“The Times They Are A-Changin’?” – Immigration debates and discussions

A few years ago, it was rare to find critiques of the government’s expanding levels of immigration, and the overall consensus among the provinces, business organizations and lobby groups, media and academics organizations in favour of this approach.

However, over the past year or so, there has been significant commentary questioning the approach given the impact on housing availability and affordability, healthcare and infrastructure. In addition to my 2021 Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast, former head of the British Columbia public service, Don Wright, wrote one of the stronger critiques, Will Trudeau make it impossible for Eby to succeed?

National unity and the demographic weight of Quebec in Canada has become a second major critique. A series of articles in Quebecor papers (LE QUÉBÉC PRIS AU PIÈGE PAR OTTAWA) highlighting an accelerating decline of Quebec’s population relative to the rest of Canada, reflecting different immigration rates has provoked considerable political debate and commentary in Quebec and English Canadian media.

While the Quebecor were written in an incendiary manner, the substance was correct. The approaches continue to diverge, there is, IMO, an unhealthy consensus in favour ot the current and projected levels of permanent and temporary migration among federal and provincial politicians, business organizations, academics among others.

Some of the commentary recognized that. Stuart Thompson the The Hub, A new era of immigration politics has started in Canada was one of the first to recognize the potential importance to immigration debates and discussions. Chris Selley chimed in, noting that Ottawa has no answer to Quebec’s anti-immigrant narrative. Campbell Clark stressed that Two solitudes emerging on immigration in Quebec, and noted the lame arguments on both sides of the debate. Formally, the Quebec government reject[ed] Trudeau’s immigration plan, fears decline of French.

The role of the Century Initiative received increased prominence given that these debates were happening around the time of one of its Globe and Mail sponsored conferences. Immigration Minister Fraser’s denial that the government had not adopted the 100 million population goal of the Century Initiative was met with understandable cynicism by Robert Dutrisac, Blanc bonnet, bonnet blanc, Konrad Yakabuski, L’«initiative du siècle» n’est pas l’idée du siècle among others, along with more reporting and analysis, Serons-nous vraiment 100 millions de Canadiens en 2100?.

English media commentary focussed more on the politics, with Chantal Hébert asking whether Hébert: Quebec’s separatists were searching for a way to revive their cause. Is this it? and Konrad Yakabuski, another rare journalist who writes in both English and French media, noting that François Legault’s anti-immigration crusade is coming back to bite him. Andrew Phillips in the Star dismissed Quebec concerns, framing it as a Panic attack in Quebec over immigration threat. Althia Raj, also in the Star, argued that: Pierre Poilievre is courting voters by capitalizing on immigration fears in Quebec, both discounting the substance of Quebec concerns and not questioning the federal government approach.

And of course most English language was focused on the less important issue of the passport redesign (not a fan, but my worry is that the controversy will make the government even more skittish about releasing the revised citizenship guide, Discover Canada, first promised in 2016).

Surprisingly, Andrew Coyne focussed more on Quebec, politics and demography, rather than contributing his usual economic take on issues. Almost a childish approach in 100 million Canadians by 2100 may not be federal policy, but it should be – even if it makes Quebec howl, largely ignoring the negative impacts on housing, healthcare and infrastructure and, more bizarrely, falling into the trap of overall GDP rather than productivity and per capita GDP (which most of his economic-related columns focus on).

All this being said, the Quebec government took advantage of the controversy to announce changes to its immigration program Six éléments à retenir des annonces de Québec en immigration, including increased levels to 60,000 new permanent residents while allowing ongoing temporary resident growth. This slight-of-hand was of course noted by Michel David, Et la lumière fut and Plus d’immigrants pour éviter une « louisianisation » ici ? 

This modest increase will not, of course, make any significant change to the ongoing divergence in population growth between Quebec and the Rest of Canada and Quebec’s relative weight in the country.

