Friday, November 8, 2013

Think big, not small - thoughts on Quebec's charter of values

If there is a season or time of the year for thinking, it has to be November.

University students have exams looming and they have to be thinking.  Remembrance Day is this coming Monday, and that invariably gets me thinking.

This morning I set out for the office on my Vespa.  I had to think about that quite carefully.  The exquisite calculus of low temperatures and the probability of icy precipitation is more art than science.

The year is ending and my work requires me to be thinking, mostly about compliance filings and satisfying the myriad requirements of securities regulators and investors.  Christmas is also on the horizon. I need to think about gifts, holiday plans, and Susan's birthday.

Some thoughts are somber however.

Remembrance day brings my grandfather to mind.  He was a World War I veteran.  I only knew him through my grandmother's voice and her eyes, how tenderly and reverently she spoke of him.  Those are thoughts of loss, of pain.  You get to a point when you seem to know more people who have left this good earth than those who walk it still.  There are people in my iPhone address book who have left us.  Telephone numbers that only evoke memories, that either lead elsewhere, or nowhere, but that used to lead to the well known tones of peoples' voices.  I can hear them now.  "Hello!"  That simple word with the many lilts and intonations.  My mom, my grandmother, my mother in law, father in law, aunts, uncles, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, mentors.

When it comes to thinking, bigger is better than smaller.  Higher, is better than lower.  Anything that gets us to think, really think, is better than the alternative.  Life presents many opportunities to resist thought.  It takes guts to think.  Thinking leads us to the boundaries of our knowledge.  To where the fear of the unknown lurks in the shadows.

There are those, intellectually speaking, who prefer the comfort of the known.  The small circle of friends and family, the familial and familiar.  People who prefer simple explanations.  Sometimes, perhaps often, the comfort of simple explanations and familiar surroundings can best be found by walling out aspects of life, aspects of our humanity, that challenge the simplicity and comfort of our smaller, simpler lives.

I find that many people who succumb to the temptation to live simple, neat and tidy lives, in the midst of simple, neat and tidy surroundings, are small-minded.  They think simple low thoughts.  Often they get their comfort at best by exclusion, at worst by oppression.  This is how ghettos happen.  These are the headwaters of xenophobia, prejudice, biggotry, and racism.

This thinking season, there are stark choices facing those of us who live here, in the Province of Quebec.

A bill has been tabled in our legislature.  We like numbers here.  We especially like numbers when as a society we embark upon the politics of exclusion and oppression.  It's simpler, more comfortable, and invites less thought, when we use a number instead of a name.  Bill 22, Bill 101, Bill 60, now what's not to like?  It's certainly much better for the mover of low-brow, simple thoughts, to give the thing a number than to call it by its rightful name, like The Suppression of Other Cultures Act (Quebec).  It's easier to pretend you aren't a bigot when you promote Bill 60.  Isn't it?  To encourage people to use the number, you give the draft legislation a name that no one can manage in a single breath, much less commit to memory: Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodement.  It even has the words égalité and charte - "equality" and "charter".  How bad can it be?

What better way to protect our culture, to make it shine brightly, than moving other cultures, different from ours, out of the light, into the shadows, towards darkness, and out of sight.  We can stand tall if we march onto the bowed backs of our minority neighbors, can't we?

Bill 60 is the latest and most odious example of institutional, government-sanctioned biggotry.  It's state of the art exclusionary politics of the worst kind.  It's the heavy leaden hand of the state, preparing to take a hefty swing at the usual suspects, all in the name of the mother culture.

To protect our culture we must take deadly aim at the virus that threatens us.  Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs.  Unless they hide their identities, mask their differences, become white like us, we will drum them out of public office, herd them out of public service, banish them from our government offices, schools, hospitals, municipal offices, recreation centres, remove them from our police and fire departments.  Heck, we don't even want them collecting our garbage.

Torontonians are hanging their heads in shame, wringing their hands, and squirming uncomfortably in the glare of world opinion because they have a mayor who is by all accounts failing as a mayor, and failing as a human being on many levels.

