to my attention this week. (As of yesterday, you could read the article, in French, on Voir's website at tinyurl.com/3dsnru.)
In the article, Bouchard is quoted as saying the strong reaction against "reasonable accommodation" has shown "the old French-Canadian culture is still a very lively identity that hasn't married well with the culture of the immigrant or the cultural communities."
Asked how the two cultures are to be "coupled," Bouchard, who is a well-known sovereignist who also happens to be the brother of former sovereignist leader Lucien Bouchard, replied:
"It is one of the reasons why I think Quebec absolutely must make its independence."
He went on to explain sovereignty would be the "great founding act," providing French-speaking Quebecers with the psychological security they desperately seek and representing "a powerful and mobilizing myth." And "even those who were fiercely opposed to sovereignty will be the first to drink at this fountain."
When interviewer Elias Levy commented it was not very likely that Taylor would agree with the "cure" he was proposing, Bouchard replied, apparently laughingly:
"He will agree with the theoretical aspect of what I am telling you, maybe not with the application and the example of it that I'm giving you!"
Bouchard's remarks might provide the Parti Quebecois with a new argument to make sovereignty relevant once again to Quebecers. And they might carry all the more weight because they were delivered from a platform provided by a federalist premier.
But they also undermine the open-mindedness and impartiality of the commission. One of its co-chairmen has already reached a conclusion before the commission even begins to gather evidence and hear opinions and arguments.
And that premature conclusion amounts to a partisan position, since it favours one of the three parties in the National Assembly over the others.
The issue here is not that Bouchard is a sovereignist. It's that he somehow failed to realize when he accepted his appointment, he forfeited the right to express personal opinions related to his mandate until it was completed.
Now he has severely damaged his own commission, and maybe only way to repair it is for him to resign.

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