A recent Statistics Canada study, Unemployment and job vacancies by education, 2016 to 2022, highlighting the disconnect between immigration policy, which favours university-educated immigrants, and immigrant employment, which favours lower-skilled immigrants, provides another example of how our immigration policies appear more to be “policy-driven evidence” rather than “evidence-based policy.”

Questions on immigration levels have broadened from housing, healthcare and infrastructure impacts to the impact on the Canadian federation given the imbalance between Quebec and the Rest of Canada. A potential sleeper issue, parallel to Quebec’s relative share of the population is with respect to Indigenous peoples, given that high immigration levels dwarf Indigenous growth (visible minorities increased by 26.5 percent, Indigenous peoples by 9.4 percent, 2021 compared to 2016).

As I have argued previously, we need to find a way to have more productive discussions on immigration rather than the various solitudes between the “more the merrier” and “great replacement” camps (where most Canadians are). The disconnect between Quebec and the Rest-of-Canada is a long-term threat to the federation.

A focus on the practicalities – housing, healthcare and infrastructure impacts – is likely the best way forward and may provide a means to reduce the divergence between the “two solitudes.”

Ideally, of course, some form of commission examining demographics, immigration, and these impacts would provide deeper analysis and recommendations than current IRCC consultations or any other internal review.

To end with a quote from another favourite musician of mine:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Reaction to Conservative support for the notwithstanding clause

From the right (Ivison) to the left (Raj):

Most MPs come to Ottawa with good intentions, resolving to follow their conscience to make life better for their communities. Often though, they find that their conscience is not going in the same direction as their party. A decade ago, I remember Indo-Canadian Conservative MP Tim Uppal sending me a set of head scarves for my western Quebec soccer team, to wear in a solidarity protest against the Quebec Soccer Federation’s turban ban. Today, Uppal says he opposes Quebec’s Bill 21, the law that bans some public servants in the province from wearing religious symbols such as turbans to work.

Yet, earlier this week, he and the rest of the Conservative party voted in favour of a Bloc Québécois motion that called on the House of Commons to remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.

This is the same clause that was invoked by Francois Legault’s Quebec government pre-emptively to shield it from court challenges — which was prescient because the Quebec Superior Court judged last year that Bill 21 violates religious freedom but is beyond the reach of the judiciary. A panel of judges at the Quebec Court of Appeal is now weighing whether the bill disproportionately discriminates against Muslim women who wear the hijab (even the notwithstanding clause does not protect legislation that discriminates on the basis of gender).

I wrote to Uppal and said I was surprised at the party’s position on the use of notwithstanding. “I understand it’s popular in Quebec but we both know it’s blatant discrimination,” I said.

In reply, Uppal said that the motion was about the ability of the provinces to use the notwithstanding clause as guaranteed in the Constitution. “We are not interested in getting into a drawn-out constitutional battle. There are more important issues to focus on,” he said. It would be mildly amusing to watch political parties make age-old mistakes for the first time, if the consequences weren’t so serious. The Conservative party’s discomfort at siding with the Bloc, in pursuit of soft nationalist votes, risks alienating ethnic voters.

It is reminiscent of Justin Trudeau’s indiscretion early in his leadershipwhen he said he favoured keeping existing representation in the Senate because it was to Quebec’s advantage — a statement that did not go down well in other parts of the country where he was trying to build support. It may once have been possible to simultaneously pander to different groups on opposite sides of the same issue, but it is no longer. We have the internet now.

Uppal has been trying to reassure the World Sikh Organization that he and his party remain opposed to Quebec’s secularism law. He has said the Liberals are trying to spin a narrative that the Conservatives explicitly support the pre-emptive use of the clause.

Who knows why anyone might believe that line, except for the fact that it is demonstrably true.

The Bloc’s motion is not abstract — it relates directly to the pre-emptive use of Section 33 of the Constitution by the Legault government in its secularism and language legislation.