I would prefer every Quebec municipality to have its very own Rob Ford if it meant that Bill 60 simply vanished.

As a Quebecker, I feel anger, and deep, deep shame.  I also fear the inevitable consequences of the vile politics of exclusion.  This will get much worse before it gets better.

Those are my November thoughts for now.


SonjaM said...

David, first I thought what a sombre posting. But I understand, it's November and Remembrance Day is nigh.

I had to read up on the Bill to understand what you're getting at, and now I wonder what happened to multi-cultural environment that is (or was?) Canada. To me it sounds like a big pile of feces. Are they taking separatism to the next level? Where will it stop? I can't believe it.

Unknown said...


Now you know why those of us here in the West have no desire to travel to Quebec (Yourself excluded, of course) The whole country is held hostage with the dual official languages, French and English on all packaging. Imagine all the expense do to all of this when virtually no one speaks French out here but we do it because we are Canadians to maintain equality.

It's too bad that they don't reciprocate and keep shoving French down our necks. Ask anyone out here how they feel about French Canada and you will see the resentment.

This Country is supposed to be a melting pot of various nationalities. It is not for everyone to huddle in their own groups to pretend that they never left home. Integration is the key.

SO when are you moving to Toronto ?

Maybe it's better that you should just go somewhere with lots of sunshine to ponder your next move, and "get som Sun Maan "

Riding the Wet Coast

The City Mouse in the Country said...

I knew I liked you. Fight on David!

David Masse said...

Sonja, whatever the proposed law says is only a small part of the puzzle. The fact that the government proposes something like this gives every bigot in the Province a license to spew racism. Already Muslim women wearing headscarves have been verbally abused on our streets. I have colleagues at work who are second generation Canadians whose parents immigrated from Europe who are having very negative experiences and being made to feel unwelcome. They were borne here. This is a very slippery slope we're on. There is no accepting this, or putting up with it in the hope it will pass. The only course for any reasonable citizen is to speak out. Quiet doesn't cut it.

David Masse said...

Bob it's not two languages that are the problem. It's promoting one culture by suppressing others that's the problem. We desperately need to take our cues from the Netherlands or Germany, or Sweden. There are no shortage of people in those countries who speak English perfectly. They may speak English, but they have not lost one iota of their Dutch, German, or Swedish culture. Every Quebecker needs to be completely bilingual. That's what the goal should be. Do I want head to toe veiled woman on every sidewalk? No. But will I defend the right of Muslims to wear headscarves, or Jewish men to wear kippas, or Sikhs to wear turbans, in public sector jobs? You know I will.

This law is not really about Jews, Sikhs, or Hindus. It's about being anti-Muslim. But even our retrograde knuckle-dragging Péquiste government knows it couldn't stoop that low. So it's enacting a ban on all 'religious' garb or symbols for all employees of public bodies such as the civil service, municipalities, police forces, hospitals, etc., etc. It's vile and disgusting. People are going to be hurt. This could easily spark a further exodus from this province if the legislation is not defeated. If adopted as proposed, it would never survive a court challenge. What this is really about is a cynical small-minded minority Péquiste government playing divisive politics in an attempt to polarize the electorate, and win a majority government in a spring election campaigning on the so-called values of a secular state.

David Masse said...

Rob, and I admire your spirit too. Who knows, one day my wife and I will be snow birds in Florida and we may get to ride together.

Ask me how I feel about renting a bike and riding down to Key West.

Canajun said...

As a born-and-raised Quebecer (I left in 1970) I have been following this issue with some interest. There is no doubt it is a thinly-veiled (no pun intended) attempt to remove the burqa and hijab from the pure-laine streets of Quebec. And the fact it gets those Sikh turbans out of sight as well is a bonus.
The reality is Quebec has been a very xenophobic society for generations and the current government is just tapping into that sentiment - and quite successfully too. Sad really.

Trobairitz said...

So the rest of Canada is still a melting pot for multiculturalism, it is just Quebec that has a problem?

Well not necessarily the people of Quebec, but the powers that be.

