Coyne and Yakabuski contrasting views on the CAQ and the notwithstanding clause in relation to religious symbols

Two very different takes, starting with Andrew Coyne:

Be careful what you wish for. Quebec’s election may have signalled a turning away from separatism — the mad, doomed project to wrench apart the country on linguistic and ethnic lines that consumed so much of the province’s energy and wealth over the last 50-odd years. But it has been accompanied by a turning toward other forms of zealotry and intolerance.

The Liberal Party and Parti Québécois may have gone down to their worst defeats in their respective histories, dispatched by voters tired of the ancient existential stalemate and the entrenched/corrupt elites that thrived upon it. But into the vacuum have surged parties peddling other fantasies.

Quebec Solidaire campaigned on a platform that might have been stolen from a student union at one of the less prestigious universities, and probably was. It was rewarded with a doubling of its share of the popular vote and a tripling of its seats in the assembly.

And the “conservative” Coalition Avenir Quebec surged to power on a mix of unfunded tax cuts, warmed-over 1970s-style dirigisme and enriched daycare subsidies. Oh, and beating up on immigrants.

The party will protest at that description, but it is not for nothing that they were feted with victory congratulations from Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader. The party vows not only to slash immigration to Quebec — this at a time of growing labour shortages, in a province where population aging is a particular concern — but to expel those who fail a test of “values” and French language proficiency after three years.

How it would do so, or where they would be deported to, or under whose constitutional authority are among the many questions raised by this odious proposal, to say nothing of the obvious Charter issues. Party leader Francois Legault struggled to explain it during the campaign. But when a voter in Rimouski asked him whether he would fight for “us” against “these immigrants who are erasing us,” Legault was quick enough to reply: “Bien oui!”

If deporting thousands of immigrants was too much for the other parties, on the other great question of the day, whether members of religiously observant minorities should be allowed to work in the public sector, the parties were more in accord than otherwise.

While the Liberals’ Bill 62 would have banned, in the name of “religious neutrality,” covering one’s face, not only for providers but recipients of public services — those wishing to attend school, say, or ride the bus — the other parties would in some ways have gone further.

The CAQ, for example, proposes to ban anyone in a position of authority — police officers, judges, even teachers — from wearing any “conspicuous” religious symbol at work. The party has been admirably clear about what this means: those whose faith requires them to wear such symbols will not only be precluded from being hired for these jobs, but dismissed from such positions as they currently hold.

So to go with mass expulsions of ethnic minorities, add mass firings of religious minorities: the platform, not of some creepy fringe party, but of the newly elected government of Quebec. If Canadians outside Quebec think they can look the other way at this latest manifestation of the province’s famous distinctness, as they did earlier measures banning the display of English in public, they should think again. For it is about to explode in all of our faces.

Bill 62 was already tied up in the courts, the ban on face coverings suspended while its constitutionality is under review. The CAQ’s more sweeping religious bar, should it be passed into law, will quite certainly meet the same fate. But while the Liberals had never indicated they would do anything but accept the courts’ findings, the CAQ leader has again been clear: it will invoke the notwithstanding clause to override any Charter objections.

Perhaps, in the event, we will be treated to the same circus as surrounded Ontario’s recent flirtation with suspending constitutional rights: squadrons of law professors explaining again that this latest demonstration of the clause’s malevolent potential should not be held against it; elderly veterans of the constitutional wars re-emerging to protest that this was not what they intended, either; people who’ve never liked the Charter pointing out, as if it were either new or relevant, that the Charter override is in fact part of the Charter; and so on.

But in one crucial respect this time cannot fail to be different. The federal government could afford to take a pass on the Ontario fight: the override threat came in response to a particularly wonky court decision, soon set aside by an appeals court, after which it was withdrawn; it was far from clear how far the law in question, redrawing municipal election boundaries, offended against rights, as opposed to common sense; and the use of the clause was opposed by every opposition party — and, polls showed, wildly unpopular.

None of these are likely to apply in the present case. The threat to rights is obvious, and serious; it involves no arcane dispute between different levels of government, but blatant discrimination against vulnerable minorities; and yet it is likely to have the support of at least three of the four parties — and perhaps a majority of the Quebec public.