Sikh groups have, correctly, asserted that this erodes the Charter and suspends human rights. Uppal claims that the notwithstanding provision is a longstanding part of the Charter, which is true, but he cannot ignore that this vote empowers Legault and endorses his position. I know the arguments in favour of use of notwithstanding — and support them to a point. Stephen Harper’s former deputy chief of staff, Howard Anglin, made an impassioned argument in support of Section 33 recently, arguing that judges violated the “1982 bargain” by egregiously overreaching in their judgments. “Judges make poor gods,” he said. “Call me a stickler for democracy but I prefer the people wielding ultimate power in any society to be accountable, and, in a pinch, removable.”

He’s right. But until recently, the clause was used when politicians wanted to correct what they believed was judicial excess. Now it is being invoked (by Quebec and Ontario) at the beginning of the process to camouflage unjust laws. Federal justice minister David Lametti says that such use “guts Canadian democracy and means the Charter doesn’t exist” — a bold statement that commits his government to act.

Trudeau said in late January that Lametti is looking to refer the use of Section 33 to the Supreme Court, pending the ruling from the Quebec Court of Appeal on the religious symbols case. The prime minister’s intervention provoked a choleric reaction from Legault, who says it is up to the Quebec National Assembly to decide the laws that govern the province.

The premier argues the Canadian Charter is part of the Constitution Act that Quebec didn’t sign — an argument that ignores Quebec’s own charter, adopted unanimously by the province’s legislature in 1975, which is clear that every person has the right to full and equal recognition of his or her human rights, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, gender or religion. “Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impacting such rights,” it says. Legault has been discriminating against the allophones and anglophones that constitute 20 per cent of Quebec’s population because it is popular with the francophone majority, who have been persuaded by their government that the French language and Quebec culture are threatened.

The federal government has little option but to oppose such blatant injustice, but in doing so the country’s unity will likely be tested. If Lametti asks the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on the use of Section 33, it could prove explosive. The court may refuse to hear the case on the grounds of conflict of interest — Section 33 was designed to limit the power of the courts. If the top court’s anglo majority does overturn the law, it could be the casus belli the separatists have been waiting for and could send Canada hurtling toward another referendum.

In their defence, the Conservatives might argue that western premiers don’t want restrictions placed on a notwithstanding clause that has been used by Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But the real reason Conservatives voted for a Bloc motion — never a smart or admirable thing — is to pander for votes in Quebec.

They may get them, but the cost could be their integrity and the trust of ethnic communities who could lose confidence in Poilievre’s party as a protector of minority rights.

Conservative MPs might want to refresh their memories on the thoughts of the philosophical founder of their movement, Edmund Burke, on the subject of natural law and individual rights. “The liberty of no one man, no body of men, and no number of men, can find means to trespass on the liberty of any person, or any description of persons, in society. This kind of liberty is indeed but another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws and secured by well-constructed institutions.”

Source: In Quebec, the Tories can choose principles or pandering. Not both

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s Quebec lieutenant made a shocking declaration this week that went unnoticed in English Canada, telling reporters that Conservatives “of course” agree with the provinces’ pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause.

On Tuesday, Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus said the party “might not necessarily” contest Quebec’s Bill 21 at the Supreme Court — reversing Poilievre’s previous stance. Then, Paul-Hus added, “Is the use of the notwithstanding clause in a pre-emptive manner, as the provinces have used it — are Conservatives in agreement with that?”

“Bien oui,” he said, meaning, “Of course” — or, literally, “Well, yes.”

That might be news to some of the Conservative MPs who vocally opposed Bill 21, a discriminatory law that bars those wearing religious symbols from holding certain public-sector jobs.

But perhaps they shouldn’t be surprised.

This week, they all sided with the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois and voted to tell Ottawa — the Liberals and any future federal government — to butt out of the notwithstanding clause debate. (Only Manitoba’s Candice Bergen, Nova Scotia’s Rick Perkins and Ontario’s Alex Ruff, who represents Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, didn’t show up for the vote, and only the Liberals and NDP opposed.)

The motion proposed by the Bloc read: “That the House remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.”

