Que­bec re­places one fear for an­other

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION -

In 1970, Que­bec held an elec­tion in which get­ting out of Canada was on the ta­ble, even if a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity. In 2018, the prov­ince will, for the first time in 48 years, vote in an elec­tion in which stay­ing put is a given.

This is very good news. For nearly half a cen­tury, Que­bec pol­i­tics has been a zero-sum game be­tween those who wish to stay in Canada and those who wish to leave.

The po­lit­i­cal cul­ture has at­ro­phied as a re­sult. Hav­ing gov­erned for all but 18 months of the last 15 years, the Que­bec Lib­eral Party is bloated with self-en­ti­tle­ment and the Parti Québé­cois has be­come a refuge for baby boomer na­tivism as sup­port for its rai­son d’être has sub­sided.

By cre­at­ing a mostly cen­trist party whose na­tion­al­ist-not-sep­a­ratist stance re­flects the de­light­fully am­bigu­ous think­ing of many Que­be­cers, Coali­tion Avenir Québec Leader François Le­gault presents the prov­ince with a vi­able third op­tion, even if un­for­tu­nately it would, like the PQ’s failed Char­ter of Que­bec Val­ues, pro­hibit the wear­ing of re­li­gious sym­bols by judges, prison guards, po­lice of­fi­cers and teach­ers, ef­fec­tively bar­ring cer­tain prac­tis­ing mem­bers of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties from these po­si­tions.

The CAQ’s mere pres­ence has laid waste to fa­mil­iar clichés. Parti Québé­cois Leader Jean-François Lisée of­fi­cially put sovereignty on the back burner for the first term of a PQ gov­ern­ment. The fear-mon­ger­ing rhetoric about a ref­er­en­dum, once a sta­ple of Que­bec elec­tions, is prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent.

The Liberals have also been forced to change tack. In 2014, Lib­eral Leader Philippe Couil­lard reg­u­larly por­trayed Le­gault, a for­mer Péquiste, as a cryp­tosovereignist. In 2018, Couil­lard has mostly at­tacked Le­gault for be­ing a ter­ri­ble wouldbe pre­mier. This is progress.

Yet while Le­gault has di­vorced him­self of sovereignty, he has none­the­less adopted the fear-mon­ger­ing as­pect of the move­ment’s mod­ern in­car­na­tion. Le­gault said he would re­duce the num­ber of im­mi­grants by 20 per cent — which, in an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion such as Que­bec’s, con­sti­tutes de­mo­graphic sui­cide.

Worse still, he has tied im­mi­gra­tion to the sup­posed de­cline of French. This is ab­surd. A 2016 Of­fice québé­cois de la langue française re­port says the use of French in the work­place ac­tu­ally in­creased among an­glo­phones and al­lo­phones be­tween 1997 and 2016.

Le­gault con­tin­ues to ap­peal to Que­bec’s col­lec­tive and un­der­stand­able fear of the de­cline of French, then pins this sup­posed de­cline on im­mi­grants to Que­bec. Why? Be­cause it’s easy, and it works. In rid­ding this cam­paign of one fear — of sovereignty — Le­gault has re­placed it with an­other.

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