Once upon a time, there was an irreverent comedian called George Carlin. He is no longer with us but in his day he had a great monologue entitled, “Seven words you can never say on television”. Most of them seem to be okay now although I am not sure what that says about us.
I was thinking of this today because of the way I am tempted to describe the lack of courage of some politicians but am unable to do so—even on social media.
I would have found it amusing, were it not so sad, to see political leaders of all stripes during the recent federal election carefully duck the issue of Quebec’s Bill 21 which legislated against religious symbols or clothing for people who worked in the public service. This includes teachers, doctors, nurses, and many others. Barely a peep from any federal politician.
Now, however, with the election behind them and seats safe for another couple of years or so, we hear the hue and cry from all federal leaders—except, of course, the Bloc Québécois—that this legislation is everything from un-Canadian to racist, which clearly it is, but at this juncture also hypocrisy at its best.
Referring to Bill 21 and the subsequent removal of a teacher in Quebec because she wore a hijab, columnist Lorrie Goldstein reminded people of moderator Shachi Kurl who challenged the Bloc leader during the English-language leaders’ debate near the end of the 2021 federal election.
Goldstein said this: “To politicians now appalled a Grade 3 teacher in Quebec has been reassigned because she wears a hijab, in violation of Bill 21. Where were you when Shachi Kurl challenged BQ leader Yves-François Blanchet on Bill 21 in the election leaders’ debate? Hiding under the covers?”
Bill 21 should be of real concern to all Canadians. Instead, it seems to be almost ho-hum. Sort of an ‘oh well, that’s just Quebec, what else would you expect’ attitude. That worries me.
It also worries Gerald Butts, formerly Justin Trudeau’s right-hand man and a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal. He said this, after the removal of a teacher for wearing a hijab, about federal inaction in Quebec. “With the greatest respect to my former colleagues, this isn’t just about Bill 21 and Quebec now. It’s about whether every Canadian can depend on the Charter to protect them from state discrimination. I really hope there’s a plan here. It’s a big thing, not a small thing.”
Butts is right about that. The lack of courage (to use the polite word) of federal politicians, including the government, to stand up to Quebec is disturbing, to say the least. A reference to the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutional validity of Bill 21 is long overdue. Without it, we suffer from a lack of common decency.
There are other issues related to Quebec that also require courage and, in my view, effective action. One of these is a unilateral declaration by Premier Legault to declare French the only official language of Quebec. On the face of it, this may make sense as certainly French is the majority language in that province. But, as has been pointed out to me, the consequence is significant.
The Official Languages Act (1969) applies to all Canadians and establishes English and French as the official languages of Canada. Why should Quebec be allowed to separate itself from that requirement? Who is standing up here for English-speaking Canadians in Quebec?
There is a large English-speaking population in Quebec, much of it around Montreal. International businesses located in Quebec need to be able to communicate and compete effectively with their English-speaking counterparts in other areas of the world.
More importantly, with French as the only official language in Quebec, it will become more and more difficult for English-speaking Quebecers to get professional services in their first language. That in itself is a form of discrimination.
That Quebec can unilaterally amend Canada’s Constitution to declare Quebec a nation and to make French its official language—“the common language of the Quebec nation”—and that our Prime Minister appears to be acquiescing to that without a serious challenge (and so, by the way, are the other federal party leaders) is beyond comprehension and, indeed, disturbing.
Quebec Premier François Legault has given no indication that he is separatist, but I cannot help wondering if he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing in relation to Quebec nationalism.
After all, he sees Quebec as its own nation, with its own official language, and with the right to enact laws that would clearly be seen as discriminatory, if not racist, in other parts of the country. The only thing lacking is its own military force and that may not be too far behind.
But by staying technically within the Canadian federation, Legault gets much of what he would get if Quebec was totally independent and autonomous, different than all other provinces. At the same time, he also continues to get around $13 billion in so-called equalization payments from the federal government. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. It is pretty clever and pretty scary as well.
Make no mistake—to me, Quebec is a proud and vital part of our Canadian heritage and I believe they have a special place within our federation. But they should not call all the shots.
I also believe that federal politicians—especially federal governments—fail to stand up to Quebec, as they would to other provinces, when they ask for more than they should. Instead, they tend to cater to that province.
That is not really fair to the rest of Canada and the frustration is becoming apparent. It’s why we need some courage here from our elected politicians.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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