Can the federal government stay out of this? The immediate response from the prime minister was not encouraging. Invoking the notwithstanding clause, he said, is “not something that should be done lightly.” To suppress “the fundamental rights of Canadians” is “something one should be very careful about.” Stop, or I’ll shout ‘stop’ again.

No, sorry, that will not do. The question he will have to confront, the question confronting us all, is this: do we want to live in a country in which people can be fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs? In which important positions in the public service are off limits to members of religious minorities? How can we possibly?

Source: Andrew Coyne: Quebec situation is too serious for Trudeau to stay out of notwithstanding debate

In contrast, Konrad Yakabuski is downplays the initial language and says wait to see the actual legislation:

The international headlines referencing Monday’s Quebec election left little to the imagination.

In France, where Quebec politics get more attention than anywhere outside Canada, Le Monde spoke of a “crushing victory by the right.” At the more downmarket Le Parisien, the verdict was even more sensational: Quebec Elects a Nationalist and Anti-immigration Government.

The beleaguered Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s truly anti-immigration Rassemblement national, could hardly believe her luck. She tweeted that Quebeckers had “voted for less immigration,” demonstrating “lucidity and firmness in the face of the migration challenge.”

That is hardly the message premier-designate François Legault hoped his victory would send to the four corners of the globe. But Mr. Legault is learning the hard way that what he says now carries repercussions far beyond the tiny bubble of Quebec politics and can influence his province’s reputation not just in the rest of Canada, but around the world.

For a seasoned politician, Mr. Legault was shockingly undisciplined on the campaign trail. His daily press conferences could go on ad infinitum and Mr. Legault would venture answers to reporters’ questions that a more scripted politician would not touch with a 10-foot pole. It got him into plenty of trouble and, were it not for Quebeckers’ overwhelming desire to punish the Liberals and Parti Québécois alike, it might have cost him the election.

So, it is mind-boggling why Mr. Legault chose to waste his first postvictory news conference on Tuesday by answering a double-hypothetical question about what he would do if courts strike down a law that his government is in no hurry to pass. He should have known that nothing productive could come of his outburst, which left exactly the opposite impression that he intended to make.

While the official program of the Coalition Avenir Québec that Mr. Legault leads favours prohibiting persons in a position of authority from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, passing legislation giving effect to this policy is not high on Mr. Legault’s agenda.

Yet, on Tuesday, the premier-designate was already musing about invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a non-existent court decision that nullifies the currently non-existent legislation, whose shape and form remains a matter of pure conjecture.

This is not to say some form of legislation regulating religious symbols in the public sphere won’t eventually show up on the order paper of a CAQ government. The issue of religious accommodation has dogged successive Quebec governments for more than a decade, as rising Muslim immigration has forced the province to grapple with questions of religious diversity.

Francophone Quebeckers’ idea of state secularism may not correspond with the dictionary definition of the concept, given their desire to grandfather the blatantly Catholic symbols of their past, right up to the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly. But that doesn’t mean the new CAQ government will be able to indefinitely ignore demands to regulate other religious symbols.

There is a large consensus among Quebec’s political class that the best way to settle the debate once and for all is to follow the recommendations of the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious accommodation. The commission, led by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, concluded that “agents of the state” (such as judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers) should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols.

In 2017, Prof. Taylor dropped his support for the proposal, saying that it had been misunderstood. Indeed, the Bouchard-Taylor report explicitly excluded teachers, civil servants and health-care professionals from the list of public employees it said should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols. But that detail seemed to have been lost on many politicians.

The official CAQ policy would include teachers among those banned from wearing the Muslim hijab or Jewish kippa. But whether a CAQ government would legislate to include teachers in the mix remains highly speculative. What’s more, any legislation regulating when and where police officers or judges could or could not wear religious symbols would likely be limited in scope.

On Wednesday, the CAQ MNA who served as the party’s justice critic in opposition moved to clean up the damage Mr. Legault created on Tuesday. Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted that the new government intends to ensure that any future legislation on religious accommodation would stand up in the courts. He added that invoking the notwithstanding clause, while an option, would never be the CAQ’s first course of action.

The CAQ has brought in Carl Vallée, who served as a press secretary to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, to help the new government find its communications footing. It likely signals tighter messaging and less freelancing by Mr. Legault in the future.

After all, those headlines outside Quebec can be killers.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: