Will “reasonable accommodation” succeed where all other motivations for Quebec separation have failed? In the past, sovereigntists have tried various scare tactics to get Quebecers into separation mode: lack of political autonomy, hegemony of the English language, anglo domination of the economic scene, and in each case – whether it is the federal government voluntarily releasing control in certain areas, Bill 101 or the provable steady rise of francophone strength in the business and professional domains, the (reasonable) reasons have melted away like summer hail.
But now the Bouchard-Taylor Commission is officially underway – a province-wide forum on the meaning and limits of “reasonable accommodation” to immigrants and ethnic groups whose religious obligations and/or wishes demand compromise from ethnic Québécois in terms of their own customs and values – the sovereigntist cat may find itself amongst a fresh batch of pigeons.
On some popular francophone blogs, the feeling seems to be that if the Canadian idea of multiculturalism – lavish tolerance for others’ cultures, minimal consideration for heritage culture – is being imposed on Quebec, especially in ex-urban regions which resist that extremely liberal principle on linguistic and cultural survival grounds, then this is a very good reason to consider separating from Canada.
I’ve been perusing a few francophone political blogs. A palpable fear of other cultures, notably Jews and Muslims, runs through one blog that had 153 hits on the subject of multiculturalism: “…these Zionist Jews are solidly installed in our institutions, governments, schools, etc. ... They even have a Jewish caucus in Ottawa!”; “Quebec’s problem is being subjugated to Ottawa and subjugated to the Charter of Rights and multiculturalism;” “And then they ask: Why are you a separatist?;” “I hope that an independent Quebec won’t get rid of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think it is indispensable … but we could well do without multiculturalism;” “... With regard to immigrants, sovereignty would have for effect that we could choose our own system of integration.”
One exasperated woman, speaking of a Muslim family she saw at the entertainment park, La Ronde, on a hot day, the men in shirtsleeves eating ice cream, the women veiled and looking as though they were suffocating in full black coverage, writes: “These women reflect a danger to our society. We will regress because of them. Their religion 'aggresses' our values. Our rights are denied because of theirs. Each tax dollar we pay to the government serves to fund public services, schools and hospitals where their religion insults us in the face. When will we wake up? Where are our leaders?”
Other posts blame Trudeau’s multicultural “experiment” (seen here in Quebec still as having been intended all along to swamp Québécois culture). The call for independence is seen by some as the only way “out” of this constitutional cultural engineering. Some have written that they have always been federalist, but would seriously consider voting “yes” if this was the only way to end multiculturalism.
I’m not sure what Jean Charest’s motives really were in getting this Reasonable Accommodation task force moving. Some say it was just a way of putting off taking a position, others believe it was a courageous act, a recognition that ‘lilies that fester’ smell much worse than weeds, and that airing the subject in a pro-active, democratic way is the only fair and honest way to let people say what they think without fear of being labeled racists.
Whatever his motivation, he is taking a huge risk, for from what I am reading, I think this may be an issue that has legs. Because when it comes to the survival of Québécois culture, or when it is perceived by a critical mass of Québécois that the culture is in danger, subterfuge flies right out the window. There will be some very frank talk at these hearings. For what these people who are fed up with minority entitlements say may well be, as the poet Alexander Pope put it, “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” Or at least “but ne’er so politically incorrectly expressed.” Stay tuned to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. I predict sparks are going to fly in such profusion and with such range and velocity that little fires may be starting from them all over Canada.