The notwithstanding clause was a compromise that allowed prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to enshrine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Constitution. It gives legislatures the right to override some Charter rights for a renewable period of five years. Several politicians around the table at the time felt the political cost of using the clause would dampen the temptation to use it.

But that thinking has drastically shifted. In 2019, Quebec’s government introduced Bill 21 to popular support. Knowing the legislation was discriminatory, Premier François Legault pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause to protect it from court scrutiny. The clause was pre-emptively used again last year by Quebec when it passed Bill 96, legislation that limits the rights of anglophones in the province and curbs the use of other minority languages.

Then, last fall, Ontario Premier Doug Ford attempted to pre-emptively invoke the clause, too — this time to stop educational support workers from striking.

Widespread public opposition and the unions’ collective action forced Ford to back down, but not before Ottawa spent days contemplating how it should respond. Should it ask the Supreme Court if the provinces had the right to use the clause pre-emptively? Within Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, staff argued the power of disallowance — a constitutional provision that gives the federal government the right to disallow provincial laws — was outdated (it hasn’t been used since 1943), but they searched for creative ways to send a message that Ottawa wasn’t happy and that it believed the notwithstanding clause needed parameters around it.

At the time, and again this week, Justice Minister David Lametti argued the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause was robbing the courts of having their say.

“It was always meant to be a last resort, in the context of constitutional negotiations,” he said. “It’s a grave matter when we use a law to breach people’s rights in Canada (and) the use of the notwithstanding clause must be an exception.”

The Bloc, unsurprisingly, doesn’t want the federal government telling Quebec what it can and can’t do.

But it is more than noteworthy that the Tories agree — regardless of whether Paul-Hus was making up party policy on the fly or if he had Poilievre’s benediction.

The vote Monday suggests several things.

First, we can expect that as prime minister, Poilievre would sit back and allow any province to pass discriminatory laws using the notwithstanding clause. This is what the Bloc motion called for. This is what Conservative MPs supported.

Second, Poilievre is aggressively courting nationalist voters in Quebec, embracing the same playbook that failed for Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer, and his position on Bill 21 may be shifting again. During the French-language Conservative leadership debate last May, Poilievre said he “would not reverse the federal decision” to fight both Bill 21 and 96 at the Supreme Court. But if the Liberals are no longer in office when these laws reach the country’s top court, can Poilievre be counted on to defend minority rights? Monday’s vote suggests not.

Lastly, the Conservative MPs who vehemently opposed Bill 21, who argued against O’Toole’s non-intervention policy and paved the way for his ouster and Poilievre’s leadership, acted disingenuously. Opposing Bill 21, believing that pre-emptive use of the clause should be limited, or that the federal government should fight the bill at the Supreme Court, meant voting against this motion.

Several MPs I spoke with said they believed they were simply reaffirming what the Constitution states, making a statement of fact.

It clearly was about much more than that.

Either you believe in something, or you don’t.

Source: Would Pierre Poilievre’s Tories let provinces strip us of our rights? ‘Of course,’ one of his MPs says

Raj: Ottawa should scrap the logistical and political nightmare that is the Safe Third Country Agreement

Interesting that while the government defends the STCA, a “senior” IRCC official is quoted as saying “in our estimation, it might not change that much, because what would happen is you wouldn’t have a Roxham Road, the people could cross at the ports of entry and they might therefore go to different ports of entry.”

Politically, of course, it appears to undermine the assertion that immigration is managed and controlled, a point that the Conservatives have hammered in the past before IRCC backlogs became a top issue:

It challenges our conception of who we are as a country, questions the values core to the Liberal Party of Canada and yet, Thursday, the federal government is expected to be at the Supreme Court defending a longstanding agreement with the United States that it should have ditched years ago.

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) aims to reduce the number of refugees crossing into Canada from the United States. By blocking access to asylum seekers at official ports of entries, however, it encourages them to use a back door, known to most of us as Roxham Road. That loophole is becoming untenable politically, especially in Quebec, and it’s causing logistical nightmares and year-long delays in refugee processing that even the government’s own immigration department suggests could be alleviated if the deal was scrapped.

