Dear English Canada,
I’m someone who lives in Quebec. More precisely, I now live on the West Island of Montreal. I’ll let that be my disclaimer. I moved to Montreal in 1999 not so long after the last referendum on Quebec sovereignty. From time to time when I return to Ontario or when I speak to family and friends on the telephone, I am sometimes startled by the prominence “separation” has in their perception of what is going on in Quebec. These days the term is sovereignty and yes, it has gained a little extra momentum in the press of late. But I’m wondering if maybe that extra momentum is actually taking place outside Quebec because I don’t carry any of the panic that my non-Quebec friends and family assume I do.
There are things I’m panicked about in this election but a referendum on sovereignty is not one of them.
From where I stand over here in Yuppie Anglo-ville (a misnomer that I’ll skip over here!), it seems a very real possibility that the Parti Québécois could win the election on April 7. It’s highly possible that this could take the shape of a majority government. After all, generations of gerrymandering make it possible that with only 37% or 38% of the popular vote, the PQs could win a majority. Today the polls seem to peg the PQs at right about that number, even with the arrival of Quebec Business Lord PKP (Pierre-Karl Peladeau). This will be an election of distribution patterns rather than straight up popularity.
Here’s something else the polls tell us: those committed to voting in favour of Quebec sovereignty on any potential referendum in the near future are lagging in the low 40% range – maybe lower. So while you can manipulate election results by strategic mapping of riding districts, a one-to-one referendum vote is much harder to skew. A PQ majority government does not mean a successful referendum on Quebec sovereignty. They are mutually exclusive though sometimes these lines get blurred – by political parties, by the media, by lack of understanding.
One of the things I am panicked about is the Charter of Values (no longer the real name of the Charter but what we all actually still call it!) and Quebec’s obsession with secularism. I am appalled by the ease with which we judge our ideas, cultures, and beliefs superior. Ici au Quebec…this is how the debate always begins. And then it goes like this….Here in Quebec we want to be secular. And we want everyone as individuals to be secular in their interactions with the state. Therefore, anyone who works for the state must appear secular. What this means is that anyone who works for the state must dress and look like “us”, Quebeckers. It puts our secularism at risk (our belief in the equality of men and women included) to be prosecuted in court by a lawyer wearing a hijab. It puts our secularism at risk to be treated by a doctor wearing a turban. It puts our secularism at risk in the most dangerous ways when our children are taught by a teacher wearing a kippa. Because ici au Quebec, “we” do not support those personal expressions of religion, “we” do not look that way, and “we” do not accept that as part of our society.
That’s what panics me. It panics me to realize that not one of the four major parties stands solidly against the Charter. While it’s certainly the brainchild of the PQ, the Coalition Avenir Québec, the Parti Libéral du Québec, and the exciting new leftist Québec Solidaire all endorse slightly watered down versions of the same xenophobia. What panics me is that I feel left without a choice and therefore without a voice.
So while English Canada may be holding their breath on the referendum question, from the inside, I’m scared to death of raising my kids in a world where we judge you by the material on your head.
P.S. I’m learning to look for silver linings. Daniel Weinstock presented me with one last week. You should read this if you are interested in what Quebec is going to look like in five years but if you don’t have the time I’ll give away the ending – He argues that the Charter and courting candidates like union-breaker PKP move the Parti Québécois both away from its roots à la René Lévesque and away from the growing immigrant population resulting in a splintered party and an all but dead sovereigntist movement.