Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:
“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019
Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.
Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.
Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.
I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.
While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.
Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.
Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.
Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.
In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:
Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.
This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.
Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.
Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:
“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”
That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.
Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.
Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.
This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.
I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.
Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.
What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:
There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.
He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.
Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.
Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.
Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.
One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.
Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.
* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department
Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.
Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.
It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:
From Side-Pander to Not Necessary
Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.
Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.
Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.
That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.
Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.
Banning Religious Symbols
Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.
The PLQ, who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him). Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.
The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.
Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.
Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.
If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.
Implementing Cannabis Legalization
When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.
Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.
Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.
What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.
If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?
And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.
As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.
It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.
So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs. This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.
Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.
Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.
The Quebec elections are over and we are about to have a new government. People fed up with Philippe Couillard and wary of the sovereigntist messages of Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois took their votes elsewhere, putting François Legault and his party, Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), in office.
Many people are scared, and they have every reason to be. The CAQ ran on an aggressively secularist, anti-immigration, right-wing nationalist (within Canada) platform.
The day after the election, people’s worst fears were confirmed when Legault announced that he would use the Canadian constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to bar civil servants from wearing religious symbols. To use a popular Quebecois expression, ça commence ben mal (we’re off to a bad start).
For all those in despair, I want to give reasons to hope. This article will look at a couple of the CAQ’s more controversial policies, the legality of them, and the ways we can fight back within the system.
One of François Legault’s most controversial statements during the election was that he would expel any immigrants Quebec that failed to pass a French and “Quebec Values” test within three years of their arrival.
Here’s the thing: Quebec cannot legally do that.
The decision on whether or not to expel immigrants is federal jurisdiction. This is not to say that Quebec has no discretion in matters of immigration. One of the ways people can immigrate to Canada is via Quebec’s immigration programs such as Quebec Skilled Worker, Quebec Investor, or Quebec Experience, all of which have limits set by the provincial government on how many people they are willing to accept.
These programs do not guarantee you permanent residence (PR). Once you have a Quebec certificate via one of these programs, you can apply for permanent residence.
The application for PR will be assessed by a federal Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officer and they get the final say as to whether or not you get permanent residency, not Quebec. It is also the CIC that has sole jurisdiction to issue expulsion orders.
As previously stated, François Legault announced on Tuesday that he would be willing to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to ban government employees from wearing religious symbols. In Quebec, that would apply to everyone from teachers to doctors to public transit workers, cops, and civil servants.
It should be said that if the new government is truly committed to secularism, they need to take down all the crosses in public buildings, a gruelling and expensive task given Quebec’s history with the Catholic Church. It must also be said that their rules should include forbidding anyone in civil service from wearing a cross or crucifix.
Fortunately for people whose faith dictates the wearing of visible symbols, the Notwithstanding Clause is not the magical failsafe Islamaphobes and anti-Semites seem to think it is and it will not allow a government to do what it wants indefinitely.
The Notwithstanding Clause is Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says:
“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”
Section 2 of the Charter deals with freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Sections 7 to 15 deal with such rights as “life, liberty, and security of the person” and protection from arbitrary detention, search and seizures, and other rights in criminal and penal proceedings.
Most importantly in this case, article 15 entrenches the right to equality before and under the law “without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”
The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to keep a law in place that violates these rights provided they expressly declare that the legislation in question applies notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This declaration by a government would not apply indefinitely. According to paragraph three of the Clause, said declaration “will cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.”
There is good reason for this entrenched delay.
The Notwithstanding Clause is generally applied by provincial governments in the face of the courts striking down controversial legislation on constitutional grounds. The five-year delay allows said governments to rework the law so it conforms with the Charter in cases where the courts do not give them such a delay.
Quebec, for example, used the Clause to keep Bill 101 in place after the Supreme Court struck it down, using the five years to rewrite the law to fit the Charter. Once the five years is up, the government can choose to re-enact a declaration as per the Clause and the delay restarts.
That said, there is a catch, because guess what else happens every four to five years? Elections.
Using the Notwithstanding Clause is a hugely unpopular move. Canadians have embraced The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way of using the courts to protect them from, for example, xenophobic laws enacted by governments.
A legal challenge to Bill 62, the law enacted by the Liberals barring the wearing of religious symbols by government employees and people using government services, is currently underway and will likely be struck down by the courts. The CAQ can use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep the law in place if they wish, but it might cost them a second term.
The CAQ officially take office once Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, J. Michel Doyon swears them in and names François Legault as our Premier. Many of us are scared and angry so let’s turn this anger into action and use our power as the people to curb their worst ideas.
* Featured image of François Legault on election night via YouTube
It’s one of those headlines that sounds great: “Anglos, it’s time to get over the 1995 Quebec referendum.” Yes, it is. Glad The Montreal Gazette finally realized it.
However, the paper’s Facebook plug of the op-ed revealed what guest opinion writer Lise Ravary only got to at the end of her piece. That fear of another Quebec referendum was “a bad reason to spurn Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)” this election.
Fine, sure, it’s not. By the same token, fear of a referendum is not a good reason to spurn Québec Solidaire either. But there are several good reasons not to vote CAQ this year or any year.
They’re not an alternative to Quebec’s two natural governing parties, the Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). They’re the same, only meaner.
The PQ gave us the Charter of Quebec Values and lost, in large part, because of it. The PLQ, who had campaigned against the Charter, brought in the absurd Bill C-62, turning bus drivers and librarians into the Niqab police.
Not to be outdone, the CAQ is proposing that all prospective immigrants to Quebec have to pass a values test. Women who wear the Niqab would have to remove it while taking the test.
While a “values test” is, in and of itself, a huge red flag to anyone who believes in cultural diversity, tacking on the bit about the Niqab is a pander to the basest instincts of the far right. Sure, only 50-100 women in Quebec wear the Niqab out of a population of over eight million, but François Legault is on the case and will make sure another 10 or 20 don’t sneak in!
The non-cultural aspects of the CAQ policy doesn’t differ much from the status quo pro-corporate stance of their main rivals, which is probably why The Gazette has no problem easing the fears of Anglos considering them as an alternative. They’ve been leading in the overall polls, too, since last November.
For years, I have been waiting for the so-called “national question” not to be a factor in a Quebec election, especially for the Montreal Anglo community, my community. I’ve also been waiting for a break in the PLQ/PQ cycle of dominance that has lasted over 50 years.
But not like this.
The CAQ isn’t change. They’re more of the same with a different branding, one tweaked for the far right. They’re the bigots Anglos, most Anglos, don’t have to be afraid of.
Yes, we should get over the 1995 Referendum, but no, electoral xenophobes should not benefit.