Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Quebec 2012 Election and the Two Solitudes

I think Hugh MacLennan had it right when he defined the relationship between English- and French-Canada as two solitudes. The language barrier between Quebec and the rest of Canada has led (and will continue to lead) to divisions within Canada that are not easily bridged. Canadians experience the world through very different lenses and only periodically is a common stage shared. Language, in a sense, may be a steeper barrier than  religion, or race because at least those minorities and the ‘majority’ can communicate in a common culture.

I have been trying to keep an ear on the Quebec election. Today a few news items came to my attention that has me scratching my head. Emmett MacFarlane tweeted about Quebec's political choices, “A corrupt government and two utterly odious opposition parties. I feel sorry for Quebec.” I'm inclined to agree. 

The Quebec Liberal Party, the only federalist party in Quebec, is mired in corruption allegations. The party faces the same problems as any party that has been in power for over twelve years. Quebecers are tired of the Liberals, but the public is not sure the alternatives are palatable.

The Parti Quebecois has emphasized its commitment to ban the hijab in Quebec this week. The PQ leader Pauline Marois has said she would introduce a charter of secularism, and civil servants will not be allowed to wear a hijab at work. However, the crucifix will remain in the National Assembly. The move against Islamic head scarves is not unique to Quebec, as French (Europe) nationalists have moved to ban them from public schools. This strike against culturally pluralism is more than a little disturbing to my mind. In addition, the PQ is also becoming increasingly hardline on the place of French within public institutions.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec may have won the week though. Francois Legault, leader of CAQ, relayed at a campaign stop today that if Quebecois youth want to besuccessful they should be more like their Asian peers, who work really hard, but have no lives. This is true. I am not exaggerating, and I don't think I need say anything more. 

Quebec voters must be preparing to hold their noses on the way to the ballot box, that is for sure. Eric Grenier of 308 Blog recently wrote that the CAQ is gaining steadily in the polls since the campaign began. His model shows a PQ government, with the PQ and Liberals receiving about a third of the votes and the CAQ about ¼. I will be interested to see how the CAQ’s popularity is affected by Mr. Legault’s remarks about Asians. Much of Quebec’s political culture seems, at least to me, to be quiet different from the norms of Ontario, particularly in terms of racial and ethnic sensitivities. A party leader who spoke of Asian students that way, or proposed banning Islamic (or other religious minorities’) symbols from public life would be harshly punished in Ontario, or these views would only represent a marginal candidate and not the leadership. Two solitudes, indeed.

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