Yesterday's newspapers were peppered with explosive language: Political exploitation of children, brainwashing, zealots, indoctrination reminiscent of eastern-Europe, the U S.S.R., Nazi Germany, Mao's China or Islamic fùndamentalist schools.
Any tourist would think fascism had come to Quebec, or perhaps some secret work camp for brainwashed political prisoners had just been uncovered. With such references to the deadliest dictatorships of the last century, he'd be sure something horrendous was happening here.
What caused this hyperbole? A book called Parlons de souveraineté à l'école by the Conseil de la souveraineté. A 142-page book that sells for $9.95. A book that people are free to buy or not buy. A book that teachers are free to use or not use.
In other more mature and informed countries, people know what real exploitation of children means. They know what the gulags were. If they saw that $9.95 book, they might find it brilliant, or ridiculous, but the Soviet regime wouldn't be their first point of reference.
If the epithets weren't so loaded, they would be funny. But such unanimous frenzy was too sad to elicit a laugh. Is there nothing else more worthy of all this indignation? Has Quebec eradicated poverty or solved the health-care crisis for the media and politicians to throw such a fit over a book?
Since the Gomery commission is over, do we miss scandals to the point of making them up?
The irony is that such reactions illustrate a point made by pedagogue Robert Cadotte, one of the book's authors. The book, he said, is a tool among others to teach students how to look at the two sides of the national question and learn to debate the other viewpoint with respect, without name calling or labelling.
This book looks at one side, and teachers, he said, can balance it with pro-federalist material or guest speakers.
It is sad that the outrageous epithets in reaction to the book showed that in Quebec, namecalling can still easily overwhelm respectful arguments.
The premier took the prize. "We disagree with this moral drift from the Parti Québécois that wants us to present two points of view in our schools," he said.
What? Two points of view? What will they think of next? For Jean Charest and Mario Dumont, their scandalized action at least can be explained by partisan politics. In question period, the two men played the PQ like a fiddle.
After Charest scolded with the classic "you-should-be-ashamed" line, they demanded the PQ dissodate itself from a book written by respected specialists who also are - what a crime - sovereignists. And what did the PQ do? Did it refuse to buckle to demands that it disavow its own allies?
Nope. Charest and Dumont said "boo" and André Boisclair dissociated himself from the book, feeding the impression that discussing the S-word in schools is akin to indoctrination.
Someone should get those three party leaders to read reporter [Hugo Meuniers article in La Presse on May 16,2005 ->666]. It gave a list of posters, pins, contests and documents praising Canada and sent into Quebec schools by Ottawa.
In the years since the last referendum, millions of tax dollars went into them. But the federalist material got zero reaction from the Charest government, the PQ, school boards or teachers'unions. There were no editorials and not a peep from the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, whose president qualified the $9.95 book as "brainwashing."
At least Gilles Duceppe kept his dignity and refused to join the Inquisition.
Since becoming PQ leader, Boisclair likes to repeat two mantras: I have a fantastic team, and come join the sovere family. The speed with which he disavowed the book from the Conseil de la souveraineté shows he still has a thing or two to learn about the concept of famly.
This episode raises an important question for Péquistes: If their leader can't deal strategically with such an obvious partisan attack without dumping allies in a flash, how will he deal with real pressure? What will he do when faced with the much harsher attacks sure to come in an election or a referendum campaign?
Watching that question period where the PQ got knocked out by Charest, with its leader still out of the National Assembly, one couldn't help but wonder how different it would have been with a more experienced leader like Jacques Parizeau or Bernard Landry.
Chances are Charest and Dumont would not have had it so easy.
Sovereignist Kids' Book
Why all the fuss over a simple little book?
Boisclair deserts his allies at first sign of criticism