Under the STCA, asylum seekers arriving by land at official crossings are turned away and handed back to U.S. authorities, where they often end up in detention in questionable conditions — unless they fall in specific exemption categories (e.g. if they have family in Canada, are an unaccompanied minor, or face the death penalty in the U.S.).

That’s at the core of the case before the Supreme Court. Does handing asylum seekers back to the United States — where they are detained, reportedly in freezing conditions without proper food, where they have fewer chances of being accepted as a refugee, and can face persecution when returned to their homeland — breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? 

Refugee advocates say yes. The government says no. In fact, Ottawa has been unsuccessfully trying to get Washington to expand the STCA all across the border to address Canada’s current asylum crisis — a miniature one the Biden administration must envy.

The STCA came into effect in 2004, but it wasn’t until Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017 and started deporting undocumented immigrants that people began to pay much attention. 

Eight days into Trump’s presidency, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

It was on-brand for Trudeau and the Liberals who were elected two years earlier on a promise to bring in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing persecution.

The welcome mat was laid out at Roxham Road. This illegal border crossing is really a ditch at the Quebec-New York border that’s now surrounded by infrastructure to handle the thousands of people arriving there each month. It’s a well-publicized route to enter the country quickly and have your case heard (not so quickly) with the tiny wrinkle that you must break the law (in a consequence-free manner) to cross into Canada.

There are no statistics for RCMP interceptions of asylum claimants on the government’s website prior to 2017. But that year, the numbers in Quebec jumped from 245 in January to 1,916 in December. In total, 18,836 persons were apprehended crossing the border irregularly into Quebec. That yearly trend continued up until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Roxham Road and the Canada-U.S. border in 2020 and asylum seekers were told to wait to make their claims. In December 2021, the numbers were back up and so far this year, 23,196 irregular migrants have been intercepted at the Quebec border — more than any other year. Perhaps, it’s pent-up demand from the pandemic, or perhaps it’s just the new normal settling in.

It’s no wonder Quebec politicians are alarmed. Coupled with Premier François Legault’s focus on identity politics and concerns over the survival of the French language, provincial politicians fervently denounced the situation on the election trail, demanding the road be closed.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, for example, suggested the federal government left Roxham Road open purposefully to “destabilize” Quebec society. 

Ottawa is uninterested in closing Roxham Road. It argues blocking access would lead asylum seekers to more dangerous crossings and could line the pockets of organized crime. Making it an official crossing would have the same impact — and is unlikely since the U.S. would have to agree to place agents there. (Imposing the STCA on the entire border would also lead migrants to find underground routes, but I digress.)

Instead, an official in Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said the situation is “difficult, but it’s also not unmanageable.”

Right now, the system is breaking down. It gives the appearance of queue-jumping (it’s not), but does reward for circumventing the law. It’s also costing Ottawa hundreds of millions of dollars — so far more than $761 million in accommodation, security, health and transportation costs. It’s squeezing Quebec’s resources too, and a lack of personnel is forcing asylum seekers to wait nearly a year or more before obtaining a work permit and many years before having their cases heard. 

In court, the federal government has argued scrapping the STCA would lead to a flood of asylum claims at Canada’s official ports of entry. 

But a senior official from Immigration and Citizenship, speaking to the Star Wednesday, said that while Ottawa is contingency planning in case that happens, “in our estimation, it might not change that much, because what would happen is you wouldn’t have a Roxham Road, the people could cross at the ports of entry and they might therefore go to different ports of entry.”

In fact, suspending the STCA might relieve the bottleneck at the Quebec crossing and spread the burden of supporting asylum seekers across provinces.

“It might help a bit,” the official said, noting that bringing Roxham Road migrants who intended to go to Ontario to that province had helped them get their interviews faster.

Of course, scrapping the deal won’t solve everything. “The numbers are such that even if they were spread across the country, it would still lead to some problems,” the official noted.

Canadians have shown themselves ready to do more to respond to refugee crises around the world. But the system must be seen to be fair. People must be processed quickly, and given the tools to help them support themselves.

