In this cynical age, it's reassuring to know there are still people as naive as Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor.
That is, it would be reassuring if Bouchard and Taylor weren't presiding over the public hearings that are tearing Quebec apart as well as harming its reputation.
At the conclusion of their commission's public consultation in Laval this week, they criticized the media for playing up the sensational comments of what Bouchard and Taylor said were a minority of participants in their open forums.
Really, what else did they expect? Before these two eminent intellectuals became co-chairmen of the commission on accommodations, hadn't they ever read a newspaper? Hadn't they noticed we cover plane crashes, not routine landings?
What we don't usually cover is phone-in shows. But it's hard to ignore public hearings held by a government-appointed commission on the hottest issue of the day, even if the opinions expressed sound like what you'd hear on a phone-in show.
And it was Bouchard's and Taylor's own bright ideas to expand their mandate to include everything touching Quebec's identity, then promise two minutes of province-wide television time and a polite hearing to any crank who showed up with a complaint about minorities.
It didn't take exceptional prescience for me to write, before the consultations began, that they would probably be "about as civil as talk radio ... without benefit of call-screening, tape delay and kill button."
It wasn't Bouchard and Taylor who first made xenophobia respectable again in Quebec; first the Quebecor media empire, then politicians had already accomplished that. "Let's stop being afraid," said Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois, three months before the Bouchard-Taylor consultation began, "to seem intolerant."
And let us not forget it was "Premier" Jean Charest who is responsible for creating the commission and mandating it to hold public hearings across the province to make up for his own incapacity to exercise political leadership.
The commission co-chairmen tried to steer their consultations away from what they have called "heterophobia"- fear of what is different rather than foreign. And when they tried to argue with the heterophobes, they were criticized for not letting the people have their say.
But in spite of themselves, Bouchard and Taylor have provided a respectable platform for xenophobia and ethnic nationalism and, thus, contributed to a deepening division in Quebec between "nous" and "eux."
Here's the quote of the past week, from the president of Impératif français, Jean-Paul Perreault, in a La Presse story last Saturday about a protest against English messages on government phone lines: The messages "say to the anglophone, 'you are a first-class citizen, and we above all do not want to expose you to the message in French.'" Can't have anglophones thinking they're first-class citizens, can we?
The parade of frightened little people before Bouchard and Taylor has been especially discouraging to those who had hoped 30 years of Bill 101 had finally helped Quebecers get over their insecurities.
There might still be hope for the future, however: Most of the people appearing at the forums have been middle-aged or older, and the francophone "children of Bill 101," whom polls suggest are more comfortable with diversity, have been absent.
Bouchard and Taylor claim the majority of the comments about minorities at their consultations have been positive, and say their own forthcoming statistical analysis will prove it. Maybe they're counting comments prefaced by "I have nothing against immigrants, but ..."
But it might take more than their own subjective analysis to shake a perception of their consultations firmly established by months of media coverage.
Perception is reality in politics, and the public will expect that what it has been hearing in the media will be reflected in the commission's report, due next March. If it isn't, then the commission's credibility will suffer, and its findings and recommendations will be quickly dismissed.
What were they expecting?
Bouchard, Taylor offer a platform to any racist nutbar, and then criticize the media