Sad really. I remember being in school in BC in the 80's and attending multicultural conference and how to embrace those of other cultures. We had Laotian refugees in our little town and no one excluded them. Their kids learned english while attending school with us.

Why does Quebec want to stand alone? They have for as long as I can remember. So sad.

Dave (MV fledermaus) said...

Great post, David. Unaware of much of Canadian politics south of the border (It's the American way, you know), but this sounds odious. I may be stuck with too much idealism from the '60's or something, but it's depressing sometimes to see things moving backwards the way they do. We deal with many of the same issues here-anti-Muslim for sure, but the anti-Hispanic attitudes are huge too with the immigration problems. It amazes me that at this point in time we can't first address someone as a human being with equal rights to exist as they wish before considering any other issues.

Hope things get better there....

David Masse said...

Dave I'm just really, really upset with this. We've enjoyed relative social peace for a while, and things were going reasonably well.

It isn't all Quebeckers that are the problem, but there is a sizeable chunk of the population that thinks they can live in a unilingual fantasy world where everyone shares the same values.

They are the ones who want Quebec to separate. The reality is that the Province is essentially insolvent and has a government overhead that is simply staggering. There is no way Quebec could separate without spiraling out of control into a kind of Greek tragedy (as in the modern Greece and its economic woes).

The only silver lining here is that this may be the ultra-nationalists' last hurrah. They may have embarked on a last gasp ride that will see the separatist cause implode under the pressure of all the hot air and nasty social rhetoric that is their hallmark.

Believe me, we want out. We encouraged our kids to leave and they have.

Now all we have to do is join the exodus too.

You have no idea how depressing it is to live with the pall of social upheaval that this movement has cast over this great land for the past 30+ years.

David Masse said...

Trobairitz, this is just the sad tale of nationalist fervor. The entire world is integrating, and doing it without losing any of the flavor of local cultures.

Quebec desperately needs to emulate the Netherlands, or Sweden or Germany, and stop looking to France for its political inspiration.

Sad indeed.

David Masse said...

Thanks for the kind words David.

When the nationalists first took power, there was a very large exodus in the late 70's.

Montreal and its economy lost enormously as the centre of the Canadian economy shifted to Toronto from Montreal.

It was only around 2000 - 2002 that growth returned, if only modestly and things seemed to be going much better. Therre was a feeling that the worst had passed, that we had found enduring tolerance and social peace, and life was looking up for the first time in a long time.

Right now we are in a serious reactionary slide. Our nationalist government with this foolish new exclusionary and frankly bigoted policy initiative is leading to all kinds of really poor behaviour on the part of bigots in our midst. People uttering racial slurs at non-native Quebeckers incidents of people spitting at Muslim women, blacks and Jews being told they have no place here, as if somehow, that was now OK based on this new government policy initiative.

It's unlikely that this draft legislation will ever become law, there is a lot of opposition from all quarters. If it does become law, the courts will strike it down, that seems certain.

The problem is that the baser elements of our society are taking their cue from the government and socially, this whole thing has the potential to get very ugly in a hurry.

If that happens, we're all going to take a financial bath.

This really, really, sucks.

I've wanted to express my anger and disappointment over this for some time. I've done that now.

I wish I felt better, but I don't.

Dave (MV fledermaus) said...

Thanks for the explanation. That is a sad (and deeply embedded) problem. It's disappointing to hear of it happening there, as I've always considered Canadians to be a bit above the U.S. in multiculturalism.

Down here, we're haunted by various right-wing media that an unfortunately large number of folks believe is the sole truth. Politicians get in on the show, and it takes us down the road to that dark place. I'm optimistic that in the end we'll get things figured out as a society, but really, do we need to crash and burn first?

len@RE-GLAZE-IT said...

WOW David that was powerful really made me think!
I think your really on the button with life.


David Masse said...

Len, the world has gotten very small. It is easier now to emigrate than ever before. The result is that western societies and third world cultures are now living in close proximity. There is no doubt that there are third world realities that we in the west cannot accept. Female genital mutilation and honor killings are among the most serious. There can be no compromizes there. Head scarves, kippas, and turbans however we can live with, whether on the street, or in public service.

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