Mario Dumont and Quebec's 'old demons'

Par Gerald Owen

Hérouxville - l'étincelle

'To curve the spine," courber l'echine, is the painful-sounding French way of saying "bend over backwards"; "grovel" and "kowtow" are possible translations, too.
In an open letter to the Quebecois people on Jan. 16, Mario Dumont, the leader of Quebec's third party, the ADQ, applied this phrase and the similarly graphic aplaventrisme -- "lying-flat-on-your-stomachism" -- to what some others in Quebec, Jean Charest among them, prefer to call "reasonable accommodation" of minority communities.
Mr. Dumont was far less specific than the Publication of Standards of the town of Herouxville, Que., which helpfully advises prospective immigrants, among other matters, that the stoning and the burning alive of women are not allowed.
Some anglophone media reports have attributed to Mr. Dumont an appeal to "bedrock Quebec traditionalists" and a call for a constitutional enshrining of "the province's Christian based values." This is true enough, but a reading of his open letter fails to clarify, indeed blurs one's view.
Is he or is he not morphing into Maurice Duplessis, Quebec's premier for much of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, in the way that Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith?
The only episode of not-so-reasonable accommodation that Mr. Dumont cites in his open letter is the exclusion of fathers-to-be from prenatal classes at one health and social services centre in Montreal, in order to "accommodate" Muslim, Hindu and Sikh mothers-to-be.
Sensibly enough, Mr. Dumont calls for "a frame of reference" so that public authorities are not overwhelmed by political correctness.
But that frame turns out to be grandiose. Mr. Dumont advocates a constitution for Quebec and a Quebecois citizenship -- something beyond Quebec's Charter of Rights and Liberties of the Person -- of whose existence we were so forcefully reminded in 2005 when the Supreme Court of Canada made it, not the Canadian Charter, the basis for the Chaoulli decision on health care.
Mr. Dumont writes, "From European stock" -- the French souche, a tree image, is highly charged in Quebec, as in vieille souche, "old stock" -- "by the origins of those who founded Quebec, our values are inspired in the first place by our religious tradition." But he moves on at once to the North American continent, the Quiet Revolution, secularization and the great currents of Western thought.
Having told us about the precious Quebecois values to be protected, he then sketches the contents of the proposed constitution, saying that the values that express Quebec's identity are equality among individuals, freedom of expression, justice, respect, solidarity, peace and "our fundamental attachment to democracy" -- all thoroughly modern, free of the spectres of 17th-century figures in priestly black robes. Which leaves us wondering why Mr. Charest and Andre Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Quebecois, are accusing their Adequiste rival of a demagogic conjuring up of old demons.
Mr. Charest says that "reasonable accommodations" for cultural minorities are no different in principle from facilities for the physically handicapped, while Mr. Boisclair has taken the occasion to say that a crucifix that was placed over the speaker's throne in Quebec's National Assembly in 1936 -- when you-know-who took power! -- should now be removed. Mr. Dumont and Philippe Couillard, the Liberal Minister of Health, want the image of Jesus on the Cross to stay. But there is no motion about this on the legislature's agenda. Mr. Boisclair spoke for himself, expressing a purist secularism, in the style of France and Turkey.
I was skeptical, though intrigued, when I read a paper last year by Antonia Maioni of McGill University saying that Mr. Dumont and his Adequistes -- as well as Stephen Harper -- were drawing on a old conservative, bleu tradition in Quebec. But Mr. Dumont, with his careful self positioning, is evidently doing just that, with some success.
A poll by Leger Marketing this week shows the ADQ doing well outside Montreal, and in the lead in Quebec City and the central part of the province. As prospective premiers, Messrs. Charest and Dumont are tied at 25%, three points ahead of Mr. Boisclair.
But the "bedrock" Quebec tradition that Mr. Dumont is speaking to (and for) has changed since the days of Duplessis and Abbe Lionel Groulx, the author of The Call of the Race. It includes not only the crucifix in the Parliament building, but also, according to the burghers of Herouxville, mixed bathing at public swimming pools.

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