As Premier Jean Charest's Quebec Liberal party sees it, Quebec is an "open and tolerant" society that cherishes immigrants, has had remarkably few problems integrating them and understands how important they are to the province's future. That is the thrust of a brief the party presented yesterday to Quebec's controversial commission on cultural accommodation, which is wrapping up its consultations.
Far from triggering a "crisis" that threatens Quebec values, most Muslims and other newcomers are adapting, the brief confirms. Barely one complaint in 1,000 to Quebec's human rights commission has sought an accommodation on religious grounds. And given Quebec's low birth rate, healthy immigration is "clearly a necessity" to shore up the French-speaking culture and economic growth.
Yet, after paying tribute to this success story, the Liberal brief goes on to argue, incoherently, that Quebec should force would-be immigrants before they settle there to sign a "moral commitment" to respect the francophone majority, secularism and gender equality.
Where is the evidence they don't embrace these notions? Certainly it is not the Liberal party brief, which suggests the very opposite.
Imposing a loyalty test on people who come to Canada precisely because we are an open, pluralistic society looks like a solution to a problem that simply doesn't exist.
Do Quebecers honestly feel their deeply rooted, 400-year-old collective identity is threatened by pious young Muslim women wearing head scarves on the soccer field? Or that they are an affront to the francophone majority, gender rights or secularism? It strains belief.
Sadly, Charest and his Liberals are pandering to an irrational fear in some quarters that Quebec has gone "too far" in accommodating cultural and religious groups. That fear gained notoriety in Hérouxville earlier this year, where obnoxious municipal "standards" warned newcomers not to stone women, hurl acid at them or burn them alive inside town limits. It became a hot button in the last provincial election. And it infected the public accommodation hearings that Charest ordered in August, where fear, bigotry and ignorance were on parade.
Charest's minority Liberal government seems to be worried about being outflanked by the Parti Québécois and Action Démocratique parties, in pandering to cultural anxiety. PQ Leader Pauline Marois wants immigrants who do not speak French to be stripped of political rights. And ADQ Leader Mario Dumont says Quebec is "pretty much at capacity, in terms of intake," and frets about rushed immigration, ghettos and social strains. Both claim to defend "traditional" values.
Rather than be dragged into this toxic debate, Charest and the Liberals should expose it for what it is: Odious fearmongering. It has no place in Quebec's success story. It has no place anywhere.