The newly elected CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec) has been promising many things to Quebec.  As a democratic refreshment from the dominance of Quebec’s Liberal Party, the CAQ was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. It promised more conservatively refined versions of the liberal policies that French Canadians demanded, and expected, in an increasingly globalizing world that threatened their culture and placed new strains on the economy.

The legacy of Quebec’s Liberals was to stimulate the economy and to defend French Canadian culture through acceptance, tolerance, freedom of rights, freedom of exchange, and the celebration of difference. However, they did not shy away from putting their foot down to protect the French language and culture from potentially harmful outside forces such as the pervasiveness of Americanization.

While protecting Quebec’s primarily French population, these liberal policies also allowed for Quebec’s anglophones (and other minorities) to start breathing a sigh of collective relief from the more nationalist and xenophobic policies of the past created by the Parti Quebecois. Combined with a healthy appetite for state spending on a variety of economic, social, and environmental programs, the Liberal platform was progressive but came with an expensive price tag, heavy taxes, and often mismanagement.

The CAQ promised to do more with leaner state budgets. Combined with a somewhat diluted populist platform seeking to address growing concerns surrounding the integration of increasing immigrant populations in Quebec, the CAQ swept to power.

Unfortunately, the CAQ is now showing its true colours by strongly emphasizing the populism that was lying in the shadows of its electoral platform. It has begun to quietly resuscitate many of the insecure ghosts from the past to legitimize its claim to governance by preying on old French fears of colonization by others. The CAQ remains vague about education policy, environmental policy, Canadian federation policy, etc. However, it would seem that it clearly seeks to address the issue of the place of immigrants and their integration in Quebec society through a politics of fear.

The CAQ has started to create a subtle and ‘uncomfortable’ political discourse where the presence of ‘undesirable’ groups and behaviours that are not secular enough in their appearance and practice, menace the very social fabric of Quebec. This discourse in turn seeks to legitimate the role of the CAQ as the conservative guarantor of cultural security and integrity in the province.  As a result, CAQ strategists have cleverly begun covertly disguising prejudiced forms of political action against certain minority groups as overt forms of state action meant to further protect secularism in Quebec.  

Why? Here are five reasons to be politically critical of the CAQ:

Wearing of religious symbols

The wearing of religious symbols was never really a problem before the mass arrival of Muslim immigrants. Christians and Jews were always allowed to wear symbols of their religious affiliation in public – even in the workplace. Only once the hijab (and other forms of Muslim symbols) became a serious presence in Quebec society did the question of wearing religious symbols gain traction in the political landscape. While this positively challenged Quebec to constructively strengthen its values and laws surrounding individual rights and freedoms, it also negatively begun breeding a new form of cultural intolerance in the form of Islamophobia.

The CAQ has begun tapping in to this phobic undercurrent to justify the implementation of what seems to be a new form of political oppression aimed primarily at the individual rights of Muslims but also towards any religious or minority group that does not fit into the CAQ’s definition of what constitutes a proper Quebec citizen worthy of representing the state. This has been disguised as a new set of policies aimed at strengthening state secularism by trying to ban the wearing of any religious symbol for individuals working in public roles where they represent the authority of the state  – i.e. teachers, civil servants, judges, police officers, etc. While this policy would affect all such individuals, which is worrisome in and of itself, it affects Muslim groups the most as they tend to be the most numerous to wear visible signs of their religious affiliation.

The laws surrounding individual freedoms and liberties in Quebec and Canada guarantee the right of any person to wear symbols of their religious affiliation. Ironically, only a liberal secular state based on such freedoms can allow for such laws and practices to exist. Yet to prosecute or condemn an individual for the wearing of religious symbols in a public role, in the name of an aggressive secularism, is an affront to the legal right of individuals to have freedom of religion and freedom of expression. It is also an anti-liberal practice which elevates the power and metaphysical existence of the state above the fundamental right of individuals in our society to have their freedoms protected from the violence of totalizing forms of state ideology and action. The realization of a completely secularized state, and its intolerance, is the new face and direction of the CAQ government.

Islamophobia

Under public scrutiny, Prime minister Legault declared that there is no current of Islamophobia in Quebec or in his party. Yet the simple fact that the CAQ has engaged in a witch hunt over religious symbols (motivated by the attempt to remove hijabs from society) betrays that the CAQ appears to be Islamophobic, or xenophobic, or at least willing to feed the fears that generate such sentiments for political gain. This would seem apparent as the CAQ seeks to ideologically appeal to the average Quebecker as a secular defender of Quebec’s francophone culture from ‘fearful’ non-secular threats of cultural invasion and degradation. It is interesting to note that many far right parties and groups in Europe have also begun adopting totalizing forms of secular discourse in an attempt to justify their own conservatively extreme agendas.

Visit to France 

The usual first international stop of any newly elected PM of Quebec is the USA – due to the enormous amount of hydroelectric power and other goods that they purchase from Quebec. Yet Legault decided to visit France instead.  His reasons were to further the intimate cultural ties between Quebec and France, increase business relations, and to promote the immigration of ‘secularized’ French-speaking individuals to populate Quebec. While one could definitely argue that his stance towards France guarantees a hard position against the USA, it seems to point to a prejudice that Quebec should only be populated by secular francophones in order to maintain its cultural integrity. While this is not to question the value of secularism in Quebec, it is to question the kind of secularism that Legault is seeking.

Immigration Policy 

Related to the above points. The immigration policy of the CAQ is one of opening immigration to Quebec – but only to francophone speakers that will fulfill the cultural agenda of the CAQ. It is not a true immigration policy necessarily informed by reason; rather, it is one informed by fear and narrow-mindedness that feeds the idea that Quebec culture can only be protected and grow by forcing more French language speakers into a population policed by an increasingly totalizing secularism.

Other Policies being neglected

While Legault’s newly elected government seems to be moving fast on banning religious symbols and pushing for a new form of secularism in Quebec, it has remained disturbingly vague or aloof about other policy realms that are of vital importance for the good of Quebec’s society. Areas such as education, childcare, healthcare, and the environment seem to be getting little attention compared to issues of culture, language, religion, and secularism. For instance, Quebec is an economic powerhouse where natural resource exploitation makes up the bulk of its GDP. This creates certain environmental challenges of great importance that need to be addressed by any government in power. Rapid growth of Quebec’s urban centres are also creating environmental challenges such as congestion, pollution, and the need for more public transport solutions. The health of the environment needs to be prioritized, jobs need to be created, welfare systems need reforming, families need help with daycare costs, students need help with tuition fees, and everyone needs access to effective healthcare. Past governments have addressed these issues, even if imperfectly, but they were addressed head on – in one way or the other. Yet for the CAQ, these issues currently seem to be the problem of municipalities, the Federal government, or on the ‘back burner’ while Legault’s government seems preoccupied with revamping the state through some sort of cultural purge.

Keep a critical eye on this government. Things are sliding in questionable directions when it comes to the good of our society. That is if we value one based on liberal democracy, individual rights, and freedom.

Read about the political side of Montreal.

 

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The opinions here are my own and do not necessarily reflect Best Kept MTL.

Billy Wilde