Public Lecture: Québec at the Crossroads: The Charter of Values and the Future of Québec
Provided by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs
At this conference, Professor Daniel Weinstock depicted the perplexity of the Charter of Values’ in situating it in Quebec’s relatively progressive social and intellectual contexts, particularly in light of the province’s progressive history in family and health policy, subsidized daycare and its supportive record with gay marriage. To understand the Charter’s support given these contexts, Professor Weinstock argues that we must turn to the new political dynamics inherent to them, in particular the Parti Québécois’ (PQ’s) electoral loss as well as the ascent of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) in 2007 and the unlikely coalition of four constituencies that have each read into the legislation that is the Charter corrective measures against a perception of excess in religious minority accommodations.
First, Professor Weinstock argued that the Charter of Values properly contextualized is a rigorous attempt at articulating a “robust conception of identity” — one that defines Québec’s distinct secular culture and project as more than simply language — a rigorous ethnicized and nationalized conception of identity that includes undoubtedly language but is also in contrast to the inclusiveness of Canadian multiculturalism and reasonable accommodation of religious minorities.[i]
Contextually, the political dynamics are telling. The rigorous ethnicized and nationalized conception of identity is in direct contrast to the inclusive approach to identity that had defined historically Québec’s approach since René Lévesque’s government in the 1970s. Professor Weinstock believes that the electoral loss in the 2007 general provincial election which saw Mario Dumont and the ADQ ascend to official opposition status on the issue of unreasonableness of reasonable accommodation and Québec identity deeply affected the intellectual dynamics and the electoral strategy of the PQ.[ii] This electoral defeat permitted a small minority of intellectuals within the PQ, in the line of Jacques Parizeau, whom had been opposed to the “inclusivity” of Québec identity of Gérald Godin during the Lévesque government and the tradition of Lucien and Gérard Bouchard who pushed within the PQ a de-ethnicization and de-nationalization of identity, to seek rather the opposite: Québec’s ethnicization and nationalization.[iii]
Professor Weinstock believes that this approach may in at least be the PQ’s electoral strategy to gain entry into majority government territory. This rigorous conception of identity and strategy of the Charter has been supported by an unlikely coalition of four constituencies that have read into and see the Charter each in their own way as a further and rectifying step in the secular modernization of the state. Professor Weinstock describes the coalition as consisting:
1. The conservative nationalists who believe that Québec identity should rest upon the historical community of French Québec and its historical religious political distinct values. These historical nationalists contends Weinstock are not easily for secession.
2. Those that are seeking the modernization of Québec society who view the Charter of Values as the last step in the modernization of the Québec state, that is, the last step in the quiet revolution, the sidelining religion from politics. Some view the Charter of Values as the fulfillment of the Parent Report placing the education system in the hands of the state rather than religion.
Here, Professor Weinstock notes that both of these constituencies form a coalition through a social phenomenon of reverse trans-substantiation, i.e., where historical religious symbols lose their religious meaning and become valued for their historicity and symbolism.
3. The Québec feminists who see the Charter of Values as a corrective measure against unreasonable accommodations practices in Quebec. From their perspectives, religious minority accommodation practices bring in from the back door religious oppression and gender inequality. The battle of our generation to attain equality between men and women is a battle that is being lost through reasonable accommodation of religious minorities and diversity. For them, the Charter of Values is (I would argue an ethically and juridically problematic strategy) a vehicle for further modernization.
4. The islamophobia through which those who see the Charter of Values as a measure against Islamic fundamentalism.
For Professor Weinstock, these four constituencies have come together to form a coalition supporting the PQ and its Charter of Values since the late-2013 and early-2014. The current election is a test of this coalition. The problem I would argue is that the question of sovereignty in this provincial election is dissipating the coalition and severely eroding the popular support for the PQ despite the strong popularity for its Charter. It remains however to be seen whether the PQ can survive the current election and continue to provide the forum for these four constituencies in the event of an electoral defeat, and as Professor Weinstock notes, whether the electoral loss will permit the conditions for the possible emergence of new and a more radical party on the basis of this popular ethnicized and nationalized version of identity.
[iii] The PQ loss in the 2007 election is thought to have been caused by André Boisclair’s decision not to have anything to do with limiting religious freedoms. Professor Weinstock argues that this allowed Pauline Marois et al. to decide that identity issue will never be permitted to taken by another party.