In the meantime, if the government’s own department doesn’t believe there is pent-up demand beyond what we’re already seeing, why is the Liberal government insisting on defending the status quo?

Source: Ottawa should scrap the logistical and political nightmare that is the Safe Third Country Agreement

Raj: NDP puts minority rights aside as it courts Quebec

Of note:

The federal NDP and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May voted to endorse the use of the notwithstanding clause and Quebec’s controversial Bill 96 Wednesday, by supporting Bloc Québécois legislation that strips the rights of non-francophones in the province.

The Bloc sought to amend several pieces of federal legislation to impose French as the dominant language in the province and tried to prevent Ottawa from contesting Quebec’s contentious language moves.

Its bill C-238, which was defeated Wednesday, would have changed the Citizenship Act so that Quebec residents can only become citizens if they have “adequate knowledge of French.” Everywhere else in Canada, residents must only demonstrate they speak either French or English. 

The bill also amended the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act, and the Canadian Business Corporations Act by subjecting them to Quebec’s French language charter. 

Whatever the government of Quebec put into its charter would tie Ottawa’s hands.

This is concerning when you consider the nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec — which is likely to be re-elected with a sweeping majority Monday — passed Bill 96 earlier this year. That legislation amended the French language charter to prevent many English speakers from speaking to each other in English at work (or in a language other than French); made it difficult for employers to require employees know any language other than French; and banned many people from accessing government services in English — even when they are available. It even gave the province the right to enter private businesses without a warrant to ensure emails, for example, are being sent in French and gave individuals the right to seek damages in court if their language rights are breached.

Quebec’s charter also imposes unnecessary hardship on newcomers, forcing them to learn French within six months of their arrival — after which the government only communicates with them in French. Expecting new arrivals to learn a language in six months is not only unrealistic but sets them up for failure.

And yet, this is what NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his MPs voted for Wednesday. This from a party that prides itself on standing up for minority rights.

Quebec Premier François Legault has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause twice now to avoid legal challenges arising from obvious reaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, most recently with Bill 96 and previously with Bill 21, a law that prevents Quebecers employed in certain professions such as teachers, judges, and police officers from wearing religious symbols. Just last year, an elementary teacher in Chelsea, Que., was removed from her classroom for wearing a head scarf.

It’s hard to believe this is the kind of behaviour the NDP — or Elizabeth May, now a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party — wants to be associated with.

The decline of French in Quebec is a real concern. It is one shared by many allophones and anglophones in Quebec too. But subjecting federal laws to a provincial government, especially one that has questioned publicly why it should be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is another thing altogether.

And while the NDP wants to have it both ways — by claiming it is standing up for the protection of the French language and respecting anglophone minority rights — its actions this week show it isn’t doing both. It also raises questions about whether the party is ready to contest for power if it is unwilling to assert Ottawa’s jurisdiction.

New Democrats note that they’ve always supported the idea that federal institutions operating in Quebec should be subject to the province’s language charter. The NDP’s only Quebec MP, Alexandre Boulerice, noted last spring that it made little sense for credit unions in the province to operate under different laws than federally-regulated banks. Bill 96, however, has changed that conversation.

Language is touchy in Quebec. The vast majority of Quebecers support Bill 96. Most of the province’s political parties do too. In fact, Quebec Liberals are polling in the single digits with francophones, likely due to their opposition to Bill 96 and Bill 21. 

For nearly two decades now, the NDP has embraced asymmetrical federalism with Quebec, including supporting the principle that 50 per cent plus one vote is enough to split the country. That position is credited for the party’s big win in 2011. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that yet again the NDP places chasing francophone support in Quebec above all else.

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who helped convince his own caucus and lobbied opposition MPs to vote against the bill, said he was “very relieved” by its defeat. “Using the notwithstanding clause to deny people rights … is just very alarming,” he told the Star.

