Cultural antipodes

Illustrations courtesy of the Government of Québec

Illustrations courtesy of the Government of Québec

I could not help but take note last week of the irony arising from two orientations in the country. As Vancouver was busy marking Reconciliation Week, the Québec government was taking quite another path, vigorously defending its newly unveiled Chartre des Valeurs Québécoises.

It’s not surprising the topic has provoked heated debates not only in Québec, but across the country as well. The government’s proposal has even had echoes throughout the world. It’s not surprising when you consider the nature of its content as proposed by its promoters.

However, we can wonder about what ever motivated a minority government to go on with a project that – and they must have known this ahead of time – would result in controversy. In fact, no mention of the Chartre was ever made during the political campaign that, by a hair’s breadth, brought the Parti Québécois to power.

If you ask me, the raging debate in my province of origin is nothing more than a smokescreen. Instead of talking about the economy and job creation, two issues that, let’s face it, should be at the forefront of any debate in the province, they have thrown a huge stone in the pond. And now nobody talks about anything else.

All this done with political savvy, in order to raise the stakes, and by doing so the political party thinks it will be able to garner enough votes to win a majority come next election.

Because, even if the denunciations are virtually unanimous across the country, there is in Québec a social current that, at least at first sight, renders the government’s project fairly engaging: it’s the place religious symbols, dress codes and others hold. It has been a topic much discussed by Québec’s society for some years now.

After umpteen years spent doing away with the omnipresence of the Catholic Church, many Québecers have looked at, with an exacerbated eye, signs of other religions. So much so that, in 2007, the Jean Charest government put in place the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, officially and charmingly named the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences.

True, the government’s task is not an easy one. As a starting point, it has taken notice that the majority of people in Québec are in favour of a lay society. However, we can see how perilous it is when reality strikes to try to propose a demarcation line that will not foster a certain amount of intolerance. Any person who decides to propose restrictions to religious expression opens the door to a flood of emotions difficult to contain –

one that can seriously jeopardize the social equilibrium necessary to the healthy running of a society.

In the end, it’s now undeniable that the government will have to moderate its proposal. For one, it is a minority government, and any bill running along the current proposed guidelines would be defeated. Let’s face it, what bothers people most in Québec is the wearing of the burqa and niqab. It is quite possible that a consensus could be reached on that level.

That said, no matter how this debate ends, it will leave scars that won’t heal anytime soon.

When will there be a Reconciliation Week in Québec ?

Translation Monique Kroeger