The silver lining in Wednesday’s vote came from the Liberals and notably Conservative MPs who unanimously stood opposed. Just 18 months ago, on a similar motion, all but one Conservative voted with the Bloc.

A new leader and a 2021 election that saw the Conservatives’ hopes for a big win in Quebec dashed seem to have contributed to an epiphany. That or Pierre Poilievre realized there are more votes to be had fighting the notwithstanding clause outside Quebec than endorsing it inside the province.

Source: NDP puts minority rights aside as it courts Quebec

Raj: Quebec is using the Constitution to take away the rights of minorities. What if that becomes the norm?

Good question although the solution of opening the constitution to provide “guardrails” for use of the notwithstanding clause would be opening a Pandora’s box given that other issues would emerge, not to mention garnering sufficient provincial support:

Fatemeh Anvari has started a national conversation.

The school teacher in Chelsea, Que., removed from her classroom this month because of her hijab, has put a face to Bill 21, the Quebec law that prevents those wearing religious symbols from holding certain public-sector jobs.

The law is popular in Quebec, where Premier François Legault defended it again Monday as reasonable and important to ensure secularism and the appearance of neutrality.

“People can teach if they take off their religious symbol while they teach, and when they are in the streets, at home, they can wear a religious symbol,” Legault told reporters.

The shocked parents of students at Chelsea Elementary School want to use their outrage to cast a light on Bill 21’s injustice.

But a Quebec Liberal MP hopes Anvari’s case prompts broader thinking. Anthony Housefather wants a national discussion on the use of the notwithstanding clause, and how to prevent the majority from using its position to curb the rights of minorities.

Anvari lost her ability to teach because Legault pre-emptively used the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause, section 33, giving the Quebec government the ability to trample on fundamental rights and shield its action from the courts. (It is doing so again with language Bill 96.)

“I’m not naïve about it,” the Mount Royal MP told me. Amending the Constitution to add parameters around the clause or eliminate it completely requires the approval of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the Canadian population. The only other direct option would be Ottawa’s power of disallowance, last used to invalidate provincial law in 1943.

Source: Quebec is using the Constitution to take away the rights of minorities. What if that becomes the norm?

Raj: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Good question. And other political leaders need to step up as well:

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” Conservative MP Kyle Seeback tweeted Thursday morning. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.#bill21mustgo #cdnpoli

It was an unusual statement from a Conservative MP, and a risky one. This is not Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position on Quebec’s controversial law, which bars individuals who wear religious symbols from holding certain jobs in public institutions. Since his election as leader, O’Toole has defended Quebec’s right to enact such discriminatory legislation. After his first meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault, back in September 2020, O’Toole pledged not to challenge Bill 21 in court. “We need a government that respects provincial autonomy and provincial legislatures,” he told reporters.

For the MP for Dufferin—Caledon to go out on such a limb publicly, amid a climate of fear and retribution (O’Toole’s team has threatened caucus expulsions to those who don’t toe the party line), is commendable. Behind closed doors, Tory MPs tell me Seeback has been pitching to caucus and to the party leadership that a strong position denouncing Bill 21 is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart political thing to do.

While his pleas resonate with some of his colleagues, they don’t appear to have nudged his leader.

But Seeback, who declined an interview request, is right. Opposing Bill 21 is a great wedge against the Liberals on an issue where the Tories desperately need to rebrand, and in an area of the country where they need to win.

The Conservatives have a GTA problem and a visible-minority problem. Out of the 56 ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the Conservatives hold six (although all but two are located on the periphery), while the Liberals have 50. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011, Stephen Harper found his majority in the GTA, sweeping the ethnically diverse areas of Brampton and Mississauga.

But over the past decade, the Tories pursued policies that alienated many of these communities. From immigration minister (now Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney’s niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies, to the barbaric practices snitch-line, to leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s values test, to the Tories fervent opposition to M-103, a motion denouncing Islamophobia.

In 2015, Brampton and Mississauga showed Harper the door. Seeback lost his seat in Brampton West. The same happened in 2019, and again in 2021.

Source: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?